A ‘network of mask makers’ step up in a time of need

  • A “cow” design became a favorite for many.

  • When it comes to making designer masks, you can’t go wrong with a patriotic or University of Tennessee theme.

Members of Clinch Bend Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, have been busy making masks since early April.

That’s when the Centers for Disease Control recommended face coverings to complement the president’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America, 30 Days to Slow the Virus, on April 3.

The shortage of medical-grade masks spurred the necessity for masks made of cloth.

“One of our members called a local medical facility early on and offered to make masks for them because she’d seen on television where that was being done,” said Teri Oaks, Clinch Bend Chapter regent. “She was told don’t believe everything you see or read.”

Confused by that response, the member instead made masks for friends and family members to use. Word spread of her masks, and times changed as medical personnel were using cloth masks to lengthen the life of a medical-grade one, and soon she was inundated with requests.

She’s been busy ever since, just as at least three other members who make them have. By word of mouth, orders have poured in from medical facilities and businesses, anywhere essential workers are. These members do not accept payment for their masks.

They have made more than 1,000, and that number grows daily. One of the seamstresses has her own business sewing heirloom children’s clothing. She has paused it to sew masks. Another is a serious quilter and a regional director for Quilts of Valor, a nonprofit organization that makes quilts for veterans in appreciation for their service.

These two have plenty of fabric around and have not been affected too much by the shortages that have sprung up lately.

Elastic shortages are another story, but there are many mask designs. When they run out of one thing, they start another style. They also network with other seamstresses who are making masks to find out alternative sources, and in some cases, help by sharing their supplies.

The fabric has to be a certain thread count and quality for the best protection, and some prefer designs with ties, while others prefer elastic. Some use both.

DAR members network across their chapters, districts, states, and the nation.

There is a Service to America Project Facebook page where they share all things about masks.

It’s not unusual to receive an order for 30 or more masks. A large order from an area public health department was received that one mask maker could not turn around quickly because she was swamped with others. Another person in her network said, “I’ve got this,” and delivered the order.

The person who completed that order was not a DAR member, but a fellow quilt maker for Quilts of Valor. Through their networks, they are getting these done.

Some notable masks made include a black-and-white animal print for a well-known fast food restaurant, patriotic themes for veterans, University of Tennessee themes, masks for children, and masks for military members and people in government service, which generally require solid colors. All have remarked that they never dreamed that they would be making the number of masks that they are.

The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution President General Denise Doring VanBuren knew that there were members who were serving on the front lines in medicine, emergency response, retail supply chain and other essential services.

She also knew that there were other members whose talents could help with personal protective equipment, so she urged members to do what they do best— volunteer — in this instance to make PPE items, and they did so in droves.

Because of social distancing, many of the ways DAR serves communities have been curtailed. The idea of a Service to America Project from Home was born.

Members could do things from homes to help their communities, including sewing masks. Clinch Bend Chapter, which is the only DAR chapter in Anderson County and whose members live primarily in Oak Ridge, Claxton, Clinton, Norris, and Andersonville, as well as a few in Knoxville, reports its mask numbers to the project.

To date, more than 260,000 masks and more than 11,600 other PPE items have been made by DAR chapter members around the world. Recipients of these free masks have offered compensation or donations for supplies, but the makers decline the offers.

DAR is a nonprofit service organization, and this is a way to serve communities. The need for the masks will not end soon, and the makers request that if you have masks, please hold onto them.

They want to ensure that everyone has a mask who wants one.

The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was founded in 1890 to promote historic preservation, education and patriotism. Its members are descended from the patriots who won American independence during the Revolutionary War.

With more than 185,000 members in approximately 3,000 chapters worldwide, DAR is one of the world’s largest and most active service organizations. Members are committed to volunteer service, having served more than 12.5 million hours in communities throughout the world during the past three years.

Any woman 18 years or older who can prove lineal, bloodline descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving American independence is eligible to join the DAR. She must provide documentation for each statement of birth, marriage and death, as well as of the Revolutionary War service of her Patriot ancestor. The Clinch Bend Chapter assists prospective new members in their searches.