Costume makers aid those in need of face masks

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Members of the McCarter Theatre Center Costume Shop are still utilizing their skills, as the group creates face masks for those on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah Romagnoli, a former Princeton area resident who has worked at the theater for about five years, has been making masks at her home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, since theater productions were canceled.

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“I started talking to my sister about creating masks since the end of February. She had signed up to work for the U.S. military as contract doctor and they sent her to Louisville, Kentucky,” Romagnoli said. “She was there in the middle of February and I made my first mask on March 17 after she had requested me to build one.”

She has sent her sister eight masks since she began making them.

Romagnoli had created five different models of her masks from her designs. She has now switched her focus to building masks from a sterilization wrap called Halyard H600. The wrap is used to protect surgical instrument trays in medical operations.

“The wrap does not allow germs and particles in. I had previously gotten my hands on an H300 wrap which is slightly thinner, but is still expensive. I started making masks from it and have given them to doctors who have asked me for masks,” Romagnoli said. “I cannot claim that it will keep everything out, but it is better than most masks.”

She added that H600 or H300 wraps can be used as lining under cotton fabric and can be hand washed.

“I have been making a shaped mask that fits comfortably. I have been lining it with H600 as one of the layers and putting cotton on one or two sides,” Romagnoli said. “It takes me about an hour to create each of these Halyard masks. Outside of doctors and nurses, I have made masks for medics, dietitians and pharmacists.”

Currently, Romagnoli has made more than 100 mask since she first began in March.

Promoting that people wear masks, wash their hands and staying vigilant about hygiene stems from her grandfather’s work during the Korean War, according to Romagnoli.

“My grandfather on my mother’s side was a doctor in Seoul during the Korean War. His responsibility was setting up all of the small clinics and checking to make sure they had everything they needed,” Romagnoli said. “He was a big proponent of washing hands and masking up. He contracted tuberculosis because he was seeing so many hospitals and clinics and he died.”

Other members of the costume shop have been making fabric masks to also combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members are creating the masks for the Mercer Mask Project, a not-for-profit group of Mercer County residents and sewers.

“For the project I have made more than 120 masks and started working on isolation gowns last week as well. I have made masks with my own personal supplies and those from neighbors and friends,” said Erika Toney, draper for McCarter Theatre. “I had a stash of fabric from work for a quilt, which helped make my first masks. McCarter Theatre donated some fabric which I have been using as well. I am also using the kits from the Mercer Mask Project.”

The project prepares handmade face masks for medical professionals, patients, essential personnel, supermarkets and assisted living facilities.

“They have people donating fabric to them everyday it is really amazing. The community has really come together not only help the people on the front line, but nursing homes and supermarkets,” Toney said. “They have the donations come in, people wash the fabric, sort them out and make kits. I drop off a set of masks and pick up another kit.”

She added that the fabric that members have been utilizing is mostly quilting cotton, 100% cotton sheeting or shirting.

The masks are provided free of charge and the group has delivered more than 2,000 masks, according to Mercer Mask Project organizers. The project connects with volunteers creating masks and to obtain donated cotton fabric through social media.

“The first week after the theater had to close its doors the costume community just banded together. We are not people who just sit around we are doers,” Toney said. “Mercer Mask Project was excited to have the skills from our folks to make a slightly more complicated shaped mask that works well over a N95 mask and makes it more reusable: also, masks that you can put a filter in and put it through a sanitizer for medical professionals.”

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