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Sewing skills are put to good use during pandemic

RNs, students discover flair for making homemade face masks

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When Arielle Herron, CMN, APRN, of Manchester OB/GYN Associates in Manchester, Conn., heard that hospitals were facing a shortage of face masks in the wake of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, she immediately began creating homemade masks.

By Linda Childers

Herron is one of many nurses across the country who have stepped up to craft masks for physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers. Shortages of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks and N95 respirators, left many nurses and frontline staff without access to basic needs as they treat the rapid spread of the dangerous airborne virus. “I worked briefly in the ER while in nursing school when SARS was emerging, and I understand the seriousness of wearing masks,” Herron said. “Every healthcare worker deserves the necessary respirators, face masks, face shields, gowns and suits to keep them safe while they risk themselves for others.”

Herron knew making N95 masks at home would be next to impossible since special equipment is needed to meet each mask’s stringent regulatory standards. Instead, she found a pattern for a tightly-woven flannel, double-folded mask. Herron, a group of friends and other nurses are making masks that can be used by medical professionals who aren’t on the front lines in order to keep the N95s for those who are.

Every healthcare worker deserves the necessary respirators, face masks, face shields, gowns and suits to keep them safe while they risk themselves for others.

— Arielle Herron, CMN, APRN

Cloth type, layers and more

When Herron started making masks, she was using 100% cotton but felt it wasn’t adequate. So, she moved on to double-layered flannel, which is tightly woven and soft on the face.
Using a sewing machine, Herron said she can now make a mask in minutes and has found using a single head strap allows for it to fit nicely over an N95 mask. “Volunteers from all over the country have been coming up with all types of creative mask patterns,” Herron said. “My favorite design to date is a pleated mask with an opening that has a pouch to insert a disposable filter.” Across the country in Lafayette, Calif., Shawnna Martinez, RN, a NICU nurse, has also joined friends in crafting masks for local nurses and other healthcare professionals. “We're making non-medical grade masks to be worn over the N95 mask,” Martinez said. “My nurse friends told me they are given one mask per day instead of disposing of them after each use, so we're making cloth masks that can be worn over the N95.” By doing this, Martinez said it keeps the N95 mask cleaner, and nurses and other hospital staff can sub out the cloth masks multiple times per day while keeping the same N95 mask. Then they can take the cloth masks home to wash them. As she becomes more immersed in making masks, Martinez said pre-cutting a lot of fabric speeds the process along. “Thick weave 100% cotton fabric, like T-shirts, seems to work best,” Herron said. “Elastic has been as scarce as toilet paper, so the options are now ties, bias tape or using old nylon tights or pantyhose, which I plan to try.” She said ties can be more time-consuming, while bias tape is costlier. “Once you get the hang of making masks, it takes less than 10 minutes to sew one,” she said.

Jeremy Medlin, a student nurse in North Carolina, who is set to graduate soon, put his bachelor’s degree in fashion and textiles to good use. Medlin is sewing masks for an elder care facility.

Although he is just completing nursing school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Jeremy Medlin knew he wanted to help nurses in his community when he heard they were experiencing a shortage of masks. “I have an undergraduate degree in fashion and textiles and thought my background would prove useful in producing masks,” he said. After researching patterns, Medlin then created his own pattern using 3D modeling software and printed it using his 3D printer. “Unlike the typical homemade mask structures you see online — basically a rectangle with one or two horizontal pleats down the middle — the masks I’ve designed have a bump for the nose bridge, as well as three pleats on each side so that it cups the sides of the face,” Medlin said. “It’s designed to mimic the N95 mask structure as much as possible.” Medlin is currently making washable, re-usable masks for an elder-care facility in Chapel Hill and hopes to contribute to UNC when its supplies run low. “For materials, I’ve tried a few different combinations and found that a layer of felt sandwiched between two layers of cotton (one on each side) works best,” he said. “Cotton is much gentler on the skin than felt, but the felt gives it more weight. I’ve also been using ties on the masks, making them similar to surgical masks, since doctors and nurses have reported ear fatigue from using the elastic masks.”

About the Author

Linda Childers is a freelance writer.

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Joann Fabric and Craft Stores have been helping the public’s efforts to make face masks by providing resources for cloth, videos and patterns for making masks.
To find a participating JOANN store near you, visit joann.com/stores. For instructions on how to make masks, visit joann.com/maketogive. Hospitals seeking fabric, elastic and other materials to make masks should contact [email protected]. The CDC also offers a video and instructions on how to make a no-sew mask. For information on donning, using and doffing PPE and more visit the The World Health Organization website.

Review the CDC’s latest face mask guidelines in our video

Arielle Herron, CMN, APRN, wears one of her own creations — a face mask made with a tightly-woven flannel.

Using 3D technology to craft washable masks

Help for the helpers

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Every minute, every hour, every day, you take time to improve the lives of each of your patients. We want to take the time to celebrate you, and all that you do. Thank you, and Happy National Nurses Week from Medela!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree cloth face masks are better than wearing nothing at all. The CDC is now recommending healthcare providers with no other options use bandanas or scarves when treating patients with COVID-19. Ideally, the CDC says cloth masks should be paired with face shields. Herron, who works in an outpatient setting, uses the cloth masks for medical staff in her own office and offers them to patients. She has posted a YouTube video showing how to make the masks. “Currently, it is believed that COVID-19 is transmitted via droplets (unless aerosolized), and therefore social distancing helps to prevent my droplets from reaching you,” she said. “I believe a cloth mask helps even more. Considering I’ve been back and forth to the hospital and in contact with dozens of patients this week, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable if I took care of you with a mask on?”

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