Debby Lawrence of Lowndes County makes masks at her sewing machine Wednesday. To date, she has sewn almost 400 masks to donate and help slow the spread of COVID-19. Photo by: Courtesy photo
A box of Debby Lawrence's masks is ready to send out, complete with instructions for cleaning and reuse.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
Banks Stone, 4 1/2 years old, wears a child-sized mask made by his grandmother, Diane Stone. Banks' parents are Matt and Leah Stone of Caledonia.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
April 11, 2020 10:06:58 PM
Lights on past 2 a.m. at Debby Lawrence's home don't signal a quarantine-induced Netflix binge. They indicate instead the east Lowndes County woman is at her sewing machine again, turning out protective masks as fast as she can. After three weeks, she's up to almost 400. They have gone to her neighbors, to police departments, 911 dispatch offices, chemotherapy patients and even oil rig crews in Louisiana.
Lawrence is among good Samaritans in the Golden Triangle making masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19. An already-scarce mask supply on retail shelves became more acute with recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for everyone to use face covering when out in public.
"I'm at home unable to go anywhere, but I wanted to do something to help, and I've always sewn," Lawrence said. "I started making masks when I heard they were wanting them at the hospital to give infusion patients after treatment."
Lawrence chose CDC-recommended mask patterns using two layers of 100-percent cotton with a layer of Pellon, a lightweight interfacing, between them. She worked at such a pace, however, she soon began running short on materials including fabric, elastic and any type of pliable metal for a nose guard. That's when the cavalry showed up.
Carla Guyton of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District's Senior Enrichment Center learned Lawrence could use a little help. Gatherings at the center, like everywhere, are on hold, but Guyton knew many who normally visited the facility quilted and sewed.
"Debby is just a go-getter person," Guyton said. "I contacted ladies I knew that normally come here in different groups that did crafting, quilting or sewing. I just sent out texts, and they started dropping off whatever they had here at (the center)."
The helpful network did more than that, however. Some began washing, ironing and pre-cutting their spare fabric into the 10-inch squares needed for masks.
"Then all I've got to do is zoom-zoom-zoom sewing," said Lawrence, who does most of her work on a Kenmore sewing machine given to her by a dear elder friend, Fran Fuqua. An efficient system of no-contact drop-offs of materials and finished masks has been perfected. Everything donated is disinfected before coming into Lawrence's house. Completed masks are sent out with instructions for cleaning and reuse.
Elastic, metal for nose pieces and interfacing have generally been the hardest components to resupply.
Sixteen-gauge wire is preferred for the nose piece, which lets the wearer shape the mask to the nose. But the resourceful Lawrence has also used electric fence wire, electrical wire, soldering wire, even strips cut from disposable baking pans.
When an order of elastic Lawrence didn't expect until May was delivered Tuesday, "I was the happiest person! It was like solid gold. I had hit the lottery. I'll be able to go forever with it," she said.
Likewise, a generous supply of Pellon sent by a son-in-law made the mask-maker feel like "it was Christmas."
And the fabric? Much of it sports cheerful designs from florals to flamingos. Some of those went to the oil rig crew, via Lawrence's daughter living in Louisiana.
"I told her those big, burly oil workers would just have to get a grip on the patterns," Lawrence laughed.
"I have a great supply of Pellon now, a great supply of elastic, and Carla's keeping the material coming good," she said. "I'll keep doing this as long as I have materials and as long as the need is there."
"We're very appreciative," said Quana Chandler, one of Lawrence's neighbors. "No stores had any, and they help us feel protected and help protect others as well."
Quilters team up
Diane Stone is missing her "hen house." That's what she and some fellow quilters call the Columbus house they gathered at every Wednesday night pre-coronavirus, to work on projects. For the present though, they sew at home. They've joined the citizen squad of mask-makers.
"We all decided this would be something we could do as a service," Stone said. "As we get requests, we fill them, send them to hospitals, workplaces and other locations."
Quilters are famous for having ample stashes of fabric on hand. Stone, a long-time Possum Town Quilter, is no exception. As of Thursday, she had made about 70 masks of 100-percent cotton and fleece, in both adult and children's sizes. Some in the group have made 100 or more, she said.
Like Lawrence's masks, many of Stone's are sewn with cheerful print fabrics.
"My husband says I'm too colorful, but I love colors," Stone said.
She hopes the current state of near-isolation brought on by the novel coronavirus is soon past, that she and her friends are back at the hen house, and that she's sewing with Possum Town Quilters at the Columbus Arts Council most Saturday mornings.
"Until then, as long as we hear there's a need for masks, we hope to keep it up."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.