When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world. ~ Fred Rogers
What does a talented sewer who has a fabric stash that rivals a JOANN store and who wants to help people on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic do? She makes masks! “I quit counting at 200,” said Clare Schmidt of Lincoln, Illinois. She sent the first batch of masks to her granddaughter who is a CNA at Great River Medical Center in W. Burlington, Iowa. “They needed them badly and were so appreciative. I was glad to help.”
Following the Illinois stay-at-home COVID-19 order on March 20, Schmidt’s Facebook post “Doing my part to get out of time out in Illinois” appeared that evening. She included a link for the A.B. Mask-for a Nurse by a Nurse pattern. ER nurse and designer Jessica Nandino stated on Instructables, “this pattern could be how seamstresses in our communities communicate their solidarity. The mask says, I see you. I worry about your safety and want to contribute in the way I know how.”
Passion for Sewing
Schmidt has been sewing since she was seven-years-old. “We had an old black Singer Featherweight. Some of the best memories of my mom were her helping me with the sewing machine and loving the outfits I created. She took me to the store, and I picked a pattern and fabric. She helped me lay it out. I entered my projects in the Clark County Fair in Kahoka, Missouri with her help. She was so proud of me.” Schmidt also credits 4-H sewing volunteers and Mrs. Bailey’s home economics class in fueling her interest for sewing. “I just love to sew. It has always been my passion,” she said.
Sewing gives Schmidt a sense of accomplishment when she helps those in dire need, whether it be animals or people. This winter she made kangaroo pouches, bat wraps and koala mittens for Australian animals burned in the massive fires. This spring she makes masks to help keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I took over the second story of my house after my children grew up. I have a sewing room and another room filled with every fabric imaginable. Luckily I have a big stash including team fabric that I can use instead of going out to the store. It is the most popular for the masks,” she said.
Schmidt’s team masks represent Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Illinois State University (where her granddaughter graduated), University of Illinois, Iowa State University, Kansas City Chiefs and University of Iowa. Her stash also has Harry Potter, Star Wars, Minnie Mouse and other novelty prints.
Nandino’s A. B. Mask is designed to be worn in two ways. First, the mask fits directly over the face, similar to a surgical mask. Secondly, the pleats expand to fit over a N-95 mask to provide a protective barrier, in the hope of extending the lifetime of the respirator. Schmidt constructs a mask with two layers of 100% cotton and a flannel pocket in the back where a Hepa filter fabric or coffee filter for extra filtration can be placed. She adds wire around the nose to secure a better fit. She first made them one by one in thirty minutes. But she learned by doing each step on twenty masks at a time, she could chain piece them and be more efficient in her solo operation. “I try to improve my sewing skills with each project,” she said.
Donating and Distributing
When not sewing masks, Schmidt distributes them. Her daughter-in-law is a registered nurse and another granddaughter is a CNA at a nursing home. Many of her friends are nurses in Iowa and Illinois. EMTs, a funeral director, a chiropractor, friends with elderly parents, essential workers and other family members are not forgotten. “I do not charge for the masks. It is a donation on my part to use whatever talent I have to try and get us through this virus. I am humbled by the people on the front lines of this pandemic. I want them to feel more comfortable with an extra layer of protection,” she said.
Helping the Heroes of Today
Retired from EATON Corporation, Schmidt is known for her beautiful quilts and handmade stuffed animals including memory bears and sloths. In a normal year, her award-winning work would be found at the Illinois State Fair, Logan County Fair and Christmas vendor booth in Lincoln. For now, Schmidt is focused on this “emergency sewing situation” as she calls it. With her beloved long-haired miniature dachshunds Pepper and Izzy nearby on her favorite quilt, she is committed to making masks for as long as her help is needed.
“I am in awe of all the workers on the front lines who work endless hours treating this virus. They are the special ones. Their dedication is inspiring, and I cannot thank them enough. They are truly the heroes of today,” she said.
Photo Credits: Clare Schmidt