Lucy Ferriss


I've called this blog "Travelin' Thoughts" in the past, because I kept it mostly as a journal to record impressions of new places and cultures. But in a way, it's still a place for traveling thoughts--ideas that move through and past me, and out into the world. Some of these are literary, some just about life. It's a good place to open up the conversation, and I welcome your thoughts and comments.

The Writer, the Seamstress, and COVID-19

March 26, 2020

The sacrifice I've had to make because of COVID-19 has been slight compared to most. I am on sabbatical leave, and had received a research stipend and residency to research a book set at a monastery in medieval France. That trip to France has been cancelled, along with the course I was set to teach in Montolieu, a book village outside Carcassonne. But I have not had to learn how to teach remotely; I am still receiving a paycheck, including health insurance; and everyone close to me is healthy.

Like most literary writers now stuck at home, I've found it challenging to focus and make progress in creating a fictional world when the real one surpasses any drama or dystopia we could imagine. Compared to journalists, we novelists move at a glacial pace; if we try to write to the moment, we are outstripped by events before we've drafted Chapter One. At the same time, we want to be useful at this time of great urgency. Imagine my satisfaction, then, upon learning that hospitals and care centers were looking for hand-sewn face masks to supplement their scarce supply of N95 masks.

I hauled out my ancient sewing machine, last used when fabric stores abounded and a girl could save money by sewing her own clothes. I dug in the bin for fabric and discarded clothing made of tightly woven cotton. I washed these pieces in hot water with bleach and pressed them flat. I refreshed my knowledge of bobbin-winding and thread tension. In another bin, I found some lengths of elastic cord and some others of shoestring, which I supplemented at the local drugstore with extra-large Scrunchis to secure the mask to the ears. As I've stitched, eased, pressed, topstitched, hemmed, and threaded elastic, I've found the hours zooming by just as they did when I crouched with my mother on the floor to pin the fabric for a new dress. One friend asked on Facebook for a word describing how we all felt after a week of confinement at home. Others chose lackadaisical, frustrated, slothful, bored. I wrote "busy."

One of my home-made masks, with pocket in back for filter,
Scrunchis to secure it to the ears.

Over the next three days, I hope to make three dozen masks. My supplies will run out at that point, and stores are closed. I hope when I deliver these to the hospital, they will want them. I hope I have followed their specifications correctly. I hope they can insert their filters through my homemade “pockets” without too much trouble. I picture a nurse donning the version with bright red front and lining of soft white cotton flannel; perhaps, in the midst of her frantic day, she'll know someone out here was thinking of her. If they tell me the N95 masks have arrived in such abundance that they don't need my masks, though, I'll be even happier. Keep them for next time, I'll say. Whether we like it or not, there probably will be a next time. Maybe we’ll be better prepared. If not, though, I will remind myself that I possess a couple of skills beyond putting words on paper. I’ll dust off my machine and get to work.

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