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Roaring Fork Valley Locals Making Masks For Frontline Workers Amid Pandemic

May 1, 2020

 

Local artist Ali O’Neal hard at work sewing masks for frontline workers. This floral mask is going to a grocer who works in the produce section at City Market in El Jebel. O’Neal made a hundred masks in five days.
Credit Matt Greenlund / Thimble Fox

To help stop the spread of coronavirus, some Roaring Fork Valley residents are doing more than just wearing masks themselves. They're making them for frontline workers and the community. 

 

 

On a recent day, Aspen artist and interior designer Katalin Domoszlay was sitting by a sunny window in her home working away on her sewing machine. She was making a fabric mask for her 85-year-old friend. He’s taking care of his neighbors who are in their 90s.  

 

“I’m making him a nice, bright fluorescent yellow mask so he can be safe,” Domoszlay explained. “I’m doing everything in mask and gloves because I just like to keep my own germs off of the material.”

 

Domoszlay said she uses tightly woven cotton, which she carefully disinfects. 

 

"I would go to the grocery store and I would see these amazing people who work there, dealing with hundreds of people coming and going and they didn't have any protection."

With her painting sales and design work on hold because of the pandemic, Domoszlay says she wanted to put her skills to work helping the community. Making masks was an obvious choice. 

 

“I'm from Hungary, Budapest and I went to a technical high school where I studied manufacturing and clothing design,” she said. “As a teenager, I made all of my own clothes so I’m no stranger to sewing.”

 

Even so, Domoszlay said it takes her over an hour to make each mask. 

 

“I have a sewing machine, but I hadn't used it for a long time,” she said, “The moment I Googled ‘mask-making’ there were already like two or three patterns online and now you open up YouTube and there are hundreds of patterns.” 

 

Even before Governor Jared Polis recommended all Coloradans wear face coverings, Domoszlay said she felt it was important for essential workers to have them. 

 

“I would go to the grocery store and I would see these amazing people who work there all the time,” she said, “dealing with hundreds of people coming and going and coughing and touching everything and they didn't have any protection.”

 

This was in early March. Since then, Domoszlay said she’s donated masks to local postal workers and employees at Aspen’s City Market. 

 

“They were extremely excited,” she said. “The manager of the City Market was telling me that, this was almost a month ago, they had another three weeks before any kind of medical masks would arrive.”

 

The City of Glenwood Springs was the first in the valley to adopt a mask order in early April. Under the rule, face coverings must be worn by people doing any essential activities outside their home until at least May 1. 

 

Aspen City Market’s store manager and grocery checker about to try on new masks made by local architect and designer Katalin Domoszlay. Domoszlay says she uses tightly woven cotton. It takes her over an hour to make each mask with her sewing machine.
Credit Katalin Domoszlay

Aspen followed suit this week requiring everyone within city limits to wear face masks wherever they interact with other people. The order will be in effect through at least May 27. 

 

Local artist Ali O’Neal knows the need for masks isn’t going away anytime soon. 

 

"I'm trying to be really conscientious about where I'm buying materials from and where it goes when I'm finished. I think it's important to remember that even in the odd time we're in right now."

O’Neal said she’s been making masks for frontline workers and community members for a few weeks now. She said the idea came to her when she was screen printing on fabric that could be used for masks. 

 

“It was feeling a little unnatural to be in the studio working without contributing where I could,” she said. “I started making masks knowing that there was a need out there and I’m just trying to make as many as I can to get them in the hands of people who might need them most. 

 

O’Neal said she made a hundred masks in five days, despite the process requiring a lot of steps.

 

“My mask making process involves cutting out four pieces of fabric for each mask,” she described, “and pinning them together, sewing them, flipping them inside out, putting in a nose piece and putting elastic in.” 

 

Each mask is a small work of art, made from colorful fabric with intricate floral prints and an elastic strap at the back. O’Neal said she gave a lot of them to employees at the City Market in El Jebel. 

 

“I go there and see them wearing an assortment of masks all the time and they have to be in them all day,” she said. “So I tried to do a pattern and design that I thought would be most comfortable for wearing long term.” 

 

For her company Thimble Fox, O’Neal uses mostly organic cottons and donated fabrics to create everything from clothing to pillows. She said she applies the same ethical practices to her mask making. 

 

“I'm trying to be really conscientious about where I’m buying materials from and where it goes when I’m finished,” she explained. “I think it's important to remember that even in the odd time we're in right now.”

 

The Town of Carbondale has about 20 volunteer mask-makers led by Andrea Beiswanger on their Emergency Task Force. Ashley Weitzel is the volunteer coordinator.

 

“Our masks are not for general public,” Weitzel said. “They're very specifically for individuals that are serving the community and have to be at high exposure due to their job.” 

 

Many of the masks are brightly colored with wire-framing for the nose and shoelaces that tie at the back.

"I think that's the really powerful side of this, is how this collective community has just been willing to step forward."

  

Weitzel says their volunteers have made over 500 masks for local seniors and at-risk citizens as well as public health workers, grocers, family resource centers and fire departments. 

 

“We’re honoring and understanding that there are people in the community that are working on behalf of our larger community,” Wetizel said, “and we can support them by supplying these masks.”

 

And it’s not just masks they’re delivering. Weitzel said locals are writing homemade thank you notes to be included with each mask. 

 

“So individuals who are at home have the opportunity to sit down and to color and say whatever it is they're grateful for,” she said. “I think that's the really powerful side of this, is how this collective community has just been willing to step forward.”

 

Three-year-old Nolan Wilson coloring ‘Thank You’ notes for frontline workers in the Roaring Fork Valley. The notes are being sent along with masks made by Carbondale Task Force volunteers to grocers, health workers, family resource centers and fire departments.
Credit Natalie Malcomson

Each thank you card has the Colorado flag and the words “Roaring Fork Valley, Together We Are Strong” uniquely colored and personalized with a note

 

“I think that speaks so deeply to the people that make up our towns in our valley,” Weitzel emphasized. 

 

Weitzel says writing these ‘thank yous’ with her own children made her realize that making masks isn’t just about public safety. It’s a way to acknowledge those who are risking their lives on behalf of the community.