Mask making burnout from the perspective of a creative genius

Hey y’all and welcome to Behind the Seams with Andrea. If you sew, chances are good you’ve attempted to make at least one mask, for yourself and one for someone else, during the current COVID-19 crisis.

Because of my past experiences as an Etsy shop keeper, I am keenly aware of my distain for mass production. Quantities, of anything, beyond three send my brain into revolt. Which is exactly why I knew there was no way my current business model (one woman designer, maker, distributor) would sustain the seemingly endless demand for face coverings at this moment in history.

If you have no prior production or business experience you are likely caught off guard by the dread and loathing that is between you and your formerly happy zone. And, the guilt that surrounds refusing a request for life saving apparatus is paralyzing in and of itself.

Most of us, being compassionate human beings can not even imagine how to explain to someone in need that we only sew things that we actually want to make and/or we have no desire to convert our studios and creative spaces into sweatshops.

Mask making becomes especially frustrating if you are wasting insane amounts of time sourcing materials or optimizing the fit. These are aspects in which the commoner has no knowledge. They just assume we know what we are doing and it’s an easy project.

Even the simplest mask, which I think is the basic surgical mask, would take the most refined and disciplined person between 15 and 20 minutes to assemble from start to finish. Gathering the materials, prepping your work space, cutting, ironing, sewing and finishing must be factored in.

Now let’s say someone you love is in need of four masks asap. Just one for each member of their family. If you chain produce this order, you could complete the project in an hour. Maximum production for an eight hour sewing session would be 32 masks. If you worked seven days a week you could churn out 224 in a week. Let’s say you charge $12 per mask. You could earn $2688 (less supplies) per week x 52 weeks = $139,776 per year as a professional mask maker. Less taxes and materials, you would likely clear six figures. BUT, your quality of life would be next to nothing as you would soon develop back and neck pain, anxiety and depression because MOST of our workspaces and minds are not set up to accomplish this physically demanding and mindless type of work.

And, one may even argue, no one segment of the population should be held accountable for saving the world when there are in fact companies which could have and should have ramped up production at the first signs of COVID-19.

In steps, anger, rage and a flood of adrenaline to further perpetuate your exhaustion.

It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. It’s not selfish to say no. It’s not selfish to know your limits. It’s not selfish to preserve your sanity.

We are makers, not machines and as they say in the airline industry (which is where we prevail here in the Chapman household) you must first put on your own oxygen mask before you can help someone else with theirs.

Before you commit to sewing dozens if not hundreds of masks for your community it will be critical you obtain the proper tools to support this physically demanding work including a comfortable chair or standing workspace, sturdy table at the proper height for your body, sharp scissors and blades, large cutting mat and ruler…and whatever else you need to reduce the likely hood of carpal tunnel, back and neck pain, migraines and other ailments that are common consequences of poor posture.

Then carefully consider the order of operations for your mask making process and set up your space to specifically facilitate mass production. Work in batches: cut, sew, press, finish. Set your timer to allow for proper circulation and stretching, meals, hydration and bathroom breaks just as any company would have to afford their employees under the labor laws.

I can not possibly over emphasize to you how helpful it will be for you to avoid engaging in the drama and negativity of news while you are trying to work at this high level of production. Instead, set the “studio stage” for success and tap the universal energy by playing uplifting music, singing while you work and dancing during your breaks. Whenever possible, get outside and soak up some sunshine. Or, even better, work close to the window.

Whatever your sewing circumstance, please know that I sincerely honor your generosity and celebrate the creative genius in you! Be well my sweet friend and know I am sending you so much love, light and empathy during this challenging and unprecedented time.