Sewing Machines: UWG’s Costume Shop Makes Masks for Hospital Workers

Julie Lineback

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

Alan Yeong-Marcello and Nan Stephens aren’t used to being idle.

As faculty and staff members of the University of West Georgia’s Department of Theatre, they’re used to working under pressure. Today, they’re two of the thousands of people who are coming together to help humanity battle the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“One of my friends on Facebook added me to a group called ‘Sewing Masks for Atlanta Hospitals,’” said Yeong-Marcello, professor of theatre and costume designer. “I have a lot of spare fabric, and I was bored. So I asked Nan if she’d like to help.”

Sewing Masks for Atlanta Hospital, which is comprised of many members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, currently has more than 4,000 volunteers working to solve one of healthcare’s most daunting challenges – the shortage of protective face masks.

Atlanta healthcare facilities have requested thousands of handmade masks, and the requests keep coming.

“They have a list of hospitals that are in dire need,” Yeong-Marcello said. “Right now, they’re still gathering and will do a donation batch pretty soon.”

He said the dropoff locations are as far south as Macon, as far north as Dahlonega, as far west as Newnan and Douglasville, and as far east as Snellville, Cumming and Jackson.

The masks are made of 100 percent cotton and cover N95 surgical masks. Doctors and nurses usually discard the N95 masks after treating a patient, but because of the recent shortage, they are now having to reuse them. This puts them at a greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Masks like the ones Yeong-Marcello and Stephens sew are meant to be used only once – protecting the N95s, which can then be sanitized and reused. Since they are single-use, the goal is to make 3,000 masks.

The theatre duo has sewn about 100 masks each day this week.

“It helps that Alan and I are used to having only 20 minutes to get a skirt cut out, sewn together, and onstage,” said Stephens, costume shop coordinator. “We’re used to working under pressure.”

In addition to donating masks to the Atlanta volunteer group, Yeong-Marcello and Stephens are also sharing some with the Southeastern Quilt & Textile Museum in Carrollton. That group, Sewing Masks for Heroes, helps Tanner Health System locally.

For those under a location-wide or self-imposed lockdown looking for a way to help or just something to do, Stephens said there’s a lot of information on the internet – some valid, some not.

“Try to connect on Facebook with one of the groups like Sewing Masks for Atlanta Hospitals or Southeastern Quilt & Textile Museum,” she advised. “They have patterns available to you, as well as the instructions you need.”

As Yeong-Marcello said, everyone is in this together. These simple acts of kindness just happen to be in their skillset.

“Since we have the time, why not be productive?” he added.

“We never have much downtime between the two of us,” Stephens concluded. “We’re pretty driven, and it’s not unusual for Alan to be juggling multiple shows at a time. So I can’t say this has given us a sense of purpose – it’s just what we do. It has been heartwarming to see how people can come together and focus and get things done.”