Sunday, September 20, 2020

Seamstresses or superheroes: Lansing community members make homemade masks for residents

July 30, 2020
<p>Haslett mother-daughter seamstress duo Carolyn Thurman (bottom) and Kelly Wheaton (top). Photo courtesy of Kelly Wheaton.</p>

Haslett mother-daughter seamstress duo Carolyn Thurman (bottom) and Kelly Wheaton (top). Photo courtesy of Kelly Wheaton.

When the need for masks increased, three women found themselves at the helm, sewing, selling or donating customizable fabrics and patterns to make sure that people found comfort during this time of fear.

"I remember looking all of the quilting cotton that I have collected ... and I just started sewing," Katy Kettles said. Kettles is self-employed, working out of her home, and has a history designing vintage garments and costumes.

Originally, Kettles was sending her work all over the place, one hot spot in particular being East Lansing City Council Member Jessy Gregg's store, Seams. What was once only necessary for the hospitals was now necessary for everybody, and Kettles said that the cry was hard to ignore.

"We were suddenly in this situation where no one can provide these things, but here I am," she said. "This is what I do everyday. I sew. I can put together two pieces of fabric (so) why wouldn't I ... if it can help people (and) make them feel safer. We were still a little bit unclear (in March) about if masks even helped, but I was under the standpoint of, 'if people want it, I will make it.'"

Based on the research she conducted and the requests she was receiving from the community, Kettles makes every mask with a standard two layers of 100% quilting cotton and always double checks that her fabric is breathable — she reminds her customers that she won't sell them anything they can't breathe through or that is unsafe for long periods of time.

Kettles also adds a twist to each mask, depending on what the customers want. Basic prices range between $8-10 depending on the whether the mask is tri-fold or full face and that price range does go up if you are looking at additions like a nose piece, filter pocket, ties instead of ear loops and even her specialty fabrics.

While she has images of generalized prints on both her Etsy and her Facebook pages, she also allows customers to message her with their thoughts and desires.

Kettles usually ships her masks through the United States Postal Service (USPS), but can arrange back porch pick up for locals.

"I consider myself to be an entrepreneur (on top of a seamstress and artist), and I saw a need in the market (so I went for it)," Kaitlin Slack said. Similar to Kettles, Slack is self-employed, working out of her home and in touch with Gregg for donations to Seams.

Slack comes from an apparel and manufacturing background and has knowledge in sewing for large quantity production style sales. She knew that this would be a good opportunity for her and was originally fulfilling orders for businesses like Biggby Coffee and local banks.

Now, she is also fulfilling individual orders. While she hasn't found the need to put the patterns on her website yet, with all of her customers coming from word of mouth, she said she's considering it — especially if the demand doesn't slow down any time soon.

Slack offers two different types of masks: One is made from 100% quilting cotton, and the other is made from bamboo cotton jersey, which she said is ultimately more comfortable because it's a softer and stretchier T-shirt-like material.

Even though the typical pleated style masks are her go-to, Slack does allow customers to make changes, whether that be the way it's held up on your face, the shape or even to include the clear window for those in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Normal masks cost $10 and communicator masks cost $15. Slack can be reached via any of her social media accounts or via either of her emails, all of which are linked on her website.

Kelly Wheaton and her mother, Carolyn Thurman, own Fantastic Alterations, located in their home at 1804 Baker St. in Haslett. They have a combined experience level of 100 years and are well known for their work on wedding and prom dresses.

"I have a pretty large client base," Wheaton said. "I've been in business for 35 years and I do ... everything from mending to major tailoring. All of a sudden a lot of my clients started calling me and asking me for masks. It ended up being a godsend for (my mom and I)."

Michigan State University's Eli Broad College of Business purchased masks from Fantastic Alterations for both their springtime graduates and their incoming fall freshmen. Businesses like Biggby Coffee and construction companies have also ordered masks for their employees. The mother-daughter duo is even partnered with a Haslett printing company to make masks with local school logos for students and their parents to purchase.

Wheaton also allows customizations and has images of what they have available posted to her shop's Facebook page .

Masks cost $5, but if people can't afford to pay, Wheaton said she gives them away for free.

"It's a gift to be able to use our skills to help people out," she said.

Usually when people need masks, Wheaton has them text her their order. They've set their process up to be socially-distanced and touch-free.

"When we make the masks, we put them in a plastic bag with the person's name on them and I have a dropbox outside my shop door," Wheaton said.

Wheaton said it only takes a couple days to fulfill orders, you will be notified when yours is ready and are allowed to pick it up at any time. Payments can be made in the same dropbox — she asks that you leave your money in place of your bag.

"There's some people who find wearing a mask kind of scary, and there's also the whole thing where we're normalizing wearing masks, but I like the idea that I can provide something that gives people just a little bit of joy," Kettles said.

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