“Sewing” Hope, One Mask at a Time
Participation in 4-H builds life skills such as compassion and resilience, and no 4-H project demonstrated these qualities better this year than sewing masks. 4-H members in two Massachusetts clubs, the Thimbles club of Cotuit and the Montague Stitchers in Montague, put their skills to work while helping their communities stay safe.
Led by Lisa Martin, Thimbles members began stitching after receiving a request from Jen Pacheco, a nurse at Cape Cod Hospital who is also a former student of Martin’s from Cape Cod Regional Technical School. After supplying the hospital with cloth masks, “word got out,” said Martin, and a movement was born.
While Thimbles club members Jennifer Shearley and Lydia Fitton-Alves, both currently high school seniors, found the first mask or two tricky to stitch, their skills soon grew expert. Jennifer even uploaded a “how to” YouTube video on mask making.
More important than the hours spent sewing were the lessons learned by the young women during this unprecedented time. “It was good to see how we were helping,” said Jennifer. “We can see how this project is helping communities around us.”
Lydia saw the impact of her efforts first-hand when she met (via social distancing) a healthcare provider from New York who wore a mask she made. “It means I’m making a difference,” said Lydia. “It means a lot to me that I’m helping people on the frontlines.”
Thimbles has donated nearly 1,000 masks to more than 22 different groups, including hospitals on Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard; assisted living facilities; local fire departments; and the Joint Base of Cape Cod. Candy LeBlanc (pictured), the Youth Program Coordinator on base, received 220 children’s masks from Thimbles!
While Thimbles has been extremely productive, Lisa described some differences in typical club procedures that impacted them during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re doing the best we can virtually,” she said in June. “At this point, we don’t necessarily have to do the same project (in usual times). Now, I pick a common project and we do that virtually.”
Six members comprise the Thimbles 4-H Club, who have been meeting for several years in a home studio. Lisa said the club is popular and there is often a waiting list.
Following the completion of the masks, Thimbles resumed a project also focused on community service, the Glen Falls Medical Mission in Guatemala. In 2018-19, club members stitched frocks for Guatemalan children to receive along with their immunizations as part of the “The Hundred Dresses” project.
The Club now plans to make 100 skirts and shorts for delivery to Guatemala in April 2021. “We’re hoping to get donations of T-shirts to go with them,” explained Lisa.
The Montague Stitchers started a collective effort of making masks following inspiration from club members’ families. Three members sewed masks with their mothers and grandmothers, and the rest of the club caught the spirit!
Led by Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy and two other leaders, the club learned to make masks when Kathryn distributed a tutorial, 4-H fabric, and elastic to the girls (pictured). Kathryn also loaned sewing machines to club members, including one purchased by the Massachusetts 4-H Foundation.
Like Thimbles, Kathryn admits that the club members found stitching the masks difficult initially. While the girls echoed this sentiment, they also took pride in the growth of their skills. “I’ve gotten better at sewing straight seams, better at sewing through multiple layers and better at sewing around bends and curves,” said Jyn Rankin, a 9th grader and member of the club for two years. “It’s really nice to be able to help out the community, to help people stay safe. It definitely feels good to be part of a larger movement that is helping to make the world a better place.”
The Stitchers have sewn hundreds of non-medical grade masks for volunteers at community food distribution centers, employees at a local hardware store, family and friends, and for a mask drive led by the city of Greenfield. They even made masks for 4-H educators Tom Waskiewicz and Carrie Chickering-Sears!
The Stitchers ran into hurdles when sewing during the pandemic. “Sewing is such a hands-on thing where we’re all in one place, and there’s zero of that now,” said Kathryn in June. “I try to email the club members and keep in touch to keep their sewing spirits up.” With six members, the Stitchers typically start out sewing items like pillowcases and bookbags, then move on to garments like dresses, plus do quilting.
Both clubs have their 4-H team grateful for their efforts. “The Stitchers saw the opportunity to sew much-needed masks to keep their family, friends and community safe,” said Waskiewicz. “They are to be commended for their initiative, selflessness and support of others.”