Community quilters sew to give back

Janet Armstrong makes more masks to give out.

Numerous quilters are putting their talents to good use to keep loved ones and others in the community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the Village Quilters began making cloth face masks in March and haven’t slowed down.

Barbara Craig, club president, said the effort is carried on individually by members, but she has sent emails saying certain places could use masks.

“We joke that if we sew fast enough it counts as aerobic activity,” Craig said. “Since the members of our guild do not live exclusively in Tellico Village but also throughout the surrounding communities, the reach of our generosity is very wide.”

More than 200 masks were first donated to the Tellico Village Volunteer Fire Department and the Citizen’s Observer Patrol program, Craig said. The effort then “just sort of evolved because everybody saw the need.”

Craig recently sent out an email asking members where masks had been donated and how many were made. Locations include Caris Healthcare, Lenoir City Hall, Loudon County Habitat for Humanity, Smoky Mountain Service Dogs, The Neighborhood at Tellico Village, local hospitals and area businesses. Donations have also been sent out of state and the country.

Craig estimates more than 3,780 masks have been provided.

“One lady used to live in Scotland in the UK and she told me she sent them to Scotland and Canada,” Craig said. “It’s just people have told me where they mailed them and I put down all the different states that they had mentioned. ... It’s an independent effort but we put out calls for local places who are asking for it. I went and asked all the members to send me their totals just so we’d get an idea of what we had accomplished as a group.

“The membership number right now, we vary up to 400, but at the last meeting we were at 387 members,” she added. “So it’s sort of an independent effort that got guided and then it’s not mandated and it’s not you have to (make masks). People just do what they want and send them where they want, to their family, friends, churches, whatever they want.”

Craig believes making masks is an easy transition from what quilters typically do. She has made masks for loved ones in Colorado and others when requested.

“We all know how to sew. We have fabric and we’ve shared elastic between people that had it and didn’t have it,” she said. “People have communicated, ‘Do you have anymore elastic?’ ‘Yeah, I’ve got some.’ We’ve sort of pooled resources. People who know how to sew, we’ve kind of joked that it’s great that we have quilting as a hobby because now, well, we’ve joked that it was kind of essential to make these masks, but it’s also something you can do at home without going out that much. That’s been a blessing, but we still do communicate among the members.”

Vicki Schwerdt began making masks in March and has crafted more than 200.

“Which is really shocking because I don’t like my sewing machine. I don’t use a sewing machine usually, so I guess it takes a pandemic to get my machine out of its case,” she said with a laugh.

She first made them for family in Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

“I just started kind of making them for family and just now I’m starting to hand them out to golf friends and whoever wants one,” Schwerdt said. “If I hear somebody needs masks, they can definitely have them. Then whatever I have leftover I’ll just donate to — I know there’s quite a few nursing homes that are still looking for masks. I’ll start searching around for a place to dump them off there. ... I just felt like I was just sitting here doing nothing and this was my way of maybe helping a few people out.”

Janet Armstrong has made more than 200 masks since March. She made one for herself, her aunt who is going through cancer treatment, and workers in the Blount Memorial Cancer Center.

“I thought this was my way to protect her and protecting me and protecting them, too, if possible,” Armstrong said. “I just kept making them, and I’ve given them out to people in the neighborhood and I posted it on the Next Door neighbor and gave out for a while. One of the guys from T-BART, where they got out and rescue boats, they came and got 30 the other day.”

Residents have offered to pay her, but she does it for free.

“All of us that quilt tend to have a nice stash of fabric and things,” she said. “I know there’s a bunch of other ladies in the guild who have been making them and sending them to nursing homes and to family members in other states and to the hospice and the dialysis, so I’m not by far the only one who’s done it.”

She believes quilters are “very giving and generous people” who are looking to help the community in any way they can.

“We may not be able to be on the front lines, but we can try to help the people that are and help the people in our community who might not be able to sew or get masks,” Armstrong said. “I know you can buy them online and that’s OK, but most of us that are making them in the guild are just giving them away because it’s something we can do to help out. It’s not a big deal to us.”

Craig believes the need for masks will remain for at least the foreseeable future.

“I think there’s still a need because, now, we sort of started making them before all the places said to wear a mask, before you come into the restaurant or store,” she said. “We began before they were asking for them, and there’s still quite a need I think for employees and neighbors and friends and everybody to have a good mask wherever you go.”

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