After the laptop comes the sewing machine

ERGO staff member Kirsten Heuter making hand-sewn face masks at home

Magazine, 03.04.2020

Kirsten Heuter, who works in ERGO’s Online Communications Team in Düsseldorf, takes good use of her spare time to make face masks free-of-charge for staff at Leverkusen Hospital and for carers, midwives, doctors' practices and retirement homes in her area. The cloth masks can act as a barrier to catch droplets when people speak, sneeze or cough. They also help the wearer to resist touching their nose or mouth, thereby reducing the risk of infection. Kirsten emphasises that the most important and effective ways to avoid infection remains good hand hygiene, following the rules for sneezing and coughing, and keeping your distance. “A mask is no substitute for doing any of these.” 

ERGO Mitarbeiterin Kirsten Heuter näht Behelfsmasken
ERGO staff member Kirsten Heuter making face masks in her spare time

Sewing has been a hobby of Kirsten’s for six years. Thanks to sewing courses, videos – and lots of experience, she can now do much more than take up trousers. Her repertoire includes clothing for the whole family and friends, cloth bags and indoor and outdoor accessories. An appeal for help on Facebook drew her attention to the increasing need for non-medical face masks. Even if their filter qualities can’t compare with those of professionally made masks and they are therefore not suitable for use in intensivecare wards for example, in view of the current low stocks of medical-grade masks, they are at least a temporary solution for people whose work doesn’t allow them to keep the necessary dis-tance. Kirsten didn’t hesitate – she knew she could use her sewing skills to help by mak-ing face masks!

Hand-sewn face masks with a filter compartment

She got patterns, found the information she needed in on online do-it-yourself community and got started. “Cotton fabric that can be washed in boiling water should be used for the masks because they have to be changed regularly and either boiled or chemically cleaned to use them again”, Kirsten explains.

When Kirsten is out of supplies, she buys new material and uses material donated by friends or the community. One thing that is not visible on the outside of the masks is a compartment for a filter. “The wearer can insert a filter into my masks – it can be a cellulose cloth or special wadding”, adds Kirsten. The filter provides an additional barrier to the mask itself to reduce the flight of droplets.

Even with a mask, it is important to observe distancing rules and wash your hands regularly!

She donates the masks to hospital staff, carers, midwives, doctors' practices and retirement homes. “I don’t make any medical protective masks”, she emphasises. “But anyone unknowingly infected with the coronavirus protects others if they wear a face mask. And wearing a mask also makes people touch their nose and mouth much less. This is important to avoid spreading the coronavirus, as is complying with the distancing rules and hand hygiene.”

Kirsten has also sold some masks to friends for the cost of the material used, while investing the proceeds immediately in boil-proof cotton fabric and other material needed. “I really enjoy sewing the face masks and helping people who are currently working day and night”, says Kirsten, and finishes with an appeal: “Get out your sewing machine and join me! There are numerous sewing groups online and there are lots of people in need of masks.”

By Monika Stobrawe

A number of organisations have published questions and answers on non-medical face masks, including the Robert Koch Institute in Germany:

Sewing instructions can be found here, for example::

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