Sewing community steps up to help

Finished masks from the Gloversville Sewing Center are shown in this photo taken Tuesday. (The Leader-Herald/Joshua Bovee)

GLOVERSVILLE — Throughout Fulton County volunteers are arming themselves with sewing needles to support non-clinical employees at Nathan Littauer Hospital by making thousands of masks to ensure all staff members have the protection they need to keep themselves and the community safe during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Diana Marshall, owner of the Gloversville Sewing Center, said hundreds of sewers, quilters and crafters from Gloversville, Johnstown and surrounding towns and villages are lending their talents to the effort.

“It’s the whole community,” said Marshall. “There are people from all over making these masks and returning them to us.”

Marshall, who is a member of the Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home Board of Directors, helped organize the initiative to make roughly 4,000 to 5,000 cotton masks for distribution by the hospital to employees. The masks will provide a layer of protection to staff members who work in the hospital setting, but who do not provide direct clinical care to patients.

“It’s an old-fashioned surgical mask,” explained Marshall, describing the hand sewn items as “feel good” masks that will provide a protective barrier for employees while ensuring medical grade personal protective equipment is available to the healthcare workers who need it most.

Kits that volunteer sewers can use to make masks for employees at Nathan Littauer Hospital are shown at the Gloversville Sewing Center located at 385 S. Main St. on Tuesday. (The Leader-Herald/Joshua Bovee)

To lighten the task for local needleworkers, Townsend Leather of Johnstown is pre-cutting fabric into the 9-by-13-inch rectangles used to construct the masks and the Lexington Center of Fulton County is cutting elastic bands for earloops. The Gloversville Sewing Center donated 70 bolts of cotton fabric ranging in size from 10 to 15 yards to support the effort along with local sewers who donated strips of fabric of five yards or more.

The pre-cut materials are organized by the Sewing Center into kits with supplies to make 20 masks. The kits are placed in bins on the front porch at the Gloversville Sewing Center located at 385 S. Main St. each morning for sewers to pick up and then return once complete.

“We knew we couldn’t do it as somebody doing 20 kits here or 10 masks there,” said Marshall. “Cutting the masks gives the incentive to pick kits up. People that aren’t even our customer picking up kits, making masks and dropping them off.”

In addition to the broad swaths of community members volunteering their time to make the masks, sewers with Taylor Made of Gloversville are participating in the initiative.

“People that run these industries have roots in this area so they’re all pulling and working together,” said Marshall of the support from Townsend, Lexington and Taylor Made. “Without them we would not be able to get this done on the level that we’re doing it.”

The exterior of the Gloversville Sewing Center, located at 385 S. Main St., are shown on Tuesday. (The Leader-Herald/Joshua Bovee)

Marshall estimated each mask will take about 10 minutes for an experienced sewer to complete and anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes for a beginner. With many sewers picking up two kits to work on at a time, Marshall said work on the masks will likely be complete later this week or early next week. Once complete, the masks will be washed and turned over to Nathan Littauer Hospital for distribution.

After the masks are finished, Marshall said local sewers will begin making gowns for non-clinical staff at Nathan Littauer that, like the masks, will provide a protective layer for employees to wear over their clothes during their shifts. The construction of the gowns will be more complex and will require more time and a higher skill level from volunteer sewers. Marshall pointed to the skill of sewers from Taylor Made as being especially helpful in preparing the gowns.

Marshall did not have an estimate of how many gowns will be prepared, noting that Townsend is working to cut patterns from 150 yards of cotton muslin donated by the Sewing Center typically used in theater that is double the width of most fabrics, making it the equivalent of roughly 300 yards.

Anyone is welcome to participate in the grass-roots effort, Marshall said, asking only that anyone who takes a kit from the Gloversville Sewing Center to make masks or gowns return the items once complete for distribution to the hospital.

Marshall expressed her appreciation for everyone involved in making the masks and gowns for local workers, pointing to the effort as similar to home front initiatives carried out by community volunteers during World War II.

“The home effort is going to pull us through this as well,” said Marshall. “We hope that this gives the people making them a feeling that they’ve contributed and that the people who are given them are given some level of protection so we can keep the virus from creeping into the community. We have a lot of older people in this community and a lot of people who are at risk so it would be really devastating for this community.”


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