When the COVID-19 pandemic hit it became immediately clear there was a massive lack of personal protective equipment. The Masked Sewists of Southeastern Wisconsin stepped up to make sure workers and families had the PPE they needed. Their collective effort has been lifesaving and inspiring to say the least. We visited nine different homes and businesses where regular Wisconsinites began sewing masks as soon as they saw a need. Without everyday Wisconsinites heeding the call to action many more would be negatively impacted.
Donica is the owner of the Log Cabin Sewing Company in Butler. When her shop was asked if they could help spread the word for the need for masks to be sewn the Facebook group “The Masked Sewists of S.E. Wisconsin” was born. Since members of the group have sewn nearly 90,000 masks! The collective effort has benefited nursing homes, group homes, Milwaukee County Transit System drivers, United Steel Workers, the VA Hospital, Froedtert, Children’s Hospital, Aurora clinics and hospitals, and thousands of friends and families.
In the time we stopped by Donica’s store to snap a few photos we experienced firsthand how the shop was the center of the masked sewists operation.
Alka Gondaliya and Neeta Rathod
Alka and Neeta walked into the Log Cabin Sewing Company while we were snapping photos of Donica at the shop. They were dropping off bags of completed masks. Neeta has been helping sew masks as much as possible while Alka has been helping her mother:
“My mom is sewing at least 100 masks per week.” – Alka Gondaliya
North Division High School teacher and Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association member Gina Jorgensen has made hundreds of masks using a sewing machine donated to her by MPS School Social Worker Jane Audette. Jorgensen has sewn masks for delivery drivers for the Milwaukee Community Care and Mutual Aid effort, Aurora Psych, UW-Milwaukee Police, MPD, Rogers Hospital, the Airport Post Office, neighbors, community members, and numerous friends and family.
“I was unable to reach many of my students during the early days and I wanted to do something positive with my time. I have been bartering for supplies, trading, people have been donating fabric and money to keep me going! I have made hundreds of masks.
Laura Ridenour has made about fifty masks of various designs in her East Side home. Her masks have gone to MPS employees and volunteers handing out lunches. Laura sews while also raising her daughter.
“I started making masks because I felt really helpless given the pandemic. I wanted something that I could do to help, so I did some research. I found that PPE and masks were in great demand, and although hospitals and other essential workers were being helped through various projects and volunteer efforts, other communities were not. I had noticed people handing out lunches to children in front of a nearby elementary school. Shortly after, I was introduced to Mike Glabere (MTEA member) through his call for PPE when a friend tagged me in a post. As I continue to make masks, most are going to MPS. I hope that I’m making a difference, even if it is small.”
Angelica Campuzano, Victor Carrillo, Uriel Xolot, Yaniri Garcia, and Marco Camacho Campuzano of Blest by Campusano
South Side shop Blest by Campusano store owner, Marco Camacho Campuzano along with his mother Angelica Campusano, father, Victor Carillo, and employees Uriel Xolot and Yaniri Garcia have produced and donated over 5,000 masks to the community and to the House of Corrections, as well as St. Luke’s Hospital, and other workers in the healthcare field.
Wedgewood Park International art teacher and Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association member Margaret Fish has also been sewing masks during the pandemic:
“I learned how to sew in 7th grade at a class offered by Sears. I sewed a lot in high school, and made many of my own clothes at that time. Since then, I haven’t sewn much, but when the opportunity presented itself to try and help people by creating masks, I wanted to try and help if I could. I began by looking for patterns and tutorials online, and made about forty masks for family and friends, and am currently working on a batch for a home care health agency. I am also continuing to experiment with new and improved patterns and ways to get around the shortage of supplies to continue to provide what I can to the people I know that need them. I have also joined The Masked Sewers of S.E. WI group, and through this group I have made seventy-five masks for general donation and am working to create more. There are people that are making many more than I have been able to complete, but I hope what I have been able to contribute helps even just a little.” – Margaret Fish
Milwaukee School Board Director Marva Herndon sews masks in the basement of her North Side home.
“I made about 25 masks for family & friends. More importantly, I trained others in the use of sewing machines and how to make masks. We’ve had lots of fun and the training will be useful for my students far into the future. This is one of the good things brought on by COVID-19 – many people finding a new interest in basic life skills like cooking, sewing and even cleaning.
Josie Osbourne & Kim Cosier
East Side partners Josie Osbourne and Kim Cosier have made over forty masks using a bunch of different fabrics they had on hand and purchased from a local store. Their masks have been given to CNA’s at a local senior living facility and the volunteers of the Ayuda Mutua MKE a relief effort on the South Side of Milwaukee helping feed many undocumented and refugee families who received no stimulus check yet are dealing with the same fallout from the pandemic.
“I have been sending them to any student or friend or acquaintance who needs one if they send me their address (making it with them in mind/while thinking of them intently envisioning them healthy and able to go out in the world safely wearing it)…mailing them with a handwritten letter. Kim has been making some unique ones too for specific friends and elderly folks we know. It has been a way to nurture, protect, connect…” – Josie Osborne
“I used to say that the sewing machine was the one power tool I was afraid of but it is coming to seem like a friend now!” – Kim Cosier
Beth has sewn masks in the living room of her South Side home. Many of her masks have gone to Milwaukee County Transit System workers. She’s made embroidered masks with names for long term care facilities as well as helped out plumbers, contractors, and gas station attendants. She leaves masks clothes pinned to a tree in the front of her house to be easily picked up in plastic bags with directions on proper handling of the mask.
She’s had a hard time providing masks for the Masked Sewists group as keeping up with the demand of private requests by nursing staff has reduced her ability to retain large enough quantities to deliver:
“I’ve tried to go through The Masked Sewists of SE WI, but the direct requests have been too great to get a large enough batch to deliver. For every stack of 25 completed there are 23 urgent needs.”
I know quite a few that have hid their mask making, because its been too hard to choose whose requests to fill.
“Many nights I sew past my bedtime because I want everyone to have access to a free mask to keep them safe. In the race to get masks out my door, I’ve lost track of exactly how many I’ve made. I’ve donated them to transit workers, Briggs and Stratton workers, healthcare workers, friends, family, coworkers, strangers on the Nextdoor app, and even a truck driver in South Carolina. I work full-time from home during the day so my sewing time is limited. Sometimes it’s faster for me to cut mask kits and give them away to other sewists in need of material who can finish them off.
My front storm door has a steady rotation of masks and materials hanging around the handle for porch pickups. My mail slot is stuffed with outgoing envelopes of masks or elastic (that stuff is harder to find than a roll of toilet paper).
I was first introduced to sewing in my high school home economics class and I’m forever grateful for that experience because it gave me the courage to buy my first sewing machine. My mom was never a machine sewer, but my grandma was. A lot of the sewing notions I use today (thread, needles, buttons, etc.) were hers.
My house is small so I don’t have a dedicated sewing room. My routine starts with me sanitizing my kitchen table and carrying out my machine, cutting mats, and other supplies from the linen closet. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff you need.
While I sew, I think about every person who may wear one of the masks. I try to use a variety of colors and patterns that people will love and want to wear. I know that each mask has the potential to save lives and it’s a pretty heavy feeling. I think about the MPS teacher delivering supplies to students, the transit worker who drives my neighbor to pick up her groceries, the healthcare worker who needs a protective covering to go over the N95 mask they’ve been wearing for a week straight. I think about my family and the people they may come in contact with at the grocery store.
I wish we had proper protective equipment to keep everyone safe. It’s maddening that we don’t, but I’ll continue to sew cloth masks past my bedtime until everyone is protected and safe.
For more information about the Masked Sewists from S.E. Wisconsin visit their website.