UTEP Costumers Sew Face Masks to Assist Others
Last Updated on April 09, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published April 09, 2020
By Daniel Perez
A request for fabric face masks to assist elderly residents at an assisted living facility in Washington state became a call to action for several costume makers at The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Theatre and Dance, and their efforts have expanded to benefit border agencies.
Crystal Herman, associate dean of curriculum in the College of Liberal Arts and associate professor of theatrical costume design, recalled a conversation with her older sister in early March as health officials began to note the spread of the coronavirus around Seattle.
Herman’s sister Beverly Cravens, an activities assistant at an assisted living center, mentioned how her elderly clients would benefit from fabric masks. Herman, a skilled seamstress, created her own pattern and used scrap cotton quilting fabric from the department’s costume shop to make the masks during UTEP’s spring break. She shared her mission with other faculty members, her practicum students and a few teaching assistants, and many of them who had access to sewing machines volunteered to help. She would assemble fabric “kits” and mail them to the volunteers.
In the past four weeks, Herman and her team of Miner mask makers have assembled hundreds of fabric masks that have been sterilized and shipped to Washington or dispersed to such local entities as the El Paso Behavioral Health System.
"This project has given me something to focus my energy on during these stressful times,” Herman said. “I feel as if I am doing something to help my community. I am thrilled that so many of my students have volunteered to work on this project with me. Every time I think I've put all the kits together that I need, I get another request from a student who wants to make more ... and that's a good thing."
Herman said she can make as many as a dozen masks per hour, and these masks can be machine-washed and reused.
Since the project started, Herman has sent two shipments of masks to the senior home in Washington and they were well received. Cravens said center staff described the masks as “beautiful, well-made and thoughtful.” The sister thanked Herman and the other Miners who made the masks.
“They seem to bring a little cheer to everyone who sees them,” Cravens said. “You can see it in their eyes.”
Among the other volunteers who have helped is Sabrina Fernandez, a junior theater arts major in technology and design with a concentration in costume design. She started to sew in 2015 and has worked as a teaching assistant in the department’s costume shop since August 2019.
Fernandez, an El Paso native who graduated in 2015 from Coronado High School, said that she had seen Facebook posts about the need for fabric masks and, at about the same time, had a conversation with Herman about her own project.
The student borrowed one of the costume shop sewing machines, got a kit from Herman and bought her own material that ranged from solid colors to designs that included cheetah, stripes and polka dots, and set up production April 2 in her bedroom. Within a week, she had produced 56 masks to include some that she donated to her sister and others who work for an El Paso dialysis center.
“This was a great opportunity for me,” Fernandez said. “I love to sew and I like to volunteer.”
Herman said she heard that the N95 masks would be saved for hospitals, which meant that other health institutions such as assisted living centers, mental health centers and veterinarian offices may use the fabric masks.
By chance, Herman stopped by El Paso Behavioral Health System, a center that provides psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment to children, adults and seniors. She had about 40 fabric masks and offered them to Jennifer Castañeda, the center’s chief nursing officer, on April 6.
Castañeda, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from UTEP in 2001 and 2016, respectively, said that her staff appreciated the donation of the decorative masks. She said Herman brought the masks around the same time as a shipment of N95 masks arrived at the center at 1900 Denver Ave.“We’re very grateful for the donation,” Castañeda said. “Our staff is using both. The fabric masks have taken some of the pressure off. I think it was great to see the University volunteers coming through for us.”