Neighbors make masks to help meet demand during pandemic

A number of neighbors have fired up their sewing machines and scoured the city for cotton fabric and elastic to help meet the demand for masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cotton and elastic are in short supply, but that’s just a bump in the road for determined mask makers. Working from at least three patterns, they are making masks for family, friends and the medical community.

Among seven seamstresses interviewed are neighbors who grew up sewing and had supplies at home. When the elastic ran out, they switched to shoelaces and seam binding.

Patty Hagstrom displays a couple of her hand-sewn masks.

Patty Hagstrom of Marshall Way is a retired airline attendant who flew all over the world for 52 years with United Airlines. Patty has made about 70 masks for family, neighbors and medical personnel. It all started when her daughter told her about the need for her Kaiser pharmacy co-workers. She made 30 for them.

Patty found her pattern on Etsy. She used fabric remnants from clown costumes she made for the family and the quilting scraps left from making clothes for the knitted animals she makes for her grandchildren.

“Elastic is the hardest thing to find,” she said. “I found some in my mom’s old sewing kit.”

Bonnie Lins, a retired IT analyst for SMUD who lives on Portola Way, said she wanted to make masks as a way to get involved and help. So far she’s made about 25 masks. She uses three different patterns – one denim and two folded.

Bonnie said she’s drawn from her small stockpile of fabric but is having a hard time finding elastic and more fabric. “People have generously given me some,” she said. Bonnie has given her masks to friends and to medical groups that have requested them.

Joan Neide of Curtis Way switched from quilting to making masks. Retired from teaching at Sac State, Joan jumped in to help when the daughter of a neighbor said the hospital in Santa Barbara where she is an emergency room nurse had no personal protection equipment (PPE). Joan made 10 masks for the hospital and five more for family and friends.

Next door to Joan, Brenda Fotos also has made masks for the medical community. A SMUD retiree, Brenda belongs to the American Sewing Guild, which has more than 300 members in the Sacramento region, many of whom have turned their energy to mask making.

Brenda Fotos lays out some of the dozens of masks she has made.

The guild has donated more than 3,000 masks to several medical groups, including Methodist Hospital, Dignity Health and Sutter Roseville. “The nurses and doctors put the masks over their N95 masks to make them last longer,” Brenda said.

Brenda has made more than 40 masks. “The demand has slowed a bit,” she said. “It seems to come in waves.” Brenda was featured in The Sacramento Bee in early April.

When making masks, Brenda makes a dozen at a time in an assembly line. The process includes double washing in hot water, ironing, cutting, folding and sewing. This takes about four hours.

Brenda gets her supplies from Hi-Fashion Fabrics, 4106 Franklin Blvd. The shop opens from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, allowing five customers at a time. Customers must wear masks and use hand sanitizer.

Judy Brush of Third Avenue has completed 85 masks for friends and family. Now she is making masks to give to Brenda to meet demand in the medical community. In the beginning, Judy used three different patterns, but now uses only the one that the hospitals like. She, too, uses the assembly line method and has adjusted the pattern to ease construction.

Fleurette Kersey, a retired nurse also living on Third Avenue, has made masks for relatives. In making her first four masks, she discovered a generic size does not fit all. Her first pattern was best for a child. After adjustments for her husband, Charles, she worked out size variations. Her masks have gone to family locally, and in Davis and Oregon. Some masks are made from batik fabric in her stash, and they have sterile hospital fabric for the inserted filter.

When Carol Blackman of 26th Street started out to make masks for her family, she unearthed an old sewing basket with some supplies she needed, including elastic. She has made nine masks for family and is making a few more for others, using a pattern she found on YouTube.

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