Sew to soul: Making masks on Marco to meet today’s demand

Lance Shearer

If our country’s struggle against the coronavirus really is a war, then the little girls sewing protective face masks on Lauren Johnston’s pool deck are the spiritual heirs of World War II’s Rosie the Riveter. You could call them, collectively, Susie the Seamstress.

The girls who plied their craft at sewing machines spaced a safe “social distancing” apart from each other on the lanai overlooking the Marco Island waterway were named Ava, Lily, Jaidyn, Mikayla and Bianca. Mostly Marco Island residents along with a couple from Naples, they ranged in age from nine to 12, and sewed busily away, producing dozens of face masks. The 60 or so masks they assembled will be added to over 900 that Johnston’s business, Sew Easy, has created in the last month, between its Southwest Florida and Boston locations.

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With news reports full of accounts detailing the acute shortage of protective masks for medical personnel, those afflicted with COVID-19 and those eager not to catch it, Johnston figured that assembling the masks was a “win-win” for all concerned.

Between locations in Massachusetts and Naples, Johnston estimates that Sew Easy has taught 21,000 young ladies (and maybe a few young gentlemen) the art of sewing, but with the pandemic looming, they have had to shutter their businesses.

“We had to close our business locations here and in Boston. But kids and their mothers were eager to help, and we figured this was a way that we, and they, could give back.”

Lily Irwin, 11, agreed. “It feels good to sew – it helps people first of all, and it’s really fun,” she said.

Jill Settles, mother of nine-year-old Mikayla, said she weighed leaving the sanctuary of their “shelter in place” home against the good they could do.

“It’s a calculated risk worth taking,” she said, while remaining six feet from a reporter. “For people in hospitals saving lives, it’s the least we can do – and it’s nice to get a little social contact.”

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Locally, masks have been going to the NCH Marco Healthcare Center, and Johnston hopes to deliver some to a local children’s shelter.

“This makes feel we’re helping a bit,” said Johnston’s neighbor Dune Hempleman, who has been sewing masks for “a couple weeks” now, but was put on ironing duty Tuesday, pressing the fabric for the masks under a hot iron.

In addition to the masks she, her students and neighbors are sewing, Johnston has created kits which contain instructions and materials to allow people to sew masks on their own. Each kit comes with the wherewithal to create 18 masks, including two yards of fabric, but they have been running short.

Johnston created what she calls an “abundance kit” on the Sew Easy website, that includes instructions and a supplies list to allow anyone with a sewing machine and sewing ability to create masks independently. Groups including the Marco Patriots have also been making masks to help alleviate the shortage, said Johnston.

Sew Easy has also started a GoFundMe page to help defray the cost of supplies and expenses for their shuttered operation and provide for laid-off employees. To access the GoFundMe, enquire about receiving one of a limited number of physical face mask kits available, or the unlimited abundance kit, go online to

The face masks turned out on Marco Island by Ava Ball, Lily Irwin, Jaidyn Sweazy, Mikayla Settles and Bianca Fernandes fit snugly over the face, feature two layers of fabric, and go on and off easily as the straps loop around the ears rather than all the way around one’s head. They are not made to meet the N95 specifications, but certainly add a layer of protection for the wearer or those nearby.

The girls are happy learning to give back as well as learning to sew, and Johnston said she wanted to thank the local community for being “sew supportive.”