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Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild, Sew Original and Other Volunteers Come Together to Make Fabric Masks in the High Country

Melinda Rose sits at the sewing machine making another mask.

By Nathan Ham

New recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seem to be released weekly to help the public slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Most recently, the CDC recommended that people should wear a cloth facemask when going outside to prevent the spread of the virus.

With medical quality masks already in short supply for the many healthcare workers on the frontline battling the illness, finding the materials and the time to make cloth masks can be a daunting task for a lot of people that do not know the first thing about sewing or working with fabric.

That’s where the Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild and Sew Original came to the rescue.

“It all started when I was able to get some elastic at a local store so I had all of this elastic to make masks and I thought I can’t do all of this myself so I called some friends in the guild to find out if I had some backing and they said they would do it. Then I sent out an email to all the members and the response was really awesome,” said quilt guild member Susan Payne.

The Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild has about 60 members and many of them have been volunteering their time to this great cause.

Sue Corcoran finished her first 15 masks on Thursday and is planning on starting to make children’s masks next.

My goal is to make a bunch more masks and bring them in. I’m just trying to use fabric that people will like to see and cheer things up a little bit,” said Corcoran.

Kathy Hill, who is the manager at Sew Original, located on Highway 421 south of Boone, is also the president of the Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild. She has been working with storeowner Melinda Rose and her quilt guild friends to fulfill as many requests as possible for fabric facemasks.

Kathy Hill holds one of the mask kits.

“People have been really kind and generous, not just with their time but also how everyone is dealing with the current situation,” Hill said.

Melinda Rose is really pleased that her store is involved with the mask-making process. She says some people come in and make masks in the store while others get the material and go home to make the masks.

“We are helping people as they come in. If they don’t want to come in, we will take the materials to their car or put it on the bench, and we’re shipping things like crazy,” said Rose.

Right now, the biggest need that the volunteers have encountered is trying to find elastic. Hill says if anyone has any elastic that they could donate to making these masks, it would be really appreciated.

If you do not have a sewing machine or the time to make some masks, you can purchase a $20 gift certificate at Sew Original.

“We estimate that it takes about $25 worth of supplies to make 20 masks, so if people wanted to purchase gift certificates for people making the masks, that would be very helpful. If you buy a $20 gift certificate, we’ll add $5 to it,” said Hill.

Rose said that they have been working on a drawstring design since elastic is so hard to come buy and that design has also been working really well.

Many healthcare organizations and other essential workers have already been able to get masks supplied through this volunteer effort. Susan Payne said that among the groups that have received masks include Watauga Medical Center, AppHealthCare, Boone Fire Department, Boone Drug, Appalachian Brian Estates and the Foley Center in Blowing Rock. Payne says they have even had calls from Mountain City for some masks.

The mask-making process has even included volunteers that are not in the quilt guild but still wanted to help out. One such volunteer is Darby Logan.

She has been working behind the scenes doing a lot of researching the best quality of masks and was able to get a lot of supplies for us that we had not been able to get yet,” said Payne. “We certainly welcome anyone in the area because it is time-consuming. It takes a few hours to make 20 masks.”

The fabric of choice is called batik, which is very durable cotton and has a much tighter weave so it’s more protective.

Jennifer Greene, the Health Director at AppHealthCare, says that they have received several masks and have been giving them to people that may be considered to be in higher risk categories that do not necessarily have direct patient care responsibilities.

“We’re very grateful, there are some great people in our community that are spending their time to make these masks for people and that’s really amazing. It’s one of the bright spots we have to focus on during this difficult season that we’re in,” Greene said. “It’s a great grass-roots thing and it’s really great to see people trying to step up and help their neighbor.”

Greene added that it also helps the hospital be able to preserve the medical-grade masks for the frontline healthcare workers that deal with patients closely throughout the day.

“It’s a great time to thank these volunteers who are making these masks for healthcare workers and others. We are trying to preserve the N95 and medical-grade masks for healthcare workers, but we know that these masks are an additional tool in our toolbox to make sure that community members who may be exposed to this virus at some point can help keep the germs to themselves rather than spreading it,” said Greene.

If you have any questions about making masks, donating elastic or purchasing gift certificates, reach out to Sew Original at 828-264-1049. You can also purchase a gift certificate online at seworiginal.org.

Masks ready to go made by Betty Minick of the Mountain Laurel Craft Guild.
Cutting out cloth to make another mask.
Kathy hands a mask over to a customer.