A sewing machine vs. COVID-19: a woman makes masks for her patients


Kathy Pomerleau sits in her sewing corner wearing one of her homemade masks while discussing her favorite designs. ©2021 Ellie Pomerleau

Ellie Pomerleau

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding a mask was not an easy task. So, Kathy Pomerleau, a manager at a medical clinic in Hanover, Minnesota turned to her sewing machine and her friends. In a well-lit corner of her laundry room, Pomerleau sewed over 100 masks to the sound of the low tumble of the dryer. Pomerleau has shared the trials and errors of making homemade masks and their purpose throughout the pandemic.

(The following story is told by Kathy Pomerleau to Ellie Pomerleau)

My name is Kathy Pomerleau and I live in Hanover, Minnesota. And I am 68 years old and I am a clinic manager at a medical facility.

COVID-19 impacted my life because I work in the medical field. We had to shut our clinic down and I was at home. Which I was not used to, so that was pretty hard. We went down to like four days then to three days then to one day. 

 It was hard because our clinics were very very sparse and a lot of people to this day, which is a year later, are just coming back now. And so, I haven’t seen anybody for a long time and you get a relationship with patients, so it was really hard to be away from all of those people. 

 There were no masks in the stores to buy like there is now, so people were making homemade masks because that was their only resource to get them.

I made many masks. And then as the stores opened up and we were able to get more materials and I ordered some material on eBay.

 Unfortunately, with the stores all being closed, it was very hard to get material, so I went to the only place that was available which was Walmart. And they were always out of material, so I ended up buying a sheet in the bedding department and cutting it up and using it.

Which, I could make many masks out of. And so, that’s how it started because every time we went to the store there was no material. It was all sold out.

So, my girlfriend and I got together and we tried different patterns and sizes and fabrics to get these masks to go right. It was a trial and error process.

And in the clinic where I work, again when COVID let up people were starting to come in and they were still not able to get masks. So, everybody made masks and they gave them to the patients as they walked in the front door of the building because everyone had to have a mask on. 

A lot of people who didn’t sew had no access to getting masks. So then, we gave them away to people. I brought all my masks to work and I asked everybody what they wanted. And they could pick out what they wanted.

I have one special patient that is kinda homeward bound. I made her a mask and she just thought it was the most special thing in the world.

 And that mask was so beautiful and it was actually made out of a pillowcase. And she was just tickled pink with it. And she sent me a little box of candy as a thank you.

I never charged anybody for a mask because I enjoyed doing it and it’s something everybody needed. 

Of all the masks I made my favorite mask is number one the American flag. And that material is very hard to get and it was a piece of material I ended up finding on eBay, which ended up taking a long time to get. 

My husband and my son are advent hunters. My hunting material with the pheasants and the geese was another one of my favorites. And also, my Minnesota masks because I live in Minnesota. 

I guess my advice to anybody that wants to make a mask is, I would cut different sizes of material and see what you are comfortable with for the person you’re making it.

 I would definitely make sure you put the metal band in it to keep it on your nose or they will ride up. And I would make sure that you get material that is breathable, 100% cotton, and washable. 

I personally, when I gave my masks away I bought laundry detergent called All Free and Clear. There was no color and there was no perfume or any added additives to it.

 I gave a little bottle of that away to everybody I gave a mask to. I bought little bottles and gave them each a little bottle with directions on how to wash your mask.

I have a lot of masks that are made still that I have. I have tons of material, but as time went on everybody was making masks and they were all selling them. And the stores now have an abundance of masks.

So after it’s all said and done I am very glad I embarked on it.

It’s just, I was able to do something for people who had no access to it and it was something I enjoyed doing. I could go down there and sew and I knew I was doing something for somebody that they would appreciate.

Kathy Pomerleau lives in Hanover, Minnesota. She continues to make masks for anyone who would like one.