As pandemic continues, masks offer opportunity for creativity

Local sewists have seen masks shift from a basic safety necessity to an opportunity for self expression
Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 6:31 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2021 at 6:54 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In the beginning of the pandemic, items ranging from toilet paper to hand sanitizer were hard to come by. Another necessity that rarely frequented store shelves for very long were face masks.

The Electric Needle, a sewing shop in Madison, saw the early demand and wanted to help.

“In order to support the mask making, we went ahead and heavily discounted some fabrics to get people to make the masks,” said owner Jen Mulder, remembering the beginning of the pandemic last spring.

Jen Mulder, owner of The Electric Needle in Madison, sits at a sewing machine in her shop.
Jen Mulder, owner of The Electric Needle in Madison, sits at a sewing machine in her shop.(NBC15)

Mulder also put out a call to the sewing community, encouraging them to use their skills to sew masks for frontline health care workers. She said the response was amazing.

“We had volunteers that pretty much had nothing else to do with their time and really really supported our frontline workers,” she said. Ultimately, they distributed thousands of masks.

Denise Halada, a sewing instructor at Madison College, saw the challenges people were facing in getting their hands on masks. Last year, she got to work creating a class teaching people how to make their own fabric masks.

“When we offered it the first time it was when you couldn’t buy a mask, it was really difficult to get masks, and they were going to medical facilities mostly. And so we needed as general public to have masks as well,” Halada said. “We offered a class out there so people could make masks for themselves as well as their family and friends.”

The class turned out to be a hit.

“People responded to it right away because there was such a need out there,” Halada said. “But now you can go and you can buy more masks, so the need to make them has changed more from the need to have a mask, which we all do, to maybe we can make it a fashion statement.”

During the pandemic, Denise Halada taught mask making classes at Madison College.
During the pandemic, Denise Halada taught mask making classes at Madison College.(NBC15)

That transition from a mask as a basic, and sometimes boring, safety necessity, to a form of self expression, is something both Halada and Mulder have seen during the pandemic.

“At this point a lot of it is more fun, having things that match or create an outfit around a mask,” said Mulder. “Having some fun options can be a good way to brighten your day and make it not so terrible to have to slap it on and wear it all day.”

Mulder pointed out the fun and creative variety of mask options for kids, and the ability to personalize masks by using appliques and bolder patterns, or ordering custom masks off of marketplaces like Etsy.

Halada said she first noticed people matching their masks to their outfits on national stages, such as the Grammys or the inauguration.

“You can always take it the next step if you’re sewing an outfit or you can make different statements,” Halada said. “Things that you like, you can put on your mask.”

Unsurprisingly, Halada said in the Madison area, she’s seen sports related masks, like Brewers, Badgers, and Packers masks, as popular options.

“In the beginning it really was a lot of the men wanted black, or blue, or dark green, and now I’m actually seeing more men in more fun colors and different patterns,” said Halada. “It’s allowed people to bring their personalities forward, and I think that’s great.”

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