ST. PAUL — Sewers are being hailed as grassroots soldiers on the front line against the spread of coronavirus as Twin Cities health care and elder facilities plea for them to make and donate face masks.

“My sewing machine is my weapon against this enemy. Let’s stitch together,” read a recent meme on the American Sewing Guild, Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter’s Facebook page this weekend.

“Our talents are needed in this crisis,” the guild posted. “Find a pattern that works for you, and begin to sew.”

The movement has quickly caught fire across the Twin Cities.

In response to the outpouring of help, Treadle Yard Goods on Grand Avenue in St. Paul offered free kits to make CDC-approved face masks Sunday, March 22, and sold out of its 50 kits within moments. Many people in line to get the kits stayed to buy their own materials to make the masks.

The store said instructions and drop-off points for the mask are available at sewgoodgoods.org.

The movement has picked up momentum the past few days as more pleas for donations come in.

An estimated 30,000-35,000 masks were dropped off to the Minnesota Nurses Association on Saturday and Sunday.

For Gretchen Gasterland-Gustafsson of Mounds Park, making masks is a family affair. She and her daughters, ages 16 and 22, began making the masks last week.

“We have a factory-style shop in the basement,” Gasterland-Gustafsson said.

She had plenty of material already on hand.

“I have been a spineless fabric hoarder for decades,” Gasterland-Gustafsson said. “I’m weak when it comes to fabric. I have lots of it.”

Gasterland-Gustafsson, who works in the liberal arts department at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, said she has been sewing her whole life. She makes costumes for dance companies and schools in her spare time.

The first day she made 26 masks and then she switched patterns to make masks that accommodate a filter made from hypoallergenic vacuum bags and has made 20 in that style, she said.

She is under no illusion that her masks are going to save lives.

“I don’t know that they will, but if they stop someone from touching their face, then that is a reminder,” she said. “It’s not going to substitute for production of N-95 masks, but I have no control over that. This is all I can do.”

Facebook group takes off

For costume designer CJ Mandel, the army of sewers wanting to help took her by surprise.

A simple post started it all.

“I made a Facebook post and it went crazy,” she said, noting the post spawned a private Facebook group with nearly 300 members.

She’d initially reached out to Open Cities Health Center to see if they needed masks and then it spiraled.

Now she has a spreadsheet with organizations who are asking for the donated masks.

So far on her list of those asking for masks include a nursing home, an EMS department, a community mental health organization and smaller health clinics, like Open Cities, she said.

Organizations who might need fabric face masks donated can email her at fabricmasksmsp@gmail.com.

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