Robin McQuiston, a 64-year-old Bend resident, calls herself the worst sewer in the world.
But that hasn’t stopped McQuiston from organizing an army of people sewing masks on their home machines, picking up and delivering sewing supplies and using technology to 3D print tools needed to make the mask-making more efficient to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
McQuiston’s homespun effort to keep Central Oregon safe from the pandemic couldn’t be more timely. On Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Oregonians that wearing cloth masks in public places can help prevent the spread of the disease by not spreading the virus to others.
McQuiston, an organizer of Central Oregon Emergency Mask Makers, a 3,000 member strong social media group making masks, said “I saw something on Facebook, and I jumped in to help because I can jump in with the technical side.
“We have criteria on how to stay safe so we don’t become vectors ourselves,” she said. “We sterilize the masks before we hand them off.”
The group has made about 8,000 masks since March 18, when it formed. By week’s end, members expect to sew more than 10,000 fabric face masks, mostly going to St. Charles Health System, whose health care professionals are wearing them over their personal protective equipment to make them last.
The donations are appreciated by the nurses, said Deanna Collins, an intensive care unit charge nurse at St. Charles Bend.
The masks that the Bend mask makers have made are welcome Collins said Monday in an interview. “The homemade masks are to protect the integrity of the personal protective equipment.”
Last week the hospital put out a plea to the community for these fabric masks, hoping to collect 10,000.
Making masks is one way the community can come together at a time when social isolation is the norm, when it’s unhealthy to go outside or even go to work.
“A lot of people are doing it because they feel they’re helping to fight the upcoming pandemic in town,” McQuiston said. “We have excellent seamstresses who are homebound. They’ll get the fabric and assembling packages. The trickiness is in the hand off. We sterilize things.”
Every day, 40 or 50 new people want to join the brigade, she said. Some have never been sewers. Others are taking patterns or making YouTube how-to videos and posting them online so that other communities can make these masks. And others are 3D printing a tool that replaces the lack of bias tape needed to make the straps for the face masks.
“It’s a whirlwind,” McQuiston said. “People just want a purpose, especially if you’re just sitting around. We can manage our fears through action.”
With businesses closed for the duration, some like Ginger Dog Beds are pivoting their business models to make face masks. John Arcee, owner of Ginger Dog Beds in Bend, just received 300 yards of indigo and black cotton fabric. He will use his company’s equipment to cut out the pattern pieces to make 1,750 to 2,000 masks. His plan is to use his own equipment to cut all the fabric, sew some and hand out the rest of the precut pieces to home sewing operators.
Arcee had a friend plot out how to cut out the mask pieces on the bolts of fabric with less than 3.5% waste. And a volunteer will come to his home in southeast Bend and pick up the kits and distribute them to anyone who wants to sew them.
“I have the connections,” Acree said. “I’d rather leverage my resources to better the community. I had the time, so I figured I should pivot.”
Jennifer Seelye, a 43-year-old Bend resident, is using the tools she has at home to make how-to videos to make it easier to make the masks that St. Charles has asked for.
“I don’t sew” regularly, Seelye said. “I haven’t used my sewing machine for two years. But I can make how-to videos. I want to help people make these masks faster.
“It’s in my nature to help others.”
On Greenwood Avenue, Lana Gudkova and her husband, David Friedman, have had to close their door at PinPoint Alterations under Brown’s stay-home order, but that isn’t stopping them from sewing.
Gudkova and her staff of two are volunteering their time to make masks. PinPoint Alterations has made and donated about 100 masks, Gudkova said. Clients are calling for orders of masks for their employees, Gudkova said Tuesday.
“There’s lots of people making masks,” Gudkova said. “It’s the obvious thing to do. We have a sewing shop and there’s a need for sewn masks. We want to help.”