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At a time when many family-owned small businesses have temporarily closed, one niche business in east Springfield has found itself busier than ever.
Merrily We Quilt Along, a quilting shop owned by Merrily Parker, is making face masks for first responders, hospitals and others who risk exposure to COVID-19 every day. The shop is also making kits for the general public who can then make their own masks at home.
Parker, who’s been in business in Springfield for 19 years, said she was asked by some organizations to make masks a few weeks ago.
“So I put it out to my quilters. Quilters are very giving people. They like to make stuff and give it away,” Parker said. “We started originally just to do donations for the first responders.
“We’ve sent 500 over to Mercy. We’ve sent 250 to Springfield Fire Department,” she said. “We did the medical staff at MSU.”
On Tuesday morning, they filled an order for Phoenix Home Healthcare.
“We’ve delivered about 1,500 made masks so far,” Parker said. “But we’ve given out kits that will make probably somewhere between 4,000 to 5,000. Then people started calling and asking if they could buy them. That wasn’t my original intent, but I realized people are scared and they want to protect their families.”
The masks aren’t made simply from regular cotton fabric, Parker said, adding that she did a lot of research into what type of fabrics make the bests masks.
“They are now doing studies on types of fabrics for masks. All I’ve read is you want a premium quilting cotton because it’s a little denser cotton than regular cotton,” she said.
Based on her research, Parker said batik fabric is best because of how it’s made.
“They put the print on with wax and then they melt the wax off,” Parker explained. “So it becomes a very dense fabric.”
When complete, there are three layers to the mask: two pieces of batik fabric and non-woven stabilizer applied between them.
“If you use a non-woven stabilizer inside, it will stop most of the smaller particles from coming through,” she said. “It’s not snug to the face. It’s not like an N95 mask. But it’s much better if you are out and you are exposed to something, you are much better protected than just a cotton mask.”
The quilters are making and donating free masks for the first responders and others whose job puts them at risk.
The general public can purchase kits to make their own at home. The kits cost $12 (including tax) and come with supplies for five face masks. Parker asks customers to come with correct change so her employees don’t have to handle credit cards.
“It’s a little over $2 per mask,” she said. “It’s not too bad. But you have to put your own labor into making it. It does require sewing, but it’s pretty easy.”
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The kits come with instructions. Parker made YouTube videos explaining how to apply the stabilizer, how to pleat the fabric and how to properly wear the masks. The videos can be found on the shop’s website at merrilywequiltalong.com.
Parker is a little concerned about her supply of elastic and stabilizer. She’d happily accept a donation of pipe cleaners, which are used as nose pieces.
But batik fabric is her favorite, so Parker said that’s the biggest selection in her store.
Following city ordinance, Merrily We Quilt Along has been closed to the public for three weeks.
“Half of my employees are over 50 years old, so I sent them home,” she said. “It’s primarily the younger ones and me that are going out to the cars.”
The doors to the shop are locked, but someone will bring a kit to your car. The kits can be purchased 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We will keep making them as long as we can get the supplies. I think we are probably good for another week or so, at least,” Parker said. “If we can help the community by this little thing and down the road if it keeps somebody from getting the virus, it’s all worthwhile.”
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