With the COVID-19 crisis rampant across Mississippi, it was only a matter of time before healthcare professionals experienced a shortage of medical supplies such as masks, gowns, and other materials needed to help combat the spread of Coronavirus.
After a cry from hospitals in need of washable masks and gowns, some Yazoo County seamstresses and hobbyists alike are stepping up and making reusable homemade medical supplies for those most in need.
Emily Williams of Benton is the owner of the local small applique and embroidery business So, Sew Sweet, and also works for Applique' Alley with another Yazoo County native, Emily Horn.
Williams said that she first heard about the medical supply shortage Friday when another person shared a video tutorial on masks on social media, asking for others to help the cause by making masks for hospitals in need.
"I am not really a seamstress, but I can work a sewing machine and run a straight stitch," she said. "When I saw that video about making masks I thought, 'I can do that.'"
After watching this video a few times, Williams said that she ended up making a simpler pattern of her own that was quicker and easier to follow.
After using trial and error, and overcoming the difficulties that often come with starting a new project, Williams said that her mask making system became easier and she was able to start making more ready-to-use masks for her friends in the medical field.
"My first ones turned out horrible, but I kept trying until I found a method that worked for me," she said. "But the more I have made, the easier it has become."
Since beginning her project on Saturday, Williams said that she has completed a total of 25 masks, and she is currently working on 10 more. With the help of her children and other family members, Williams also has many other mask materials being prepared and made ready to sew in the coming days.
"Once you get used to working with the pattern, you could probably complete one mask in about 10 minutes or so," she said. "And there are multiple materials that you can use to make the tie on bands. I have done it using elastic and ribbon, but since those things are becoming hard to find, I have also seen people using hair bands or ponytail holders, which have elastic inside of them as well to keep the masks attached around the person's ears."
Williams said that all masks should be made from 100 percent cotton fabric or cotton flannel, which can be washed in hot water, sanitized and reused for medical purposes.
"I use cotton on both sides of the mask," she said. "I have seen a lot of tutorials that say that you need to use flannel on the inside, maybe for better filtration, but I have just been using regular cotton fabric on both sides, and it seems to be working fine."
Williams said that while she understands that the need for these medical masks is widespread across several states, she will instead focus on supplying masks to people most in need of them around Yazoo City, such as the local hospital and surrounding clinics and pharmacies so that nurses and other healthcare workers can be protected from the COVID-19 virus as much as possible.
"I want to help my hometown as much as I can first, and then if I can do anything for anybody else, wherever they are, I am going to try my best to tend to those places too," she said. "I think I will be working on these for a while."
After seeing Williams' post on Facebook about the need for masks, Amy Tindle of Yazoo City knew immediately that she had to jump in and help with the cause.
"I am not a seamstress, but my mama taught me how to sew using a machine," Tindle said. "She was a nurse for 25 years and passed away in 2014. I have kept all of her fabric all of these years but didn't know what to do with it, so when I saw Emily's posts about needing masks, I knew in my heart that I needed to help, so I got all of my supplies out and started working."
Tindle added that she understands that local nurses and first responders are having to work harder than ever to help stop the spread of the virus in Yazoo County and across Mississippi, and plans to use the skills her mother taught her to help in any way she can to keep members of the community safe.
So far, Tindle said she has made over 15 masks since starting her work on Saturday.
Each mask she makes is reversible with different fabric on each side, and has ribbon attached at the corners to easily tie on the healthcare workers' heads when used.
"I am donating each one of these that I make, and I am not asking for anything in return," Tindle said. "So far the masks that I have made have been going to local home health sitters around Yazoo County, and I am also about to start working on another project for Emily Williams to help fill requests from some of the hospitals."
With the memory of her mother drawing closer to her heart with every stitch, Tindle said she will continue to make masks as long as they are needed.
Another Yazoo County local, Fran Twiner, has also been making medical masks for people in the community, as well as her family members who work in the industry.
"I saw where my friend Wanda Bradshaw was making them for local medical staff and she sent me the pattern she was using," Twiner said. "Some friends and I delivered over 55 masks the other day to some medical staff. We prayed over them before distributing asking the Good Lord to show favor on whoever receives them that they will help protect them. It did my heart so good to see the expressions and generosity of those receiving them."
After delivering 75 masks this week, Twiner said that her project was to complete another 50 in the coming days and then begin work on another 100 masks for those working in the medical field.
Some recent recipients of masks made by Twiner and her friends include the Radiology Department at St. Dominic's Hospital in Jackson.
Twiner said that she began her projects using fabric she had around her house, but not long after that she also started to gather up donations of fabric and elastic and used money donated to buy more materials from local fabric stores in Yazoo City.
"I bought an entire roll of elastic from Black's this morning as well as some men's fabric with money that was given to me," she said. "So many people have offered and given material, bias tape, and sewing machine needles. I have sent the pattern to multiple people who want to help and make masks. When I run out of hometown people to give the masks to, I will try to help others and I thank everyone who has donated or helped with this project. I love how it brings friends together doing projects in their homes and spreading the benefits to those who need them."
Free patterns for making these masks and video tutorials can be found at Applique Alley's Facebook page or website at https://appliquealley.com/free-designs/ith-face-mask-aaeh/, and at Joann's Fabric and Crafts Store's website and Facebook page.