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Crafting Through Crisis

Sewists of all abilities get in on mask making trend

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Since the stay at home and quarantine orders have been put in place throughout the nation, there is one thing we know about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19: information changes rapidly. On a daily basis, we are inundated with updates from government officials. Our daily habits keep changing in response, and life across the globe is very different than it was when 2020 dawned. People, for the most part, have adapted quickly to these changes. We’re staying home as much as possible, limiting travel, following guidelines to keep ourselves and our families safe. It is not surprising, then, that when the Centers for Disease Control announced that all Americans should be wearing a face-covering when out in public, people jumped at the chance to get involved. Veteran seamstresses pulled out their machines, young people began learning how to use machines that lurked in their basements.

Lanae Lumsden, a North Boroughs resident for the last seven years, is the former. She began sewing in high school, worked in alterations and for a furrier for several years, and even had her own home-based sewing business when her youngest child arrived on the scene. Like so many others, Lumsden is staying close to home these days, quarantined in her Avalon home with her husband, five children, and several pets. She was inspired to get involved in mask making when she “saw a post from Chad Michaels [from the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race] encouraging drag queens to use their sewing skills to make masks. There was a link included from a hospital that showed the recommended fabrics and technique. I dug everything out and started sewing masks.”

After she hauled out her sewing machine and supplies and got to work, Lanae sewed about 200 masks before running out of supplies. She has sent them across the country to friends and family, from Hawaii to New York. Her masks were also sent to family working in the COVID unit at Johns Hopkins. Lanae shared that a prominent Pittsburgher has one as well (though she won’t name names).

Olivia Rajakovic, 12, works with the family sewing machine to create fabric masks. Photo provided by Amy Rajakovic.

Olivia Rajakovic, a twelve-year-old Avalon resident, didn’t know there was a sewing machine in her family’s basement until recently when she asked her mom, Amy Rajakovic, if she could adjust the size of a pair of her pants. Amy, who has lived in the North Boroughs for the last thirty years, does not consider herself to be a seamstress by any means. She purchased the sewing machine about fifteen years ago to sew greeting cards and had to get in touch with her “inner 7th grade home economics class student to thread the darn thing.” Happily, Amy is also quarantined in the family’s Avalon home with her husband, Mike, and older daughter, Mia. Being very technically inclined, Mike was able to contribute by helping out when the machine got stuck from lack of use and lack of oil.

Learning how to use the sewing machine was a little frustrating for Olivia at first due to jamming and lost needles, but she persisted and learned from her mistakes. She says that, with a few reassemblies of the machine she “caught on in about a day” and the first mask turned out great. When she gets additional supplies, she plans to donate finished masks.

If you are interested in making masks for yourself or others, there are countless tutorials and patterns to get you started. Below are a few to check out:

No-sew mask from a t-shirt

Simple mask from a bandana or scarf

Super simple face mask with elastic

Face mask with fabric ties

Contoured face mask

Even the most inexperienced sewist can be successful making a face mask. Join Lanae and Olivia to become part of the ever growing number of people in the North Boroughs and beyond that are creating face masks from the comfort of their homes.

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Erika

Born in Pittsburgh, but raised in Michigan, Erika made her triumphant return to the Steel City in 2008 to attend graduate school at Duquesne University where she earned a Masters in Public History. She moved to Bellevue from the East End in 2017, in search of a small town environment in which to raise a family. Erika immediately jumped into the deep end of local volunteerism: she is one of the founders of the Bellevue Farmers Market, currently serves as the Vice President of the Friends of Bayne Library, as well as the planning team that brought the community WizardVue. Erika is passionate about local history, sewing, cross stitch, and her friends & family and is looking forward to creating more magic in the community via The Nobo Neighbor. She lives in her Forever Bellevue home with her husband, two small boys, and two geriatric cats.

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