Nature has awakened in Cornwall. Snowdrops have opened, daffodils have budded and magnolias are blooming. The promise of warmer weather makes us want to shake off winter doldrums and connect with neighbors and friends.

We can’t, of course, at least not in the usual ways. But while the Covid-19 pandemic is preventing us from gathering in the flesh, it can’t stop Cornwall from awakening in communal spirit. 

Mask shortages in hospitals and nursing homes, coupled with recent guidance from Washington that everyone should wear cotton masks in public, have inspired Cornwallians to dust off old sewing machines, conjure lost skills, and get to work.

The creative juices are flowing. People are swapping ideas and advice on how to make masks and the best patterns to use. They are sharing fabric and elastic and lots of the requisite 100% cotton masks, washable for repeated use, are pouring in. 

Susan Hellmann, one of the first people in town to start making masks, has churned out over 75 of them and is still at it. She has figured out how to incorporate a filter in her masks by using a piece of mesh grocery bag. (Other mask-makers report that pieces of air-conditioner filters and mechanic’s paper can be put to the same use.) “With each mask I make,” said Susan, “I am getting better and better at it.” 

Nancy and John Bevans deploy two sewing machines to make 130 masks between them. “John keeps our machines oiled,” said Nancy, “and we make masks together.”

Hundreds of masks have been made by Cornwall seamsters. About 30 have ended up in a donation basket outside Town Hall, where Cay Tyson Hosterman manages their distribution. She’s noticed stylistic variations, with some makers choosing elastic ties and inserting pockets for filters, and observes that missing among the prints on mask materials are the “more masculine patterns.” 

Cornwall masks have found their way to Sharon Hospital, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, the Cornwall Volunteer Fire Department, the Geer Village senior-living center, Sharon Farm Market and Sharon Pharmacy, among other organizations and people. 

“It’s like an underground railroad,” said Janet Savin, speaking of the women, men and children making masks and spreading them around. 

The homemade varieties can’t replace the medical-grade N95 respirators so desperately needed by nurses and doctors, but they might encourage the rest of us to donate these highly effective masks to users who require them the most. 

Mask-making is turning the cutting of fabric and the whirr of sewing machines into a badge representing Cornwall’s humanity, and even a ray of hope. And who can’t use a little of that?

  • Want to join the mask-making party but don’t know how to get started?  Contact Susan Hellmann at, Ann Gold at or Nancy and John Bevans at
  • Looking for mask-related volunteer opportunities, or for patterns and advice? The Connecticut 5th District Face Mask Task Force can help: 
  • Have masks to donate? Leave them on the porch at Town Hall in the basket provided. Questions about distribution can be directed to Cay Tyson Hosterman at

Brenda Underwood