Maggie Schmidt asked about a face mask for her mother, expecting something functional. Fabric and a bit of nose wire. Something to protect her mother, Kris Brown, on her monthly visits to the oncology unit.
“We didn’t talk about what the mask would look like, and I didn’t care,” said Schmidt, of Minneapolis. “I sent her my mom’s address in Iowa, and that was it.”
When Schmidt saw a photo of the mask her mother received, she caught her breath.
Maggie Thompson, a St. Paul textile artist who’s been sewing up a storm, had sent a light blue mask fashioned from her own mother’s tablecloth, embroidered with flowers. Schmidt thought of the prairie flowers that fill her mother’s backyard.
“It was practical and beautiful and personal — a gesture of kindness beyond what I expected.”
That’s the thing about a mask made by hand during a time of crisis. It’s practical, protective, recommended by the CDC. But in many cases, it’s also deeply personal. Each time I loop my mask around my ears, I think about my grandmother’s hands carefully stitching its pleats.
Now that face masks are part of daily life, we asked Minnesotans to share their masks and the stories behind them. Those stories involve repurposing shirts, bra straps, Homer Hankies. They hinge on fabric dropped off by a neighbor, a bit of elastic donated by a friend.
“I could not get elastic after the first 24, so I ordered shoelaces on spools from an online company,” said Jacque Stratton of Eden Prairie, who has sewn some 80 masks. She’s sent them to her sister-in-law, a physician, to her mother’s assisted-living facility, presented them to her neighbors, her friends, her mail carrier.
Some sewers are professionals: Winsome Goods and Hackwith Design House are among the businesses pivoting to mask-making. But many amateurs, too, are unboxing or dusting off their sewing machines, drawing on skills new and old. Stratton learned to sew as a kid in 4-H. Newbies are pulling up YouTube tutorials.
Josh Roiland of Appleton, Minn., watched “a two-minute video a dozen times and then spent four hours trying to replicate it.” The pattern was supposed to feature three pleats, but he gave up after one.
After an injury a few years ago, Yuki Tokuda, a Minneapolis dancer, began sewing her own clothing — pretty pants and frocks in bright, floral prints. Recently, with the leftover fabric, she began making matching masks. In photos of her head-to-toe looks, her eyes are smiling.
“I want to share joy,” she said by phone. “A little piece of joy in these hard times.”