The women behind the masks Three businesswomen sew kindness into every face mask

By Cynthia Prairie
©2020 Telegraph Publishing

Three businesswomen have turned their sewing expertise into an act of kindness by creating washable, reusable face masks for friends, family and medical personnel throughout the region to help slow Covid-19 infections in Vermont. They are part of a force of individuals who have stepped up to fill a need for medical protective gear during this pandemic.

Linda Diak with her work. Click any photo to enlarge. All photos courtesy of the subjects.

When not sewing face masks for family and friends, Linda Diak creates fantastic quilted wall-hangings, while she and her husband also run DyakCraft LLC, making hand-crafted  knitting needles, crochet hooks, drop spindles and accessories in their Chester home.

She says she feels “a bit guilty” because she hasn’t had time to make masks for medical personal since friends and family keep calling needing them, including elderly neighbors and a chef that has been donating meals. “Everyone has been calling me about ‘his sick uncle,’ ” she says chagrined. The reality is, she adds, “everyone should be wearing them. If everyone wears them, the stigma of wearing them goes away.”

Katherine Henry, also of Chester, is a fine art photographer who turns her work into elegant silk pillows for her company Arcadia Park Designs. She’s taken to engineering her masks with three distinctive features: a center layer of nonwoven interfacings, floral wire that will bend the mask over the nose and a chin tuck to prevent it from slipping up.

Katherine Henry of Arcadia Park Designs.

However, Henry, and likely hundreds, if not thousands of others, has run into a serious problem: The supply of elastic used for the ear loops has dried up thanks to the worldwide demand and a huge order from the federal government, bringing a temporary halt to finishing her work. “I’ve order elastic from three different locations and we’ll just see what I get,” she says. “But … I have enough fabric to make 200 to 300 masks.”

Diak, who estimates she has made 70 masks thus far, ran into a similar supply problem but improvised using headbands she found at a drugstore, which she said, are “softer on the ears.” She has since switched to long ties because even the headband elastic chafes when the wearer “tugs at the mask all day long.”

Henry plans on sending her masks to Springfield Hospital and Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital in Townshend. And she’s also planning on making larger ones can be used over N95 masks “for just a little more protection. … These aren’t medical equipment,” Henry emphasizes. “Just a little more protection and our medical community needs all the protection they can get.”

Sharon Baker, whose shop Sharon’s on the Common is just down the Green from the Diaks, hasn’t faced the shortages that both Henry and Diak have seen, although she had initial doubts that she would be able to make them at all.

Sharon Baker of Sharon’s on the Common.

“I wanted to help,” Baker says, who like other owners of “non-essential” shops, closed her doors in mid-March under Gov. Scott’s order. “I don’t have money to hand out to people and I’m not on the front lines of health care.” But when she saw a Facebook post from Diak, “I thought I could do that.”  Baker creates beautiful shawls and scarves out of fabrics from around the world, selling them out of her shop and online. But when she looked around at the stacks of fabric surrounding her sewing machine, she realized the majority of the material she works with is not 100 percent cotton, which is a requirement for the masks.

But as she dug through her trove of colorful materials, she found 100 percent Indian cotton bed covers with handblocked designs, a staple of many a hippie’s bedroom in the 1960s.

“I’ve used three and I have 20 more,” she says. Then friends donated more cotton. “And all of it has to be washed, dried and pressed before you can cut and sew.”

Baker has donated more than 125 masks to local hospitals including Springfield, Rutland Regional and Dartmouth with more being shipped soon. But, she adds, some have also ended up on the faces of “non-frontline people” at a local drugstore and a veterinary clinic among others.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta relaxed its requirements for masks as it grappled with the shortage that has plagued medical professionals since early March, when the pandemic began to take hold in the United States.

Baker, Diak and Henry have all either used or adapted their designs from the Deaconess Hospital video, to the right, from recommendations at Dartmouth-Hitchock Medical Center.

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Filed Under: Business & Personal FinanceBusiness PeopleBusinessesCommunityCommunity and Arts LifeCovid 19 CoverageFeaturedIn the Community

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Pastor Susan Moody, of the Chester Congregational Church, is making masks and donating them to where they are needed.

  2. Kelly Capen says:

    I saw some where that Bungee cords are full of many elastic strands

  3. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Thank you for calling attention to the mask makers in Weston and Peru! We looked for mask-makers in all our coverage areas but due to an abundance of articles that had to be written, edited and published, we ran out of time. If you have their names, we’d love to give them a shoutout as well! Photos would be great. They can be emailed to info@chestertelegraph.org.

    Thank you,
    Cynthia Prairie

  4. Regina Downer, RN,MS says:

    Thank you for the article showing community support and collaboration in the effort to promote mask-wearing.

    As community nurse advocate working in six mountain towns, I have been offering masks to those who will agree to wear them. The masks have been carefully made by two talented women in our town.

    My work as community nurse, through the agency known as “My Community Nurse Project,” provides safety and wellness checks as well as advocacy for community members. The advent of Covid-19 has changed the manner in which I am able to serve my clients. The mask making and delivery of them is one example of those changes.

    Thank you to the talented ladies in Chester and thank you to the ones here in Weston and Peru for your dedication! Let’s all focus on curbing the spread of this virus and maintaining a safe and healthy community.