Making masks

Making masks

Glen Rock woman turns her seamstress skills to help Valley Hospital

These are examples of Karen Nathanson’s work.
These are examples of Karen Nathanson’s work.

Karen Nathanson truly loves to sew.

She has no fewer than five sewing machines in her Glen Rock House. One is from her late mother and another is from her mother-in-law; there’s a 30-year-old Singer model, her daughter’s newer Viking, and a Viking she bought for herself that has nifty features, including a hem-stitch function.

And like any serious seamstress, Ms. Nathanson has a wide assortment of fabric scraps left over from various projects. Not to mention elastic, notions, and threads of many colors.

When she saw a News 12 report about how Jo-Ann fabric stores are donating fabric to make face masks during this coronavirus pandemic, something clicked for her. Sidelined at home, as most of us are these days, Ms. Nathanson realized that she could put her skills and extra supplies to good use.

She phoned the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood to ask if it had any use for fabric face masks that are not medical grade, and the answer was an emphatic and grateful “yes.”

“That was about two weeks ago,” she said. “Since then, I’ve made about 20.”

Ms. Nathanson uses a pattern she found at Her online research revealed that tightly woven material is best for protective face masks. She chose from among her fabric scraps accordingly, “and I double it, so it’s thick.”

Each mask is a fond reminder of the items she made from the original yardage. The green leaf print was used to sew a shower curtain. The rocking-horse and teddy-bear print was made into a baby quilt. Her dining-room chairs were reupholstered with the autumn flower print. And the blue, green, and silver fabric was one of the treasures she found among the fabric scraps she inherited from her mother.

Ms. Nathanson devised a sort of assembly line in order to produce several at once efficiently. “I cut and pin the fabric and then I press them before starting to sew,” she said.

The hospital told her that it has set up a donation bin outside the front entrance. “I just put the masks in a Ziploc bag and throw them in,” she said. “I can see that other people have donated fabric masks and other items, like dental bibs.”

Ms. Nathanson, who went back to school in 2015 after having worked for the Jewish Standard as an advertising account executive since 2003, isn’t looking for a pat on the back. She agreed to make her mask-sewing endeavor public only because she hopes it might inspire others to do the same.

“If you’re going stir crazy at home and you know how to sew, it’s something you can do,” she said. “If you don’t have enough fabric and elastic or ribbon at home, you can place an order at Jo-Ann’s for pickup.”

At the moment, however, elastic seems to be out of stock at Jo-Ann’s. Ms. Nathanson was lucky enough to find lots of it in her late mother’s sewing basket. “She used to make elastic-waist pants for herself,” she said. “The elastic she used was wider than I needed, so I cut it in half.”

As of March 31, Ms. Nathanson’s contact at the hospital said that it still needed masks, as well as surgical hats — which presumably could also be sewn at home using a pattern that can be found online. Finished items may be dropped off in the donation bin by the revolving doors outside the entrance to the Valley Hospital at 223 N. Van Dien Avenue.

If you’re not into sewing, Ms. Nathanson suggests another way you can help hospital personnel protect themselves from coronavirus. You can donate to a crowdfunding campaign ( launched by DiveDesign.

This Boonton-based product development consultancy is owned by Adam Hecht of Ridgewood and Alexander Tholl of Morristown. (Mr. Hecht and Ms. Nathanson’s daughter Rebecca went to Hebrew school at Barnert Temple together, and both are graduates of Jefferson University in Philadelphia.)

DiveDesign aims to ease the national shortage of face protection for medical professionals by raising $10,000 to produce face shields and masks for hospitals in New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia. Valley is among the hospitals that have expressed interest in receiving these items.

Model Makers in Rockaway has agreed to manufacture the PVC shields. The reusable masks will be made in cooperation with Pico Solutions Group in Kearny.

A contribution of $25 funds the production of two face shields and one 3D-printed mask.

“All funds will go towards enabling us to purchase material in bulk, begin immediate production of the already designed shields, and continue development and testing of the masks before beginning production in the coming weeks,” the partners said.

“Our goal is to produce at least 10,000 face shields and 1,000 3D-printed masks to begin delivering them to local hospitals and beyond, as far as our supplies and funds will last.”

If you have supplies to donate to the cause, or if you have connections to material/PPE suppliers, or if you have 3D printers available to use to print masks, or if you can volunteer to help assemble and distribute masks, write to Mr. Hecht and Mr. Tholl at

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