Ann Arbor Sewing Center is closed due to the stay-at-home order, but the owners have been tirelessly working with hundreds of people since mid-March to make needed cloth masks for frontline medical professionals and others.
But they need to make more masks and they need them now.
“I would guess that we have hundreds of people in the sewing community that are making masks — women, men, and kids,” says owner Doni Houghtaling. “It is wonderful to see so much love for our community and desire to help out those that are serving in the public.”
Doni is the current owner of Ann Arbor Sewing, with her husband Kris, which has been family run since 1968 (formerly titled Viking Sewing Center).
Their efforts at present is to get as many people as possible to make masks to save lives, particularly since she said there has been almost a doubling in demand with the new CDC recommendations that everyone should wear a mask in public.
“I really just want to spread the word that we still need masks!!” she says. “Anyone that sews a mask could be saving a life. It is so important to help out our community. Also, if you can stay at home, please do so. The more we comply to these recommendations, the sooner we will get through this and the more lives we will save. I also want to thank everyone that has donated fabric, sewn a mask, and assisted with delivery of the masks. Also, thank you to those caring for our community—all those working in the medical field and at essential businesses!”
The CDC now recommends that people wear a cloth face covering in public, particularly where social distancing efforts are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, noted for significant community-based transmission. Surgical masks and N-95 masks are to continue to be reserved for medical professionals.
“The requests for masks have doubled in the last couple of days,” says Houghtaling. “The sad part is our frontline workers do not have enough masks. Our goal is to continue to collect masks for the people directly serving our community. Tens of thousands are still needed! If others are in need of masks for essential errands, I am encouraging them to dust off that old sewing machine. They are very simple to make. Anyone with a sewing machine can follow the directions on the website. If you don’t own a sewing machine, there are numerous people selling masks on Etsy.”
There are numerous ways the public can get involved.
“The first way to get involved is to sew a mask,” she says. “We have the instructions on our website. The pattern is from Deaconess Hospital. We found that pattern to be the easiest. We also have a pattern that was adapted by a customer of ours, Mary Hogan, to include fabric ties. Elastic is in high demand and sold out in many places. Fabric ties work well; in fact, fabric ties are preferred in many cases because they have found that the elastic sometimes melts in the sanitizer because of the high heat. The second way that you can get involved, if you are not able to sew, is to donate fabric. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to donate fabric to those in our community making the masks. If you do not have new, quilting cotton to donate, we can assist you in getting fabric to the people that are making the masks.”
Thus far, she says their efforts have provided masks to St. Joseph Hospital, VA Hospital, Chelsea Hospital, numerous hospice centers, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, and grocery stores. She estimates that so far the combined efforts by hundreds of volunteers probably totals around 10,000 to 15,000 masks.
“They (the masks) are used by medical personnel, patients, residents, and people working in the public,” she explained. “I have a list of other places begging for more. There is still a huge need.”
These cloth masks are not made with a specific kind of medical material.
“They are not surgical masks—just cloth masks,” she described. “They are made with two layers of high quality quilting cotton. The quilting cotton has a tighter weave to it so it is more effective than a loose weave fabric. I have been told that sheets, knits and even flannel are not recommended.”
It has been reported that regular surgical masks filter out 62 of 65 percent of particles, while N95 masks filter 95 percent of those particles. For the cloth masks, it is recommended to use two layers of heavyweight “quilters cotton” with thread count of at least 180.
She said she knows the demand is still huge because of the numerous amount of inquiries that she receives with regard to the masks.
“I get emails everyday from places that want masks,” she says. “They have nothing. Especially the smaller institutions. When I was talking with a nurse from one of the prisons where we provided masks, she told me that there are very limited medical supplies at her work due to the prisons being one of the last institutions to receive supplies. She is taking care of inmates that have COVID-19 with very limited medical supplies. Also having a family of her own, she was incredibly appreciative to receive masks for herself as well as her co-workers. It is stories like this that really tug at your heart. Despite being busier than when my store was open, I am so grateful to help. My employees have also joined in to help make masks, and I see posts from our customers all helping to contribute. It is heartwarming to see.”
She said she has been working with countless others since mid March to make masks because they knew there would be a run on them due to the coronavirus.
“Nancy Moroz, a longtime quilter and customer of our store, approached me on March 19 with this idea,” said Houghtaling. “She has family in the medical field and knew there would be a need for masks. She worked with St. Joseph Hospital early on to get approval for a mask that would be helpful to them. Nancy asked me if we could help facilitate the cause. We were more than happy to help our community. I never realized how important and how high of a demand these masks would be when we first started. Nancy has worked numerous hours organizing and delivering masks! I could not have done any of this without her.”