Virtual Sewing Bee Stitches Beautiful Protection for San Juan Islanders
FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash., April 21, 2020 – It started with a simple request for support. In late March, Beth Williams-Gieger, director of administration at PeaceHealth Peace Island Medical Center, emailed Peggy Cregor, chair of the Peace Island Volunteers (PIVs) asking if they would be interested in sewing masks for medical providers at PeaceHealth Peace Island.
At that time, the CDC was still allowing cloth face covers to be used in support of personal protective equipment (PPE) conservation efforts and Williams-Gieger wanted to begin providing these to caregivers at the medical center.
The volunteers responded with their usual enthusiasm and commitment and the plan was launched to begin sewing masks – just a few. Krista Mattox took on the job of coordinating the project with Barbara Cable, another longtime volunteer, who developed a spreadsheet to organize and track results.
Both wanted to ensure no small detail would be overlooked. Barbara Von Gehr connected with Nancy Best, president of the Rainshadow Quilting Arts Guild, who notified talented guild members to rally their support. Peace Island Volunteer members Susan Hall, Rachel Merz and Debbie Dickinson volunteered to help with the equally important logistics of pick up and distribution of finished masks and writing the always important thank you notes.
In a matter of a few days the project was up and running. Sewing machines across the island were beginning to hum and buzz with excitement in anticipation of their impending task.
The quilters took on the job of designing a mask cover that would fit over the N95 mask needed by medical professionals in specific care situations. The cloth cover made the N95 mask re-usable by the clinician and helped support conservation of these critical pieces of PPE.
They settled on an existing pattern they found at SewMuchMoore.com which was approved by PeaceHealth Infection Preventionists, and like a driven scouting bee, Williams-Gieger used her connections to source a big supply of medical grade fabric. David Rand at The Sign Company volunteered to cut the fabric on an industrial cutter saving time and providing uniformed precision of the finished product. As these volunteers continued to measure, cut and stitch in quiet isolation, word grew.
Crafters, quilters and seamstresses from across the island called to offer their support. Mattox assembled 30 kits that included fabric and patterns and bundled these into blue plastic bags donated by Verne Howard from King’s Market. Making the rounds across San Juan Island, she delivered the kits to eager volunteers (leaving them on the doorstep to maintain social distancing) then picked up the finished masks and transported them back to the medical center. Within two weeks, this virtual sewing bee – a hive of talented, purpose-driven individuals – had produced approximately 700 blue, medically suitable masks.
But it wasn’t enough. As CDC guidelines changed, more masks were needed to protect the general public. PIVs agreed to shift production to stitch cotton face covers for visitors at PeaceHealth Peace Island and essential workers around town. The 54 members of this virtual sewing bee dug into their personal fabric stashes and began to stitch away producing 300 brightly colored, artfully designed and beautifully sewn cloth face covers.
The community-wide distribution has included service workers at the medical center, post office, food bank, food co-op, assisted living center, Safe San Juan, San Juan Airlines and EMS. To date, the project has delivered more than 1,100 masks throughout the island and volunteers continue to measure, cut and stitch with purpose to keep our community safe. Two-hundred fifty additional masks are currently in production.
Collaboration. Excellence. Care. We have come to expect nothing less from our Peace Island Volunteers and the greater San Juan community. It’s these qualities that make our small island community thrive, especially in difficult times.
San Juan County Health and Community Services, under the direction of Frank James MD, reminds residents to continue to closely adhere to social distancing, handwashing and covering their faces in public. If you are interested in obtaining a cloth face cover(s), please call Beth Williams-Gieger at 360-378-1705.
To donate supplies or to learn how you can help, please email Barbara Von Gehr, Peace Island volunteer at BVG982@gmail.com.