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Helping hands sewing masks for West Virginia health care workers

Will Whittaker

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University faculty, staff and students are working together to supply much-needed personal protection equipment for health care workers fighting on the frontlines against the novel coronavirus.

Elizabeth Shorrock, visiting assistant professor of fashion, dress and merchandising in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is leading an effort to make 10,000 face masks to be distributed to WVU Medicine, Charleston Area Medical Center and the United Way.

After learning about West Virginia's second confirmed case of COVID-19 late last week, she decided it was time to put her skills to use.
 
Although WVU transitioned classes online and non-essential employees to work-at-home assignments, Shorrock was granted use of a fashion studio to make the masks.
 
She wanted as few people together in the studio as possible, but she needed help. 

She contacted senior fashion, dress and merchandising major William Whittaker and graduate research assistant Samantha Hale, both of whom opted to stay in Morgantown instead of traveling home for spring break.

“I feel like we’re contributing to the war effort,” she said. “We’re just trying to help because it’s a need. I mean, we’ve got the facility, the sewing machines. We’ve got the thread. Now, we’re getting the elastic. We had everything, and I have students who are totally interested in helping out.”

To make the masks, they will use 100% tightly woven cotton fabric, most of which was donated by SustainU, a local company that produces affordable, environmentally and socially sustainable clothing.

The hitch in the plan was elastic, something most companies already sold out of.

She contacted WVU Davis College alumna Amy Bircher, owner of MMI Textiles, for a shipment of 5,000 feet of elastic. Bircher was able to get her 10,000.

"I was so glad to have thought to reach out to Amy and that she had elastic," Shorrock said. "It's great that we have engaged alumni and partners willing to pitch in during a crisis." 

After receiving approval from WVU Medicine for the design of the flat masks and fabrics, the group is first washing, drying and ironing all the material. 

Once the shipment of elastic is received and the prep work is finished, Shorrock estimates they will be able to complete 250 masks a day with a goal of 5,000 at approximately 55 cents each. 

“We’re making them to last, too," she said. "I’ve looked at a lot of patterns, and I've revised them a little bit. I’ve added seam allowance so they’ll be stronger and last a lot longer. The elastic, too, I’m reinforcing as I sew, so they won’t pull out. We’re making them to last.”

Amidst the pandemic and precautions recommended by public health officials, the group is maintaining social distancing practices, cleaning all counters and machines and practicing proper hand-washing techniques.

Although this all seems daunting, Whittaker said once all the pieces are in place, he thinks the operation will go smoothly. In addition to the project, he is maintaining contact with SustainU, which is planning to send help and additional fabric donations to the effort. 

With the extra hands and support, the team hopes to make 10,000 masks including drop-off kits for community members to get involved.

“Anybody can play their part - whatever it may be,” Whittaker said. 

To get involved or make donations of densely woven, 100% cotton and elastic, contact Shorrock at elizabeth.shorrock@mail.wvu.edu.

Photo Caption: Will Whittaker, a senior fashion, dress and merchandising major, cuts fabric to make masks for health care workers in West Virginia.

-WVU-

ln/3/25/20

CONTACT: Lindsay Willey
Director of Marketing and Communications
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design 
304-293-2381; Lindsay.Willey@mail.wvu.edu