I am back to making masks.
In April, when the CDC announced that masks were a good idea, after all, probably, my younger daughter and I went full-on Little Women, stitching supplies for the beleaguered Union troops. Our first masks were made of whatever fabric bits we could scrounge around the house: bandanas, Japanese gift cloths, a few disastrous efforts involving tea towels.
Some of our early attempts were less than expert. We call this one “Loving Hands, Made at Home,” after a favorite expression of my friend Jennifer’s mother.
Eventually we tweaked both pattern and process and began churning out masks that were pretty decent. I ordered a bundle of fabric scraps from Etsy, a fine assortment of summery white prints, and used it to make another dozen. In late summer, anticipating autumn, I ordered additional bundles of fabric scraps, in more saturated tones.
Because everyone knows it’s a fashion faux pas to wear white masks after Labor Day.
Mask-making has become a ritual for me, a release. I keep a basket of masks next to the entrance to our home.
There is little danger I will ever be without a clean one, no matter how lax I get about laundry. And yet I keep making more. I fire up the sewing machine whenever I feel stressed or anxious – which, let’s face it, is most of the time, these days, for most of us.
Compulsive stress crafting. I’m sure you have your own way of coping.
I used to note people’s clothing and shoes when I passed them on the street. No more. But I do check out their masks. Homemade or store-bought? Basic black or something more colorful? The kind with the seam down the middle or the pleats on the sides? Looped behind the ears or around the head? And how neat is that top-stitching?
With masks as our most prominent feature, it is little wonder that so many people use them to broadcast messages: Black Lives Matter. Say Their Names. VOTE. When you don a mask with a message you are telling the world where you stand, in a manner most likely to make others take note.
My masks say: I stand with tiny dinosaurs.
My very favorites are these veggie-themed masks.
There’s a universality about them that appeals to me. Our opinions may differ about politics or policing. But everyone eats.
I took a few weeks off from mask-making to write voter mobilization letters for VoteForward, the introvert’s choice for political participation in this fraught year. Every day for three weeks I sat down for about an hour to pen notes to voters in swing states. We didn’t tell people for whom they should vote; we just encouraged them to cast their ballots. Please vote: a personal appeal, from one citizen to another.
How best to make connections with a wildly diverse group of people whom I do not know, hundreds or thousands of miles away? Hand-addressed envelopes, for a more personal touch. Spelling people’s names correctly seemed important; neat handwriting, too. My own name above the (hand-written) return address. And to top it off: a stamp.
I needed 400 of them. But what stamps to choose? What image would most appeal to the potential voters I was addressing, in Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio? What image would motivate them to open and read this hand-written letter from some Laurie Gould person whom they had never met?
Flag stamps – the basic black masks of philately—would have been the obvious choice for a vote-themed missive. But the flag is a loaded symbol for many these days.
Perhaps not. Nor this guy:
There are disease-themed stamps aplenty:
But I feel we have quite enough disease awareness at the moment.
In the end, once again, vegetables won the day:
Because who would turn away from a tomato?
Of course, the notion of universality as applied to vegetables is as much a myth as anything else. I’m sure plenty of people would look at me wearing my very favorite veggie mask:
….and think, “yeah: there’s a lady who can afford all the organic turnips she can eat.” We shouldn’t be cavalier about food: hunger is a harsh reality for far too many. My access to plentiful, healthy food is a privilege for which I am grateful every day.
What is more, while it is patently obvious to me that vegetables are by far the most interesting and delicious food group, I do recognize that this truth may not be equally obvious to others. Some people are allergic to garlic. Some don’t eat carrots for religious reasons (it’s a thing: look it up). Some people – and this will come as a shock – do not particularly care for lettuce.
And then there are people who look at the very fact that I am wearing a mask – even this totally fabulous lettuce mask – and think it a sign of weakness, evidence that I am cowed by some oppressive force looking to strip us all of our liberty. The importance of wearing masks, glaringly obvious to me, is far from obvious to them. Just as some people – many, many tens of millions – will proudly mark their ballots for Donald Trump. Perhaps for the second time. My truth is not theirs.
Time to fire up the sewing machine. I have masks to make.