Coping With Coronavirus: Unmasking Master Designers of Mask Making

Elizabeth Jay (l) and Jeorjia Shea deliver 100 masks to human services organization Rising Ground in Yonkers. Photo: Jack Grace

A workshop/boutique in Peekskill called The Quirk Shop was preparing to celebrate its fifth anniversary this year. Since it opened, owner Jeorjia Shea has been making upcycled clothing and accessories (imaginative new creations fashioned from sundry materials that otherwise would have gone to waste).  

The Quirk Shop also has been well-stocked with merchandise by Elizabeth Jay of Jay Girl Design, along with items from Mary Davis of The More the Maryerr, as well as the work of other local artists. 


When Covid-19 hit Northern Westchester, the team of Jeorjia, Elizabeth and Mary snapped into action as a mask-making machine, pumping out hundreds of masks, taxing their sewing machines into exhaustion, beginning production at 8 a.m. and often sewing away until well after midnight each day. Each mask maker has worn out more than a few machines since March. 

They started by making and giving away hundreds of masks to some of the neediest causes, then asked for donations to offset costsm and sold some masks to help keep sustain the operation. 

The team turned out 100 masks for Rising Ground in Yonkers, a non-profit human services provider, founded in 1831, that helps families and children rise above adversity.  


A resplendent sampling of masks made by Mary Davis. Photo: Mary Davis

Many others in the region have stepped up during the pandemic to produce protective masks. They include volunteers at Croton Face Mask Makers, Peekskill Coffee House, Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP), Yorktown Post Office, Four Winds Hospital (Katonah), Westchester County Maskmakers, Tri-State Mask Making Group, Masks & More, and still more groups popping up on Facebook and elsewhere.   

Jeorjia Shea also made a box filled with free masks, for Peekskill residents to draw from, at BeanRunner Cafe, whose co-owner Drew Claxton has contributed to the stockpile with her own handcrafted masks. “The demand got so overwhelming, we had no need to promote our efforts. It just spread primarily through word of mouth,” noted Shea. 

All of this mask making has been evolving constantly, with varying requirements, along with conflicting reports on their ultimate effectiveness fighting the spread of the virus.  


Julia Wang, wife of Croton Rotary member Seaver Wang, and their son Hamilton, 4, show hand-crafted face masks donated to Croton Face Mask Makers. Rotary Club of Croton-on-Hudson reminds everyone that fabric masks without a filter will not prevent Coronavirus (Covid-19) and should not be used in place of a professional-grade mask, but it is better than leaving the face exposed. A homemade mask should cover the entire front (including below the chin) and sides of the face. Photos: Seaver Wang 


The mask makers continually pivot to keep pace with the state of the art: which material is best? how useful is a particular type of mask? what is the most effective pattern? 

Some masks have been worn as a second layer on top of hospital-grade N-95 personal protective gear, to prolong the life of the professional masks used by nurses and doctors, which had started to become scarce.  


There also emerged a mask upgrade with a filter pocket for reinforced protection. When nurses began bleeding from the elastic ties wrapped around their ears, the solution was to produce masks that are tied behind the head. 

Into the third month of sheltering, the cottage industry of grassroots mask mavens continues to ply its impromptu trade and make its generous contributions.  

“It feels good to be of use in these times” noted Jeorjia Shea, “but I know we all wish we were focusing on making exciting items for our spring line.”  

Jack Grace is a touring composer, writer, and performer based in New York. 

1 Comment

  1. Drew Claxton – one of the owners of The Bean Runner has been instrumental in the local mask making effort! In addition, the BeanRunner has been supporting a pay it forward program for anyone who need food or wants to contribute to other community neighbors!

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