Seamstresses are being called during the COVID-19 pandemic to use their skills and talent for a new trend in modern-day fashion … facial masks.
The moment COVID-19 became widespread and caused a shortage in medical supplies worldwide, many seamstresses and first-time sewers found themselves in a position not only to help but also share their sewing experience with others.
Seamstresses, both experienced and first-timers, all around the world took it upon themselves to create masks of their own design to donate and sell for the cause. Now in high demand, facemasks have been proven to lessen the chance of spreading or contracting the novel coronavirus COVID-19. And with many cities mandating facial masks to be worn in public, there is expected to be an increase in demand in coming months.
For Nan Blassingame and Corrine Morton, both citizens of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, they found themselves in the middle of the pandemic learning and teaching the art of mask-making with fellow community members.
Known particularly for their participation in fashion shows and their unique work in Native fashion design, Blassingame and Morton’s sewing skills were put to the ultimate test in learning and teaching how to make masks.
Blassingame said making masks feels mandatory. She knew masks were being asked for early on in quarantine, but she just couldn’t bring herself to make them at first.
“I don’t know if I was in denial that there was a shortage of masks or what the deal was but I couldn’t make them and I was talking to other designers about this and we were talking about the different types of sewing,” Blassingame said.
“This isn’t like the fun type of sewing, they’re making prom dresses and I’m making jingle dresses, it felt kind of mandatory that we have to make masks so it kind of gave me a little more anxiety to even do it in the beginning.”
Blassingame said her inspiration came from a friend.
“She made a head wrap with a matching mask and I’m like, Oh, I should make them, a mask to match my hat that I already have and I didn’t know it was going to blow up,” Blassingame said.
She said since sharing a picture of her wearing a matching mask and hat combo she made, it has been shared more than 200 times on Facebook.
“I mentioned this certain type of mask was easier to make compared to the one that you make with the pleats in and I felt like it sits on the face a lot better. Everyone asked me to share a video so they could see, so I finally got around to it a few days later. I shared the video and right after I finished my mask, I posted the picture and it’s been shared so many times,” Blassingame said.
Residing in Cedar Park, Texas, witnessing a shortage in medical masks supply was only the beginning as Blassingame said there were also shortages in materials for making masks in the area.
“Now there’s a shortage in elastic to even make masks, we’re having to put tape or make our own strings to tie it on with so I guess they really are in high demand because of all the shortage in material. I saw a Walmart in San Antonio and the aisles of fabric were completely empty, like everyone bought out all the fabric,” Blassingame said.
While Blassingame is more familiar in sewing regalia and clothing items for fashion, she had to teach herself a few tricks with mask-making.
“A lot of people were posting videos on how they made them on YouTube, so I watched one on how to make the pleated mask but I didn’t like it, so from watching that video I just kind of figured out how to make the curved over the nose mask,” Blassingame said.
She said it was different from her usual sewing.
“I put aside all my other sewing to make masks but I can make a lot of them at a time. I was showing them in my video how I just continually add the next mask and add the next lining without having to cut the thread off in-between, creating a little chain of masks,” Blassingame said.
She said she began making masks for herself and then for friends who were essential workers in the Austin, Texas, area.
With other clothing and regalia orders to fulfill, Blassingame said sewing and selling masks has been done in her down time as she works from home and helps home-school her son.
Taking her fashion and designer skills from the powwow arena to making masks in an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Blassingame decided to go a step further by entering an online exhibition and Native American mask-making contest to be featured in the First American Art Magazine (FAAM).
“I saw it right after I posted the hat and mask that they were having a contest to submit masks that you’ve made … it’s three prizes for the mask, so I’ll be submitting the mask and hat,” Blassingame said.
Morton, who works for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Legislative Branch, said she began making masks mainly for family and co-workers.
“My daughter works in the medical field and was short on supplies, she was worried about coming home to her family and my grandkids. I wanted to do something for her and my family to help keep them safe. We still have to work and my co-workers had requested some for themselves and their families, that’s when I offered to teach them how to make their own,” Morton said.
Morton said she’s had requests for masks from family members, co-workers and businesses. She said mask-making can take a little time with the process in drafting, tracing and cutting the patterns and materials.
“After that it is smooth sailing to sew each piece together. My daughter and I have been up working like crazy, but with trial and error I came up with a pattern that works best for us to sew. Depending on the request or order, we have been making a couple of different styles of masks and sizes and with or without the filter pocket and nose guard. It’s a lot but I like to take my time and make sure I do a good job so that it will last and get the most use out of it,” Morton said.
Morton said she has been offering tutorial classes, showing others how to make masks of their own. She said she’s made approximately 50 to 75 masks and has had seven people attend her classes so far.
“I have a lot more requests and orders, it’s just having the time to fill them all. I don’t charge, I just ask to donate to the cause because supplies are always needed,” Morton said.
Morton said while she only began making masks to help out family and fellow co-workers, she wants to thank the Tribes for all that they do for tribal members during the COVID-19 crisis.