April 16, 2020

Volunteers sewing masks during COVID-19 pandemic

When Concordia University shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Barbara Layne got to work. As co-director of the Textiles and Materiality Cluster at Milieux, she is busy organizing 18 volunteers to sew about 2,500 masks.

The first challenge was figuring out if the project was feasible: Who has an iron? Who has access to a sewing machine? Where can we source materials when everything is shut down?

Finding materials was the most difficult part, Layne says, but she found a way. Several local companies provided materials at a greatly reduced cost, including Telio Fabrics and BSP Prestige.

The second challenge was determining what kind of masks to make. Layne turned to Frederic Guilhem, Acting Director of Concordia’s Office of Health and Safety, for help. Guilhem made recommendations on masks design and approved the prototypes. A doctor then reviewed samples and approved the design.

This week, each volunteer received a package of materials and began measuring, cutting, and sewing.

The majority of the cloth masks will be delivered to hospitals through Santé Quebec, who is coordinating distribution of Personal Protective Equipment for the province. The handmade masks will also allow Concordia’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety to release more than 1,000 N-95 masks to health workers on the front lines.

Layne says the project was inspired by a message from Concordia President Graham Carr, who asked, “how our university’s research expertise, labs and physical spaces can be deployed towards public good during this pandemic.” 

Jordan Keenan, Coordinator of Public Affairs, and Vannina Maestracci, Concordia’s Spokesperson, were involved in making external connections.  Surabhi Ghosh and Elaine Denis of the Fibres and Material Practices Program at Concordia lent sewing machines, and Dr. Catherine Lounsbury of Concordia Health Services provided feedback on the mask design.  

We want to thank Layne, the volunteers and everyone who played a role in making this project possible.

Ça va bien aller! 🌈


The Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster brings together research creation expertise from textile arts and material culture to experiment with methods, processes and interdisciplinary modes of thinking that will shape the future of textiles, material objects and charged experiential spaces.