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Kansas City Area Crafters Rush Into Action Making Masks For Health Care Workers

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courtesy of Kate E. Burke
Kansas City, Kansas, artist Kate E. Burke (right) and her mom, Nancy Burke, model some of her newly created masks.

Kansas City fashion designers, fabric artists, home sewers and crafters are diving into their own supplies to help meet the demand for masks for health care workers.

As is happening elsewhere around the country, health care and first-responder agencies in the metro area have begun asking for donations to overcome shortages as they deal with the spread of COVID-19. 

"We can use just about any pattern a hospital prefers just so long as we can still source the necessary materials," Jennifer Lapka, founder and president of the non-profit Rightfully Sewn, wrote in a news release on Tuesday.

Lapka said she's reached out to Truman Medical Center, Liberty Hospital, North Kansas City Hospital and the University of Kansas Health System to assess needs.

"Fabric warehouses around the country are closing for quarantine measures, too, so we need to act fast," she added.

Starting with fabric on-hand, Lapka said, her organization expected to deliver a first batch of "non-medical grade fabric masks for donation to hospital workers" by April 3.

The Johnson County Emergency Management Division is looking for cloth masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

Public information officer Alyson Angell said they're planning ahead for a shortage of disposable surgical masks. They're still waiting for masks that have been on back order since January, and have also placed orders through the State of Kansas.

A variety of sewing templates for masks are available online from The Turban ProjectJoAnn Fabrics and Johnson County Library. Angell recommends professional and hobbyist sewers follow CDC guidance on last-resort masks. 

"The masks are the same patterns as have been circulating around on the internet — cloth with elastic ear straps," Angell wrote in an email to KCUR. "We do suggest thicker fabrics, double lined if possible." 

Fashion designer Hadley Clark has scheduled a Zoom meeting for Wednesday "to sew along with others" since "making masks at home alone can become overwhelming and kind of sad." 

Made in KC and Sandlot Goods are teaming up and have enlisted employees, who usually create leather wallets or canvas tote bags, to make cotton face masks and plastic face shields. They're also offering to drop off kits for people who are available to sew from home.

"We view this as an opportunity to employ makers and artists who cannot currently work otherwise," Made in KC's Tyler Enders wrote in a release.

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Lori Wade
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courtesy: Million Mask Challenge

A few days ago, textile artist Kate Burke said, she was "paralyzed (with) the fear of what is going on right now."

Then she saw an Instagram post from fashion designer Christian Siriano that "he had team of sewers and that he could start making fabric masks. And I was just like, 'Oh, I can do that!'"

At the same time, said Burke, an area business owner reached out to her with a request for fabric masks for employees. She took that as a "call to action," and with materials, a sewing machine, the skills and the time, she "started cutting away." 

Facebook groups like Million Mask Challenge are also sparking local chapters in the Kansas City area

"I had a sense of urgency that I wanted to create quality masks for hospitals," said Jennifer Tyree, a nurse and avid sewer in Oregon who launched the site on Friday. "And I wanted to be able to help make it easy for everyone who's wanting to create quality masks for healthcare workers and hospitals to be able to use."

Tyree conducted research and identified two patterns posted on the site that are more "universally accepted" and requested by hospitals.

Tyree suggests the following criteria for masks: that they're made with breathable fabric, cotton or cotton-blend, and two different colors of fabric, "a light color on the inside, and a different color or pattern on the outside of the mask." Other details include a pocket, so a filter can be added, and that the mask can handle frequent laundering.

"We know that there is a definite need," Tyree said, "to create a clear line between makers and facilities."

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can follow her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with essential news and information.
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