Sewing hope: Student makes masks for healthcare workers

Arizona students sew masks to fight COVID-19
Updated: Mar. 22, 2020 at 7:42 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The spread of COVID-19 has been hitting hospitals hard, especially when it comes to supplies and protective gear for first responders. A few costume designers with the Arizona Repertory Theatre are hoping to help.

“I’ve been sewing since I was eight years old,” said Rachel Wilkins, a student at the University of Arizona who makes costumes for the theater program

By trade, she makes costumes as ornate or simple as they need to be for performances.

“Just watching them walk across the stage, I think it’s the most rewarding thing ever,” she said. “Having somebody feel good in what you put them in, I think that is like the best.”

After classes were halted to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19, and her vet-tech friend ran out of personal protective equipment, she switched gears, to making masks—a stitch, and a few cuts at a time, she hopes to make something else people will feel good in, maybe a little safer.

“I want people to feel great in these just as they feel in a dress or suit I make,” Wilkins said “These are a little more important at the moment.”

Two layers of specially chosen, 100% cotton fabric to shield those on the front lines. The patterns were as important as the stitches. From floral designs to sushi and even superhero patterns, Wilkins wants what hopefully is only an accessory instead of a necessity at some point, to show the person wearing it.

“I started with my superhero ones just because when I think of healthcare workers, they’re superheroes right now,” Wilkins said.

The masks can cover their mouths and noses like a surgical mask would or slip over an N-95 mask. It should be noted, these don’t work like medically-approved covers. Some research show’s they are about half as effective.

“Forty to 50% is better than zero, so I’m about it,” Wilkins said.

The state received a shipment of 60,000 N-95 masks, more than 200,000 surgical masks and thousands of gloves, gowns and face shields. According to ADHS, supplies will be divided among all 15 counties in Arizona based on population. Maricopa will receive around 60%, with Pima County receivng about 15%.

A spokesperson for the Pima County Health Department shared the following statement:

“The supplies are broken up to each county based mostly on their population. Overall, this shipment is a step in the right direction but does not get us where we need to be as this continues to unfold. The supply chain part of this response is crucial and we are working very close with the hospitals and the rest of the healthcare system to keep working towards solutions.”

Wilkins hopes, at the bare minimum, her masks help those supplies last a little longer. She is one of about ten people in the program sewing the masks. They plan to donate the supplies to the hospitals in need most.

Governor Ducey said shipments of the personal protection equipment should start on Monday. A complete breakdown from ADHS on the percentage of equipment each county will get is below. These are estimates, and the final numbers may vary.

  • Apache: 1.12%
  • Cochise: 2.05%
  • Coconino: 2.10%
  • Gila: 0.84%
  • Graham: 0.58%
  • Greenlee: 0.13%
  • La Paz: 0.32%
  • Maricopa: 59.72%
  • Mohave: 3.13%
  • Navajo: 1.68%
  • Pima: 15.34%
  • Pinal: 5.88%
  • Santa Cruz: 0.74%
  • Yavapai: 3.30%
  • Yuma: 3.06%

Both JoAnn Fabrics locations in Tucson and Quilt Basket (on Tanque Verde) are taking drop-off masks, and will donate completed masks to healthcare workers. Banner Health also welcomes the donation of homemade masks for use by health care workers for their personal comfort outside of procedure rooms and isolation areas. While they are not appropriate for preventing disease transmission, homemade masks make some health care workers feel more comfortable at work, and they preserve our inventory of personal protective equipment for those who need it most.

To take part, please complete a brief online form at A member of the Banner Health team will follow up with you to gather additional information and coordinate logistics. Considering social distancing is a priority, careful coordination and a process for dropping off supplies is necessary. We ask that supplies be delivered only after discussions with staff. Please do not bring donations directly to Banner hospitals.

If you would like to donate or help Wilkins and the theater make masks, please reach out to the reporter on this story:

Links to similar tutorials:

Both JoAnn Fabrics locations in Tucson and Quilt Basket (on Tanque Verde) are taking drop-off masks, and will donate completed masks to healthcare workers.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.