SUBSCRIBE NOW

How Arizona sewing enthusiasts are helping solve the face mask shortage

Chelsea Hofmann
Arizona Republic
Staff of Threaded Together, a nonprofit organization in Flagstaff, sew homemade face masks to be donated to those providing essential services to the community during the coronavirus pandemic.

Volunteers throughout the state are leading initiatives to sew homemade face masks for healthcare professionals as fears of impending shortages of surgical face masks grow.

Demand for personal protective equipment has increased across the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, causing a global shortage through regular distribution channels.

Arizona hospitals aren't citing any shortages yet, but community members across the state are preparing for the possibility by sewing homemade masks and providing the materials for others to participate. The movement is inspired by the "100 million mask challenge" started by Providence St. Joseph Health in Seattle. The initiative aims to provide materials to community members with sewing machines who are willing to sew homemade masks for caregivers.

Local initiatives

Staff of Threaded Together, a nonprofit organization in Flagstaff, sew homemade face masks to be donated to those providing essential services to the community during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lindsey Neal, Gilbert resident and owner of My Little Homemade Shop, started sewing masks because of requests she was getting from friends and family.

She began giving them away for free when a friend working at a Banner hospital told her she was no longer being provided a mask because she was not in an "at-risk" position. She also described how doctors in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit staff were resorting to wearing bandannas.

"It's unreal that these doctors are having to either go without any mask at all, or try to figure out something on their own," Neal said.

Neal's business typically sells hand-crafted items. The shortage inspired Neal to provide free kits that include a pattern and enough fabric for 10 masks for those looking to pitch in with the initiative. A limited quantity are available for pick up at Moon Dust Farms in Mesa.

Threaded Together, a nonprofit organization in Flagstaff, donated homemade face masks to the Salvation Army Flagstaff.

Lindsey Watson, owner of the nonprofit Threaded Together in Flagstaff, is using recycled surgical fabric provided by Flagstaff Medical Center to sew masks.

Watson said she already had the surgical fabric because she was working with the hospital to create tote bags for staff. Her team has now shifted to making masks.

The organization has since made its first donation to the Salvation Army Flagstaff. They're now working to make 150 masks for Flagstaff Shelter Services for those experiencing homelessness.

"I think that a lot of people don't quite understand what's going on behind the surface of our community and how many dedicated, passionate people are working to provide essential services to kids, women and men who need it most," Watson said. "Even though we're in this time of crisis, I think we've seen some really beautiful stuff come out of our community."

Lindsey Neal, owner of My Little Homemade Shop, created this pattern for homemade face masks to make it easier for community members who are looking to help.

National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution donating to essential workers

The Piestewa Peak Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution is hand-sewing masks to donate to local essential workers across the Valley, according to a press release from chapter member Sandy Raynor.

As of April 10, the chapter donated 608 masks to the Arizona State Veteran Home, various health care and veterinary offices, and to others in need including elderly neighbors and family, according to the press release.

"We know these are tough times for everyone, with most of us staying home to help stop the spread of this virus. However, we have several chapter members working in healthcare related fields and we wanted to do whatever we could to help take care of them, their coworkers, and others on the front line of this health crisis," Chapter Regent Judy Taylor said in the press release. 

The 608 masks represent half of the total made by members of all Arizona's 41 DAR chapters combined. 

Sewa Phoenix chapter making cotton masks to deliver to health care facilities 

Sewa International Phoenix is making cotton masks to deliver to health care facilities across the Valley.

The Hindu faith-based nonprofit service organization has over 80 volunteers actively working to make masks, a spokesperson told The Arizona Republic.

The organization has currently delivered over 1,000 masks so far.

Emergency room nursing making headbands that attach to surgical masks 

One Valley nurse is sewing buttons onto headbands to attach to the elastic from surgical masks to help ease the discomfort the elastic caused.

Bailee Bridgman started to make the headbands after her and her colleagues ears were in pain after wearing the masks during their shifts.  She said she saw some ideas on social media and her colleagues encouraged her to make some of her own, since she already had a crafting business.

The headbands are available for purchase on her Facebook page, Designs by Bai.

"It has brought a little bit of joy and relief in this crazy and unpredictable time, especially for those of us that are working on the frontlines in the hospitals," Bridgman told The Arizona Republic.

She said the project turned into something bigger than she expected, as she has sold the headbands to healthcare workers not only in Arizona but also in California, New York, Washington and other states.

Bridgman is currently working on her second round of headbands, and after she is done with those she will have made 270 total.

"I’m a crafter on the side and it blossomed into a bigger project than I anticipated but has given me an outlet to work some stress and anxiety out through this crazy time," Bridgman said.

CDC recommendations

Homemade face masks are not considered to be personal protective equipment. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises that healthcare professionals may use them as a "last resort" when surgical face masks are not available.

The CDC recommends healthcare professionals use caution when considering this option, and said the homemade masks should be used with a "face shield" extending to, or below, the chin.

Updated guidance from the CDC includes the recommendation to wear cloth face masks in public places that make social distancing difficult to maintain, like grocery stores and pharmacies. 

The voluntary public health measure can help slow the spread of the virus by people who don't know they're infected, according to advice from the CDC. Instructions also include making sure the mask is being worn and removed properly, washed regularly and sanitized.

Honorhealth, which operates five hospitals in Phoenix and Scottsdale, is accepting donations of cloth face coverings and "ear savers." Donation instructions are explained on HonorHealth's website, which says the homemade items must be delivered in a protective bag or box.

Reporter Alyssa Stoney contributed to this article.

Reporter Chelsea Hofmann can be reached at email chelsea.hofmann@arizonarepublic.com and follow her on Twitter @chofmann528.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.