ASHLAND -- Local seamstresses have wasted no time lamenting their loss of business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, instead they've kept busier than ever, finding better purpose for their time and the scraps of cloth once cluttering their workspaces.
Last April, Ashland seamstress Linda Turske was altering prom and wedding dresses for the celebratory season ahead, but this spring, when most clients placed these orders indefinitely on hold, the owner of Sew What's New in Ashland and costume designer for the Renaissance Theatre dedicated her talents in a new way -- creating cloth masks for local medical professionals, neighbors and friends.
"At this point, there's no real cost to me, and it's the least I can do," Turske said.
She quickly sewed more than 100 with her own supplies, and when running short on fabric and elastic, she made a plea to her Facebook friends. They responded by dropping off bags of elastic at her doorstep. A friend in Mansfield volunteered to cut fabric and rallied a neighbor to join the cause, too. Together, they've accelerated Turke's process.
Fellow Ashland resident and owner of Whoopsie Daisy Bowtique, Megan Steffen shut down her Downtown Ashland shop prior to Gov. Mike DeWine's closure of all nonessential businesses. Foot traffic at the stop had dwindled, and her children were already completing school work from home, per an earlier order that closed all Ohio schools.
"The kids went through my fabric stash to pick out the coolest patterns," Steffen said. "I have a kid story, so the patterns I have are kid-friendly.
The four youngsters chose flamingo and llama-printed materials for their mother to use when sewing cloth masks. Typically, the material would be made into dresses, skirts and other children's attire.
Madelyn, 8, took further initiative, helping her mother cut and prep material between her classes.
Steffen learned of the need when speaking with health care professionals from the Akron Children's Hospital Pediatrics of Ashland.
"They were low on that kind of stuff, so I said I'd make some," Steffen said.
She followed a pattern, which includes a pocket for a filter. The idea was recommended by a nurse, who told Steffen she might use a furnace filter in the space.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not consider homemade masks to be personal protective equipment (PPE), but it has advocated for the use of homemade masks, bandanas or scarves where other face masks aren't available for care of patients with COVID-19. The homemade masks are ideally used along with a face shield that covers the entire front and sides of the face.
As of now, the CDC does not encourage the public to wear masks, but earlier this week, Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton did say the mask could provide potential value to the average person. The CDC was expected to revisit its policy on whether or not the community should wear cloth masks.
Turske and Steffen both donate masks for medical professionals, but they also have been making masks at the request of the wider community, too.
Turske made her first mask for her college-age daughter and her fiancé, who had to travel to Wisconsin in March to collect their belongings from their college dorms when in-person classes were canceled for the remainder of the spring semester.
"My daughter has an autoimmune disease, and I wanted her to wear a mask, so I made them both masks," Turske said.
Her daughter traveled safely to Wisconsin and back; Turkse posted the picture to Facebook; and messages came flowing into her inbox, asking "Can you make me one?"
She takes orders through Facebook, then asks people to pick them up within her screened-in back porch.
Turske carefully irons every mask -- in hopes to kill off any germs from herself -- and places the masks in bags for pick up. A sign reminds people picking up masks to avoid touching anything besides their mask.
She's asked no one for compensation, donating every ounce of her time and resources.
Any masks that aren't requested by health care professionals, Steffen sells on her Etsy page. It's become her most popular item, as other sales at her small business have decreased.