Plague, But Make It Fashion

Masks are available for sale within the U.S. at PlagueButFashion on Etsy.

Once in a while, you’re unmistakably called.

I started making quilts in 1990. I even did it full-time for a while. I stopped in 2004, when my first kid was born and it felt too dangerous to quilt around little ones. It sounds funny to think of quilting as dangerous, but between the hot iron, the rotary cutter, the scissors, and the needles, it’s not at all baby-safe.

My fabric stash surpassed SABLE long ago. For those who aren’t crafters, SABLE stands for Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy. In the back of my mind, I knew I would eventually have to do something about the dormant yardage taking up space on my shelves, on my floor, and in countless bins in the garage. I put off the bother of it, but it was on my conscience.

The night that Rachel Maddow called for home sewers to compensate for the federal government’s PPE shortage with homemade masks, ideally out of quilting cotton, it all became clear.

“Mom,” my teen called out to me sharply. “Is that something we can help with?”

So that’s what my fabric stash is for. That’s why I held onto it all these years.

signs cow grape green masks

You can see the suspended moment when I switched from other crafts to making masks. The quilt I was making in tribute to Linda Sue Park’s book Prairie Lotus remains unfinished, draped carefully over a chair. I had been making octopods for an upcoming craft fair, but I stopped so abruptly that three of them are still on a counter where I left them, awaiting their turn to have eyes sewn onto their little heads. There’s no hurry making craft fair merchandise, anyway. Craft fairs are a thing of the past, at least for now.

grape banana sushi masks

The first two weeks of lockdown, I made a couple hundred masks for nurses, hospitals, and delivery workers. I discovered just how much of my stash — most of it, that is — is extremely girly. I’ve made an effort to include the few fabrics I have that look more masculine or gender neutral. I briefly felt a sort of outdated scorn at the thought of men feeling uncomfortable wearing florals, the kind of thing I would have especially thought in the 1990s. There’s no time for that kind of attitude anymore. There are lots of reasons that someone might not be all right wearing a feminine print or color. It’s ignorant of me to think it’s my place to judge that.

It’s been a bit of an adjustment to stop holding back on the favorite fabrics that I once used sparingly. What am I waiting for? What is more important than helping out health workers and people who need masks? Ursula Vernon tweeted something that encourages me daily.


I commissioned my sixth grader to illustrate the quote for me.

use the good art supplies by lily

Several people asked if I was making masks for sale. I loathe filling mail orders, so I kept saying no. Fifteen-year-old Geeklet, though, enjoys filling and tracking orders. Huh. We had just gone into lockdown; she had no school, could see no friends, and the two jobs she had lined up won’t exist anymore. What if she gained experience and income through an online business?

We named the shop Plague, But Make It Fashion and commissioned a graphic from Crowglass Designs. I didn’t want to give up making masks for donation, so our shop policy is that for every mask we sell, we give away one to health care workers or community groups. After much experimentation, we decided to use a pleated style that uses fabric ties rather than elastics, adapted from a Buttoncounter tutorial with an added length of floral wire across the top edge to mold to the nose area. I do like masks with elastics, but they’re uncomfortable if they’re not the right length for your face, which is hard to determine through mail order.

Look at art podcaster Grace Gordon showing our masks in action.

For the past few weeks, there’s been so much need that I’ve pretty much gone to making masks several hours a day. Writing about Snape and HP has been put on temporary hold. Potterverse has felt less and less allegorical lately, anyway. It doesn’t feel escapist to read about Diagon Alley being shuttered and deserted, people scurrying by fearfully, obituaries in the paper about people we know. I will surely get back to writing soon, but for now, it’s time to put my fabric stash to its intended use.

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