Sarah Hermiller (left) and her sister, Susan Johnston, have been sewing since they were in 4-H in third grade. They enjoy making masks together. (photo submitted)
Sarah Hermiller (left) and her sister, Susan Johnston, have been sewing since they were in 4-H in third grade. They enjoy making masks together. (photo submitted)

PUTNAM COUNTY — Over five months ago, several Putnam County women saw a need and stepped up to fill that need. Sitting down at their sewing machines, they began sewing masks.

Since then, these women have made several thousand masks for healthcare workers, family members, friends, businesses, and factory workers.

Diane Rieman, Ottawa, said when she heard about the virus and the need for masks, she knew she could help. As the owner of Our Daily Thread, a home business of items she and her husband make, much of her work involves sewing.

With the help of other area sewers, she initially had 5,000 masks made that were donated to healthcare workers at Putnam County Home Health and Hospice, Lima Memorial Hospital, St. Rita’s, and other locations.

“I cut out kits and contacted a few friends I knew,” Diane said. She also put out a request for sewers on Facebook. “I had a dozen sewer from Ottawa, Columbus Grove, and Continental pick up the kits and help sew these masks,” Diane said.

Susan Rosenberger, Ottawa, has a sewing business. She also wanted to use her skills to help when she heard about the outbreak. As the owner of Sue’s Sewing and Alteration, she felt it was essential to help others out.

“At first, I used a pattern I found online, but it took forever to make them,” Sue said. “So, I played around and made a design that I could mass produce.”

A recent breast cancer survivor Susan donated several masks to workers at the Armes Cancer Care Center in Findlay, where she was treated. She also gave several to a Maumee nursing home where she knew healthcare workers needed personal protection equipment. Susan also made and donated several masks to area restaurants for the workers. “Then, as more people needed masks, I started making more and making them available on my porch,” Susan said. “At first, I just asked for donations, but eventually started pricing the different size masks.” She has also mailed masks to several states and all over Ohio.

Annette Nighswander, Leipsic, said she has been sewing for ten years. “I love to sew, and when the need for masks arose, I started making them for my family,” she said. “Then, I just kept making more and more.” She has continued to make them and estimates she has made at least a few hundred.

“I make them different sizes now,” Annette said.

Rachel Schroeder, Columbus Grove, is retired and has always enjoyed sewing. When a niece that works at the Ambulatory Care Center asked for masks, Schroeder sat down at her sewing machine and went to work. Then a good friend requested masks for workers at a rest home requested masks.

Rachel said she makes two styles of masks. “I found one pattern online that matched my type of sewing,” she said. “I often make masks that have elastic that goes around the head instead of the ears.”

“People kept saying I should charge for the masks, but I didn’t want to,” she admitted. “I finally just charged to cover the cost of material and elastic.” Rachel said she has a production line style she uses to sew the masks. “I’ve made 40 masks in four hours,” she said.

“I’ve slowed up a bit on sewing them,” she said. “Before I slowed down, I made over 1,000 masks. Since then, I’ve made 200-300 more of all sizes.”

Sarah Hermiller, Ottawa, and her sister Susan Johnston, Defiance, work together to make masks.

“I had a few friends that knew I sewed and called and asked if I would make them masks,” Sarah said. “My husband and I also needed them.” Sarah invited her sister, who also sews, to assist her as they started making more masks. “We have a system now where we both cut them out, and she does the pressing while I sew. But she also can sew.”

Sue said a friend who works at a factory asked her to make masks for the workers.

“We usually make about 50 masks at a time,” Sarah said. She said they have made more than a thousand masks.

All of the women admitted that elastic for the masks were in short supply at the beginning.

“When Kevin Evers at Village Hardware in Leipsic heard I was making masks, he gave me two spools of elastic,” Diane said. The women said the most requested pattern for masks is sports themes. “You can’t get Ohio State fabric right now,” Susan said.

All of the women have been sewing for several years. Many of them started sewing in 4-H when they were children. Although the demand for masks has slowed down recently, the women said they are seeing more people buy smaller masks for children.

“I guess they are preparing for school,” Rachel said.

Sarah said she feels for people who have to wear masks all day. “I just advise people to wash them frequently.”

Susan said she designed her masks, so they puff out in the middle. “I think that makes it easier for people to breathe,” she said.

“I want to thank everyone on the front line,” Rachel said. She hopes that by wearing masks, we can get this virus spread over more quickly.

“If I can save at least one life by making all these masks, I’ll make them forever,” Susan said.