Maskology 101

"In March, the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up in the U.S. All non-emergent surgeries were discontinued and clinics were cancelled. I was on a Zoom call with some of my fellow orthopaedic surgeons and they were describing how hard it was to get PPE in places like NYC and San Francisco. I started researching options for masks since they were in such short supply.

I was taught to sew garments at a very early age by my mother. I made many of my own clothes, considered fashion design as a career and am never very far from my sewing machine. It was only natural that I was able to combine my knowledge of textile, design, surgical environment and my love of scientific evidence to become a “maskologist”. I searched the literature for research on the efficacy of surgical masks of varying types. Most of the science relates to bacterial resistance, but I was able to glean that a triple layer cloth mask was not that far inferior to an N95!

To mass produce masks for my friends in need and area health care workers, I returned to “The Quilted Steeple” – a quilting and crafting retreat I own in northern Iowa. I hosted a 7-day “mask-a-thon” for the sewers in the area, with prizes from a local fabric shop and free weekends at The Quilted Steeple for incentive. I spent those 7 days sewing, posting encouragement, mask patterns and directions on Facebook, collecting fabric donations, mask donations, coordinating local distribution of masks and mailing masks all over the country to my friends in need.

The sewing has continued for those seamstresses that began with the “mask-a-thon” at the Quilted Steeple. When people ask me how many masks I have made, I say “not enough”. While I have slowed down making masks as my practice has picked up, I realize there will continue to be a need. I am doing custom masks, with favorite teams, animals, colors, hobbies and even printing practice logos on the masks. Hopefully, I have been able to keep health care workers safer, in my own small way, and also bring a smile to a few faces when they are able to display their alma matter in a very unique way!"

Written by Julie Dodds, MD, FAAOS