A determined group of sewing friends has a plan to keep Kingston Health Sciences Centre’s supply of face masks plentiful, and they’re inviting the community to help.
Romney Pierog is a front-line nurse in KGH’s cardiac sciences unit, and in her spare time, she sews, but not for herself. “It all started with my sister making mittens in Port Perry for some Syrian refugees who were going to be arriving,” Pierog said. The mittens were a big hit, and Pierog snagged a pair of her own from her sister. Her own coworkers asked how the mittens were made, and soon a small group of skilled friends were making mittens year-round. They call themselves ‘Mittens Galore and More’, and they’ve been stitching for their community for three years now. “There are five of us, mostly retired. We make mittens year round, sell them through our own friend networks, and give the proceeds to local organizations that help the homeless. We also donate pairs of mittens directly to Lunch By George and Tree Of Hope for distribution to the homeless. That’s always a highlight,” Pierog laughed. “Everybody loves the mitts!”
But this past week, ‘Mittens Galore and More’ has shifted gears from mittens to something new. Inspired by youtube videos and a fleet of home seamstresses in Italy, they’re applying their talents to sewing face masks. Pierog said that once they had the idea, the group started moving quickly. “My friend Lauri Burgess said to me, ‘Maybe your group can do a few of these masks,’ and she sent me a link to a youtube video.”
Pierog, knew that as a front line nurse, she didn’t have the time to be making masks, but with a whole city of people self-isolating and looking for things to do, surely there were other sewers out there who would want to help. “We put a call out for help with this project, and it’s already been shared 260 times on Facebook and retweeted about 55 times. People are already working on these in their homes. I heard from one person who made 10 in one morning.”
She urged people who want to join in this project to follow the directions on this specific youtube link, and to use their own resources. “This is not a time to be going out to buy supplies or fabric or trying to find microfilters. Be creative and use what you have on hand.” Pierog noted that 100% cotton fabric is ideal, and even things like cotton bedsheets can be repurposed for this. “And for the nose-piece, I know of one person who has the tools to cut little pieces of metal, which is awesome, but not everyone has that capacity. But, maybe they have pipecleaners, or jewellery wire. We’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking for creativity, resourcefulness, and to be as overprepared as we possibly can be.”
Pierog notes that their highest priority for supplying masks is the Respiratory Therapists, but that the goal is that every hospital staffer would have a hand-stitched face mask. “I’m not sure of numbers, but we probably need in the thousands,” Pierog said. “A great feature is that they can even be sterilized and reused.”
Pierog is quick to point out that these fabric masks are not intended to replace N95 masks while those are in supply. Worldwide health organizations like the Centre For Disease Control say that homemade masks can be considered a viable alternative if no other commercially-made masks are available.
“We’ve been seeing sad photos and videos coming out of hospitals in places like Italy and the UK, places where they’ve got strong hospitals, but in this crisis situation, hospital staff are wearing makeshift masks made out of things like garbage bags,” Pierog said. “Once they used up all their N95s, they were stuck making do with anything they could find. I’m very confident that my hospital will do everything in our power, but this is bigger than all of us. If we think that we might run out of supplies but we just wait to see if we’re right, the virus has already gotten way ahead of us. We need to take our opportunity now to get ahead of the virus however we can.”
Pierog and her fellow sewing-heroes are still working out a safe and efficient collection method for masks that are made by community members. Anyone who joins this project is encouraged to hang onto the masks for now, and the group will communicate plans through their Facebook page when they are finalized. For her part, Pierog has confidence in the Kingston community. “I know that people will step up to this. This is not a time of division; we all need to do what we can for one another.”