Being able to put your hobby to good use for the community is an unexpected side of the pandemic lockdown.
A group of women in Kilkenny have joined with people across the country to do just that as they have turned their sewing hobby into a service to make facemasks.
Masks 4 All Ireland is a nationwide network of sewists who are making face masks for health workers, support workers or anyone else who needs masks. Any of these groups can apply through the group’s website for supplies.
Sewing in their homes, women from Goresbridge, Ballyragget, Thomastown and Kilkenny city are producing facemasks as part of the network.
Michelle Dixon is in the city and has been making masks since the lockdown began. Not only was sewing her hobby but with the lockdown she had lots of spare time as her own business as a photographer was put on hold.
Masks 4 All Ireland began with a woman in Armagh, at the start of the pandemic in Ireland, when facemasks, and other PPE, were in short supply. The movement spread across the island and Michelle discovered the network when she went online to look for facemask designs to sew herself.
She’s now a member of a network of people in all 32 counties working as a team to produce and donate cloth masks to health care professionals and others working or volunteering within residential or community-based care or creches, where there is limited or no access to surgical masks.
The group also fundraises to cover the cost of materials. “We donate our time and fundraise for fabric,” Michelle explained.
The masks are only made using 100% cotton - which recent research shows is an excellent choice of material as the virus lasts less than an hour on cotton.
Mary in Armagh came up with the design the group sews. It has three folds and two layers of the cotton fabric, with room for a filter in the middle if users choose to use one.
“A little extra research has gone into these. There is no sewing up the middle of the mask because that leaves holes,” Michelle said.
Just one person in the local group was a professional sewist before lockdown, for everyone else it was a hobby.
“We love sewing,” Michelle said. Her own hobby came from her mother, who made Michelle’s outfits for her communion and confirmation.
Today she uses an old sewing machine of her mother’s. “I love making these, I can finish something quick.” She had already made masks for her own parents, in-laws and friends before she joined up with the Masks 4 All Ireland group.
Michelle points out that wearing a mask is to keep your own microbes in.
“When I see people wearing masks I say thank you for being kind and doing that for others,” she said. Wearing a mask in public “is a mark of respect to other people,” she says.
“You don’t know if you have the virus, it’s not your fault, it’s just the way your body is responding.”
Primarily the sewists supply care homes and it’s easy to apply for them on the Masks 4 All Ireland website. Michelle says they can also supply older people who are still not moving out and about much. If a mask would make them feel safer, and give them a better quality of life, the group can make them one.
However, if you would like to buy a mask you can do that too. The group has set up a separate website - The Mask Makery. You can buy a mask here and the price goes towards buying supplies for the community masks, including fabric and elastic.
The sewists are more than just a network, Michelle describes them as a community. They are in contact all the time, the design for masks can be downloaded and the community has produced videos with help and tips for sewists.
If you would like to support the group you can donate at www.masks4allireland.com.
This is also the website address if you would like to request masks. People can support the work by donating material, like sheets or duvet covers, as long as it is 100% cotton. If you’re not sure the sewists will check it for you. Polycotton is used for the ties.
Anyone can join the group, there is no pressure to produce a certain number of masks and Michelle encourages anyone who sews to make contact as they are a friendly group. The more sewists they have the more people they can help.