Mask makers

Josie Russell, who has been helping Deb Gesmundo make masks, shows off one of Deb Gesmundo’s masks with an ‘origami fold’. (Courtesy photo)

Kathleen Morgan likes making hers using brightly colored cotton fabrics, at first creating cords from donated yoga pants. 

After some experimentation, Deb Gesmundo settled on an “origami fold” to maximize coverage and comfort. 

Lara Young initially collaborated with Gesmundo, as the pair researched additional filtering options.

Yes, we’re talking about masks, and about the locals who have been busily making them since the Covid-19 pandemic touched down in San Miguel County earlier this year.

One fan of Telluride’s mask makers is San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin, who, in line with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, advocates mask wearing as part of a comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission of Covid-19. 

“Scientific data proves that masks are the most effective way to slow the spread of Covid-19,” Franklin said. “We are grateful for the individuals who have stepped up to create and donate masks to support the health of our community.”

Those individuals include Morgan, Gesmundo, Young, Luci Reeve and Maggie McNally, who were interviewed for this article, as well as other locals like Melissa Sumpter.

As a long-time seamstress and costumer for local events such as the Telluride AIDS Benefit and Telluride Theatre productions, Reeve said that it made sense to respond to the pandemic — and the early scarcity of masks — by breaking out her sewing machine. 

“I started gearing up and researching patterns, along with finding everything in my inventory and stocking up on things that were recommended at the time,” Reeve recalled. “It was such a frightening time.”

Like Reeve, McNally, a long-time local and Wilkinson Public Library staff member, also noted a lack of masks in the earliest days of the pandemic.

“I really just wanted to provide masks during the uncertain period when they were not readily available,” she said. “I saw a need and I had time and a sewing machine.”

Early on, many of the local mask makers were giving away their masks and donated to a wide range of entities, including food banks, the Navajo Nation, medical staff and essential workers, like the UPS and Fed Ex drivers whose route includes Telluride and who, after seeing locals wearing the often-colorful cloth face coverings, asked for more of the same.

In lieu of payment, McNally asked recipients of her masks to donate to a GoFundMe account that was buying iPads for medical workers, allowing them to help Covid-19 patients communicate with family. 

Morgan, who initially made her masks using her deep stash of Free Box and donated fabrics, noted that requests for masks and donations of masks have slowed as more and more are now available for purchase.

“I kept wondering when wholesalers were going to catch up with mass-manufactured masks and now they have,” said the Lawson Hill resident, who has a selection of masks available at Over the Moon. 

Young, owner/founder of Telluride Active Designs, and Gesmundo, a local seamstress, are two mask makers who have masks available for purchase at Telluride boutiques.

A Mountain Village resident, Gesmundo, who has donated some of her masks to local causes including the Ah Haa Art Auction, said she was just thinking about finally making a long-contemplated foray into fashion design when Covid-19 jumped onto our radars.

“When the pandemic hit,” she said, “I cleared my garage and moved my sewing machine and other stuff down there. Now I have everything, even an embroidery station, and am working out of there.”

She added, “Making masks may be a weird niche, but it’s working for me. What I like is that I am creating quality, hand-crafted, beautiful, almost one-of-a-kind masks … and now they are available in amazing places like Two Skirts and the Toggery.”

Gesmundo and Young said that they collaborated heavily early on, researching and sharing ideas on the minutiae of mask making, like filter pockets, optimum fabrics and design.

Young’s company makes popular goggle covers Hoggle Goggle, which gave her an enormous reservoir of knowledge and experience with fabrics that dovetailed with an interest and background in healthcare.

“I had a couple of people ask me if I was going to make masks,” Young said. “First, I said no. I thought the market would be flooded.” 

Young kept getting requests, though, so she decided to dive in. Telluride Active Design uses home-based, cut-and-sew seamstresses for Hoggle Goggle, but in the earliest days of the pandemic, Young didn’t have access to her usual team, so Gesmundo sewed prototypes based on the research the pair was undertaking.

Some early discoveries?

“I found this company called Filti that makes the only nanofiber material in the U.S. with 95 percent filtration,” Young said. “So, I ordered their filter and Deb researched and made filter pockets for them. Now we can now offer this filter with any of our masks.”

For fabric, Young uses the same high-quality, stretchy and light-weight material that she uses for Hoggle Goggle, a poly-spandex made from recycled plastic bottles.

Like Gesmundo, Young sells her masks at the Toggery and Two Skirts, with and without filter pockets, as well as neck gaiters that can be used with a nose clip and ear loops to function like a facemask. She gives a percentage of the proceeds to environmental and social nonprofits.

“It was all about coming up with what was the most comfortable, what fits the best, what has the highest efficacy in terms of preventing transmission and protecting the wearer,” Young said. “It was all so people will wear their mask.”

Fellow mask maker Reeve echoed this, saying, “My mantra is ‘Love your mask’ … because if you love your mask, maybe you will wear it.”