Carnegie Mellon University
August 31, 2020

Makers Use Facial Coverings as Creative Outlets

Producers forge community bonds on and off campus

By Heidi Opdyke

Jason Maderer
  • Marketing & Communications
  • 412-268-1151

CMU Makers are uncovering different ways to create facial coverings.

Kathy Newman, associate professor of English, had some T-shirts that CMU's Department of English printed to represent the Literary and Cultural Studies program in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The T-shirt included a grid of nine icons, including cultural theorists like Judith Butler, Michel Foucault and Gayatri Spivak, as well author/icons such as Jane Austen, Shakespeare and Marilyn Monroe. After making a few samples and posting images of herself wearing the facial coverings on social media, she started receiving requests. 

"The more I made, and the more I posted, the more people began to ask me to create a mask with a specific icon," said Newman. "I got requests for the Jamaican born theorist, Stuart Hall, the novelist Charlotte Brontë, the radicals Emma Goldman and Mother Jones, and more contemporary figures like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Dr. Anthony Fauci."

As part of her scholarly work, Newman writes about the history of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in the 20th century. 

"I thought about these workers as I was making the masks — especially as my dining room piled with fabric and thread," Newman said. "The project was a reminder that even in the midst of a global pandemic, culture is important. My friends and colleagues wanted to wear masks — to do the right thing — but they also wanted to be unique. They wanted to have masks that expressed something about themselves."

In return for pieces, Newman requested that people donate money to their favorite charities or political causes. The work raised at least $1,500 for various organizations.

"At the time that I was making these there was a wave of people across the country — and across the world — who were doing the same thing," Newman said. "I felt good being part of such a wave of sewing volunteers for a cause."

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