As she left Joann fabric and craft store in north Spokane on Sunday afternoon, Allison Tripp donned a homemade face mask.
The mask was the first of many attempts for Tripp, who had returned to Joann to buy more supplies.
Tripp and people across Spokane have flocked to local fabric and craft stores for supplies to make masks for first responders. The American Sewing Guild Inland Northwest Chapter even coordinated with the Spokane Fire Department to purchase fabric and facilitate donations.
Providence Health Care recently updated their masking guidelines to allow caregivers to wear cloth or personally sourced masks to care for patients who are not under isolation precautions.
“We need to reiterate that the conservation measures we’ve taken are due to the global shortage of personal protective equipment,” a Providence statement read. “This is not just a local situation as healthcare providers across the country and world are facing the same issues.”
Tripp has been sewing for 20 years, since she got her first sewing machine at age 8. She usually sticks to dresses, skirts and other clothes, but when COVID-19 touched her family, she decided to start sewing masks.
Tripp’s aunt died in a quarantine unit in California last week. While her aunt later tested negative for COVID-19, she had similar symptoms and was put in the quarantine unit, preventing family and friends from being with her in her last moments.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m sad,’ ” Tripp said, “and I’m like, ‘Wait let’s do something with that energy.’ ”
At first making masks was a bit of “trial and error,” Tripp said. She used a combination of patterns she found online, and after a few errors said she can now make about five masks in an hour.
Tripp said she plans to donate the masks to a few hospitals, including some in New York City, which has been hit especially hard with the virus.
Communities nationwide are banding together to sew masks to help with the shortage.
Joann’s “Make to Give” effort, which helps direct donations to local health care facilities, has led to more than 1.5 million mask donations, Joann said in a statement last week.
“We estimate customers have purchased enough cotton and elastic to make nearly 9 million masks to date,” wrote CEO Wade Miquelon in a statement. “You are making a difference.”
Locally the American Sewing Guild is working with quilting and fabric shops and the Spokane Fire Department to distribute fabric and elastic for free so sewers can make masks for first responders.
The fire department purchased polypropylene, a similar material to what is used in N95 mask, and elastic to be used to make masks. Simple cotton can also be used to create approved masks, and the patterns available from the sewing guild were approved by the fire department.
Through the sewing guild, fabric was distributed to local quilting stores where sewers can pick up the fabric, elastic and a pattern and then later return to drop off the finished masks.
“It feels like we’re able to do something to make some difference in this crazy time,” said Cathy Doerr, an organizer at the sewing guild.
Guild members created video tutorials and downloadable patterns for sewers who can’t get to the pick-up locations.
Initially the goal was to sew 11,000 masks, but after just five days, more than 4,100 masks have already been donated.
“We’ll just keep going,” Doerr said.
The fire department picks up the masks, sanitizes them, and then distributes them to local first responders.
“I’m wearing one right now,” said Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer on Monday afternoon.
“It’s a Gonzaga one which I picked out because it was just awesome.”
Schaeffer said the masks aren’t a substitute for N95s in high-risk situations, but for day-to-day contact with the public the masks have been a huge help to first responders over the last week.
“I know they’re extremely appreciative and thankful to have people stepping forward to give us a hand,” Schaeffer said of his firefighters.
As first responders, they can’t afford to get sick during a time of crisis or there would be no one to respond to those in need, Schaeffer said.
“This donation really contributes to our mission of keeping our people healthy,” Schaeffer said.
The Quilting Bee, a locally owned quilt and fabric shop in Spokane Valley, is one of eight local shops offering fabric pick-up and mask drop-off for a few hours each day.
Owner Scot Auble said on the first day fabric was available people made a beeline for the store.
“They beat down the door to get the product and get it done because everybody wants to help,” Auble said.
While many sewers are eager to help, Auble warned the masks aren’t as easy to make as it may seem. He classified the project as something for intermediate to advanced sewers.
The Quilting Bee is open 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday for pick-up and drop-off of masks and mask supplies; otherwise the store is closed.
Auble and his wife, Treasure, even purchased fabric themselves to be donated to mask-makers.
Asked what customers could do to support their business during the closure, Auble said, “We’d just love to see them back when we’re open.”
Editors note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Cathy Doerr’s name.
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