Mask On, Mask Off?
A few days ago, a (fully vaccinated) friend gave me hug, saying, “I’ve been wanting to do that for way too long!” Though we turned our faces away from each other, we leaned into the deep embrace as slow tears rolled down our cheeks. Even if you’re not a super huggy person by nature, the past year has taught us all how much loving human touch can contribute to emotional wellbeing (and how badly out of balance we’ve grown). With vaccination availability on the rise and more and more people qualifying, there’s a sense that a corner has been turned and we’re on our way out of the pandemic dark. The feeling is partly encouraged by improving news and weather, and even by Daylight Savings. When covid numbers are stable or even sinking, and it’s sunny and not freezing cold, it’s easier to feel optimistic about pretty much anything.
Many of my friends are already starting to gather in small, cautious groups, celebrating our new freedom. If the groups are meeting outside, I’m happy to take part, but I still feel wary; it’s not yet clear that vaccinated people are 100% safe or even safe to be around. Someone’s in the 5% of people the vaccines don’t help. Some evidence suggests that we might be asymptomatic carriers/spreaders. Is it safe not to be scared? Yesterday, I entered a friend’s home and, since we are both fully vaccinated and several weeks out, we decided that we could remove our masks. We looked at each other a bit nervously and Laura said, “You are the first person to be in my house without a mask on in a year.” I’ve been thinking about how we’ve taught ourselves to be afraid of human contact. As the country slowly opens up, it might be difficult for some of us to find our way back to the old norms.
Mask Making As Covid Craft
Personally, I plan to keep wearing masks even when the pandemic is past, at least in some situations. Our county posted zero flu cases this year, an unprecedented situation. Hardly any of us have had winter colds either, and in my family, seasonal allergy symptoms have been impressively reduced. I’ve even noticed a line of grime on my favorite gardening masks (which I wear when gardening in public places); dirt and pollen that get trapped before it gets past the mask nosepiece is dirt and pollen that isn’t going into my lungs. I’m partly influenced by having a luxurious number of masks in many colors and styles. Many have been made by my friend Laura, who has made “somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500” masks over the past year.
Laura is an accomplished fiber artist who turned her skills to mask making when the pandemic was first declared. Early on, she made masks for local volunteers through a program at Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN). Next, a relative asked her to make masks for the Pike Place Market Foundation, a nonprofit that provides assisted living/low-income housing for seniors, as well as a food bank. Laura found some patterns, dug through her fabric stash and produced about 70 masks for food bank and office staff and others. Then she made about 150 more for a local YWCA. Then her sister in Green Bay Wisconsin asked for some for a women’s shelter and 50 more for her grandkids’ school classes. When the Yakima Valley was hard hit by the virus, she sent hundreds of masks for farm workers and their families.
Bling And Zing
Pretty soon, all her friends were emptying out fabric stashes, looking for tightly woven cottons, good lining material, and fun fabric patterns for kids. We all handed over cloth and elastic and when Laura figured out that closure tabs for coffee bags make the best-fitting and longest-lasting moldable nose pieces, she bought a bag of 1,000 from a local coffee packaging company. (It definitely helps to live near Seattle.) Some of the most fun challenges were making festival bling masks for family and friends in New Orleans, as well as form fitting masks for the iconic Pike Market Pig and one of Bainbridge Island’s famous Frogs (though not Frog Rock).
Working several hours a day, Laura can make a batch of 70 masks in 2-3 weeks. Once the pandemic was in full swing, she felt pressure to do something helpful and she started sewing 4-6 hours a day, as well as knitting mask extenders. Now, she’s starting to wonder if she should back off a bit, as requests are slowing down. Does she foresee an end to the ubiquitous mask? “I can’t help but think mask wearing has come into the culture; some people will likely continue to wear masks in public, perhaps in stores,” she says. We may not achieve the casual acceptance mask wearing has gained in much as Asia, where pandemics have taught hard lessons, but Laura thinks, as I do, that not catching colds and flu presents a compelling reason to keep our masks around.
Recycling Masks Into Quilts
She does think the day will come when many people are ready to toss their masks, but she hopes at least some will come back her way. She has plans to recycle them into quilts, or pillows, or wall hangings, silently retelling the story of Our Year Of Masks. I’ve started shredding my oldest masks into the compost bin; they’re all made from natural fibers and full of protective energy to boot. Now I’m thinking about sewing some still-sturdy masks into a vest as pockets, keeping hankies and chapsticks safe from loss. Mask on, mask off, I think they’ll be with us for a long time to come.