xt7d7w676r82_130 https://exploreuk.uky.edu/dips/xt7d7w676r82/data/mets.xml https://exploreuk.uky.edu/dips/xt7d7w676r82/data/2020ms084.dao.xml unknown 346 Megabytes 189 digital files archival material 2020ms084 English University of Kentucky The physical rights to the materials in this collection are held by the University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center.  Contact the Special Collections Research Center for information regarding rights and use of this collection. In This Together: Documenting COVID-19 in the Commonwealth Collection Coronavirus infections -- Social aspects -- United States -- Kentucky COVID-19 (disease) Epidemics -- Kentucky. Diaries -- United States -- Kentucky. Mask Mamas, narrative about making masks during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 text Mask Mamas, narrative about making masks during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 2020 https://exploreuk.uky.edu/dips/xt7d7w676r82/data/2020ms084/Digitalfile_2020ms084_130/Multipage365.pdf 2020 June 11 2020 2020 June 11 section false xt7d7w676r82_130 xt7d7w676r82 Nancy Ellen Walker Mask Mamas 1

Mask Mamas

Coronavirus: the most feared word in the world today. Death monger. Heart
exploder. Lung destroyer. Clot thrower. Grandma slayer. Kid killer. From complete
obscurity to #1 news topic in only a matter of weeks.

Daily we are barraged by dystopian views of astronaut-garbed healthcare workers
working feverishly in hospitals and intensive care units around the globe. Everyday folks
don medical— grade N95 facemasks, if they have them, and social distance from one
another when in public, or isolate at home to ward off infection or prevent its lightning
spread. Everyone washes hands, singing “Happy Birthday” two times through to ensure at
least 20 seconds of scrubbing, enough to ensure effective germicide. Disinfectant cleaning
supplies fly off store shelves. Hoarders, prescient enough to act before most others grasp
what is happening, fill their basements with the new gold standard: toilet paper.

The world as we knew it has gone topsy—turvy.

Like other older people with rational minds, my husband and I hunker down at
home, waving to passersby through the window — no closer. We learn to buy groceries
online and pick them up curbside, absent human contact. We discover that things we need
actually are only wants; we find we can forgo many items. We read good books; we bring
the gardens to life; we plant new vegetable patches; we play music; and, too often, we
watch the news. Even as Luddites, we learn to use group chats on Zoom and WhatsApp
and Facebook and FaceTime. In these ways, we adapt to the “new normal.”

But we never adapt to the growing death toll: nearly 100,000 in the US alone in
only the first quarter of the virus’s spread.

And, too, we are antsy. How can we be mere bystanders to a pandemic that is
wreaking havoc all around us? It is ripping through communities with wild abandon —
Jesse James on a killing spree with nary a US marshal in sight. Can we just sit idly by,
watching the devastation all around us?

No. There must be something we can do, not only to keep busy and ward off
creeping depression, but to Make A Difference.

But what?

In short order, we decide that making facemasks is our calling. If we can do

nothing else, at least we can produce homemade masks that might provide an ounce of

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protection against the deadly coronavirus. My adrenaline is up; I’m rarin’ to go. My good
husband, Michael, is more restrained in his enthusiasm, but I know him: he will rev up as
we go along. I cannot proceed, though, without some evidence-based information. Once a
scientist, always a scientist.

I quickly learn that all masks are not created equal; I need to educate myself.
Which mask pattern should I use? Which fabric? What sort of fastener?

A short video teaches me that I can make CDC-compliant masks — 6” x 9”
rectangles for adults, 5” x 7.5” for children — with triple pleats and fasteners to go around

the ears.

MI check off the “which pattern?” box.

Fabric? That should be no problem whatsoever. I have stacks and stacks of fabric
from years of making wedding gowns, quilts, home decor projects, outfits for my
daughters, and “stuffies” for our grandkids. I open the sliding door to my studio closet to
see the sturdy shelves Michael built for my fabric warehouse. I am greeted by piles of
material of all sorts — cottons, fleeces, flannels, muslins, silks, and satins — all arranged by
color scheme: the red stack, the blue heap, the purple pile. Where do I begin? I need more

I return to my computer to research which materials are best for this project. As it
turns out, several scholars have conducted empirical studies. Scientists at the University of
Chicago, for example, tested the filtration effectiveness of different types of fabric:
flannel, cotton, polyester, chiffon, synthetic and natural silk. Using a human’s average
respiration rate as a guide, the researchers used a fan to blow aerosolized particles 10
nanometers to six micrometers in size across the various cloth samples. They measured
the size and number of aerosolized particles in the air both before and after passing
through each fabric.

The scientists learned that dual layers of fabric performed better than single,
especially in hybrid combinations. For example, one layer of cotton combined with two
layers of silk was effective at filtering greater than 90% of particles larger than 300
nanometers. Combining one layer of cotton with one layer of flannel produced identical


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E/ Fabric decision made: One layer of quilter’s cotton plus one layer of cotton

Now, which sort of fastener? Something that ties around the back of the head?
Elastic bands that encircle the ears? An intemet search reveals that elastic seems to be the
hands-down favorite. But elastic can be flat, braided, or corded. And it comes in a
dizzying array of sizes and thicknesses, not to mention colors.

In the end, I don’t need to make this decision, because, within days, there is a
nationwide run on elastic of all types and sizes. I settle for whatever I can get my hands
on, although I work hard to obtain 14” or 1/8” flat elastic or 2mm cords — whichever one

Jeff Bezos can deliver to me quickly and in sufficient quantities.

E/ Fastener type selected.

Finally, I’m ready to start making facemasks. I pull out the monochromatic piles of
fabric in my closet and resort them by fabric type. I set aside the most luscious ones: the
beaded ivory satin of Laura’s wedding dress, the champagne satin and lace from Kristen’s
vintage wedding gown, the Italian brocade of Thea’s Grace Kelly-style gown, and the rose
patterned organza of Anne’s dress, from which I had sufficient remnants to also create
little Lila’s christening gown a few years later. I think about how beautiful each of my
daughters was on her wedding day, and still is, and my heart feels filll to bursting.

Next, I sift out dozens of fabrics from various grandchildren’s Halloween
costumes: pirates and princesses; Harry Potter and Owlette and F razen’s Elsa; lions and
tigers and bears, oh my! Even a pink pterodactyl. (“Yes, Nana, it must be a pink
pterodactyl.”) The last fabric I touch is the orange sateen that was just right for Jack’s
Dusty the Cropduster airplane costume. And what a costume it was! Jack, as the pilot,
wore a bomber cap and aviator glasses, a long white scarf flowing in the breeze, as he sat
in the cockpit of the cropduster that hung from straps over his shoulders. The costume was
difficult enough to create, but the real challenge was packing this airplane inside my small
suitcase for a 30-hour ride inside another airplane. That’s what I had to do in order to
personally deliver Jack’s costume to him in the Philippines, where he and his family were
living at the time. Not much room for my clothes in that suitcase, but Jack got his airplane,

at that treasure hung from a hook in the ceiling of his bedroom for years thereafter.

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I am smiling now. I don’t love the blood and gore of this holiday, but I do cherish
how this annual event has stitched together my relationship with each of my
grandchildren. Negotiations for Halloween costumes begin in July, and I look forward to
them every year. I communicate back and forth with each child. We decide on a theme and
then explore ideas together. Eventually, we trade pictures of possible final versions. Each
child circles the image of the winning selection.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Yes, Nana, I am sure.”

“It’s only August. Are you sure you will still want to be that in October?

“Yes, Nana, I am SURE!”

With that assurance, I begin the process of making a pattern and sewing each

Halloween is such a special bonding time for us. True enough, it’s about candy,
but it’s about Nana’s costumes, too.

This year, though, troubling questions bedevil me: Will children even celebrate
Halloween? Will any parent permit children to knock on strangers’ doors and accept
possibly contaminated candy from them? Will children even wear costumes this year?

I sigh, and set aside all scraps from my ghoulish endeavors.

My piles have been whittled down to only 100% cotton and flannel. There’s still a
lot of fabric. I will have enough to make dozens of masks.

I flip through the cottons, not sure where to begin. I touch two identical calico
prints, one on cherry red background, the other on cobalt blue. These are the remnants
from the Little House on the Prairie dresses, complete with bonnet and pinafore, I made
for my daughters when they were five and three years old, respectively. Each morning
they’d don those outfits, gather up an old pewter tea set and some wooden spoons, and
head out to the back yard to a make-believe tent made of old bed sheets. There they’d play
to their hearts’ content. At the end of the week, I’d practically pry those dresses off them
so I could wash the outfits and hang them to dry for the next week’s adventures. Precious
scraps these, but they aren’t doing anyone any good in my closet, and there are just
enough there for a couple of facemasks. Besides, I have the photo of Laura’s daughter, my

granddaughter Izzy, playing Little House in that same dress just last year.

 Nancy Ellen Walker Mask Mamas

With that happy image, I begin.

Even though masks aren’t particularly difficult to assemble, it takes several steps
to do it right. After a few halting attempts, I learn some shortcuts. Soon, there is a rhythm
to each day:


At first, I am proud if I complete five masks in one day. As the weeks progress, I

feel like a slacker if I’m not cranking out 20 per day.

I package masks in plastic Ziploc bags along with this message:


These facemasks are CDC-compliant in both materials and
construction. After each use, please sanitize by washing in hot,
soapy water and drying on high heat. Ironing fiirther sanitizes.

Comments and suggestions for improvement may be sent to

Nancy Walker at nwalker1949@ gmail.com




Then, I begin delivering them. By the end of the first week, I’ve distributed only 8
masks, and the others I’ve made are piling up like Strega Nona’s pasta. I need to find

some outlets.


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My husband alerts me to an article in the Herald Leader about a woman in
Lexington who is making masks and donating them to healthcare workers. I contact her.
Yes, 30 nurses at UK’s Children’s Hospital need homemade masks. I fill the order.

To my delight, I receive the following message:

“Just picked up the masks. I cannot thank you enough for your
kindness and generosity in this unprecedented time. It is because of
our neighbors like you that we have some peace of mind as we
work to help those who are sick. You’re making a difference and
are so appreciated. I’ll be sure to tell my colleagues in other units
to reach out to you. Stay well, and thank you again!”

I smile, ear to ear.

Next, I contact the person who has been my BFF since I was 12 years old. She also
was our senior class secretary at Hinsdale Township High School in the ‘burbs west of
Chicago, which means she has organized each and every class reunion for decades. That
makes her a saint. And, too, she has the email address of everyone in our class.

“Bets,” I say, “put out the word. I’ll make masks for anyone from the Class of ’66
who needs them.” After all, each of us is a septuagenarian.

At first, the requests trickle in; then they come in a steady stream. I make nearly
150 masks for classmates and their loved ones. Wearing my own mask, I traipse to the
Post Office and mail off dozens of packages. Recipients are delighted to have them, and
send me grateful and encouraging notes. “Thank you so much,” one writes. “Beautiful as
well as functional. They may save a life.”

This note gives me chills. Is it possible that my mask will save someone’s life?
That thought is almost too good to be true. But, does that also mean that, if I ease up on
my sewing efforts, someone’s life will end because I didn’t make enough masks? Whew!
The pressure is on.

Many of my classmates offer to pay me for my work and materials. Instead, I
suggest they “pay it forward” by contributing to a worthy cause. I am gratified to learn
that they contribute thousands — literally thousands — of dollars to good causes: Meals on
Wheels, Heifer International, Kiva, early education programs, food banks, an organization

advocating for victims of domestic violence, and the list goes on. One good soul donates

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$5,000 -- $5,000! — to a school making meals for hungry children; then, he gives the five
masks I sent him to volunteers required to work the polls for the in—person primary
election Wisconsin’s Supreme Court deemed “necessary.” I am blown away by my
classmates’ compassion.

By this point, I have enlisted my sister in Wisconsin to join the effort. We both
have retired from our careers as psychologists. As fast as Clark Kent entering the
telephone booth to become Superman, the Doctors Walker morph into the Mask Mamas.
Our husbands, now enthusiastic about this endeavor, order supplies and cut fabric and
elastic, and then cook dinner, too.

In March, I honor my dear Michael with the Employee of the Month Award
(Lexington Branch) as Chief Shipping Clerk and Customer Service Manager of Zorro
Industries. In April he wins again, this time as Company Chef Extraordinaire. In May he
wins the Triple Crown: Employee of the Month as World’s Best Elastic Cutter. Being the
sole “employee” has its benefits.

By this point, each of my daughters and several friends have donated their stashes
of cotton and flannel to me. Kristen and Laura cheer me on every week via FaceTime.
Their gifts and encouragement keep Zorro Industries going, and my spirits up. And, too, I
stay connected to them by giving art lessons to their children.

But, oh! How I miss seeing my children and grandchildren in person. I miss
hugging them. I miss holding them. I miss fist-bumping them. I miss kissing them and
tousling their curly locks. Pandemics suck.

Still, we stay connected in the ways we can.

My sister and I call each other every few days. “How’s it going? What’s your
number? Did you find a source for decent elastic?”

Harriet has made contact with the Lac du Flambeau tribe in the North Woods of
Wisconsin, where she lives. The tribe orders 300 masks, maybe more. I tell her I have
given more than 100 to Food Chain, an organization in Lexington that is hiring laid off
restaurant workers to make meals for families going hungry, and another 44 to the
YMCA, whose staff members are caring for the children of healthcare workers.

We have been close for many years, my sister and I; this mutual effort bonds us

further. I cherish my older, wiser sibling. We had planned to meet in Niagara-on-the-Lake,

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Canada to celebrate her 75th birthday on June 5th: Theater and good meals and knitting and
laughing and talking until the wee hours. But, of course, our plans had to be cancelled. I
push aside the thought of never seeing Harriet again because of this damned pandemic.
Some thoughts are simply too horrible to endure. I love you, my dear sister. That’s the
thought I focus on instead.

I have no idea where this mask—making endeavor will go, how long it will last, or
how it Will end. If the coronavirus peaks again (and, perhaps, again and again), I may be in
“business” for a long time. If it peters out over time, the need for masks will wane, or even

A vanishing virus is my most sincere hope.

In the meantime, though, Harriet and I keep sewing.

As the Mask Mamas, we have churned out 1,640 masks so far. But we aren’t done
yet. Not even close. After all, a group of Amish women in Ohio turned out 12,000 masks
in just two days. TWO days and 12,000 masks! Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,
a lesson Dad taught us so well.

We have a ways to go.

Anyone need a mask?