Mask-mak­ing net­works mo­bi­lize

Lo­cal vol­un­teers or­ga­nize sew­ers, ma­te­ri­als and de­liv­ery of fab­ric masks

Toronto Star - - LIFE - AN­DREA YU

Fash­ion de­signer and Ry­er­son as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Danielle Martin’s lat­est cre­ation isn’t some­thing you’ll find on a run­way. But it could be help­ing to save lives.

In mid-March, St. Michael’s Hos­pi­tal reached out to Ry­er­son’s Fac­ulty of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and De­sign re­quest­ing help in pro­duc­ing fab­ric masks. Martin and her fel­low as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor, Dr. San­dra Tul­lioPow, an­swered the call. Their plan was to en­gage stu­dents from Ry­er­son’s School of Fash­ion and so­licit fab­ric do­na­tions from com­pa­nies, like tea tow­els from the department store Si­mons, but first they needed a pat­tern for stu­dents to work from.

Martin con­sulted with a doc­tor from St. Mike’s, tak­ing apart sur­gi­cal masks used by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als to bet­ter un­der­stand their con­struc­tion. While Martin and Tul­lio-Pow had con­sid­ered a curved, beak-like front, they dis­cov­ered that the cen­tre seam of this de­sign could fa­cil­i­tate the trans­mis­sion of droplets. So they set­tled on the more tra­di­tional rec­tan­gu­lar shape. “Our de­sign has pleats at the top and bot­tom, in op­po­site di­rec­tions, so it cre­ates a box in­side the mask and makes it eas­ier to breathe,” Martin ex­plained.

Martin and Tul­lio-Pow have a goal of mak­ing 4,000 fab­ric masks in four weeks, en­gag­ing about 70 stu­dent sew­ers and a dozen vol­un­teers to help with pack­ag­ing and de­liv­er­ing sup­plies. They’re just one of sev­eral vol­un­teer ini­tia­tives that have popped up re­cently in re­sponse to the on­go­ing COVID-19 pan­demic and the short­age of per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment.

Canada Sews was started by Lee-Anne Moore-Thib­ert through Face­book on March 22. The group started in Durham Re­gion, but quickly grew and now has over 15 re­gional chap­ters across the coun­try, en­gag­ing close to 6,000 mem­bers. They have de­liv­ered more than 50,000 masks, scrub caps and gowns across Canada to hos­pi­tals, shel­ters, long-term-care fa­cil­i­ties and food banks. But there are still over 90,000 re­quests to fill, in­clud­ing over 10,000 in Toronto alone.

Lilly Perkovic heads up the Toronto branch of Canada Sews along­side San­dra Ber­nick. When a new vol­un­teer joins the group and doesn’t have any ma­te­rial to work with, Perkovic en­cour­ages them to reach out to com­mu­nity groups to so­licit do­na­tions of bed­sheets. “It’s ac­tu­ally our main fab­ric for mak­ing masks,” says Perkovic.

Perkovic then di­rects vol­un­teers to the Canada Sews web­site to ac­cess pat­terns that she says have “got­ten good re­views from nurses.” Like Martin’s fab­ric mask, Canada Sews uses a rec­tan­gu­lar de­sign with pleats. Both pat­terns also use fab­ric ties in­stead of elas­tic, which can be harder to source. “Peo­ple who were work­ing long shifts were com­plain­ing about their ears hurt­ing from elas­tic,” Perkovic says. Stretchy T-shirt ma­te­rial makes an ideal fab­ric for masks and ties and it’s an­other tex­tile that Canada Sews is ac­tively col­lect­ing.

While Martin’s fash­ion de­sign stu­dents are drop­ping off com­pleted masks di­rectly to St. Michael’s or Michael Gar­ron Hos­pi­tal, Canada Sews has part­nered with UPS and has des­ig­nated UPS stores where sew­ers can drop-off com­pleted masks, caps and gowns. It is the re­sult of a na­tional part­ner­ship fa­cil­i­tated by Moore-Thib­ert. “Some of our mem­bers don’t drive, so then we can ar­range driv­ers to pick up masks from them and drop them off.” The masks are then picked up by des­ig­nated driv­ers and de­liv­ered to fa­cil­i­ties.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions can sign up on the Canada Sews web­site with their re­quest for masks, caps and gowns. And Perkovic says they’re look­ing for all the help they can get, even those who don’t have sewing skills.

“Not ev­ery­one is sewing in the group,” said Perkovic. “Some of­fer driv­ing and even just cut­ting of fab­ric.” Oth­ers have of­fered sewing ma­chine re­pair and 3D print­ing tools, called bias tape jigs, that make it quicker and eas­ier to make fab­ric ties. While many Canada Sews mem­bers are re­tired or sewing in their spare time, there are also many more that have lost work due to COVID-19. Perkovic her­self is an early child­hood ed­u­ca­tor who was tem­po­rar­ily laid off dur­ing the pan­demic. But she’s now find­ing pur­pose through her work with Canada Sews.

“These last cou­ple of weeks, a lot of our days have been 12 hours or even more,” Perkovic says. “I do en­joy help­ing peo­ple get in­volved in com­mu­nity work. It’s help­ing them to feel bet­ter and then, in turn, I also feel bet­ter.”

Since tak­ing on the role of co­or­di­nat­ing her re­gional Canada Sews chap­ter, Perkovic’s days are now filled with or­ga­niz­ing vol­un­teers and fa­cil­i­tat­ing pick­ups and de­liv­er­ies. “Now I’m ac­tu­ally look­ing for­ward to some time to sew,” she says. “Af­ter a cou­ple of weeks of co-or­di­nat­ing and man­ag­ing. I fi­nally got some time to do some sewing again and that was re­ally nice. I en­joyed it.”

DANIELLE MARTIN

Af­ter con­sult­ing with a doc­tor from St. Michael’s Hos­pi­tal, Ry­er­son School of Fash­ion as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Danielle Martin de­signed a fab­ric mask that is easy to sew and com­fort­able to wear.

The masks are made with fab­ric ties in­stead of elas­tic as peo­ple were com­plain­ing the elas­tic hurt their ears.

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