Mask Making: Daily Diary

Most recent entry is first:

April 23: Work.  There will be less entries after this date. I'll balancing the lessening demands of our mask project, which are thankfully not as severe as weeks past, with mitigating the effect that the virus has had on my business. I did get approved for a small PPP loan and I will be figuring out how to create work for my employee, the intended goal of the loan. 

April 20: Contacting people on my list to see who might currently have great need. Still making masks, but increasingly around a return to clothing orders. I have gotten some, and I can't assume that every customer is OK waiting for the end of the pandemic to get a delivery. In fact, during the worst of the local mask needs, I got a few emails of "Where's my clothing order?" So I stay late and get them done.

Last week I was working all day, eating dinner, and returning to work. I need to develop a new healthy schedule to help others without sinking my own ship. 

April 19: Delivered some "supporter" mask work to my assistant, who hasn't been in for weeks. Supporter masks are the ones people are buying on my website to help with mask donation expenses and shop overhead. Another benefit: it's giving my assistant work. 

I am happy that masks provide work she can do on her home machine. There isn't consistent enough clothing work to give her. She will get paid to do this mask work regardless of whether or not my PPP loan goes through, because they are made to order, paid for already. Thank you, everyone that has purchased one! I'm sad she can't be in the shop. She is my one employee, and I enjoy spending time with her with as we sew. 

April 18: Work.

April 17: Working, on all of my own personal tasks, is calmer. Steady Friday, feels better.

I got an email from a trusted vendor (not a scammer) offering professional masks for purchase, and I'm not even technically "essential" business. Although the virus is nowhere near finished, professional mask supply, of the disposable paper type, seems to be catching up with the demand. If I can get these masks, local employers should be able to purchase them now for their employees, right? I don't have data on N95s however. Taking the news I'm finding and applying it to plans for any masks we are producing from this point on. 

We are still cutting and sewing masks wth fabric earmarked for donation.

April 16: Yesterday was pretty much lost to fighting for the health of my business. I'm at the mercy of a bank approval now. Trying to catch up today. I feel better than yesterday, but there are no things ready except for one bag of masks waiting for a pickup. 

April 15: 742 masks delivered, total as of 11:15. People have been suggesting networks to distribute masks but we are still able to find recipients just by word of mouth and local pickup, taking as many as we make as fast as we make them. I have no time to deliver or pack and ship myself, I am very grateful for the ground support of our small and willing volunteers! Today is another day of trying to submit business relief applications in and around mask project. Bank told me my digital app submission was wrong format and can't be processed. Took from breakfast until 4pm to get them a file they needed. Cried a lot. In the evening I read that all the SBA PPP loan money will likely be distributed by the end of today. My loan officer emailed me after hours to say she had everything she needed from me. 

April 14: Just handed off masks to an Atlantic County task force, need still urgent. One nurse has not picked up her current mask donation since Thursday. I plan to follow up today. It either means that her city hospital's need for cloth masks has lessened, finally, or it could be that she has tested positive herself. Either choice seems likely. 

April 13: Awful rain and threats of hail and possible tornado. When it subsided, got into shop to get a little work done. This week I needed to pay some attention to my business, the NJ relief application "went live" at 9am and I spent over an hour filling it out, even doing pre-prep. Only to be sent an auto-email telling me that the funds are already oversubscribed. Gee, thanks. Not all tax related deadlines have extended, so I took care of some of that, too. I have a pretty large order that did not get canceled, that needs to ship by April 15 as well. So I got a lot of kits out last week because I knew it would be hard to get kits made until after "Tax Day". The extension is only a good thing if you owe. I hope the IRS does not delay refunds.

April 11: I really needed to see this, sent in by one of the mask making team. These are Inspira staff. Writing less today, there is a lot to do before spending Easter with my household tomorrow. If I forget to post until Monday, Happy Easter.

April 10: 586 total delivered. 

April 9: Delivered over 500 masks by now and many more in process. Trying to figure out how many people have downloaded the mask pdf, the data is somewhere but I don't have time to find it. In addition to the kits, we've been able to supply some other mask donation groups with elastic as it has sold out on the online market. 

April 8: The volunteer team is all STARS. Today was a break from kit pickups as we were waiting for arrival of wires to be cut and bundled. 

Many more requests to volunteer than we can provide materials to. I don't like to disappoint people hoping to participate, but the awesome current team can sew and return kits as fast as I can make them.

Anybody can make their own masks, really. Googling provides an abundance of instructions. I've updated my own page to include substitutes for the shortages of any of the elastic or nose wire parts that tend to be harder to get than fabric. 

April 7: In progress. More kit activity today. If they all return we have passed 500 masks total.

April 6. Monday. 395 Masks delivered. Some kits still out from last week, 14 more kits (140 masks) went out yesterday/today. Gearing up for a tough week based on news predictions. Doing more kit work today, Cooper is coming for some more completed. Happy that all the pre-production work is making it faster to make masks now. The shop is an explosion of fabric and supplies. There hasn't been time to declutter. There is a half finished batch of pants being made for shop inventory along one side of the cutting table, that hasn't been touched for two weeks. 

April 5. Sundays are no longer "off", but I try to take a break from the laptop and let the emails collect to be read all at once. I hope to get the email out to kit sewing volunteers to begin pickup again on Monday. Hoping an "essential" store can sell me some paper today. I did not anticipate the incidentals needed to facilitate this project. Kits need printed instructions, my boutique's shopping bags are used for bundling, and I'm burning through printer ink. These needed items for the project aren't considered "essential". There's no guarantee ordering them online would get them here quickly.

April 4. More kit making. There are no more wonderfully large rolls/bolts of fabric to make the cutting super easy. We are now pulling smaller pieces of fabric from our "stash" and it takes more time to spread and cut. One positive is that I can make the supporter masks from scraps that aren't large enough for the pleated masks. 

A PA fabric company has not yet delivered fabric I ordered on Sunday. Even when we can pay for some, obtaining the right fabric quickly is now a challenge. Nothing is nearly as efficient as having one large roll of fabric to cut.

April 3: The CDC has advised everyone to wear a mask while venturing out for needed, essential daily tasks. As helpful as this is could be, what it also does is make the general public compete with the more urgent needs of vital workers for masks, and also the materials to make them.

Everyone deserves safety. What I wasn't set up for was a flood of requests to BUY masks. So I set up a listing for contributions to our project and as a thank you, contributors can get a mask sewn by ME. It's helping, but it also created entirely new work for yours truly. The reality is, the number of masks I need to make just to pay the landlord is um, not helping with my morale. Oh how I wish I could be selling clothing instead!

There are SO MANY ways to make your own masks online! Here's the easiest one the general public can make with a tee shirt and no sewing: 

https://komonews.com/news/coronavirus/heres-how-to-make-an-easy-no-sew-face-mask-with-materials-you-have-at-home

To be clear, the masks made by the volunteers are not for sale. We are a volunteer-powered effort, using supplies donated by National Picnic. I organize the network of volunteers to make masks for healthcare workers free of charge. We have already delivered hundreds with hundreds more in progress.

April 2: I wish I had time to post more photos. Instagram is where the images are.

It's pretty clear that all healthcare facilities will accept mask donations now.

Some updates from the email I sent to the mask making team:

Mask count: I have placed 243 masks that have been returned to the shop, plus many more that some deliver direct. Around 100 are out in kits being sewn. There are 20 households on the maker team, quite a few have mentioned nurses in the family. Everyone is wishing them safety and health as they endure.

Deliveries include, not limited to: Temple, Cooper, Virtua, Penn, Inspira

The ordered ELASTIC arrived late yesterday. More kits by tomorrow.

THINK NEGATIVE:

What to do if my household suddenly tested positive? We feel healthy, of course. But what if. Who might become the contingency drop off, something to think about. Hopefully we will not need this. 

April 1: The elastic arrived in late afternoon. We got quite a few kits back and were able to get 50 picked up by end of day, and another 40 waiting for pickup for tomorrow. Trying to keep track of the pickups, drop offs, and destinations. A nice group of people responded to a Facebook post to pick up kits, there are some out still, were able to make as many kits as we could with a small amount of donated elastic today. 

Today was a sea change in mask demand. It seems like the public is now being advised to wear masks when out in public, and it resulted in an unprecedented number of requests for masks. Trying to figure out what this all means for the supply for the front line.

March 31: I got the elastic company owner on the phone and he said "it's shipping today". I just don't know what to say. We all know this is unprecedented. I'll be doing a lot of prep today but none of it will involve elastic. 

If you want to get a kit to make masks, please email betsy@nationalpicnic.com. Email is the best way to be heard. Avoid the comments sections of social media, please. I can't keep track.

March 30: I ran out of time, so here is just snippets of the email I sent at the very, very end of the day:

Hello, mask making team!

This is a quick first outreach for those who are offering to sew masks that would like kits from the National Picnic shop. Trying to make this a short read.
The elastic has not arrived yet from two sources. 
Ugh. The salesguy I can reach on the phone reassured me it will ship tomorrow and arrive a day later. So Wednesday.
What I DO have ready NOW are some kits from every last yard of elastic that were in my shop on Monday. So tomorrow, on Tuesday, there will be just enough kits at the shop for each person in current email list to come and pick one kit up.
 
Pick up procedure:
(email betsy@nationalpicnic.com for procedures)
Kits make 10 masks. They have pre-cut fabric, elastic, wire, and a finished sample to help visualize what you're making. The "beta" sewing team (including 2 children!) that tested the kits were all able to complete them using the printed instructions included in the kit.
Last minute mask pattern update: These kits are for pleated masks. Cooper has begun asking for another style of mask to best serve their mask shortage needs. I will be working on a kit plan for this second mask as we wait for more elastic. The goal is to supply masks that the hospitals need, and if they are saying different styles of masks are needed, I will try to give them what they need as best as possible.
All this said, you don't need to use kits to make your own masks using similar patterns found online, and drop them off at the shop, we have nurses coming regularly to pick up. I'm simply happy to offer these supplies already available to help get right to the sewing. Volunteer fatigue is a thing—cutting and prepping can be tedious without the right tools—I hope kits make it easier for more masks to be made ASAP. 
Nurses that I've met at pick up say they really appreciate any and all masks that are made, they all have a purpose. I've needed to ask a lot of questions to the medical community we are serving. They are always so very quick to respond and help, their lightning fast responses makes a 2 day elastic delay seem like forever. COVID-19 is a moving target. I can't believe how quickly news changes the direction of our mask making project.
Thank you for any help you can give! Everyone that contributes gets thanked on social media as the project continues, my sis is working on that :)
Betsy

March 29: Quiet day. Much needed elastic arrives tomorrow (I've been told). Writing email going out to people that have volunteered to sew masks, Click here if you want to sew. Updating mask pdf.

to be continued...

March 28:

Waiting on elastic. In the meantime, making what I can with a small pile of remaining elastic

New tweak to mask: open at bottom, in case recipient needs to insert something. I'm not the person to assert what a best insert is, but there will be the abiity to add an extra filter, paper, etc. This change will happen in kits going out Monday.

57 masks were sewn, returned today. I expect these to be picked up by nurses on Monday.

2 new kit pickups have already texted pics of their first finished masks. YAY!

Hitting a soft stop by end of today. Fabric will be cut, twisties cut, bundled. 

Guilty relief that the elastic arrival is Monday. Sunday will be a needed rest. 

March 27: We delivered our 100th mask. Now we're staring at a bunch of cut parts waiting for more elastic. (confirmed: coming Monday)

MASK KITS are getting put together for more volunteers sewing. We've been able to buy the supplies, thanks to our lovely customers. We could use some more sewing machine help from people with their own machines. Mask output would grow exponentially. Click here—we can give you the pieces all cut and ready to sew.

Same mask going forward, but will now have opening at bottom in case any recipient has any other useful material to insert as an improvement. Previous masks: you can remove the bottom stitching, it will become a "pocket".

Daughter built spreadsheets to keep track of requests for pick up, mask drop offs from volunteers, and certainly thank yous to get out when the dust has settled.

WISHING OUT LOUD for everyone to contact me via EMAIL. The spreadsheets should solve this problem, but I have already lost contact with one of the nurses because I can't for the life of me find the original request message. Insta messages, Facebook messages, voicemail, texts, now how the heck did she reach me...

March 26: In between time at the sewing machine, I organized getting three more people involved with sewing "kits" that I packed with pre-cut fabric, elastic, twistie ties, and a 3-page instructional I typeset the night before. As much as I know I can make lots of masks just sitting at the machines, the potential to make many more by organizing others has started to develop. My assistant got a kit of 27 masks, and another team of three is starting out with kits of 10 masks each. They reported being able to return their kits tomorrow. I sewed 27 myself today, built kits, coordinated other mask makers. Outreach is becoming clearer. The volume seems slow going but foundations are being made to keep increasing the number of masks made.

I read the articles, there has definitely been an effort to clarify the safety of a cloth mask: They are not as safe as N95 and other medical supply masks. We get that. Those are running out. 

I ask each mask pickup about their current situation. All signs are pointing to depleted medical supply. 

Placed a second "insurance" order with a second vendor for spools of elastic that should arrive Monday. The spools I ordered three days ago sent me an order confirmation but hasn't sent me a tracking order since. I am worried that I sent payment to a vendor that's not filling orders on schedule. Elastic is the scarce resource, according to others on social media. But if both orders arrive I will have a supply to continue.

March 25: It's 6pm as I type this. Every mask I have completed since starting has left the building. 3 hospitals and one facilities vendor. It looks like I'm going to have to organize something bigger than my workshop.

March 24: It seems that I blink and hours vanish. Production was a little faster, but I keep getting requests for my pattern. So I took some time to make it and post it on this page, click here for the mask pattern I'm using. Posting it took up most of my diary writing time. Good night!

March 23: Worked on the first production run. Daughter Josie and I cut 90 small masks and 26 large, cut with power tool in layers, so that happened very fast. Sets of elastic and and pieces of wire will be cut in batches as we go—there is no way to bulk cut, so it gets measured and cut by hand. Should the need for masks continue, cutting elastic and wire into pieces are tasks I might need others to help with.

Completely finished 22 small masks and about 30 large masks are roughly half finished. I'm not pleased with the volume but it's the first day. All of these masks are spoken for, headed to health care professionals—I am being careful not to identify recipients on my social media without their consent.

It was a slower day, as methods were being practiced and taught, and I had difficulty staying off the phone and email. Tomorrow I need to keep my head in the workshop. 

It's hard to wrap my head around making masks that would have been rejected, without question, if they were offered six months ago. Today I could still hear some skepticism about taking these masks seriously. It seems as if they are becoming more necessary by the hour. They are better than nothing. I am willing to assert that a 3-ply wire secured mask is also better than bandannas, which are now being suggested by the CDC as a last resort.

I ponder the possibility of needing to order fabric specifically to keep making the best mask I can offer. I hope that demand will not present the need, for everyone's sake.

THANK YOU to those who helped out with a purchase today, or an offer to help with more supplies, my gratitude is endless. Thanks especially to friends and family who have believed in me for the long haul and are showing it now.

March 22: Morning: I'm headed to the shop to check supplies, work on the first mask. It is going to be checked by a healthcare professional for edits/improvements by end of day. In the meantime, I'll also work on some orders I promised to deliver on time.

Midday update, taking prototype now in 2 different sizes to doctor. Samples do not have a bendy nose bridge. Also going home to try to find some pipe cleaners or twistie ties. Anybody have a bunch of twistie ties? They usually appear included in boxes of trash bags...

March 21:

About two days ago the request for volunteer-made face masks went viral—along with lots of well-wishing information that took a little while to process and clarify.

I reached out to health care people I knew for some more guidance, It took some time to clarify the need and where my own masks should get put to service as soon as possible.

My offer to make masks for a local hospital is clarified that it is needed, along with a request for the health professional to check a mask sample so it can be approved for mass production or improved upon. This was what I was hoping for, to make sure I'm not wasting resources making something only to find out I could have made it better in the first place. Unlike many home sewers that are helping in a small capacity, I will be able to cut volumes of mask pieces from fabric at once. Finalize the pattern FIRST.

 __________________________

 

If you'd like to help, please consider a National Picnic gift card. Note, I am donating inputs I already own toward these masks, and all the time I put into it. I can't have anyone to the shop to help but my family.

Any patronage will help me immediately to pay shop rent and other looming bills, and to order more elastic needed for masks (I know elastic availability will be a limiting factor on how many masks I can produce). Business is, understandably, becoming scarce and I'm not able to make inventory for a later day when I'm making masks.

It's not a donation—you can use gift cards at any time—but if you wait until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, I promise I'll find a way to add something special. It will be a beautiful day when we can see the end of this extraordinary life-changing event.

 


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