COVID-19 Narratives (1): Jennifer McKitrick

This is the the first of what I hope to be many installments in my “COVID-19 Narrative Project.” 

Making Fabric Masks
Jennifer McKitrick

I am a philosophy professor and department chair.  I started staying at home March 13th, 2020, when my university cancelled classes in advance of  transitioning to online instruction two weeks later.  I was trying to figure out how to finish my course on early modern philosophy online.  As department chair, I was dealing with nervous staff and colleagues making the transition to working from home, and administrations wanting documented contingency plans, etc., as the crisis deepened.

As an avid quilter, I was planning on spending my spare time making quilts, and had three projects in progress that I was making just for fun.  I am also vice-president of my quilting guild.  We had to cancel our monthly meetings and were working on ways to keep our quilting community together.

I had seen stories about people making their own masks to protect them from the coronavirus, and I thought they were being ridiculous.  Then I heard stories about hospitals that ran out of masks, where people were using bandanas to cover their faces.  I was horrified.  The ramifications of healthcare workers working without adequate protection are staggering.  I probably do not need to explain that here. I thought that I could make something at works better than a bandanna.  Then on March 19th,  I heard the call of hospitals that were asking people to make and donate masks.  The CDC approved of the use of fabric masks when medical grade masks were unavailable.  Websites like this started popping up.

CDC guidelines for making, wearing cloth masks

YouTube tutorials proliferated.  I resolved to put aside my other projects and work on masks every spare moment.  I have been researching the most effective patterns and materials.  This website was most helpful.

My quilting guild put out the call for people to start making masks, and one of the board members volunteered to collect and deliver masks.  The next day, I braved the outside world and made a trip to the craft store and bought some supplies, including ¼ inch wide elastic.  I was ahead of the curve on that one.  I have since joined a Facebook group AMillionMasksaDay, and have seen other sewists commenting “1/4 inch elastic is the new toilet paper.”  Fortunately, fabric ties are another option.  It is March 23, 2020 as I write this.  I made 21 masks in two days, and I’m just getting started.   My greatest hope as that this is all for nothing because adequate supplies of medical-grade equipment will soon be available.  But until I have evidence that that is the case, I will keep sewing.

Jennifer McKitrick is Professor of Philosophy and Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

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