‘Buzz’ of creativity as sewists turn hands to reusable masks

They say every cloud has a silver lining but in Raglan’s case it’s more a colourful fabric lining.

With the re-emergence of coronavirus, fabrics of many hues and patterns are being whipped up by sewing-machine into double-thickness, reusable face masks – spawning a whole new cottage industry in town.

It’s a phenomenon that Sarah Lancaster, the Raglan based owner-operator of upcycling business ‘Sew Love’, described recently as “the reusable face mask buzz”.

She and Jo Sweeney from Zinnia are just two of the locals sewing into the night to keep up with demand. Both told the Chronicle they’ve even got their mothers helping out – stitching for family and friends at least – while they fulfil orders from the wider community.

Jo, who’s known for her own line of bags and belts, says the aesthetic with her face masks is “colourful and crazy”. But classic black is popular too, she adds.

She spent five hours perfecting a pattern after the Covid-19 alert levels were raised a fortnight ago – and then it was all on.   Her daily stocks of face masks have been flying out the door at Zinnia and she can hardly keep up.

“I’ve been sewing for up to 10 hours a day on top of (full-time) work,” she says. “It’s the craziest thing … I never expected it.”

Jo says she’d wrongly thought at first that the market was saturated and was “hesitant” to begin making her wash-and-wear masks, which come with filter pockets.  But now she’s chuffed that people are buying and wearing locally made products.

Sarah too is going all out to supply vibrant, patterned masks for the likes of community “teams” such as Xtreme Zero Waste and Para Kore.

“I’ve been working non-stop, it’s really intense,” she says, adding she’s grateful for those who’ve helped out with deliveries or kept her going by bringing around meals. “This is exactly what care and community is all about.”

Sarah points out that other sewists – the name coined for people who sew works of art – are supplying masks through the likes of Timebank Raglan, while Di Jennings and Maureen Dellow from Raglan Upcycling Co-op have also taken up the challenge.

“Oh gosh I’m sewing in my sleep at the moment,” says Di.  The pair’s supplies of masks have been quickly selling out on Saturdays from the new Kai and Craft initiative at the former tiny bread shop in Bow St.

They’ve also dropped batches of their masks at the local community house, to be sold on a koha basis or given away for free. “We feel we’ve done our bit now,” says a satisfied Di.

Longtime local Katy McNamara has also turned her hand to making face masks from home, her biggest order to date from Raglan Rest Home and Hospital which has been in the required level 4 lockdown.

Then there’s Shelley Wilson, owner and founder of ‘In My Kitchen’ – a zero waste online retail store – along with others in the community who are industriously answering the call for more masks.

Meantime it’s been an unexpectedly productive time of quite a different kind recently for Raglan artist and children’s book author Astrid Conjaerts Schepel, who’s been in managed quarantine at Rydges Auckland after a trip back to the Netherlands to see her father before he died.

Astrid was able to put her fortnight in isolation to good use by ordering in and setting up an easel in her hotel room – then losing herself in the painting process. “That saved me I think.”

Besides completing three paintings from printed-out photos of Raglan in her first week, she also worked on a new Mind-traveller book – this time set in New Zealand – and hopes to have it published by the end of the year.

While some returnees have broken out of quarantine facilities, Astrid says her experience was of obliging staff who “did everything to help us and make things as nice as possible”.

Edith Symes