Costume Shop students use sewing skills to make cloth face masks, PPE gowns

(Photo courtesy of Nixi Swedlund)

Students working at the Kansas State Costume Shop have been busy making fabric masks to donate to those in need. Melissa Neville, Costume Shop manager and instructor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, began creating masks the week after spring break.

“I became connected with some groups on Facebook that were coordinating efforts to provide masks all over the country,” Neville said via email. “I knew that at some point there would be a need in our community, so I got started.”

So far, Neville estimates she has made 200 masks. Out of those, she has donated 100 locally, and she ships the others to people in other areas and only asks for donations to cover shipping costs.

“I make them in large batches and do one stage at a time,” Neville said. “Cut, serge, pleat, add ties. If I did one at a time, it would probably take 5-10 minutes per mask.”

Her masks are made with two layers of cotton and have ties to be more customizable to the individual’s face.

“I knew that there would be a need for PPE in our community,” Neville said. “If not for medical professionals, then for the general public to use so that the manufactured PPE could be reserved for the people dealing with the virus.”

In addition to masks, Neville has made PPE gowns out of old choir robes from a local church.

“I was assigned 12 robes to shorten, add elastic to the bottom of the sleeves, and loops of elastic to go around the thumb to keep the sleeves down,” Neville said. “Our project was to repurpose 50 old choir robes for PPE for health care personnel as protective gowns that can be bleached, sanitized, washed and reused many times. They will be used by doctors and nurses in clinics, the health department, the drive-thru testing station and long term care facilities.”

Nixi Swedlund, senior in education, was encouraged by Neville to begin making masks as well. She is donating all masks she makes.

“The manager of the costume shop suggested that since we were still getting paid we could use our sewing skills and make masks to donate to our local communities,” Swedlund said.

Swedlund began sewing in high school as part of her school’s Thespian Club. She originally sewed simple skirts for a musical, but she said she wanted to learn more.

“After that, I went down some YouTube rabbit holes and taught myself the basics,” Swedlund said. “I ended up getting a job at a local fabric store and continued to teach myself and learn from my coworkers and customers until I got to college and, my sophomore year, ended up getting a job in the costume shop.”

Swedlund is using 100 percent cotton she has accumulated over the years. She has used quarter-inch elastic for ties, but switched to using old T-shirts once she ran out.

“I have worked at several fabric stores and had a tendency to spend most of my paycheck on random fabrics I liked,” Swedlund said. “I never really had the time to make anything with my many many yards of fabric so it was just sitting in my craft room.”

Originally, Swedlund planned to only make some for her friends and family. However, she said she has plenty of time and material, so she will be donating them.

“I have plenty of time and plenty of hoarded fabric,” Swedlund said. “I can afford to give these away for free and I know money is tight or completely non-existent for many people so it feels like the least I can do.”

My name is Bailey Britton and I am the former editor-in-chief of the Collegian. Previously, I have been the assistant news editor and the managing editor. I have also interned for the Manhattan Mercury and the Colby Free Press. I grew up in Colby, Kansas, and I am a junior in journalism and English. Through the Collegian, I aim to provide the K-State community with quality news coverage while we learn to serve our campus.