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Local Seamstresses Connect With CNY Healthcare Centers Through Syracuse Mask Project

Syracuse Mask Project

  A shortage of personal protective equipment is happening across the county during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Central New York has been able to largely keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed, they still don’t have enough masks.

But only certain types of masks are useful in certain situations.Hospitals need fitted masks, often with layers of fabric for filters, whereas personal masks can be rectangular and single layer.

A local effort called the Syracuse Mask Project aims to connect essential services in need to local sewists in order to make masks they can actually use. The project's organizer Nancy Gaus said she got the idea from a friend in mid-March, just when the COVID-19 pandemic was really starting to hit the United States.

Gaus said the friend sent her an article about healthcare workers setting up sewing rooms in hospitals to help fill the mask supply gap.

"She sent me the link and said 'You should start sewing,'" said Gaus. "I thought 'Well, yeah, maybe I should.'"

But soon she found there was a lot of misinformation and confusion about what kind of masks hospitals could actually accept and use. After asking around, a friend of hers that works at SUNY Upstate sent her a design.


"So I looked at the directions and the pattern that SUNY Upstate released," said Gaus. "And there were some things that need some clarification. I had a lot of questions. The pattern wasn't quite right. So I reached out to them. Asked these questions. Got some answers, and thought 'You know, if I have these questions, I bet you a lot of other people do, too.'"

Gaus said the website was originally created for her and her sewing friends to reference so others who wanted to sew and donate masks would know what mask design was usable. But she quickly started getting requests from outside of the healthcare industry. Government agencies, senior centers and other essential businesses needed personal masks. 

Gaus didn't want to have to constantly coordinate who was making what and donation drop offs. So, she reached out to some of her friend's in Syracuse's tech community. They built an add on that allows for those who need masks to post what type of mask they need and how many. Then local sewists can independently respond and work on any posted order depending on capability and resources. 

"I figure, yeah, I can sit down and make 20 masks in a day," said Gaus. "But if I enable ten of my friends and each one of those are making 15, 20 masks in a day, I'm much further ahead. We've gone a lot further to meet the need. But really, we need people sewing."

Gaus is working on filling an order now for scrubs and surgical caps for Upstate’s COVID-19 testing unit. Those patterns and all the others are available on the website for those who want to help fill that or other orders.


Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.