People are making thousands of cotton masks from home. Here’s how you can help.

Healthcare workers in Illinois are facing a shortage of protective masks. 

According to the CDC, fabric masks can be a valid crisis response option when other supplies have been exhausted. Medical centers including the University of Chicago Medical Center, have expressed a need for donations including cloth masks, and sewing enthusiasts are answering the call. 

So we spoke with Audrey Lauck, an experienced Chicago-based seamstress who has already created 300 such masks for organizations all over the country. Lauck shared her experience, discussed the dire need for protective equipment, and offered tips for those who still want to help, but don’t have the skills or equipment to sew masks themselves.

Chicago Ideas (CI): How did you arrive at the decision to start making masks?

Audrey Lauck (AL): All these years of repetitive sewing for my customers and making a product over and over in an assembly line, step-by-step fashion has well prepared me for mask-masking in this time of crisis. When I started hearing about the virus headed our way, little by little, I just felt in my bones that my skills would be needed soon. I was hoping I was wrong, but as I kept hearing about stores selling out of masks and of people hoarding supplies, it was becoming clearer everyday: I needed to step up and use my time at home for making masks. I knew that when I started this, I wasn’t going to stop until we didn’t need them anymore. I wanted to have all my bases covered to be able to hit the ground running and keep cruising. 

CI: What impact do you hope to have by doing this?

AL: It’s hard for me to put my mind around how I’m helping, but others have gone as far as to say that my fellow seamstresses and I are helping save lives. This is an extremely humbling thing to hear and is motivation to keep going. There are times when I get flustered and think, how can I, as one person, really be helping defend against this giant enemy? Then I think of that one nurse who might be grateful for even one mask, and I get right back to stitching. 

CI: What can people do moving forward to help with this process, even if they are unable to sew masks?

AL: Many people feel helpless and want to help during this crisis, and I totally get it. Those who want to help but don’t have the equipment or skills to make the masks, if you have some fabric laying around, connect with a seamstress to either drop off or mail the fabric. If you have a good pair of fabric scissors or a rotary cutter, you can get the measurements the seamstress needs and cut the fabric for them before shipping. If you have neither the skills or the fabric, you can always donate to the cause. Anyone can reach out to me and I can help connect interested parties with someone to help.

I am taking donations at this time and people have been generous to this cause, which is so helpful. My venmo is @Auddities. Not only have the cost of masks gone up due to the shortage, but so has the cost of some of the supplies to make them. Every cent raised will go towards mask-making supplies (fabric, thread, elastic, wire, beads) and shipping them around the country to various establishments in need. I will be making them in all of my spare time until we can get ourselves out of this mess.  


If you are interested in joining the effort to sew masks yourself,
you can follow these steps to do so.  Remember to wash your fabric, practice social distancing, hand hygiene, clean your workspace, and do not create masks for donation if you are sick.

You’ll need: 

  • Cotton fabric 
  • Fabric scissors
  • Ruler
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Flat elastic (18” fabric strips also work)
  • Thread

1. Cut 1 fabric rectangle and 2 pieces of elastic.

2. Fold the fabric in half inside-out, then sew along the top leaving a two-inch gap unsown in the center.

3. Slide elastic inside the two layers of fabric, then sew along each side.

4. Turn the mask right side out. Fold, then pin three evenly spaced pleats. Sew in place. 

Masks can be dropped off or shipped. Check these directories for organizations that have expressed a need for donations of cloth masks and other essential supplies. It is also a good idea to call to confirm with the organization before you create any masks to learn of any special instructions which can vary between medical centers. 

Where to donate:

If you are an organization in need of masks, you can fill out a mask request form here to be listed in a directory.



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