Facemasks for Arran: A personal essay

Baub Taub, Facemasks for Arran creator

Facemasks for Arran: A Personal Essay

by Barb Taub

Our group of local volunteers, Facemasks for Arran, has made and distributed over 500 free facemasks for Arran residents during the Covid-19 pandemic. But we still hear the question: “Why should I wear a facemask?”

A cloth facemask will slow down or trap airborne respiratory particles from coughs, sneezes, or simply talking. But their most important use could be to protect others and help to prevent the spread of the virus. Researchers say one reason Covid-19 may be so contagious is that many infected people can walk around for weeks before showing any symptoms. Some of the earliest advice we heard is still some of the best: act like you already have coronavirus. If you knew you could be infecting everyone around you for the next two weeks, what would you do? Wearing a mask might be the first, most obvious thing.

I began sewing facemasks in mid-March after reading about Operation We Can Sew It, a volunteer group in Denver, Colorado whose members have made over 25,000 facemasks for use and distribution there. Following their pattern, I made and distributed my first handful of facemasks. New requests came in, and I gave away over fifty facemasks by the time Scotland and the UK were put on lockdown.

We began to hear about shortages of personal protective equipment for medical use, but also about the dangers faced by vulnerable or elderly residents, and by essential workers still providing services. After floating the idea on the Arran Community Forum, a handful of founding members joined me in forming Facemasks For Arran to make free facemasks for Arran residents. Today our 48 members are sourcing fabric and supplies, sewing facemasks, and coordinating deliveries.

Our first attempts to advertise our free facemasks on Facebook’s Arran For Sale And Wants page on 17 March, and again on 24 March, were less than successful. Facebook’s goal of preventing exploitation of key items resulted in our posts being removed with the respective warnings, “This post goes against our Community Standards on spam,” and “This listing goes against our rules for selling on Facebook.”

Trying again with another Facebook post — this time to Arran Community Forum on 24 March — we offered our free facemasks to a frankly skeptical audience. Some comments said facemasks couldn’t prevent transmission of the coronavirus, and thus were not useful. Undaunted, we set up an online order form and requests began arriving, in a trickle at first and then in greater numbers. Group requests came in to supply masks for delivery drivers, care homes, and grocery store staff.

Even more importantly, people across Arran offered their help. The Coop in Brodick and Bay Stores in Whiting Bay accepted fabric donations. Stacks of freshly laundered and bleached donated fabric colonized my dining room as offers of supplies and help came in. Experienced quilter Patricia Templeton came up with a quick method for making mask folds, plus made video and photo assembly instructions. Several volunteers agreed to make bias tapes for mask ties, while others are sewing facemasks, and still others deliver the finished masks across Arran. Other community organizations such as the Arran Community Hub and Isle of Arran U3A are also helping with deliveries.

Val Waite

Leveraging her experience as shop manager of the all-volunteer staff at Eco Savvy, Val Waite talked about her decision to coordinate volunteers delivering mask kits to sewers. “At first I thought I couldn’t help this group, as I can’t sew! I don’t have a car, and am in the ‘at risk’ group, so couldn’t help with the delivery side of things either. So, I’m really pleased I can assist in some small way, by helping to co-ordinate deliveries of masks and materials to and from our talented sewing team. It’s great to feel useful; contributing something to our wonderful community during these difficult times. Connecting with all the lovely people in the ‘We Can Sew It’ team has been fantastic too. And if using masks reminds people to not touch their face, and stops even one person from unknowingly passing on the virus, then it’s incredibly worthwhile!”

It would be both easy and true to say this is part of Arran’s long tradition of community service. “I like to help the community where I can and this makes me feel useful in these difficult times,” said Iris Russell of Kilmory, before adding, “…and my stash of odd fabrics was getting too large anyway.”

But Facemasks for Arran volunteers take it a step further, saying the project offers a sense of structure and control in the midst of the lockdown. ”It’s nice to feel useful at a time when you could feel so helpless,” says Elizabeth Coachworth of Whiting Bay.

“I’m helping with Arran facemasks because it gives me a purpose and contributes to the community in these strange times,” agrees Angela Elliott Walker of Brodick.

Other unexpected bonuses include the chance to use rusty skills, add purpose to enforced lockdown isolation, and especially, enhance connections with a new group of friends.

Facemasks for Arran volunteers. Top row: Katie McInnes, Anya Bocian, Angela Elliott-Walker. Middle row: Iris Russell, Elizabeth Coachworth, Patricia Templeton. Bottom row: Kerry-Jane Darling Hunter, Alison Page, Barbara Ferguson Gilmore

Group members agree:

• “At the moment I had the time and thoughts of helping I found Barb’s sewing group. Nostalgic use of old skills and loved every minute.”— Kerry-Jane Darling Hunter, Corriegills

  • “It keeps me in the house and out of mischief …the hours just fly by.” —Alison Page
Amanda Grindall, Torbeg

• “The most unusual [thing] is that I can’t meet or see other ladies but I feel I’m part of a very friendly community.” —Anya Bocian, Corrie

• “It’s great to be able to put skills to use helping our community feel safe. A fantastic bonus is connecting with existing friends in a different setting and meeting new people with a shared interest. I also find the focus improves my sense of well-being during this extraordinary time.” —Amanda Grindall, Torbeg

• “It really is nice feeling like you’re doing something to help during these trying times. The best bit – I haven’t sewed since I’ve moved to Scotland nearly two years ago and it’s definitely made me realize how much I love it!“ —Katie McInnes, Brodick

Of course, there might be a downside. Patricia Templeton of Brodick groans, “Masks, more masks… I’m seeing them in my sleep. I think I will only recognise fellow Arran residents if they are wearing masks.” But for the most part, our volunteers agree the reaction they get is overwhelmingly positive.

Our facemask making venture has been compared to a business startup where we have to handle issues of materials, orders, deliveries, and customer satisfaction. But it’s a business where we give away our product for free, where we hope our customers won’t need us much longer, and where our goal is to go out of business entirely. Until that day, Facemasks for Arran will keep sewing.
If you’re an Arran resident who needs facemasks, you can request them online at no charge.

Information about Facemasks for Arran is available here

Final note for those who aren’t lucky enough to live on Arran: one of our volunteers, Patricia Templeton, has started selling facemasks to raise money for her dog charity, Frankie’s Forget Me Not Fund. For more information email: Patricia.Templeton.home@gmail.com

Fabric and facemasks


Folk happy with their facemasks


Rosie the Sewer

Barb Taub is a writer, resident of Whiting Bay and much more! You can find out more about Barb and her work here