Forget crisp apple strudels and schnitzels with noodles. These days, a few of Debbie Turner’s favorite things are people who help protect others from the coronavirus.
Turner, who lives in Chanhassen with husband Rick, went viral with something intended to head off a virus: face masks. Hers take advantage of a nostalgic connection to the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music.” Turner played the penultimate von Trapp child, Marta, in the classic movie and her masks borrow a stitch from the scene in which novice nun Maria (played by Julie Andrews) rips down some drapes and repurposes the fabric as play clothes for the seven formally-dressed von Trapp kids.
More than five decades later, Turner created masks from that same fabric and sent them to her four surviving movie “siblings,” which resulted in coverage, and orders, from around the world.
“Even prior to the pandemic, I’d been looking for the curtain fabric from the movie. I’ve been searching for a couple of years because I had other ideas of what I wanted to do with it,” said Turner, a designer who has operated Debbie Turner Originals for 31 years but pivoted when most weddings, her bread and butter, shifted to 2021. “I had found some online so I had 10 yards of this fabric that was ungodly expensive.”
Turner was still contemplating what to do with the fabric a couple of months ago when she was helping her daughter care for her grandchildren in northern Minnesota. Her daughter has an Etsy busy making face masks and suggested Turner try it, too. She knew she was onto something when, having made a few samples, she accidentally posted them on her public Facebook page and, before she could take the post down, three orders popped up. Once she (deliberately) had the page online, 50 orders came in immediately.
“They were right away gone,” said Turner, whose only other film credit is a small one as an adult in “North Dallas Forty.” “I don’t know if people were seeing them and telling their friends, whatever.”
So she made more and she told her friends. Turner has some media contacts, which resulted in coverage from as far afield as Los Angeles and Australia, and she asked her “Sound of Music” posse — Nicholas Hammond, Duane Chase, Angela Cartwright and Kym Karath — to take photos in the masks. Karath, who played Gretl von Trapp, posted the gallery on Twitter, receiving 1,300 likes and more than 500 retweets.
Sew, a needle pulling thread
Turner has about 1,000 orders and she’s “cutting and sewing, cutting and sewing, cutting and sewing nonstop,” turning out as many as 50 masks a day in two adult sizes, as well as a child size, priced from $19.99-$29.99. She also makes headbands and is contemplating scarves.
Sewing comes naturally to Turner, who also has a sideline making custom Santa Claus dolls. But the damask fabric is thick (it’s still not easy to get ahold of, which is why Turner declines to reveal its name or source). So assembling the masks is not as easy as do-re-mi.
“I know it’s just a mask. But they’re very well made and there are lots of steps and because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my work, it has to be right,” Turner, now 64, said. “So I’m super-busy and loving it and blessed.”
Turner doesn’t often see Andrews or Christopher Plummer, who played her father in “Sound of Music,” but she and the other child actors have remained friends: “We’ve always all been close because we’ve been together so much over the years. We’re like a family.”
Turner’s own family has weathered brushes with the coronavirus; her husband and two of her sons-in-law had short illnesses. She didn’t catch the virus, though, and is a believer in wearing her “Sound of Music” mask when around others: “I do it for their sake.”
Maria von Trapp would approve, undoubtedly. And although Maria might like them even more if the face masks were shipped in brown paper packages, tied up with string, she’d also probably appreciate Turner’s little effort to help the world say “So Long, Farewell” to COVID-19.