Nine months and counting

Posted by Carolyn Laidley Arn on

It was late March 2020, that I started making masks and now it's late November.  *sigh*

When the pandemic began and in the first lockdown, we were all afraid, and hospitals and the front line workers desperately needed PPE. It took a lot to talk my 85 year young mother into coming back from Florida, where there didn't seem to be any problems at all and they didn't have access to the same news we've had here. I watched every daily briefing to get the most information I could.  I was concerned that my mother, my friends mother’s and the vulnerable needed protection, and at the time masks were flimsey and hard to come by.

So I started making masks. As a retired interior designer and artist, I made very pretty ones, and gave them to neighbours and friends, family, hospital staff, instacart drivers and those doing food or merchandise delivery. Hundreds of masks were donated to the unprotected. It cost me thousands of dollars to do this. 

I'm really a practicing artist and stopped painting in March because all of my 2020 art shows were cancelled, and i found it really hard to make art. Never a night owl, I felt a sense of urgency and I sewed until the wee hours of the morning most days and I still do. Making masks seemed to be important, a way of giving back or helping and it made the time pass.  I joined many of the sewing and maskmaking groups on social media to get as much information as I could, and felt a part of that community that was helping to stock hospitals and organizations that needed PPE. There was much understanding, knowledge sharing and support.

Mask making wasn’t something anyone had ever done before and sourcing materials during the shut down was a challenge. I found myself discovering and supporting small home based fabric businesses that pivoted to fill the needs and also found ways to get access to shuttered stores in the garment industry when I had to buy a new sewing machine, or needed thread or elastic.  I’ve continued to source fabric and materials from these same people. 

After I’d been making and giving away masks for a while the CDC announced that masks should be worn by the public. I couldn’t continue to absorb the thousands that it was costing me, so I began to make masks to sell to the community.  With a few posts on Facebook I was innundated with even more requests for masks and spent weekends sewing, fielding social media messages, packing orders and trying to get ahead of the incredible demand.  This was before you could find any masks at all and people were very afraid. Masks gave them comfort at the time. Most masks were of very poor quality and many people didn’t know the difference. It was a new experience and one we never thought would last.

My goal was and always has been to make a better mask and the best I could, and my newest 4 layer version is 3 layers of cotton, a filter pocket, nose wire, super soft adjustable ear elastics and a layer of non woven polypropylene fabric.When i change the design, I give out a dozen or so to people to get feedback. 

I've really enjoyed improving my basic sewing ability and working with beautiful high quality materials.  I made a spring collection, bright colourful summer patterns and now I'm making a more subdued fall collection and holiday masks too!  It's important to me that I use quality materials, and that the masks are safe, effective and gorgeous at the same time. 

Kids and adults alike love the fabrics and how they show their unique personality. I am happy when parents tell me that mine are the only ones their kids will wear, or people with asthma or have glasses always fogging that haven't been successful in finding a mask try one of mine and it works.  Many come back for more, after all, they are now an essential part of our wardrobe and one we need to change daily! 

it’s been an amazing experience to completely immerse myself in something that didn’t exist and to help so many people. Strangely I’ve never met most of the people that have bought my masks but have connected with on social media and built some really great relationships.  My masks are also carried by 3 supportive businesses, La Muse on Bayview, Blue Crow Gallery on Gerrard east and Langton Salon on King East. 

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