‘Sowers’ use all sorts of groovy patterns to sew masks for community

A local church group in Temecula sews masks out of different fabrics for those who can’t get masks due to the shortage from COVID-19. Lexington Howe/Valley News photo

A group of 12 have started making facemasks for all different types of essential workers, from nurses, doctors, and more recently, the Los Angeles Police Department.

Sowers is a group of about 80 women from Rancho Community Church in Temecula. The group started over a decade ago, and they make all sorts of items, from quilts, tote bags, to clothes for children in Africa. Their most recent endeavor, making facemasks, is supported by a group of 12 individuals within the Sowers group.

Murrieta resident Dorothy Demmin, otherwise known as Dot, has been sewing since she was young and has been with the group since its initial inception back around 2007, 2008.

“We were hesitant because in the beginning everybody wasn’t sure whether they were valued or not,” Demmin said of the original idea to make the masks. “Now, it’s encouraged in all directions for people to wear them so we are happy to make them.”

At this point, Demmin said she can make one in about 15 minutes but is trying to make many of them at one time now due to demand.

“I’m going to do it in mass production,” Demmin said. “Do one step for 12 of them and then the next step for 12 of them and try and make it go faster.”

Murrieta resident Jackie Dearbaugh has been in the area for six years now but moved here from Ohio. She is also a part of the Sowers group.

“Our daughter and her family attend the church, so we had been visiting every time we came to visit them,” Dearbaugh said. “I had just learned about Sowers originally through one of the bulletins, but there was an older usher who ushered with my husband and his wife was one of the original Sowers. “He’s the one who told my husband about it and said she ought to give it a try, and I loved it, I’ve been there ever since.”

Dearbaugh has been a quilter for the past 30 years and thought it was a great idea to start making masks.

“I’d actually started making them for my family before we got organized about it,” Dearbaugh said. “I think we have probably at least three different kinds floating around. You can make one in about 10 minutes of the simplest kind, but I recently added some additional interfacing because it’s supposed to help with the screening, the microns — the very small particles, and that takes probably about 20 minutes.”

There are three different types of masks the Sowers church group from Rancho Community Church has made so far: shoestring masks, tie masks and ones made with elastic to go around the ears. Lexington Howe/Valley News photo

Dearbaugh found that her glasses would fog up when she first started wearing the masks, so she found a way to create masks that would help to stop it from happening.

“Now I’m adding a little piece of pipe cleaner inside the top seam that you can press to shape to your nose and that prevents the glasses from fogging up,” Dearbaugh said. “This helps a lot.”

Most patterns you can find on the internet, but you can hand make them as well.

“There’s really a pretty good one on The New York Times, but they did it by hand and that’s doable, but if you have a machine it’s about 10 times faster,” Demmin said.

The group has started to receive feedback on ways to improve the masks.

“We started off with elastic around the ears, and some nurses said that that’s not comfortable, plus the whole nation is out of elastic,” Demmin said. “So then we graduated to making them with ties, and there’s lots of different ways to make them with ties – you sew the fabric string, or use shoelaces or you use paracord, or use ribbon, there’s lots and lots of different ways.”

Other feedback suggested making different colors for each side so those using them can remember what side they used the day prior.

“To make them fit a little bit better I’ve added a little tuck underneath the chin too, because I’ve been making the rectangular kind, not the more oval kind,” Dearbaugh said. “By putting that little dart underneath the chin that makes it a little more face-fitting too.”

Dearbaugh was a nurse for 35 years but is retired now.

“Originally I was somewhat hesitant to make them because I didn’t want people to get the false sense of security that a cloth mask was going to give them the same protection as an N95 mask,” Dearbaugh said. “Now they’ve come out and said it’s more just for your own, to protect others from any droplets that you might spread.”

Demmin hopes to send out an update each week regarding the number of masks they’ve delivered as well as feedback. Each individual making masks currently makes them at home and they have a drop off point where one person collects them to then give out.

“It’s fun to do, and it makes you feel good that you’re contributing in some way,” Dearbaugh said. “Honestly since they mentioned that they think people in general ought to wear them, we’re getting a little overwhelmed by requests. This week has just multiplied. So, everyone’s just sewing away with what we have.”

Demmin and the group would appreciate any help they can get right now.

“We would love to have help from anybody in the community that can sew: junior high, high school, adults,” she said. “And we have patterns.”

“We’re trying to make the majority of them out of really high grade cotton fabric because it’s very tightly woven,” Dearbaugh said. “The more tightly woven the fabric is, the fewer particles that can get through. Besides that, they’re pretty,” she said, laughing.

Dearbaugh, Demmin and others sewing the masks are just hoping to aid the community.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Dearbaugh said. “Anything that we can do to slow it down, to protect ourselves I think it’s well worth doing.”

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.