You should never underestimate the power of a skill like sewing, and Nipomo resident Ellie Kelley is a perfect example why.
Kelley learned to sew when she was about 15. She eventually started making her own clothes for fun, which led to making prom dresses for friends, and then to a job at a clothing company, and eventually to making specialized maternity clothes later in life.
Now her love for sewing could save lives.
As medical professionals around the world work to fight the spread of coronavirus, hospitals across the U.S. are short on the N95 respirator face masks that help keep nurses, doctors, and other staff safe from contracting the contagious illness. The situation isn’t much better in SLO County.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIRCH FABRICS
A THREAD OF HOPE Locals are teaming up to make homemade masks for health care workers lacking personal protective equipment.
“They don’t have enough masks to go around,” Kelley told New Times
, “and we’re not even in the thick of it yet.”
A lot of nurses are reusing face masks for multiple days, wearing bandanas or scarves to work, or going without, Kelley said.
So when Kelley’s friend, a nurse at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, told her about the shortages of masks locally, Kelley decided that she could pretty quickly make her own and donate them to the hospital.
She did some research, developed a pattern, and made 10 prototypes for nurses to try out. Although Twin Cities Community Hospital hasn’t agreed to accept homemade masks, a number of nurses at Twin Cities and Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria have signed on to use the masks, along with several local midwives and health care professionals outside of California.
The homemade masks aren’t as protective as N95 respirators, but studies show that two layers of cotton over the mouth and nose are fairly protective from airborne particles.
“It’s definitely better than nothing,” Kelley said.
With the help of a still growing group of local seamstresses, Kelley said she plans to pump out more than 200 masks before the end of March. Local businesses are helping, too. Miner’s Ace Hardware donated wire for the nose of the masks and Birch Fabrics in Paso Robles donated much-needed material.
Cynthia Mann, owner of Birch Fabrics, said that with businesses largely closed down, her own is taking a fairly substantial hit. She’s still filling some fabric orders online, but the brick-and-mortar store is closed. When she heard hospitals were in need of masks, she knew she could help. So far she’s donated more than 150 yards of fabric to sewing groups and seamstresses locally and across the nation.
“There’s not much else we can do and we really want to help as much as we can,” Mann said. “The feeling that there’s something that you actually can do is really motivating to people.”
If you’d like to make a donation to help fund the fabric donation, call Cynthia Mann of Birch Fabrics at (415) 309-1901 or visit the website
. If you’d like to help sew masks, Ellie Kelley is available at (805) 674-1307. You can also find a free mask pattern here