CFA staff find meaning in sewing masks for medical professionals

Kate MacKenzie sews in her home.
Posted by Brandi Engel on

David shows off his first batch of protective masks.

Staff in the College of Fine Arts have had to adjust to the changing work requirements under COVID-19 restrictions. For some of our staff members who supported students on campus in physical spaces, their work has changed to supporting the Kalamazoo community.

Kate MacKenzie went from costumer in the Department of Theatre to coordinating ten staff members across the College of Fine Arts sewing masks for medical professionals. “Since I have no show to build for right now my job shifted into being the organizer of the project. I was going to be making masks to help the effort anyway, now I get to stay on payroll and make a bigger impact by facilitating others to make masks.“

Shifting focus from student support to community support has required learning new things. David Bernard, concerts assistant in the School of Music, learned to sew in order to help. “Acts of service are my love language, so to me, this effort is about freeing up resources for medical professionals who are in dire need of high quality, medical-grade personal protective equipment.” 

David wanted to learn the craft for years, but never set aside the time to learn. This project was the perfect catalyst for dusting off a sewing machine that was gifted to him years ago.

Our team is using a variety of mask patterns requested by hospitals and the members pick the styles they are comfortable making. Kate is working with Angie Niemi, a Bronco nursing alumna, to make adjustments to the masks as they go along. Kate meets with the team of sewers regularly on Webex to share alterations, tips for sewing faster and to get feedback on how the process is going for each member on the team. 

Brittney Young sews in her crafting studio.

The COVID-19 pandemic is scary, but there is hope in being able to help in a meaningful way. “I mean, whoever thought that home sewers would be having to supply PPE to hospitals to keep them functioning?” Said Kate, “I'm happy that it's putting a spotlight on how important skills like sewing are, even in the modern world.” 

Within the first week, Kate had to order more fabric, which she tries to source from local fabric businesses whenever possible. 

“If I can make face masks that are used by medical professionals who are at lower risk of infection so that N95 and surgical masks can be sent where they are needed most,” explained David, “I get great satisfaction from knowing that I contributed to that effort.”

“Plus, I learned a new skill along the way!”