Mask line of defence: Poles get stitching to produce life-saving masks

A woman in Gdańsk works on a home-made mask. Adam Warżawa/PAP

Poles are stepping up to the plate when it comes to the fight against the coronavirus with people all over the country sewing masks for doctors, nurses, and paramedics. With plenty of tutorials available online, all that is required is a piece of fabric, elastic, a sewing kit and a little bit of free time.

The process in simple. Using social media, hospitals and other institutions exposed to human contact and the threat of contracting SARS-CoV-2 such as vet clinics announce what they need. Coordinators then contact people who can sew, have the necessary materials or can help with transport and ensure that those in need receive the equipment they require.

With plenty of mask-making tutorials online, all that is required is a piece of fabric, elastic and a sewing kit, and a bit of free time.Adam Warżawa/PAP

The idea came from the University Hospital in Zielona Góra, which cared for Poland’s “patient zero”. Facing supply shortages, on March 13 they decided to organise a sewing workshop on their premises.  Karolina Koziorowska, deputy head of the hospital’s administrative and economic department said: “I got a bale of fabric and rubber bands, and our ladies started sewing. Mrs. Krystyna and Maria need little more than a minute to produce one mask, the cost of which is less than a złoty.

“Let us remind you that in the current situation masks have become a scarce and unfortunately quite expensive commodity,” she continued. “That is why it is good that our seamstresses took matters (literally) into their own hands.”

The Kraków firm Beksa has shifted from making clothes to masks.Beksa/Facebook

In the first two days Maria and Krystyna managed to prepare 1,000 masks.

What followed was a country-wide initiative, with people pitching in however they could.  Organised on the Facebook group ‘Polskie Krawcowe uszyją maseczki ochronne dla służby zdrowia’ (Polish seamstresses will sew protective masks for Healthcare) and several regional ones, the goal is to make between 140 and 200 thousand masks. Even making just one at home has a purpose. It means one less is purchased, leaving it for somene who may need it more.

The mask have been received gratefully by medical staff.Beksa/Facebook

The quick response exceeded expectations. Doctor Marta Czubaj-Kowal from the Stefan Żeromski Specialist Hospital said: “I’m on 24-hour shift at the Paediatric Department of Żeromski Hospital in Kraków, which I manage. Together with the doctors and the nurses, we’re working hard, treating patients.

“Despite the lack of personal protective equipment in face of the pandemic, we’re ready to help all sick and needy children. A moment ago I received the first batch of masks sewn for us. Looking at them and sick children lying in the hospital I was moved... This is a great initiative. Thank you to all those who unite and help us together.”

One initiative aims to produce between 140,000 to 200,000 masks.Beksa/Facebook

Polish clothing brands, big and small, are following suit. LPP, the largest Polish clothing company and owner of the brand Reserved, announced: “LPP has decided to support the daily struggle of doctors, nurses, and all medical staff. To this end, it has decided to allocate PLN 1 million for the purchase of masks for infectious disease hospitals in Gdańsk and Kraków.

“The first batch of masks (over 3,000) has already been delivered to a hospital in Gdańsk, where people infected with coronavirus from the Pomorskie Voivodeship are located. The Reserved brand has also started the action of sewing protective masks for employees at the Clinical Hospital in Gdańsk.”

The masks are not difficult to make. Kalbar/TFN

Smaller brands and companies are also doing their part. Kraków-based Beksa, established by designer Justyna Janik, decided to use their stock of cotton for masks. They wrote on March 18: “Girls! Since we have cotton at our disposal we joined the initiative ‘Masks for Cracow's medics. (...) We do not sew masks for the staff of infectious disease wards and people who have contact with potentially infected people! They will be used by doctors on other wards.

“Anyone can help in this situation. But remember to help sensibly. If you want to sew, check what materials you can use and to whom you can give your masks or caps.”

Although the initiative is expanding, hospitals stress that they won’t be able to use every piece of sewn equipment they get. For safety reasons, some wards, such as the surgical ones, may not accept or use masks, gloves or overalls without the appropriate certification for patient care. For them, the gear has to be made from special, sterile materials and originally packaged. To this end, hospitals are organizing fundraisers, to make sure they are equipped to help all the patients they receive.