Stitches in Time

Stitches in Time

How making fabric face masks is helping me deal with the pandemic

Making face masks to protect our community has become a meditative process for reflection. | Chey Scott photo

Sewing is my new coping mechanism.

The rhythmic whir of the machine’s motor is soothing white noise to my thoughts, and as the neat stitches march across the fabric like busy ants, my mind escapes to happier times.

After the initial shock of the coronavirus pandemic’s gravity smothered me with anxious dread (and all of us at the Inlander moved to a part-time schedule for a few weeks), I needed a productive outlet, a distraction to maintain my sanity and feel useful amid the chaos.

Puzzle pieces of an answer fell into place one night as I tossed and turned in anxiety-induced insomnia. I have known how to sew since I was a girl. People need face masks to help prevent the spread of disease. A friend happened to give me an older but sturdy sewing machine last summer.

Making cloth masks for loved ones and local groups in need of personal protective equipment is also what my Gramma Scott would do if she was here today. As sentimental as it sounds, I dove into this project not only for myself, to cope, and to support our community in some small way, but as a tribute to her legacy and the skills she taught me.

As I’ve batch-sewn nearly 100 masks these past weeks, I keep returning to the first moment at her antique Singer, a heavy-duty machine from the early 1950s built into a walnut table. I was 7. She started me with a piece of notebook paper, coaching me to go slow and keep my fingers away from the needle while tracing the thread over blue lines on the page.

Raised during the Great Depression and World War II, my Gramma sewed out of necessity. As a teen, she took apart hand-me-down clothing, restyling pieces to match fashions of the time. She was exceptionally thrifty and talented.

Gramma’s sewing room was a magical place filled with fabric, thread, ribbon, buttons, and craft supplies galore. Looking back on all the things we made together as I grew up — doll clothes, Little House on the Prairie dress-up outfits, quilts, prom dresses and more — in that safe, lint-scented space is a deep well of happy nostalgia I’ve drawn on to persevere through the sleepless nights and fear of the unknown.

I like to think that years from now we’ll also look back on both the hard and the happy moments of this point in time for a reminder of our past selves’ strength.

Until then, I’ll just be sewing. ♦

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