Carnegie Mellon University

Bell and her mother working on sewing machines making masks

April 14, 2020

Serving the Community: Donating Cloth Masks to Essential Workers

Clement holds up masks she has madeInspired to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic, two CEE students pulled out their sewing machines and quickly jumped into action to create cloth masks for others.  Junior, Eliza Bell and PhD student Emma Clement have created and donated masks to friends, family, restaurant workers, grocery store workers, and even nursing home employees. Both found patterns online and found that after some practice, they could create masks in less than 20 minutes.

Bell discovered that her brother’s old dress shirts provided the perfect mask material. She kept the project all in the family by working alongside her mom, who owns a business making blankets, scarves, and headbands. “My mom wanted to use her skills to help people. I’ve helped her before and jumped at the chance to help her make the masks,” she says. Bell completes each mask by sewing a loop of stretchy fabric that will wrap around the wearer’s ears.

Clement adds that she wanted to do something positive during quarantine. “I like to help people, I know how to use a sewing machine, and I have extra free time. Sewing masks is a natural way to combine all of those things!”

Clement is creating masks from patterned cotton fabric and elastic—but she’s running into an all-too-common problem. The elastic used to wrap around a user’s ears is sold out at most stores. Fortunately, she’s found an innovative solution. She cuts bandages into strips to replace the elastic. Clement even has an additional back-up plan. “I’ll use ribbon or strips of fabric to make tie-on masks once I run out of ace bandage elastic.”

Both women were inspired to make the masks because they knew their small actions could make a big difference. Clement plans to create even more masks and provide them to

healthcare professionals. It’s a small gesture that has positive outcomes for both of them and those they’re assisting.

“I know that I am helping my community to feel safe during this uncertain time. I’m also making it a little easier for employees in the community to avoid risk if they have to continue to work,” Bell states.

And while the finished products are mini works of art, Clement mentions that they’re pretty simple to create. She quips that she purposefully chose a pattern with all straight seams. “I excel at sewing straight lines.”

Eliza Bell's Pattern

Emma Clement's Pattern