The reference librarian at the Pottsville Free Public Library is doing her part to help hospital staff dealing with the coronavirus outbreak by hand-making surgical masks that can be donated.

Since Sunday, Becki White has been sewing the protective gear from cotton, with elastic for the earlobes, for nurses who have requested them. As of Tuesday, she had made 20 and delivered one.

The Port Carbon resident said she started experimenting with patterns Friday after receiving a request from Deborah Cooper, director of the Arts Barn, North Manheim Township. Cooper received a request from artist Joann Allen, who offered to pick up any masks made and distribute them to hospitals, and reached out to people she knows who quilt.

At the same time, White saw a link in a Facebook sewing group to directions on how to make a mask from Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Indiana, and she decided to make some herself.

“My first few attempts weren’t great but they were helpful in the learning process,” White said.

She began making masks for others Sunday. White uses woven quilting cotton for the front and a plain, tightly-woven cotton sheet for the back. The front and the back are different colors, she said, to help wearers remember which side goes against their face. The earlobes are made using 1/8 inch elastic, although fabric ties can be used if she runs out.

She uses a slight variation of the pattern put out by Deaconess Hospital, by putting in the elastic on the sides of the front piece of fabric, and joining the front and back pieces with right sides facing in but leaving a gap to turn it right side out.

“Once it’s right side out, press the edges, sew in the tucks, then sew around all sides to secure everything,” she said.

White has varied the pattern slightly. She is cutting the fabric an inch longer and leaving a gap in the bottom edge so that the wearer can place a filter inside.

She said the masks should be machine washable and can be worn repeatedly.

So far, White said she received five requests from nurses. Once those requests are filled, she said she will make more to fill general requests from hospitals.

Becki White, Port Carbon, cuts fabric for custom mask she is making for for nurses at her home on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.


Hospital seeks help

St. Luke’s University Health Network is accepting donations of surgical masks, N95 masks, goggles, face shields, vinyl gloves, hand sanitizers and Clorox and Lysol products, including wipes. Other requested items include hospital-grade cleaning supplies and disinfectant.

St. Luke’s centers are also accepting fabric from which network personnel can make their own masks, including cotton, denim, duck cloth, canvas, twill, silk or other tightly woven fabrics, along with elastic and rubber bands.

Officials at Lehigh Valley Health Network are inviting the public to sew masks that can be donated to the health care organization. They can be made of a tightly-woven, breathable cotton fabric or another tightly-woven, breathable fabric blend, in any color or pattern, with elastic banding. The network is also accepting donations of fabric bolts, cut pieces of fabric, swatches of fabric and elastic. The materials will be distributed to those who can make them.


‘So grateful’

White said the reaction from those working in health care has been positive.

“Every nurse I’ve spoken with was so grateful to find someone who can sew who would do this for them,” she said.

So far, she has distributed one mask, but that person was pleased with it.

She said making the masks is one way she can help fight the coronavirus outbreak while at home. The Pottsville Free Public Library is closed through Sunday, March 29.

“This is one way I and others can feel both helpful and a little more in control of things,” White said, adding that she has seen the sewing effort being referred to as “our generation’s version of rolling bandages for war.”

“You do what’s right when it’s needed.”

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