Hull resident Tami Petrocelli, who has enjoyed sewing since she was a child, is putting her skills to good use by making face masks for nurses and other medical staff dealing with a shortage of personal protection equipment. She is one of several Hull residents participating in this charitable effort.
Petrocelli recently completed dozens of face masks in one week, using colorful leftover fabric from her many projects and a huge roll of elastic from the days when she sewed hundreds of costumes for the 17 plays in which her daughter (now Rebecca Schmid) performed when she was enrolled in the Hull Public Schools.
“Making the face masks is keeping me busy while staying at home and doing my part,” says Petrocelli, a Hull Public Schools substitute teacher who “misses the kids.”
To help lift spirits, the face masks are made from fabric imprinted with designs such as baseballs and frogs, with one of the most popular having a Patriots theme. “The patterns are bright and cheery,” she says.
The idea to sew the masks came from an aunt who lives in Michigan, who sent Petrocelli a Facebook message that included a pattern and a video showing how to make them.
“I’ve done a lot of quilting and have made baby blankets, so I use washed leftover 100 percent cotton material for the front of the masks and flannel for the backing,” she explains.
She can hardly keep up with the demand, she reports. “I post to Facebook about the masks being available, and everyone knows a nurse.”
When someone requests masks, Petrocelli puts 10 to 15 of them inside a Ziploc bag with that person’s name on it and attaches it with a clothespin next to her mailbox for pickup – sometimes six or seven times a day.
Nurses are grateful to receive this gift and have already shared some of Petrocelli’s face masks with their co-workers at Brockton Hospital, Manet Community Health Centers, South Shore Hospital, and other health facilities where they are in great demand.
Petrocelli is always pleased when she sees Facebook posts of nurses wearing some of the face masks she made and expressing appreciation for them. “That’s all I need,” she says.
Because Petrocelli grew up sewing, making the face masks fits well with her skills. She recalls as a young girl taking the free sewing lessons that were offered when her mother bought a Singer sewing machine.
“I also took sewing in home economics class and made a cute tennis dress even though I didn’t play tennis,” she remembers. “I also made a dress when I was in the fifth grade that I wore when I had my school photos taken. Now, making the face masks is keeping me busy during this tough time.”
The masks, which are washable, are made from fabric with tucks on the sides, so they fit snugly over the nose and mouth, and the wearer has the ability to breathe through the fabric.
Because the face masks she makes are not N95-complaint (meaning that the mask can filter out at least 95 percent of particles of all sizes from the air), they provide limited protection and are best used by staff who do not have direct contact with patients, according to Petrocelli. However, they do serve a purpose, she adds, “because there is such a shortage.”
Citing her high regard for nurses, doctors, and other medical staff, Petrocelli says, “I figure what I’m doing to help is nothing compared to what they do every day while dealing with the coronavirus – leaving their families [while they work long hours] and worrying about the possibility of getting it themselves. I am very appreciative of all they are doing.”
Jean Liben, who over the years has sewn hundreds of dresses for girls in Haiti through the St. Nicholas United Methodist Church in Hull and now for girls in Honduras through the First Baptist Church in Hingham, has donated leftover fabric and elastic to some of the Hull women who are making face masks. Paula Whalen was among those to whom Liben donated fabric.
While she was waiting for an order of elastic to arrive, Whalen learned that South Shore Hospital is experiencing a shortage of isolation gowns, which do not require elastic. She reached out and was sent a link for a free, downloadable pattern. The gowns can be made from 100 percent cotton, 100 percent polyester, or a blend of the two.
With her background in the fashion industry, Whalen noticed through social media that many others in her field are “trying to pick up the slack” by making masks and decided she wanted to be part of the effort.
“There are so many needs not being met. With everything that’s going on and feeling a little helpless, making masks and gowns helps me feel as though I am pitching in and doing something,” she says.
And with numerous family members and friends who are nurses “serving on the front line,” Whalen wants to do what she can “to ensure they [and others in the medical field] are safe and protected. We are all in this together, and we need to pull together.”
Allison Peterson is also sewing face masks, combining three popular types. “I wanted to make masks that were more durable –something that doctors and nurses we know personally could use,” she says.
Her mask design has elastic that goes around the back of the head rather than the ears, with a pocket to hold a filter device and a strip of foam rubber on the nose bridge to form a cushion.
Peterson, who has made 50 face masks so far, came up with the idea after seeing photos of doctors and nurses with bruises around their eyes and other injuries caused by the face masks they had worn during long shifts, day in and day out. So far she has provided a local health care business and family and friends with face masks, with reinforced seams, and they are reusable.
“People keep thanking me, but after quilting and sewing for the last eight years, what would be the point if I can’t use my skills to help people when it really counts,” she says.
When Valerie Romero was watching the news last week, she saw a segment about a Cambridge woman who was asking for donations of material to make face masks that also included information about how to obtain a pattern online.
“I thought to myself, ‘I know how to sew. I can do that!'” Romero says. Recipients have included nurses, family members, friends, the Hull Senior Center, the Bridge Street Dollar Tree in Weymouth, and the Village Market.
“I’m not a doctor or a nurse, so this is the only way I can help,” Romero says. “We can all as a community pull together.”
Jennifer Lin, along with her children Jada and Jaycub, are creating face masks at home with fabric once earmarked for Lin’s new mobile dog grooming business, Groom With Me, which she launched on March 9. “I lived my dream for two weeks before Governor Baker’s [shut down] order,” she laments. But the canine-inspired fabric is now being transformed into much needed protective masks.