Billie Collins planned to sew sports-themed quilts to give to family members for next Christmas. She cut 9-inch strips from fabric emblazoned with Kansas City Chiefs, Royals and KU logos for her husband, son and sons-in-law.
But as she learned of the need for protective face masks amidst the coronavirus crisis, those fabric strips were trimmed and sewn for a very different purpose.
“I thought I could get 10 or 20 masks done in a day,” Collins said. “Then 10 turned into 100, then 1,100.
“I told the men they weren’t getting quilts.”
Collins and her two adult daughters, Darci Collins and Courtney Andres, have turned into prolific mask-makers, churning out the protective gear every day since about March 18, the day after Gov. Laura Kelly announced school buildings would be closed for the rest of the year. Collins is a substitute teacher who also works as a home health aide and assists her husband, Roger, with the family business, Central Publishing, Inc.
With schools closed, she had time on her hands. So when some friends who work as nurses mentioned a need for masks, she set to work.
Collins started with leftover fabric — those not-quite-a-quilt pieces. Each mask takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.
It didn’t take long before the trio started to run out of supplies. First, they ran out of metal strips used to bend the mask so it fits snugly around the nose. Friends suggested they use metal bread ties, but Roger had a better solution by cutting strips from thin metal printing plates used at Central Publishing.
Next, they ran out of elastic to wrap around the ears. With mask-making now a popular hobby, such items have sold out. Collins ordered two 100-foot spools, but while waiting for their arrival discovered that the material for leggings was a good substitute.
“It’s so soft, like butter. It feels so much better on people’s ears,” she said.
She ended up donating the elastic to other sewers in need. In return, someone sent her a roll of Royals fabric — always a favorite.
Collins said many who want a mask donate fabric. At times, Collins has come home to find spools of thread on her porch. Or a bottle of wine. Even a roast.
“We’ve had a lot of donations. A lot of bartering,” Collins said.
She sells her masks for $4 apiece but also gives them to those in need. The family intended to donate one mask for each one they sold, but upped the ratio to 2-to-1.
They’ve donated many to those in health care as well as to restaurants and retail businesses.
“I think it’s very important that you find your reason to smile. And right now, sewing and giving people a little sense of security is my way,” she said.