History, helping, and change by Liz Flaherty & Helen DePrima

by Helen DePrima

Even while the COVID threat appears to be diminishing in much of the country, I’m still sewing masks. My production numbers are pretty unimpressive because the masks I make are labor-intensive: six segments to cut, including the non-woven inner lining as an added barrier and then fitted in a three-dimensional configuration. I’ve mostly outfitted friends and family members, especially those with small children or those who might have trouble getting reusable models.

I had just about decided to pack it in when I learned that the Navajo Nation has been particularly hard hit. I’ve visited the reservation and can only imagine the difficulty of delivering health care can be under the best of circumstance. Many homes are widely scattered at the end of dirt roads, often without running water, a hard and beautiful land. Wanting to help, I called the owner of a small trading post where I had stopped and asked if he could hand out masks to his customers; my first shipment went off Monday with more in the works.

This morning, I went back into my fabric stash looking for lighter-weight cotton, still good protection with the inner lining, and found a story waiting for me. Over the years, I’ve repaired and restored old quilts as well as creating new one. People have given me boxes of vintage fabric, everything from fragments of old quilts to early 20th Century cotton prints to feed sacks, a favorite backing for country quilts and tied coverlets. In one box, I found a generous piece of green and white gingham, enough to make a goodly number of summer masks. At first, I took it for a remnant until I saw the edges had been hand-hemmed with careful stitches. It was clean and neatly folded, but faint stains told me I had found a kitchen tablecloth. Did its maker have no sewing machine, or did this woman enjoy hand-sewing, as I do? Did she make curtains of the same fabric for her kitchen? I could picture her with her workbasket, maybe listening to the radio after supper or hearing her children’s spelling lessons. Maybe her husband read the newspaper aloud while she sewed.

Cutting around the stains, I can get a dozen or so masks to send to the Teec Nos Pos Trading Post, but I’ll make one deliberately including a small stain. This one will go to Earlene Fowler, a fellow writer and dear friend who has been amazingly kind and supportive of my writing. Her Benni Harper mystery novels each bear the title of a quilt pattern; she’ll appreciate this bit of cloth as part of a life, a link to the past and to the future. And I’ll keep enough of this fabric to include in a new quilt commemorating this event in in our history.

by Liz Flaherty


I am as affected by the pandemic as most other people, I guess. It's like the weather in that it seems to put its mark on every facet of life. I keep wearing the same clothes over and over because I don't go anywhere. I wear makeup once a week or less. My hair is...well, never mind. I'm reading more, sewing more, cooking more, and making a concentrated effort to eat less.

I'm still sewing masks because they're still needed here. My grandson's National Guard unit likes his nana's masks, too, which tickles me. I've started my quilt top from fabric I've used in the ones I've made so far. I'm not sure what I'll do with it, but, like Helen said so well about the fabric in the mask for her friend, the quilts are "part of a life, a link to the past and to the future."

And then there's the writing. For a while, I almost couldn't. I reached the point of celebrating just the opening of the file holding the MIP, because chances were good I wasn't going to add anything to it as the day went on.

But, you know, you can only do that so long. And eventually, through 30-minute sprints and much agonizing with author friends, I got my writing legs back. My daily goals are nowhere near what they used to be, but neither is my age or energy level. Nor is my focus. But there's something interesting about my return. Interesting to me, at least.

My voice, as far as I can tell, hasn't changed, but the mood within it has. While my story still has far too many characters and enough plot directions to fill a spoked wheel, it's also...confined. The "group scenes" I've written feel too busy to me, and I find myself writing more and more one-on-one and solitary introspection.

I wonder how it will come out, just as I wonder how and when this pandemic will reach its end. I am less convinced than Helen that it is diminishing in scope. There could be no better time for Happily Ever After than now.


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Comments

  1. I find these posts so comforting and inspiring, Helen and Liz. Your mask-making and giving to others tell me you both have strong social consciences, an attribute all of us need these days more than ever. We are all going through these times together. Thanks for my ‘lift’ today! :)

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    1. Thanks, Janice. I admire Helen for doing the more complicated ones. I probably would have lost patience only a few masks in! We are indeed all going through these times together, and I hope we keep some of that patience I just mentioned--we need it!

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    2. Blame my husband for the elaborate mask pattern; he doesn't really like wearing one and demands perfect fit. My little tweak -- the short gather over the nose -- seems to work well to keep them from riding up or slipping down. Before this all hit the fan, I had my old Singer tuned up, just serendipity. I wish I had my grandmother's old treadle machine, but this one runs as if it has no clue it's more than fifty years old.

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  2. I love this idea of quilts made from the same fabric as masks to commemorate this time. I'm sure the people of the Navajo nation will appreciate the handmade masks you send, Helen, just as friends and family have. And, Liz, it will be interesting to see if stories written during this time become quieter, more thoughtful, and less busy. Stay strong.

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    1. Because I take pride in hand-work, I like knowing the Navajo recipients understand craftsmanship. They also value their elders who are so at risk from this evil beast. I'd like to think maybe one of my masks will save even a single family grief.

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    2. It is the hope, isn't it, that some grief will be saved by the wearing of these masks. I'm interested, too, Beth, in seeing how this story comes out. Even in quietness, it's taking some unexpected turns.

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  3. I'm glad you're still making masks and helping in that way. We really don't know what will happen next, or where. It's as simple as that. I know you're help will reach exactly who is in need of it.

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  4. One of my grandmother's sayings -- she had an endless supply -- "If you can't be a beacon, be a candle."

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  5. It feels good to be doing something.

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  6. It’s commendable that you both have spent time making masks for others. I ran out of elastic real quick and am still waiting for a shipment that’s due to arrive June 4th. It was ordered in April.
    Liz, your first paragraph sounds exactly like my life right now. ( : And Helen, my daughter went to do some Christian work at an Indian reservation a couple of years ago and it was sad to hear about the conditions they’re living in. Sending masks is a great idea!!
    Thank you ladies for sharing what you’ve been up to with us. I’m enjoying a Heartwarming story right now during this isolation.

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    1. Hi, Laurie. Elastic has been an ongoing battle, hasn't it? I've made a few with ties, but not too many. I use the serger on them, and my serger is complaining these days, so am glad to have more elastic!

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    2. Hi Laurie, thanks for joining us! Yes, elastic has been a problem, but my husband found a good source on Etsy and is keeping me supplied with that and the interfacing I use for the inner layer. I saw an appeal this morning on FB from Wes Studi, one of my favorite actors, for help to the Indian communities -- glad I got out ahead on that curve! Sad to say, Liz is correct that this crisis is far from over.

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  7. Lovely post, Liz and Helen. When my mind gets too busy, there is such comfort and peace in focusing on one small but important task as you've both done.

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