Mask Maker Spotlight: Topaz Thimble | Coronavirus | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Mask Maker Spotlight: Topaz Thimble

click to enlarge Pride masks - PHOTO: KATI GRIMES
Photo: Kati Grimes
Pride masks
Since the beginning of the pandemic, designers, artists, and sewing hobbyists have taken to their sewing machines to fill the demand of masks for the public to wear. Pittsburgh City Paper is taking a look behind the scenes and highlighting local mask makers.

Name: Kati Grimes
Business: Topaz Thimble
Neighborhood: Downtown Pittsburgh
@TopazThimble on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

What led you to start making masks?
I had a friend ask me if I could make her a couple masks for her work when the pandemic started back in March. While I was working on them, I just kept thinking about my family. My nieces and nephews mostly. How are kids going to handle something like this? I wanted to create a way for them to have something during this time that matched what they are interested in. To bring a bit of light into this sudden change of routine and lifestyle. Instead of the paper masks, they could wear one with their favorite character or hobby. On top of that, I started thinking about the essential workers and those that are out there and not quarantined. I was in contact with some hospitals and nurses and when I asked them, "What prints or colors do you prefer?", they would pause and almost look like they felt selfish for thinking about that. Then they'd smile when they would answer what they liked. Both the idea of making this fun for kids and also bringing smiles to the essential workers really fueled me to push out as many masks as possible and to continue to share my sewing with others around me.

What considerations did you make when designing and developing the masks?
Comfort is number one. I've taken the time to try different styles of masks and asked for feedback from those that have gotten them from me. I've taken the information from my customers/donation centers and would adjust my patterns. Go back, have the same people try, and get feedback again. The simple pleated mask that I make the most now has been the best for a universal fit for many faces. I also am offering petite and kids sizes (for children over the age of two who are able to remove the mask on their own when needed). If we're going to have to wear them all the time, we might as well feel good!

What challenges have you encountered while mask making?
The initial need. The first three weeks of April were a big blur to me because so many people were reaching out and I was sewing all hours of the day. I just wanted to help as many as I could to get the protection that could help them to stay safe. Now feels like the calm before the storm preparing for back to school season with the unknown about what schools will be requiring for the kids and staff. Honestly, I don't have many other challenges because I still feel like I'm just playing in my basement with a bunch of fun fabrics and my sewing machine.

What fabrics do you use?
I like to use plain, tight-weave woven fabrics. 100% cotton or cotton/polyester blends. I have been following the World Health Organization and CDC guidelines on masks and adjusting as they come out with more testing for the safest face masks to be made.
click to enlarge Custom Vegas-themed masks - PHOTO: KATI GRIMES
Photo: Kati Grimes
Custom Vegas-themed masks
You recently designed custom Vegas-themed masks that are very sculptural and decorative — how did you balance look vs. function?
These were so much fun to do! I wanted to keep the protective part of two layers of cotton blend fabric so that this mask was still functionable as well as pretty. I used my four-pleated face mask pattern as a base because I knew that would be a comfortable fit for my client while she's out and about. All decorations were applied on top of this solid-colored mask for decoration. I was inspired by the showgirls and really wanted to make these masks fun for her to wear rather than the mask just being just another speed bump in the changes that were made for her vacation. Unfortunately, the major difference from my traditional masks is that these are not able to be machine washed and the best way for her to sanitize after wear is to use a UV-C box.

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