Sewing for the NHS: What I’ve been doing during the UK lockdown
Where do I even start with 2020… what can I say!
I can’t believe my last post was all the way back on Valentine’s Day! It seems like a lifetime ago. First of all, I hope you are all keeping safe and doing well, and that you’ve come out of the last few months unharmed. I know everything changed for many of us in March, and for some of us, life has slowly started going back to normal.
At the start of lockdown, I was terrified, anxious and didn’t know what to think or what the future held. I still am to some extent to be honest, but thinking back to the beginning of the pandemic in Europe, it really was truly disturbing times.
Something that broke my heart every day was the struggles that the NHS (National Health Service for those of you not in the UK!) staff faced. It was so horrible hearing about all the issues and hardships they faced, and also incredibly inspiring how brave all the doctors, nurses, technicians, and other frontline staff were.
Why sewing for the NHS?
I remember going to bed crying reading about NHS staff who sadly passed away fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The articles that were coming in every day were heart-wrenching. I couldn’t sit around and work from home whilst these brave people risked their lives for the rest of us. One thing that stood out to me was the shortages of supplies. I started to wonder if that was something I would be able to help with.
Initially, seeing my NHS friends with incredibly dry, peeling hands, I thought could I make and distribute hand cream? But I had no experience in creating something like this, and no idea how to hand it out. Then I remembered all those uniform and face mask shortages, and realised. I sew! I can MAKE these items!
My sewing volunteering groups
After some searching, I found and joined the Sewing4Kingston volunteering group locally. I also joined For the Love of Scrubs which is a nationwide effort. At the time I joined in late March/early April, both groups only had a few people. Now, they have thousands of truly incredible volunteers, who have made hundreds and thousands of items for the NHS!
Sewing Scrubs for the NHS!
One of the main things I wanted to start sewing for the NHS was scrubs! I was appalled by the shortages of scrubs, despite them being an everyday essential. The increased number of staff working and frequent washing was said to be causes to this sudden short supply.
I started working on this in April, and the demand at the time was INSANE. We were being requested hundreds of scrubs everyday. I went ahead and bought some fabric from Showtime Fabrics and FabricLand. I wanted to get going as soon as possible.
Overlocker - the lifesaver!
I started printing the scrubs pattern and was so ready to get sewing. BUT the finish that was necessary for these scrubs made it so difficult without an overlocker. I had always wanted an overlocker… After much deliberation and research, I went ahead and bought this Brother M343D overlocker from amazon! I can honestly say it is SO amazing and worth it!
It made sewing scrubs so much quicker and easier. From here, I was able to make a lot more than I would’ve with just my sewing machine. I focused on making XS scrubs, as that is my size. There were shortages across all sizes, and not many people were making XS. I was so happy to be able to contribute scrubs to go towards the NHS. In particular, the six XS scrubs which went to the South London branch of For the Love of Scrubs. I loved providing these to local hospitals in my area.
The first thing I made with donated fabric by the Seing4Kingston group was….you guessed it! Fabric face coverings AKA face masks. Now a daily essential, back then we had little idea what was a good fit. From what was too tight or loose, how long to make the nose wires, what materials to choose for the nose wires. Even down to how many layers we should do. After MONTHS of making HUNDREDS and THOUSANDS of facemasks, it’s not an exaggeration to say Sewing4Kingston have perfected the art of mask making!
We had so much feedback from members of staff and frontline workers who were wearing these coverings for many hours during the day. The evolution of the fabric face mask has truly come a long way since the beginning!
Face coverings now
At this point, I don’t really know how many masks I’ve made! The white and red masks in the gallery above were my first ever face coverings, and the first batch which I donated. The bottom photo is my final Sewing4Kingston collection for the coronavirus pandemic, and it was actually kind of emotional! I was so happy and so proud to have been part of such an incredible organisation. The last collection consisted of over 24 face coverings and 10 headbands with ear saver buttons on them (more on that in the next section!).
Since then, I’ve started making and selling similar face coverings for friends and family. Of course, I purchased my own materials and started from scratch, but used the knowledge and experience that I gained from volunteering. If you’re interested in these face masks, please do leave me a comment below!
Earsavers, headbands and laundry bags
Other items which we were asked to make included ear savers and laundry bags. I made around 30 of each over the last few months, and the headbands in particular were my favourite! The addition of buttons on the side of the headbands allowed mask wearers to reduce the amount of pressure on their ears.
This was the product that started it all off for me! Desperate to help in some way, I searched everywhere for what I could be doing to do my part during the pandemic. That’s when I came across Sewing4Kingston at a few days old, with just a handful of members.
Back then, they were looking for volunteers to make scrunchies, laundry bags and scrub hats. As I had a lot of experience making scrunchies, I started off with the fabric I already had at home!
I am so happy to have been part of these two fantastic organisations during one of the most testing times for our incredible NHS. To this day, I am still part of both groups and have virtually met some truly amazing, generous and wonderful people.
As part of Sewing4Kingston, we have now moved past providing items in short supply in relation to the COVID19 pandemic. We have instead moved on to making wiggly bags and bandanas for children fighting cancer, and crochet outfits for premature babies.
Although politically, the response to the pandemic has been at times appalling and baffling, what really was fantastic to see was everyone coming together to help out their country and local communities. I decided to join these groups as sewing was something that I knew I could do, but there were countless other organizations that popped out on their own and grew into massive collaborations.
There were so many people helping to cook, distribute and feed NHS staff, people volunteering to go shopping for vulnerable people, local groups collecting food, toiletries, and other essential living items for people in need. In a truly dark and difficult time for our world, these were the groups of people who really stood out to me as strong, generous, and selfless individuals. And there were so many of them! I was and am, truly inspired by every single one of them.
What are your thoughts?
I really hope that you have enjoyed this post, I loved writing it and remembering everything that our communities have done to help each other. What have you been doing during lockdown? I’d love to know so please leave a comment down below, and share your stories! I have some SUPER exciting news in the next post, so please keep your eyes peeled for the big announcement! I can’t wait to share it with you all!
See you in the next one,
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