The coronavirus pandemic hit home for Giana Mylan. Literally.
That’s because Mylan, 28, lives in Queens, New York, the county with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. One of the most serious logistical crises facing those on the front lines of the effort to slow, stop, and defeat the virus is the shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE for short. Mylan’s aunt works as a home health aide for the elderly and some hospice patients, and many health care workers like her have been forced to reuse masks only meant for one-time use or repurpose other materials into makeshift masks as a stopgap, putting them at risk of infection as well.
During the economic shut down, Mylan’s primary work for a temp agency dried up, and she wanted to give back during this downtime using her greatest gift: sewing. Mylan, who also does some freelance sewing work as a side job, is a part-time student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in Manhattan, where she is enrolled in the haute couture sewing program. In order to help alleviate the PPE shortage, she decided to begin sewing rewashable surgical masks for her aunt and others who need them.
Mylan spoke with Women Deserve Better in an exclusive interview about how she — and you — can help meet the needs of those sacrificing so much during this difficult time.
First off, who or what got you into sewing?
My grandmother mostly, and apparently, it’s just in my blood. For special occasions, she would ask me what kind of dress I wanted. I would draw out my design and help her pick out the color and types of fabrics. From all of that, she would make the dress for me. I didn’t start trying to sew with a machine until I was around 11. She bought me a small starter kid’s machine that I used until college. She really supported my love of fashion and design. She couldn’t really teach me all too well, but we talked about silhouettes, fabrics, and the history of fashion many times. My first “adult home machine” I was gifted after I started classes at FIT.
Can you explain to a layperson specifically what haute couture sewing is?
Haute couture isn’t specifically defined, but I see it as something that uses techniques not found in ready-to-wear store-bought items, techniques that implement either an outside way of thinking or more hand-done finishings. To me, the most beautiful designs are sometimes the most simple looking on the outside and have the details with embroidery, beading, and structural work on the inside of the garment. Normally, these are one-of-a-kind garments that would be found in a museum after 20-plus years.
Is this your first time sewing for a good cause? If not, tell us about that.
I did sew a few pouches for the animals in Australia during the bushfires earlier this year. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to get the materials and such together, they were no longer accepting shipments from overseas. I am currently working on changing those pouches into small bags to either sell or donate — most likely donate. Since then, I have joined several relief crafting groups through social media to see if I can help more often.
Could you please explain to any of our readers who might want to help out what sewing technique you’re using? Is this something a beginner can sew, or does it require more experience?
Any beginner with a sewing machine can make these masks. I saw several posts of people hand-stitching them together, but for longer lasting masks, sewing with a machine is best. I use a normal straight stitch on a medium 2-2.5 length on my Janome home machine. I do at times go with a ⅛ seam allowance on the top stitch, but that is by choice. A ¼ inch seam allowance is the norm for these types of masks.
Where can one purchase inexpensive patterns to use? Can any other materials one might have lying around (e.g. an old T-shirt) be repurposed into masks?
The pattern is actually quite simple: There are two different sizes of masks available in pattern size, in the style that I normally make “the pleated surgical mask.” There are two options on how to fasten the mask. I have found though there are some people that are between sizes. For this problem, I used either the tie method (they have more of a range to tighten or loosen the mask) or use a slightly longer/shorter elastic.
I have used quilting cotton, a very tight woven cotton flannelette, or old 100 percent cotton T-shirts. Usually, anything that is very stretchy isn’t a good fabric for this sort of thing. Easiest thing to remember is cotton is the way to go. If your sheets are 100 percent, and you’re willing to part with them, you can turn those into masks. Check out this link to see what I used for my pattern.
Giana, thank you so much for your efforts. Stay healthy!
By Damian J. Geminder
Editor & Media Coordinator
P.S. Can’t sew? Never fear! The CDC has a how-to guide for two kinds of no-sew masks, as well as instructions for traditionally sewed cloth masks.