With love in their hearts and time on their hands, Lambton sewers help protect health care workers

Jessica Farrell of the Petrolia Chapter of The Sewing Army works in her home. The Sewing Army is one of many groups producing masks and caps for health care workers across Lambton County

The need for masks during the COVID-19 pandemic became real to Tracey Cameron with a text from her sister.

Cameron’s sister was going into hospital in London for heart surgery when she texted – they had no protection for the patients going into the hospital.

“I thought, ‘my sister is going to go there, and she’s not going to be safe.’ That’s when it becomes real.”

Cameron – of Sewlutions in Wyoming – had already been making mask. Her business had been shutdown as non-essential early in the pandemic. But after one day of sitting at home, she needed to do something.

“I have four immune-compromised people in my family,” she says. “It’s tough.”

So Cameron started making masks. “I think this keeps me from not thinking about that,” says Cameron.

Friends wondered why she wouldn’t just work on projects behind closed doors at her business. But Cameron feels called to make masks and scrub caps to protect people.

“I can make money anytime, it is not every day you get to save lives.
“My clientele has supported me for 12 years, many of them are in health care. We’re supposed to have each other’s backs; we’re supposed to be there; that’s the Canadian thing to do.”

Cameron is not alone; she’s connected with dozens of sewers in the area and is helping them find materials and patterns. She’s used her connections to get hard to find items like elastic and then shares them with others on a table underneath a tree on her lawn – it’s been dubbed the Giving Tree.

So far, the group has made over 700 masks with the bulk of them going to the local hospitals and nursing homes.

Now they’re making scrub caps with buttons on them; health care workers use the buttons to hold their masks in place saving their ears from irritation.

Cameron and the workers from the Giving Tree aren’t the only ones sewing during the pandemic. Jessica Farrell, the production coordinator for the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, has joined The Sewing Army.

Fashion designer Diana Coatsworth started The Sewing Army. She had been designing costumes in the theatre in Toronto when the province issued Emergency Orders to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. All of the shows she had been working on were cancelled.

So, she started sewing masks to protect health care workers from the novel coronavirus.

Members of the theatre world have joined the effort and Farrell decided to join “The Army” setting up a Petrolia chapter.

Some mask sewing groups, finding material is a challenge, but not for Farrell. She says people in the theatre “use and save everything.

“I am loving the opportunity to go through our stock,” she says. Farrell says they’ve found all kinds of items to use but men’s dress shirts are one of the best things to use because the weave of the fabric is tight.

Farrell has been sewing while she’s in isolation and she has been recruiting others to help. A number have already fired up their sewing machines.

Farrell says it doesn’t matter whether you are a skilled sewer or not, everyone is willing to help.

“Some people can do seven (masks)…that is seven more people who are protected.”

In Watford, a large group of volunteers have been busy making scrub caps for nurses. Joan Westgate says the group – named We’ve Got You Covered – provided the caps for workers at local nursing homes and hospitals and they will soon have made 1,000 caps.

Lucy Buttery and I are so proud and thankful to our team for doing their part in making sure our essential workers are safely covered during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Westgate.

In Florence, the Village Stitchers have also taken up the cause. Lawrene Denkers part of the small group which regularly meets to make quilts which are donated to people in need. When COVID-19 struck, they turned their attention to helping people stay well.

Denkers says the Village Stitchers got a call from the Chatham-Kent Quilters Guild; the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance was looking for cloth masks for people coming into the hospital.

The Village Stitchers decided to help. Denkers thought maybe they would do ten masks to start. Then, the group Christian Horizons called. It operates group homes in the region and was looking for 500 masks. So, the Stitchers just kept going.

Denkers says there are about four people working in Florence and they’re happy to be making a difference.

“We know there are a lot of people doing this,” she says.

“We actually think that’s the way to go, if every village and small community had one then we wouldn’t have to worry about it.”

The Florence made items may be a little different. They’re using quilting fabric which can have some pretty colourful designs. “Some of its plain, some flowered some are Canada flags, the novelty materials – people are very keen to give those because they don’t have anything to make with it.”

And Denkers says the people like to have them too, often sending pictures wearing the masks. “We really really want people to wear them; we want people to be comfortable.”

If you would like to help Cameron’s group can be found on Facebook as The Giving Tree. You can volunteer for the Petrolia Chapter of The Sewing Army by contacting Farrell at [email protected].