“I thought this would be a good way to help contribute to the cause, so to speak, so I started sewing some masks.”
Cheralyn Lambeth had never made a cloth face mask before March 23. The 53-year-old freelancer has designed costumes and props for several films and television shows and teaches a class in costuming at Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She’s even worked with the Carolina Panthers football team, maintaining the costume for the team’s mascot, Sir Purr, and designing any special costumes he might need.
But making her own masks? That was new to her.
Now, just two short weeks after she sewed her first one, Lambeth can produce a single cloth face mask in under 10 minutes.
Lambeth, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, is fortunate enough to still be teaching her costuming class and continuing her other job as a historical interpreter at a local historic site. But during her spare time, she’s also dedicated herself to manufacturing masks by hand to help fill the shortage in her area.
“One of the reasons I started working on the masks was to help support people in the healthcare industry,” Lambeth told COURIER. “I do have a lot of friends in health care, and I know their work situation has been really insane.”
The nationwide shortage of surgical masks, N95 respirators (masks that form a seal over the nose and mouth and offer more protection than surgical masks), and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment has become an enormous controversy. On Monday, a new watchdog report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General found that American hospitals face “severe” and “widespread” shortage of critical PPE.
When asked on Monday about the report, President Trump told reporters: “It is wrong.” By Tuesday morning, he’d attacked the report’s author, HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm, for producing a “Fake Dossier.” Despite Trump’s repeated denials of the problem, the shortage is very real and threatens the lives of medical providers and patients alike.
The CDC has also updated its guidelines and now recommends that individuals wear a “cloth face cover” when they go out in public. “Do NOT use a facemask meant for a healthcare worker,” the CDC’s guidelines read. But those guidelines come after a month of contradictory advice on the efficacy of face covers and masks. In that time, many Americans already decided to go their own way and obtain both surgical and N95 masks for personal use.
Manufacturers and the U.S. government are now ramping up production of N95 masks to provide to doctors and nurses, but people like Lambeth are also stepping up to make face masks for medical workers and ordinary Americans alike.
Lambeth was initially recruited into mask-making by a friend of hers who had been designing them, and said she views it as her way of helping during the pandemic. “I thought this would be a good way to help contribute to the cause, so to speak, so I started sewing some masks,” she said.
She began her foray into mask-making by watching a YouTube tutorial from Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Indiana. Once Lambeth got the hang of it, things took off quickly. She launched a local Facebook group, Charlotte Mask Marauders, where she and two dozen others share resources and information about places and people that have requested masks so that they are able to meet the demand.
One of the organizations Lambert and others are sewing for is The Sandbox, a nonprofit that works to support the families of children who have been diagnosed with cancer or another terminal illness. A group of nursing homes has also recently requested masks.
“As word got out that we were sewing masks, more and more people were asking for them. At first, hospitals weren’t taking the homemade masks, but as the situation has progressed and the medical equipment is getting harder and harder to find, more and more facilities are taking the masks,” Lambert said. “I’ve been swamped … I’ve made 143 masks so far and still have quite a few more to make this week.”
Lambeth has adopted an assembly line style where she cuts all her fabric and lays out all of her elastic at the beginning, and then gets to work. “If I’m really on a roll, I can get about 10 done in an hour,” she said.
Things are grim these days, so one way Lambeth tries to lighten things up is by having some fun with the design of the masks.
“I’ve tried to find fun fabrics for people with fun patterns and colors. I’ve gotten quite a few requests for Star Wars masks,” she said. “I sent off a few last week and I’ve got three more to send out this week from Star Wars fabric.” She’s also had requests for cats and dragons.
Lambeth expects to continue designing masks for the foreseeable future, as long as the demand is there. She has also recruited friends to the cause, and her mother’s church group in Greensboro, North Carolina, has also joined in, pivoting from sewing quilts to sewing cloth masks.
As for how easy it is for the average person to make their own mask, Lambeth encouraged anyone with sewing knowledge to try their hand at it, but warned that producing masks might be difficult for someone without any sewing experience. If someone really wants to try though, she suggested checking out resources online.
“There are a lot of really great tutorials and information out there on how to create masks and quite a few different ways to do it,” Lambeth said.
Although she has not yet begun wearing a mask herself, Lambeth said she was “pretty sure that’s probably coming.” When she does don a mask herself, she said it would be either Star Wars or Harry Potter-themed.
“I’m a big fan of both.”