Before the U.S. government issued guidance directing Americans to cover their faces in public, many of those who quilt and sew were already making masks for front-line medical and emergency workers, and others who wanted them.

Trish Cooper of Louisa County, who’s a quilter and has her own business called HMF Creations by Trish, said she got started making masks first for her daughter, who is a health care worker in a nursing home.

Then, she made a few for her other daughter and a friend who felt safer having one.

“Then I started thinking: I’ve been a quilter for 19 years and I’ve got all this fabric and I had the elastic you need and they’re not hard to make,” said Cooper. “Why not make them free for people who need them?”

And that’s just what she’s been doing on her family’s small farm—working all day in assembly-line fashion to roll out masks for people who get in touch with her on Facebook at her HMF Creations by Trish page.

“It hit me that there are a lot of people making masks for hospitals and other groups that need them, but what about individuals who might be immunocompromised and need one to go out?” she said. “So I got started. I’m sending one today to a woman in Marion, Va., who’s 65 and on oxygen. She’s afraid to go out without one.”

Cooper said she’s making them available free of charge, though if someone wants to donate to get their mask or others made, she’ll accept that so she can make more. Ditto for postage, as she’s sending them out as soon as they are finished.

“I’ve sent out 82 so far, and have orders for 77 more,” said Cooper. “Most are individuals who just want to feel safer going out, but I did take an order for a friend for the PICU at University of Virginia Hospital. And another 50 for a business in Virginia Beach.”

Cooper said that while she’s got plenty of fabric, the tricky thing to find are pieces of elastic. But she’s used some creative thinking for that, as well.

“I’ve taken wider elastic and cut it down, then zig zag stitching across it to shore it up,” she said. “And my brother sent me something about how some folks are using weaving loom loops, so I’ve placed an order for some of those.”

She added, “I’m making these all day and then taking a break in the evening. I try to get them out to these folks who are scared and getting desperate as the CDC considers whether people need to wear them in public.”

Cooper is certainly not alone. Word spread last week of a burgeoning local effort by quilting and sewing guild members making masks for health care workers, first responders and others at risk for infection.

Lisa Henry, director of marketing and communications for Mary Washington Healthcare, provided an update on the local effort Friday.

She said so far, local craftspeople have provided more than 1,600 masks for Mary Washington Healthcare’s “5,000 Mask Challenge.”

“And we’re asking for what’s basically another 5,000, to get us to the point where we can give all of the 6,500 people in our organization a mask,” said Henry.

“Today, we delivered some 1,600 to our associates, and we’d like to get enough to give all those who work for us or are contracted workers in the building to each have a mask,” she added.

The hospital is pushing to get more surgical-style masks, not just covers for N95 masks, on its website: marywashingtonhealthcare.com/COVID-19/COVID-19-Donations.aspx. Information there details how mask covers can be made.

Henry was there when 79 masks were delivered to the hospital this morning, and the hospital’s chaplain blessed them with a service.

“These efforts are all so generous,” said Henry.

Janette Holland of Stafford County is a local quilter and fabric artist who has been answering the call for masks.

The software engineer who works for Basic Commerce and Industries in Dahlgren initially got involved when the call went out two weeks ago for masks at area hospitals.

But as she made masks by the dozens and then hundreds, she began hearing directly from health care workers, fire departments and nursing homes.

“At this point, I’ve made about 600,” said the seamstress, who’s about to start early next week on an order for 150 masks for a nursing home in Woodbridge.

Because costs started ramping up quickly, Holland raised money for the safety masks by making and selling couture African masks.

The software engineer got so busy that she eventually took some time off from work to make masks.

“And still, I’m staying up until 3 a.m. each night getting these made,” she said, noting that family members, including her children, husband and a niece, have been put to work cutting fabric.

“I just feel for these people who are scared and I want to help,” she said.

“For these nurses and other folks getting one or two masks, I make them and leave them on the porch for people to come pick up,” she said. “That keeps them safe and my family safe by not interacting.”

A local group, Measured Mile Mask Makers, also popped up in late March and grew through its Facebook presence.

Laurie Paige started the group, which has at least 25 members, said Laura Pryce, who joined the effort after finding them on Facebook. The group’s Facebook page has more than 100 members.

“I’m just thrilled to use my sewing skills,” said Pryce, 73, as she ran errands Saturday.

She wasn’t sure how many masks they’ve made and donated so far, but the group has supplied local hospitals, area nurses and a postal worker. Pryce said one young man is working on plastic face shields for the group to donate.

Ozzy Ramos of Stafford got an idea for a different sort of mask when he went to purchase a new filter for his furnace the other day. When he got home, he looked at his purchase and began to wonder if he could make a protective mask from the filter and infuse it with other materials he had at home.

“To my surprise, I was able to create a prototype as a way for any person to create for themselves during this shortage,” he said. “Although any form of protection is better than none I believe my version adds extra protection from micro droplets that remain in the air. One [filter] can produce 15 to 20 masks for just under $20.”

Staff writer Scott Shenk contributed to this report.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

rhedelt@freelancestar.com

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