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Masks, gowns as a mission

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Diné sewing group fights COVID-19 with creativity

Theresa Hatathlie-Delmar is a COVID-19 fashion innovator. She and the seamstresses and tailors in her group take a surprising list of items, including lingerie elastic and Tyvek and Everbuilt home wrap to design and sew masks and gowns for the Navajo Nation and the Hopi people to help protect them against the virus.

When Hatathlie-Delmar was designated to coordinate a sewing group on March 23. It was only six days after she heard about a COVID-19 case on the Navajo Nation in Dennehotso, Ariz.

Hatathlie-Delmar had only a small personal stockpile of fabric and thread that she used to sew, weave and bead to earn money. But the sewing group grew. Quickly.

“In April, we had to separate the group between western and eastern Navajo because there was a lot of demand,” she said. “From that point going forward, we continued to collaborate with our group and the medical community.”

They got their mask and hospital gown patterns through an internet link from Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation at fashiongirlsforhumanity.org.

But once they had the patterns, it was time to find the materials. That’s where these needle workers drew on their ingenuity.

“I went to the shops in Phoenix and I purchased in bulk and was able to ship to my main sewing group,” Hatathlie-Delmar said.

She explained that she also had help from several other people in Tuba City, Ariz., Bloomfield, Ariz., and White Rock, N.M., who shipped fabric by the yard.

Ultimately however, even more materials were needed. The group turned to hardware stores, purchasing home wrap for the tighter weave needed for hospital gowns for doctors to use in triage, or drive-thru testing or direct patient care.

When it came to face shields, they made those, too - out of weather stripping and laminate sheets.

“Someone donated a laminating machine,” she said. “When a sheet is fed through, they put a strip of weather stripping on the ends. You put [on] a seven to eight inch piece of elastic and staple both ends.”

When the elastic ran out, they pulled it from lingerie, from the corners of fitted sheets, from strips off the bottoms of t-shirts. And for mask ties, such as those you see on the tops of doctors’ heads, they made their own bias tape out of long shoe laces.

They have sewn 27,773 masks thus far, with more than 124 people sewing, six of them men.

Hatathlie-Delmar says her parents, who have passed, have left her with Navajo teachings.

“We shouldn’t have idle hands,” she said. “You invite poverty. You invite hunger. You invite sickness. You have to be doing something all the time.”

She said even when she is watching tv, she is busy.

“Right now we don’t have time to grieve,” she said. “We should assist and help empower others. … It’s not charity, it’s solidarity. If we provide these individuals with a mask, then they will protect themselves.”

By Beth Blakeman
Associate Editor

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