Canyon Lake woman launches social media mask sewing group

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Sewing machines are gearing up all over Southern California to answer the call to make masks with Louise Nielsen’s guidance and encouragement. Anza Valley Outlook/Patricia Rivera photo

Louise Nielsen is on a mission. A mission of mercy, as she is determined to rally as many people to her cause as possible.

Using social media, she is gathering talented seamstresses to cut and sew cloth masks to fit over existing N95 respirators.

Though she lives in Canyon Lake, her work has inspired several Anza Valley women to contribute to the undertaking.

“The masks are turning out really good,” Anza resident Patricia Rivera. “They look durable and not intimidating at all to sew. I hope they bring comfort to the patients and the staff. The pattern Louise posted is awesome and she even does lesson tutorials.”

Both Neilsen and Rivera went through chemotherapy 10 years ago. Neilsen, a retired chef, relocated from the East Coast to California.

Louise Nielsen models one of her homemade masks. Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

“I have a good friend who is a physician assistant and her husband is an emergency room doc,” Neilsen said. “She sent me a photo of herself wearing ski goggles, a plastic shield and an N95 mask. She told me they were allowed one mask and one shield per day and had to sterilize or disinfect them between each patient. That photo is what started the ball rolling.”

There are many people sewing all sorts of masks to help with the increasing shortages. Most are making the pleated surgical kind with a piece of wire bent over the nose to form it to a person’s face. These are appropriate for people not in direct contact with sick patients, according to Neilsen.

“My friend and her husband are directly in contact with COVID-19 patients, and I wanted to figure out how to help them and those like them,” she said.

So Neilsen decided she wanted to make something that would fit over an existing N95 respirator, so if the people were given only one mask a day, theoretically they could have several of these covers that could be used between patients and washed as they do their scrubs.

“I thought this was a good solution until, and if, our health care workers on the front lines get appropriate numbers of masks they need,” she said.

The masks Nielsen makes are a little different from the surgical masks in that they are meant to cover an existing mask. This way she does not have to worry about putting any kind of filter in or leaving any kind of pocket for a filter. These covers are a little more difficult to sew because they have a curve shaped part to them, but she insists they are very simple to make.

“You don’t need to have great sewing skill in order to make them,” she stated. “My Facebook group has patterns, instructions and videos that I’ve made to help people along the way. I found a pattern somewhere online and adapted it to what I thought was best. I had one old N95 mask in our workshop that I’ve been using to make sure that these masks cover it. I sent several styles to my friend to help figure out what works best.”

Louise Neilsen’s daughter sports one of her masks. Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

Neilsen created a Facebook group because it was important for people around the country and even the globe to have easy access to patterns and tutorials if they wanted to help in their own area. The group is for learning how to make the masks, requesting masks and networking. She is overwhelmed with requests from near and far.

“I wanted other people to be able to make them as well. I wanted to enable people who want to help but feel helpless on how to start. This group posts daily on what hospitals and health care facilities are taking handmade masks. The mask-makers then mail them out,” she said.

She has sent them to Northern California, to New York City and is preparing to send masks to a hospital that is close to her heart in New Jersey.

“I have been using 100% cotton, a lot of it is quilting material,” she explained. “And it ends up having two layers when sewing is complete. We had an issue with getting elastic, as it is now not readily available. We’ve come up with some alternatives to using elastic to tie around the back of the head. With my mask cover, it’s important to remember that it is going over an existing mask, so the fabric has to still be breathable through both layers as well as the N95 mask.”

Most of the fabrics being used are flowery and pretty. She makes a point of avoiding scary fabric with skulls and other macabre designs.

“I’ve been a teacher for the last 10 years in the culinary field,” Neilsen said. “Ironically, before that my very first job out of college a long, long time ago was writing pattern instructions at Simplicity Pattern Company. I felt pretty good that I could make a mask that would work. It’s a little disheartening that not many people know how to use a sewing machine anymore. It breaks my heart to see what’s happening in our country and around the world. This is one way I feel like I can help.”

Many Anza Valley residents feel the same, rallying to the call to assist Nielsen in her crusade of mercy.

Visit WashableN-95 Mask Covers Pattern and Instructions at

https://www.facebook.com/groups/499008037460553 for instructions.

For more information about COVID 19 and its local impact, visit the Riverside County Public Health Department at http://www.rivcoph.org/coronavirus.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.