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Effort stitches together volunteers, pattern

Local man leads plan to make protective masks

March 31, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

Pictures of a functional mask as a prototype for mask making. Although no mask is perfect nor can guarantee .3 micron or less of filtration, this one represents the best choice based on investigation by a group led by Stu Surkosky, right, a Renfrew chiropractor.

Hearing that stocks of medical masks used to protect against COVID-19 are quickly depleting, a group of volunteers is hoping to unite disconnected DIY mask makers into a steady supply chain for frontline medical workers.

Stu Surkosky, a Renfrew chiropractor who has been coordinating efforts as a liaison between medical professionals and volunteer groups, said the mask shortage is a reality in the Butler County community. He added medical workers locally face a shortage of personal protective equipment.

Through online research, help from others in the medical world and local seamstresses, Surkosky, who also is a member of the Butler AM Rotary, put together a basic set of instructions to make masks that can hopefully be put to use in hospitals and by EMS workers.

“My grandmother and mother were both seamstresses and crafters,” Surkosky said. “I never knew how their influences would be so helpful at critical times like these.”

Although no homemade mask is perfect nor can it guarantee prevention, Surkosky and others working together found a pattern with additional safeguards that represent one of the best choices based on their research.

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Surkosky found many patterns on social media sites aren't up to standards for a hospital setting due to various design flaws, but he emphasized those already making masks shouldn't toss aside their old work. In fact, facilities like grocery stores, senior homes, or just regular individuals can still make use of them for basic safety purposes.

Surkosky's practice is the organizational sponsor behind Butler's annual Kids Day America, which had to be postponed for community safety. Instead, he spent the week using his network from that, along with contacts in the community, to prepare the mask pattern instructions along with plans for a centralized drop-off location and hospital delivery system.

“We've organized community efforts in the past,” Surkosky said. “It only makes sense that we help during this crisis.”

So far, Kids Day volunteers, some area quilting groups and the A.M. Rotary team have all been tapped.

The group is steadily growing in numbers and hoping to generate many masks. Rotarians and Kids Day volunteers began spreading word of the following mask-making pattern over the weekend, putting out a call-to-action via email and word-of-mouth.

Surkosky is directing crafty volunteers to the mask pattern available online at www.craftpassion.com/face-mask-sewing-pattern.

He noted many people are making a rectangular, pleated style of mask that could be questionable in a medical environment because the folds created by the pleats can offer safe havens to germs.

Mask-making guidelines

Masks should be made with three layers. Inner and outer layers ought to be tightly woven, quilting quality, 100 percent cotton. The center layer “interface” material should be composed of fabric and a glue can be used and is ironed onto the back of the front layer. Note that “Stitch Witchery” cannot be used.

Wash the fabric in hot water before working with it, so that it won't shrink after it's sewn. If interface material is unavailable, a third layer of the 100 percent cotton or flannel can be used, but again must be washed first.

Sew with the smallest diameter needle possible.

Try not to use solid red colors.

The interface should be applied only after the fabric has been washed and before cutting out the pattern.

The pattern uses wire around the bridge of the nose. This is required, as it's very effective in reducing gaps around the mask. (One option for this: solid aluminum .035 diameter welding wire or floral wire at no less than 6 inches in length.) Bend back the sharp ends of the wire so they don't stick out.

Either about 48 inches of straight grain fabric or quarter-inch wide grosgrain ribbon can be used as the cord/string. Ribbon may fray at the end so singe the ends with a flame to seal it.

Use a single-tie cord/stringstrap that loops around the top of the wearer's head, across their temples, through the fabric on either side of the mask, down through the fabric tunnels, around the jawline and then behind the neck to be tied. This is recommended over the style of mask with loops that attach behind each ear to prevent irritation.

As designed, the masks should have two pocketed openings for their wearers to add an optional fourth layer of fabric that could be removed and washed. These pockets open in the rear of the mask, so the existing three layers remain effective.

Label the size of your masks before donating in a way that will not wash out. Craft Passion names their sizes as: small, children 3 to 6 years (XS); young children, 7 to 12 years (S); teenagers/women (M); Men (L) for distribution purposes.

Mask delivery

Anyone following these guidelines can deliver their finished products in sealed plastic bags, to the vestibule labeled “MASKS” at Surkosky's office in Renfrew.

The bags should be labeled with the quantity of each size mask inside. For instance, a proper label might read “10 XS, 15 S, 8 M, 30 L.”

The address is 837 Evans City Road, Suite 202, in Renfrew. The vestibule to use is on the right-hand side at Surkosky's office. The door to get to the drop-off point is going to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The masks are going to be cleaned before distribution. Surkosky is directing questions to the email address drstuartsurkosky@carechiro.com.

The group's hope is to supply two masks for all the front-line medical workers who need them.

“If you include all the first responders, emergency service folks, hospital employees,” Surkosky said, “the need is huge.”