by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Jackie Larson’s fence is a vibrant tapestry with masks of every color waiting on each post. The people who ordered the masks will soon pick them up and wear them as they go about their day in the community. They will have some of the thousands of masks Larson has made and given away at no charge since the beginning of the pandemic.
Larson had sewn a great deal previously. She made clothes for her children. As the years passed, she did not sew as much; however, she kept some of her sewing items, like fabric.
When all but essential businesses closed in March, her daughter was an essential worker who helped keep society going. She thought that it would be a good idea to make her daughter masks, so she found a pattern online to get herself started. She ended up making masks for her daughter and her daughter’s co-workers. Masks were not initially easy to find in stores, she noted.
Since the spring, her mask making and distribution operation has only expanded.
She started keeping track of how many masks she has made after someone commented that she had made 50. She has made and given away over 4,300 to date.
She said she remembers being at the point when she had made 500 masks and thinking at the time, “That’s a lot.” She said she now sometimes thinks, “How did I get to 4,000?”
Anyone may request a free, handmade mask, and when they are completed, she leaves them on her fence and lets the people who requested them know they are done.
People who have ordered masks from her have been excited to see the finished products when they pick them up at her fence, she said. Sometimes they will send her thank you messages and say she is amazing for making and giving away masks, she shared.
“Actually, I think the people that are amazing are those that wear masks,” Larson stated. “I make them, but I don’t have to wear them except once a week at the grocery store. People need them. That’s what it comes down to.”
She makes masks in four sizes: child, teen, adult and extra large adult. She asks those requesting masks what size they would like.
Each side of every one of her masks is made from a different type of fabric so those wearing them can flip them or choose the side they like most. People particularly enjoyed the masks she made out of a material with sunflowers, she said. Camouflage and tie dye fabrics are also popular, she noted.
She also made some masks out of vintage NASCAR material. Additionally, she has made black masks for those attending funerals and more upscale masks for those going to weddings.
For Halloween, she is making children’s masks with Halloween-themed fabric. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, symbolized by the color pink, she is making pink masks.
In addition to the masks that have been ordered and picked up from Larson’s fence, she made masks for small businesses as they reopened. She also made masks for a Winona Fire Department mask drive, local schools and area hospitals.
She made masks for the Winona County Historical Society after it asked her to contribute a sample of her work to help document life during the pandemic as well.
When Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, Larson made a mask with black fabric and white lace detailing in honor of the collars and jabots Ginsburg wore. She donated the mask to the History Center.
Sewing takes time and effort. She mostly sews in the evenings after full days of caring for her two-year-old granddaughter, who is her “little helper.”
Larson made about 10 masks a day when she began sewing. Now, she can make 100 masks in one weekend. As she started sewing in the spring, the work caused some soreness, she explained. She has now built up sewing muscles, and the soreness is not as bad.
She bought a new sewing machine after her previous one became worn out due to so many masks being made with it.
Squares of fabric that she has cut out to turn into masks are all over her house, she said. The elastic that is also an integral part of masks has to be cut as well.
Community members have been donating sewing items such as fabric and thread to help support Larson’s work. “I haven’t run out of anything ... I could make probably another 5,000 masks,” Larson said. “I’ll just keep sewing as long as I can and as long as people need them.”
She joked that when the pandemic is over, perhaps she could switch to making pillows.
Community members taking the time to donate sewing materials is wonderful, Larson said. “And I think it’s great because it helps them feel good about helping and makes me feel good that they want to help,” Larson shared.
Those interested in ordering masks may message Larson on Facebook or email her at email@example.com.