Making Masks and Missing My Mom

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My mother was an amazing seamstress. I spent hours next to her as she sewed Halloween Costumes, hemmed pants, and mended curtains. I mostly played with the buttons in her button tin, so I never actually learned how to sew for myself. 

My mother made both my dress and my brother’s tux (seen here) so we could be in my aunt’s wedding in 1982.

My mother passed away two months ago after a long battle with cancer. One of the saddest moments in the long process of losing her was watching her attempt to hem a pair of pants with just a needle and thread but being too weak to finish them. One of the deepest regrets I have now is that I didn’t learn to sew from her when she was well. I kept meaning to have her teach me one day. Now, my chance is gone.

It’s not really the entire act of sewing that eludes me. It’s the machine.

I can follow a pattern, cut my pieces, iron them, pin them – all the steps. I just can’t seem to work the machine. Once, I managed to thread it while watching a YouTube video. I made it three seams into sewing a pillow before the whole thing tangled up into a giant mess because I forgot to pull down some knob or lock some doodad. I haven’t given up hope that one day I will learn, but so far I haven’t had much luck.

In the meantime, we are living in the age of coronavirus and everyone needs a mask. Jim was given one at work, but the rest of us didn’t have one. I do have wonderful seamstress friends who would make me some if I requested, but most of them are already burdened with requests while trying to keep their own households going. 

So, I decided to grab a needle and thread and sew some by hand.

The stroller storage bag I handmade for our umbrella stroller.

This wouldn’t be my first hand-sewing project. I actually made a very functional bag for our umbrella stroller, which has survived quite a few vacations. It took me several days to do without a machine, but I’m extremely proud of it. It turns out I did learn a few things from watching my mom.

I downloaded and printed a mask pattern in different sizes, then dug through my scrap bin for some fabric. I found a set of cotton curtains we no longer needed and I decided to use those. Unfortunately, I didn’t have elastic, but I did have a little girl with a thousand pairs of underwear, so I took one of her (clean) pairs and cut the leg holes out of them. It took me about 2 hours to trace, cut, pin, and sew the entire thing together. 

It wasn’t bad for my first try.

Then, my sister-in-law came to the rescue by sending fabric and elastic. I also could have asked her to make me some masks, but she’s working full-time from home while raising two children under 14 months and I’m not completely evil. 

5yo modeling her mask.

Using a smaller version of the first pattern, I sewed masks for all two little kids. Then, I made an adult size one for 13yo. By the time I finished the third, I had come a long way from my first try, so I decided to make a better one for myself. In the end, I had made four decent masks.

If my mom were still here, she would sigh and her sigh would say, “I don’t understand why you can’t just use the machine.” Then, aloud, she would praise me on my masks and say I did a good job, because that’s what moms do.

I really miss her.


(By the way, if you were going to say “but cloth masks aren’t even effective!” don’t bother. Yes, COVID-19 is small enough to fit through a cloth mask, but most particles travel on the moisture in your breath. Breath particles are huge compared to the COVID-19 particles riding on them and many ARE stopped by a cloth mask. I also do not think requiring masks in public is tyranny, so if you’d like to argue about it, you’re on the wrong blog.)