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PTK Student Stitches Away To Help Others

March, 2020
  • A sampling of some of the homemade masks made by PTK student Ilina Ivanova.
    A sampling of some of the homemade masks made by PTK student Ilina Ivanova.

Phi Theta Kappa student Ilina Ivanova is making a difference in her community one mask at a time. The Quinsigamond Community College sophomore has been putting the pedal to the metal…the sewing machine pedal that is, to make masks for healthcare workers in need. The Wyvern recently had a Q&A online interview with this inspiring and humble student.

What is your major at QCC and when do you anticipate graduating from QCC?

My major at QCC is Liberal Arts Biology, and I am due to graduate this May.

Why did you decide to get involved in making masks?

For several reasons. First, I understand that there is a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) all over the country. I used to work as an Emergency Veterinary Technician, and the hospitals that I worked at have either made their own masks, or have had masks made by the community so that they can free up supply for the human hospitals. Second, I felt I needed to do something productive with my two idle hands that would help my community. I feel guilty when I go to the grocery store and I see the workers without masks. I wanted to offer them an alternative. I would do more if I had the resources or the training. I really wish I could be on the front lines doing everything I can at a moment like this, so I am doing what I think I can.

My goal is to reach out to people who are interested and able to help and connecting them to others who are doing the same.

How did you find the pattern for the masks?

It has been a good deal of trial and error. I am not an expert seamstress by any means. My father has a sewing machine and I asked him if I could use it. I researched patterns on the Internet and I joined the Facebook group, “Worcester Stitchers for Health” where people share patterns. That gave me a lot of hope because the number of people uploading pattern ideas via platforms like Facebook or Youtube in the last couple of weeks tells me that a lot of people all over the country are organizing to make masks with what they have. I know that these masks are not ideal, but this is not an ideal situation and some people are going with zero protection. The filter insert allows for further protection.

Here is a Youtube link for the pattern I am currently using: pocket facemask video

You mentioned dropping them off at your organizer’s home, to then be dropped off at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).  Do you know where WPI will distribute them?

I work at a small startup research company based out of the MBI Incubators at WPI. On my way into work on Monday, the lobby was filled with boxes of PPE donations being organized by the WPI community. I asked them if they were accepting handmade masks and that’s when I was put in touch with Kris Boudreau, who is the coordinator for Worcester Stitchers for Health. Once the masks are made, they can be dropped off at Kris’s doorstep (there is a drop-off box outside to limit social contact), or she is willing to pick them up given a reasonable distance. Kris takes them to WPI where they are either autoclaved or UV irradiated, depending on the mask material (anything that contains plastic will melt in an autoclave). Then they are packaged in a sterile pouch and distributed based on need. This part gets a little tricky because for the most part WPI is working with Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), which is working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to identify high need areas and distribute accordingly. However, many people know people personally who are working in high risk healthcare settings that are asking for these masks. For example, I know that a client at an ER veterinary hospital just made masks for the entire staff to alleviate pressure on their dwindling surgical mask supply. Not to mention all of the grocery store workers, delivery drivers, and other essential workers who may not have access to a mask.

How many have you made or are planning to make?

I have made about 25 masks so far and I plan on making as many as I can. They take about 20-25 minutes to sew each, depending on the template. Part of what takes the most time is finding a template that you like and getting comfortable with it. The template that I am currently using is a pleated mask with a filter insert and a metal wire nose bridge. It can be made with elastic bands or with ties. I got my materials at Joann Fabrics the day before they closed and they were entirely cleared out of elastic! That’s how many people are making masks.

Is this something where anyone can get involved? If so, can you please share the details?

This is definitely something that anyone who has the tools and materials and is willing to deal with a minor learning curve can get involved with. I know a lot of people have more time on their hands these days, and for me, personally, when I feel myself going a little crazy, I now get behind the sewing machine. (The Facebook page is Worcester Stitchers for Health and Kris Boudreau’s email is kboudreau [at] wpi.edu)

Professor Lee Duerden made a prototype of a respirator mask and you mentioned a friend in Vermont who will be using Lee’s prototype to make 3-D Masks. Can you tell us a bit about this?

Sure. My friend, Josh Shedaker, is a musician and guitar/bass repair man, amongst other things, living in Vermont. He posted on Facebook about looking for resources on making 3D printed respirator masks. I shared Lee’s prototype with him and he said that this is the type of mask he is looking to make. What surprised me is that under his Facebook post, there were many others with 3D printer access who commented that they were also making 3D printed respirator masks. It is great to get the word out because it helps with organizing and connecting people who I think naturally want to help but either don’t know how or they think their effort will be insignificant.

What are your plans after you graduate from QCC?

After QCC I will be finishing my bachelor's in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Clark University. I actually just found out I was accepted last Friday and I am so excited. This would not have been possible without all of the support, inspiration, guidance, and quality education that I received at QCC. When I started last year, part of me didn't think this would have been possible. I will really miss QCC. 

If you are a QCC student or alumni doing something in your community to help others during this national pandemic, we want to hear from you and tell your story. Please email the Wyvern Guardian newsletter at khutner [at] qcc.mass.edu.

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