From Doll Clothes To Face Masks: How I’m Repurposing My Old Fabrics

Lucy Keating first learned to sew on her grandmother’s Singer sewing machine. Today, she’s reviving her skills to make masks for COVID-19.

A collage centered around a handwritten quote that reads ‘A very very small way that I could contribute to the greater good.‘
Paula Friedrich, Getty Images / WBEZ
A collage centered around a handwritten quote that reads ‘A very very small way that I could contribute to the greater good.‘
Paula Friedrich, Getty Images / WBEZ

From Doll Clothes To Face Masks: How I’m Repurposing My Old Fabrics

Lucy Keating first learned to sew on her grandmother’s Singer sewing machine. Today, she’s reviving her skills to make masks for COVID-19.

Sixty-nine-year-old Lucy Keating has been sewing most of her life. She first learned how to use her grandmother’s Singer sewing machine when she was just about ten. As a child, she used it to make clothes for her Barbie dolls.

Over the years, she’s moved from Barbie-sized clothing to life-sized projects, creating costumes for her daughters, like a dress that spontaneously transformed from old rags to a beautiful ball gown for an elementary school production of Cinderella. Keating said she considers that costume her “greatest sewing accomplishment.”

“I love it [sewing] as a creative outlet. I don’t do it all the time … there are periods in my life where I haven’t sewn for a couple of years,”Keating said. “But I do like the possibilities of being able to make something that I like or that my kids want and taking raw materials, cutting it out, putting it back together, making something entirely new.”

Sewing for a cause

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Keating said she felt a kind of helplessness, and wished there was something more she could do. So when a friend from her knitting group told her about a local campaign to make masks, she jumped at the chance to help.

“I thought this is a real way, in a very, very small way, that I could contribute to the greater good,” Keating said.

Keating picks her mask-making materials from a collection of fabrics she’s had for years. She’s used old baby clothes and she even made a mask out of a blue daisy pattern fabric she’d used to make a dress for her daughter’s bridal shower.

“I take my time when I’m doing it because I feel that the people that are receiving these are worthy of the effort I make to make them right,” she says.

Keating has made about 30 masks which she delivered via no-contact drop-offs at the campaign organizer’s house in Evanston. Rather than acting as protection for medical personnel, these homemade masks are meant for everyday people who may be anxious about the virus’s spread or at a high risk of catching the illness. Keating hopes this might even free up some actual medical-grade masks for healthcare workers.

Grandma’s sewing machine will get her through

Her grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine sits in the room where Keating is making these protective face masks.

“Without learning how to sew on that old machine, I wouldn’t be able to use my current machine to make these masks. So, it all sort of goes around.”

Keating’s grandmother, aunt, and great aunt have all used this same sewing machine that Lucy now cherishes. Now, she’s thinking about passing on her craft to at least one of her daughters so this family legacy can continue.

And in this time of crisis, the old Singer has given Lucy a sense of perspective.

“I think about what has happened since that machine has been around: two world wars, another pandemic in 1918, and a great depression. We’ll all get this behind us too.”

Isabel Carter is an intern for WBEZ’s podcast team. Mackenzie Crosson is the interim multimedia producer for Curious City.