Michigan crafters are sewing face masks for doctors and nurses

Tribune Content Agency

DETROIT — Sarah Genova sat down at her sewing machine on Saturday and made about 30 face masks.

On Sunday, she was back at, hoping she can donate her homemade masks to medical professionals on the front line and provide some protection against the coronavirus.

With the cotton masks, Genova said she read there’s only a 3% protection rate. Nonetheless she starting sewing.

“I had the fabric and elastic and started to create,” Genova said. “I’ve always been a giver and a crafter. I had the ability to respond, so I did.”

Genova, 34, who lives in Emmett near Port Huron, can churn out about five masks, start-to-finish, in an hour

Genova is donating all she makes. She’s sending them to nurse friends in Florida and to extended family.

Genova and other crafters are busy at their sewing machines after hearing that healthcare professional are in dire need of protective equipment. From a shortage of masks to gowns to googles, the message is echoed daily.

Those who sew are finding patterns, revving up sewing machines, threading needles and churning out colorful fabric masks that, they say, might be better than not having any mask at all.

While hospitals need medical grade masks, Genova believes these sewn ones can be used with the recommended N95 respirator masks that are in short supply.

“The thought is to use them (homemade masks) over the N95 to prolong the usage of it,” Genova said.

It’s a movement that’s spreading across Facebook, YouTube and other social media channels with posts of how-to patterns and resulting colorful masks.

What sparked a lot of interest for handmade face masks was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) face mask guidelines for healthcare professionals.

The CDC recommended, as a last resort, healthcare professional use homemade masks (bandana or scarf) when caring for COVID-19 patients. But they are not considered official Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and should be used in combination with a face shield.

While sewing face masks is trending, local hospitals say they are not accepting them.

Beaumont, Henry Ford and University of Michigan hospitals are seeking donations of disposable face masks, N95 respirators, gowns, and gloves to cover expected shortages. But they specifically lists “homemade sewn face masks” are not accepted as donations. Should that change, they will make an announcement.

Gretchen Bovensiep, a nurse at Beaumont Hospital, was picking up some craft kits she ordered on Sunday at the Clawson Makers Market on 14 Mile. The craft projects were for her family to do while off work and a distraction from TV and other electronics.

But at the market, she got a unexpected surprise that brought her to tears.

After overhearing that Bovensiep was a nurse at Beaumont, Genova came up to her and handed her plastic bag with several face masks she had personally sewn.

“It was an emotional moment,” Bovensiep said. “It brought on ugly tears because I couldn’t touch my face and wipe them away.”

Bovenseip said she was just overwhelmed by such generosity. Bovensiep told Genova that she would donate the masks to the post-transplant clinic she works in at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

“The incredible generosity to be doing that for us … we are grateful for any help that people are willing to offer,” Bovensiep said. “It’s better than nothing”

Multiple artists at the Clawson Makers Market are doing their part, from those sewing masks to potters and fiber artists donating gloves and elastic, according to co-founder Bonnie Swope.

The market has become a collection point for those donations. Part of the markets outside decor is a colorful moving art car.

“We found a lot of the hospitals had shortages,” Swope said. “So, the makers collectively have come together and donating their materials. Because by nature they have a lot of masks and rubber gloves.”

“People are dropping off these materials in the backseat of that car, respecting the social distancing,” she said.

Anne Hernandez, 54, of Troy, is a retired paramedic and has a children’s clothing line called Bambino 2.0.

She started sewing the face masks when her niece, a nurse in Colorado, told her they didn’t have enough masks.

“These are not hospital grade, but they are running out of masks and something is better than nothing,” Hernandez said. “They grab whatever they can find in a lot of hospitals.”

On Sunday, with the help of her husband and kids, she was hoping to sew 50 face masks to take down to Detroit Medical Center, which, she heard, was in dire need of supplies.

The masks, Hernandez said, can also be used by patients doing dialysis or when people are going to the stores.

“These are also good for not touching your face and that’s a big a help,” Hernandez said. “Even it’s not a great blocker of the virus.”


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