On a recent Saturday morning I sat down at my sewing machine. Normally I like to sew clothes, but lately I've been making cloth masks. I tapped into my mom’s seemingly endless supply of fabric and so far I’ve made about 30 for family and friends.
“Everyone who sews has always secretly known that one day their stash would save the world and that day is now,” says Saginaw resident Tami Davis.
Davis leads the Mid-Michigan Mask Makers group – also known as 4-M. In March, an online post about mask making got her attention.
“And one friend specifically who lives down in Washtenaw posted something about how she and her kids were sewing some masks because the hospitals were needing them,” she says. “And I thought, well, gosh, I could do that. I might have a little fabric here and a couple of sewing machines.”
Davis created a Facebook page. The group now has about 50 people making cloth masks. They’ve sewn about 13,000 in a couple months. The group donates masks to hospitals, nursing homes, and grocery stores.
Davis’ house in Saginaw has become the headquarters for all their work. These days she usually wakes up to pings on her phone of messages requesting fabric, elastic, or other materials.
“My dining room is no longer a dining room,” she says. “It's now a fabric and mass distribution center. Home Depot donated us a shelf and that houses about maybe half the fabric and the rest is all in boxes.”
Davis refills supplies and collects finished masks from plastic bins set out around the Saginaw, Bay City and Midland area. The group donates masks locally, and Davis delivers those, too. In April, she drove around 900 miles.
Ironically, Davis is so busy coordinating that she hasn’t sewn any masks herself.
A lot of the supplies come from donations. A woman in Oregon sent the group 50 spools of elastic. One woman found vintage fabric in her stash that came from a store that hasn’t been around for decades.
“It's the idea of knowing that somebody had a connection to this fabric and bought it either because she liked it, usually because it was on sale,” Davis says. “That’s why she, usually she, bought it and now it's being repurposed.”
Saginaw resident Karen Taylor is an avid sewist. She had been planning to make a quilt for her camper, but that was put on hold when she joined 4-M and started making masks. Sewing is solo work, so she values the virtual sewing community.
“But, you know, there'll be days where I'll say, 'Geez, and my machine is jammed up. I've got to take it apart. I'm going to have to take a couple of days off,’” Taylor says. “And they're very supportive. You know, try this. Try that. Get mineral oil. Did it work? Karen, did you get it fixed?”
Taylor’s cousin was in the hospital with COVID-19. Her daughter is a healthcare worker and her facility received a box of masks from 4-M that included some of her mom’s designs.
“As I'm sewing, I often think to myself, if of the five hundred I've made, if one saves somebody. I feel like Rosie the Riveter. I can't go to the hospital. I can't help out there, but I can certainly sew a mask or two,” she says.
Tami Davis says the demand for masks is changing. She’s seeing fewer requests from hospitals, but now 4-M is donating masks to funeral homes and food distribution centers.
“I can't say how long we'll be doing this, but we'll be doing it as long as we need to do it,” she says. “If the need changes, well, then we'll adapt.”
The Mid-Michigan Mask Makers group was created because of the coronavirus crisis, but now another crisis is affecting their work. Davis says flooding in the Midland and Saginaw areas has forced her to stop her usual pickups and deliveries, but members are still sewing if they can.
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