Monday, July 27, 2020

Mask Making With CrapMonkey

Knowing how to sew is both a blessing and a curse.

For a time, I enjoyed making dolls and doll clothes, occasionally a dress for myself, curtains for the house, a formal for our daughter’s 8th grade dance…

But then word gets out and people start asking if you wouldn’t mind fixing this ripped pocket, or taking in this dress which is six sizes too big, or hemming these jeans or making the sails for your 15 foot sailboat….

And then the world decides to catch the MOTHER OF ALL VIRUSES and suddenly your 12-year-old, 4-H self feels obligated to make masks to protect family and friends.

Only the minute you sit down at the 35 year old Kenmore machine, you notice that every little thing begins to annoy you, from the color of the pin heads to the fact that EVERY TIME you try to take a stitch the needle un-threads itself and you can’t see that stupid needle hole because, seriously, you could NEVER see that stupid needle hole even when you were 12 years old and in 4-H making a circle skirt.

So, you throw all the mask making supplies in a heap, slam the bedroom door and vow to never go back in until overseas visitors arrive and need a place to sleep.

There may have been some cursing, also.

But then your friend Mel comes up to you at work, all excited because she has ordered 100 pounds of fabric, 2500 miles of elastic and seam binding and a spool of metal wire large enough to secure millions of things that need to be secured with wire, all so she can make masks.

just a sampling of supplies...

And as you stand there waiting, the words come out of her mouth….

“You know how to sew, right?”

And she has such a hopeful, excited look that you don’t have the heart to say that even the thought of talking about making masks makes you want to scream horror movie style and run to the nearest closet, curl up in a ball and slam the door.

Let alone trying to teach someone how to sew in the process…

(It should be noted that the last time I attempted to teach people to sew we were planning a fun trip to Jamaica and everyone needed super cute girl pirate shirts. NO where in that process was the concern that those shirts might save a life or at least prevent the spread of anything but laughter.)

But then, in a nearly out of body experience, you see your mouth open and the words hang in the air like a Sunday morning comic strip: SURE, Let’s make a day of it! We can do dinner!”

And that is how, a couple weeks ago, Rob and I hosted Mel and her partner for mask making and BBQ.

one of the most important sewing supplies, these days. 
one that my 4-H leaders never mentioned, btw. 

Before this goes further, there are a couple things you need to know about my friend Mel. She is ALWAYS prepared and has researched everything exhaustively at which point she has taken all the information she has gleaned and used it to invent an even better way to do something.

She is generous to a fault.

And, due to an unfortunate intestinal issue on a trip to Cabo several years ago, has earned the nickname CrapMonkey. 

(check out the original CrapMonkey post:  )

So, it was no surprise when she and Joy arrived with the above listed mask making supplies, Mel’s new Brother sewing machine, a bag full of beer and wine, and some very delicious looking steaks.

because craft sewing also requires craft beers

We set up the basement with a big table, our sewing machines facing one another like partners in a crafting law office. 

this little trouper has been through a lot.

Fabrics were discussed, chosen to meet personality needs of family and friends and soon an assembly line began with Mel cutting, me pinning and Joy ironing.

sewing, or at least trying to...

ironing, which is very important

The lesson was going along pretty well, until the new sewing machine refused to sew a straight line, tracking to the right, and wadding the fabric up into an annoyingly tight ball.

Given the fact that  my machine is a good 35 years old, pretty much only goes forward and backwards and is not a Brother brand, I gave it my best shot and spun all the dials and changed all the settings I could and then still managed to act surprised when it continued to refuse to sew a straight line. All the while, Mel is frantically looking online at an owner’s manual the size of her phone screen.

Because she was looking at it on her phone screen…

Thankfully, we were saved by Rob announcing that dinner was ready. We had some much needed nourishment and even more needed wine before returning to one last attempt.

As Joy continued with her pressing of seams, I assembled and sewed, and Mel continued to fight with Brother.

pleat placement demo

Suddenly there was a shriek of only CrapMonkey magnitude.

“I found it! I searched ‘BUNCHING’ and here is the problem…”

After searching ‘poor tracking’ ‘fabric wadding’ ‘tension issues’ ‘how do you make this expletive piece of expletive work’, the google search for bunching fabric yielded an embarrassingly easy solution.

The machine was threaded incorrectly.

That was it.

Re-threading the machine produced a fine straight line.

And it was time for Crapmonkey to GO TURBO!!

In the next half an hour we power sewed about a dozen masks.

just a few of our custom designs

By now, it was getting late and everyone had work the next day. We barely made a dent in the warehouse of fabric and notions, but the foundation was laid, and mask production was ready to proceed at our respective homes.

For two weeks now I have walked past the abandoned sweatshop, throwing disdainful glances at the nearly finished masks spread out on the table just waiting for elastic earpieces and metal nose bridges.

I managed to make a few requested masks in support of our local baseball team for a sister-in-law. And some adorable littles and their stuffed animals will be sporting the latest in virus protection out West.

Teddy and Pooh modelling the latest in children's
and matching stuffies masks. 

But the fun of Crapmonkey Mask day is long gone and the thought of making masks for tiny kiddoes is nearly too much to bear.

I guess that’s what living in a Pandemic is.

Trying to find a way to make the weird and unsettling feel normal.

You don’t have to like it. You just have to find a way to get through it.

Maybe I need to turn to google for a better answer.

It worked for CrapMonkey.


Hoping everyone is staying safe out there, an appropriate 6 feet apart, and wearing your MASKS – over both your mouth and nose!

As a person of science, I am here to tell you that while they are irritating, uncomfortable and irritating, they are actually very important in the fight against the spread of disease.

The Healthcare System and Coast of Illinois thanks you.




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