Adjusting To Life Behind A Mask
By Elaine Connell, For the GPHN
In the beginning it crept up on us gradually … an illness in China … getting bad in Italy … next a few cases here, and a few celebrities sharing their stories …
Then things started getting closer to home, as March Madness was shut down! What?! And major league baseball? I’m not much of a sports fan, but when they shut down the libraries I knew this was serious.
My husband has asthma, so we were more than willing to do social distancing. I am so far behind on projects that a stay-at-home order honestly felt like a Godsend. A lot of disruption to everything we were involved in with church, friends, recreation – but still a perfect opportunity to catch up on things at home.
And then we were told to wear masks. It was vital for stopping the spread and flattening the curve. That made all kinds of sense. But there weren’t any masks to be had! There weren’t any to buy because there weren’t even enough available for front-line medical staff. We needed to come up with our own masks, cloth masks, as simple as a bandana or scarf.
Well, we tried folded bandanas with rubber bands, but we could barely breathe through the 12 layers of fabric. So I decided to make us some masks. There were lots of patterns online. And why not make them to be cool-looking masks? If I was going to put the effort into figuring out how to make two masks, why not make them for friends, too? I found the fabric, chose a pattern I liked a lot, with sizes for men and women, and even little kids. Within a few hours I had pretty fabric cut out for a dozen masks, including three sizes, with lining, and a flannel filtration layer, too. I was going to enjoy my new project, after all!
My sewing machine was a high school graduation present – in 1965. Plastic wasn’t a thing then. This baby is 40 pounds of solid steel. I hauled it up from the basement. I hadn’t used it in 10 years or more, and it hadn’t been cleaned or tuned up ever. The bobbin winding thing-a-ma-bob fell apart within 10 minutes, so I wound the bobbin by hand. The tension wasn’t set right, but I ignored that – top-stitching would make the masks sturdy enough. Every seam had several more layers at that point, so it took a bit more forcing to make it work.Making my first mask took a lot longer than I expected, but I was proud of it. Surely I could whip out the rest quickly, but that didn’t happen. By the time I’d fought the machine through several layers of several seams of several masks, several days had gone by.
I wasn’t nearly as fond of the fabric as I’d been before, and the only thing I was enjoying about my project was that it was almost done. One final seam left on one final mask. Then the spool of thread ran out. I rethreaded with another spool that happened to be handy.
Within seconds the machine was jammed. I’d fought that machine and won a lot of times. Not this time. There wasn’t anything more I could do about it. At my wit’s end, the only thing I could do was cry.
In the end, my mask-making project brought me to the tears that I needed to face the loss of life as we’d known it. Fighting with my sewing machine was ultimately futile. And fighting with this pandemic was, too. I’ll catch up on things around the house now, but on the virus’ terms, not mine. I’ll adjust to the new way of life that will be mine for months and maybe years to come, and that, too, will be on its terms.
Elaine Connell lives in Park Hill with her husband, Jeff Newell.