Birmingham mobilizes to sew handmade masks for healthcare heroes (see 29 photos)

Here are our masks! Made by my wife Kathleen Rose-Byington. Photo courtesy of Pat Byington (in the photo) for Bham Now

Story Update: As of April 26, 2020, Bham Face Masks has donated 58,942 masks.  They have also started a Go Fund Me page.

During World War I, the United States was so ill-prepared to go to war, we didn’t have enough socks, mittens, sweaters and yes – even bandages. Back then, the American Red Cross organized knitting drives in almost every small and large town in the nation to adequately equip our brave soldiers.

Today, a little over a century later, we are facing a very different war, the COVID-19 global pandemic.

And instead of knitting socks and rolling bandages for soldiers, health care professionals need facemasks, gowns and various protective items to defend them from a deadly virus.

In that spirit, in less than a week, women, men and families throughout Birmingham and Alabama are sewing facemasks, at the request of medical professionals.

“The nutcracker- because I’m one of many who sew for Birmingham Ballet Academy. The director allowed us to “raid” the sewing supplies for this project. Photo and masks by Martha Ingraham Mackay
Note: Bham Now does not recommend use of these masks as personal protective equipment against any illness as there is no way to know their efficacy.

A Grassroots Movement

“We’re like the modern day Rosie the Riveter!” Photo by Paije Royal Sieber

With the news of the pandemic getting worse, last Friday Birmingham resident, Kathy Green read an article about Deaconess Hospital in Indiana requesting its community sew fabric masks in the event they have a shortage.

“I thought, if they are going to have a shortage, we are going to have a shortage,” stated Green.

She quickly got to work, reaching out to friends in Birmingham’s large medical community. She heard a need. She immediately started a Facebook page called Face Mask Sewing for Birmingham Healthcare – that included the Deaconess Hospital pattern on how to sew together a facemask, and invited people to join in.

Then something amazing happened.

In less than 5 days, 2757 joined the Facebook page to support and produce fabric face masks for Birmingham’s frontline medical community. The call also reached the UAB Callahan Eye  Hospital/Foundation who requested 500 facemasks as soon as possible. On Wednesday, they will receive their masks.

Can you imagine the look on the medical professionals’ face when they see these beautifully and lovingly crafted facemasks?

Facemask and photo by Celeste Gains Ward
Masks made by Julie Keith. Photo by Julie Keith for Bham Now
“I am making for friends with immune issues / the elderly and friends on front line of healthcare in Birmingham.” Photo and masks by Kathleen Jones Lawrence
“My daughter checking the fit and size for me. This was her fabric of choice for her mask (Harry Potter).” Photo and mask by Amy Atchison
Photo and masks by Beth Perry Smith
“My inspirations comes from my 3 children all working the frontline in emergency healthcare and family and friends in another state who are healthcare physicians.” Photo and mask by Donna Santos Griffith
“The first 24.” Photo and mask by Christina Perry Skrobak

What’s Next

“My daughter with a mask made for her and my children. Kassie made masks for a therapist group who donated their masks to the hospital. They don’t have any now.” Photo from Kassie Smith

Green understands these face masks cannot replace medically approved equipment.

“In a war, our soldiers are the ones on the frontline. In this war it is our medical care people. They are the ones fighting on the frontline. I, for one, do not want them to think for one second, that they may have the choice of no protection. I know we are not replacing an N95 mask (most protective). We are not making those.”

“If we have a choice between nothing and something, we all would choose something. I want them to have that choice.”

“This is my 81 year old grandfather who’s surviving 4 types of cancer right now. I made this mask for him first before creating others for healthcare workers. He has weekly treatments, so needed an extra protective layer. His name is Robert W. Photo and mask by Christin Mize Knight

With that as her vision and the group’s mission, she has been receiving requests for masks, throughout the community.

Her army of Facebook supporters are busy, much like the World War I knitters for the American Red Cross, to fill their requests.

If you would like to know more visit Face Mask Sewing for Birmingham Healthcare.

“Special requests from one of my doctors for their partners and staff.” Photo and mask by Lura Johnson Campbell
“I am dedicating my work to my Grandmother who taught me to sew and who, during the depression fed men peanut butter sandwiches when they came asking for food.” Photo and masks by Dale Pool

By the way, Alabama’s Chief Health Officer, Scott Harris has stated unequivocally, he does not encourage handmade masks for the public and for healthcare workers. Medical authorities agree. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 crisis, there is a nationwide shortage of N95 masks and surgical masks. As a result, if there are no other options available, the CDC allows use of homemade masks. To quote them directly:

From the CDC:
Health Care Provider (HCP) use of homemade masks:

In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.

More Photos & Thank You

Over 50 people sumitted photos of their homemade facemasks to Bham Now.  We posted about half of them in this article.  You are ALL inspirational!

“These two masks were made in the last two days by my mother, Fran Davidson. She is in her 70s and is in strict isolation with my 80 year old stepfather who is already in fragile health due to a stroke. She is sending them to me to deliver to the hospital or anyone that needs them. It makes her feel like she is doing all she can to help during this time when we are all felling so helpless.” Photo by Leah Karol
“A silver lining in this awful situation is seeing the beauty in people’s hears using their talents and time to help… so honored to be able to sew to provide assistance with PPE.” Photo and masks by Faith Couvillon
“Sent a batch to friends with compromised immune systems.” Photo and masks by Dawn Wilson
Photo and masks by Kristie Nolen
Photo and masks by Allison McClendon
Sewing masks on my mother’s 60 year old Pfaff. My retired HS Administrator husband is assisting me.” Photo and mask by Delisa Lawrence Brown.
“I know the home masks won’t protect you fromCOVID-19 but it’s a reminder when you see someone wearing one that they are vulnerable and it also reminds them not to touch their face in public. Our masks are worth something to some people.” Photo and masks by Annette Gray Goersch
“The white ones look especially professional, I thought.” Photo and mask by Valerie Wynn Suggs
“It takes a village! Even the smallest efforts count!!” Photo and masks by Victoria Bratton Stoves
Photo and masks by Emily Bradley
Photo and masks by Kathe Howard
Photo and masks by Harry Pittman
Photo and masks by Ka At
Photo and masks by Mary Bergeron
Photo and masks from Lynn Reagan Martin
“Teaching m 6 year old how to sew. She picked the Spider-man fabric. I hope it brings some smiles!” Photo and mask by Lindsey Austin

  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.