Tina Lyon and her sister, Michele Stahl, sew hundreds of facemasks from late mother’s fabric in effort to help combat spread of COVID-19


Sewing sisters ... Tina Lyon (foreground at right) of Waukon and her sister, Michele Stahl of La Crosse, WI, spent a couple days sewing together in their late mother’s former sewing room at their dad’s house in Lansing. The two used their late mother’s fabric as part of a continuing project that has produced hundreds of free facemasks distributed throughout the local area. Submitted photo.

Many colors, sizes and styles ... Pictured above are just some of the hundreds of facemasks sewn by sisters Tina Lyon of Waukon and Michele Stahl of La Crosse, WI to be freely distributed throughout the local area to help combat the spread of COVID-19. The project has involved sewing three different adult styles, three different adult sizes, as well as teen and children masks made out of their late mother’s fabric. Submitted photo.

Where all the “help” is created ... Pictured above is the living room in the house of Al and Tina Lyon in Waukon, where Tina has been sewing facemasks for free local distribution to help combat the spread of COVID-19. She began sewing in March when the pandemic first made its presence known in Iowa and still has her home workshop set up. Submitted photo.

by Lissa Blake

What started out as a way to help a family member, turned into a way to help hundreds of others.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” said Tina Lyon, Waukon, of the 400 masks she and her sister, Michele Stahl, have sewn for people since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of this year.

Lyon said the idea for sewing masks got started as an effort to help her step-daughter have some clean N-95 mask covers. As a retired nurse with 30 years experience, Lyon said she understood the importance of trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 through the wearing of masks.

“Al’s daughter, Amanda Horne, works in Cedar Rapids in a dialysis unit. At the time, she was expecting, and masks were in short supply, so she was having to use the same one each day. I thought it would be nice to try and sew some mask covers for her, so she had several,” recalled Lyon.

Once she made the mask covers, she thought, “I can do better than this.”

Lyon decided to contact her sister, who lives in La Crosse, WI, for help.

“Our mom (Mabel Stahl of Lansing) passed away five years ago. She was an avid quilter, so I contacted Michele, who brought me a whole bunch of fabric to work with,” said Lyon.

Changing directions
Lyon said before COVID hit, she had just been invited to join the Lansing VFW Auxiliary, Post 5981 as a  volunteer.

“I come from a military family. My husband, Al, is a veteran. My sister served in the Gulf War, my nephew served during Operation Enduring Freedom and my grandpa was in the cavalry during World War I,” she said.

“I was planning to help with Bingo and other VFW events,” she continued. “Then COVID hit and many events the Auxiliary typically helps with were canceled. I was not currently working so I felt I could help in this way.”

Workers first
Lyon said although she wanted to be able to provide free masks to anyone, she decided to first focus on people who were out working in public on the front lines.

“I wanted to hit more people who were working, because there was a mask shortage at the time. I started with sewing some up for the Lansing IGA. Then I made some more and placed them on the bulletin board there,” she said.

Once word got out that Lyon was making masks, the orders started trickling in. In anticipation of salons reopening, Michelle Stiehl of Polished on Main in Lansing placed an order so she could supply them to her customers.

“I had some side orders from businesses. Then Good Sam, the Decorah Hospital and Gundersen … I did some for the Post Office and Milty’s … then some truck drivers,” she said.

She also reached out to Pastor Grant VanderVelden of First Presbyterian Church in Waukon and made about 35 masks for the workers who put together the community meals in Waukon the last Monday of each month.

“I told him if there were any left to hand them out wherever there was a need. Some of those went to TASC and then I made more for other TASC employees,” she said.

“I also made some for clients to have at Krambeer’s Barber Shop,” she said. “So far, they’ve just kind of gone all over.”

Lyon said her biggest order up to this point was 50 masks to the United Methodist Church in Lansing, where she is a member of the congregation. She has sewn all of the masks at no charge, although some people have insisted on giving her donations she has then used to purchase more supplies.

Some challenges
With all its successes, Lyon added her mask-making journey hasn’t been without its challenges.

“I hadn’t sewn since high school, other than a few repairs. I bought a used sewing machine two years ago, but when I wanted to use  it for this, it quit working on me. I used my late mother-in-law’s machine, and also my mother’s, after relocating the missing foot pedal,” she said.

Another obstacle was a shortage of elastic, because of so many people trying to make masks.

“I had to be creative … I tried potholder loops, some stretchy, bulky yarn. I cut up bungee cords,” she said.

Because Lyon wears glasses, she was sensitive to the fact that mask wearers often lament about their glasses fogging up.

“I tried a variety of options … I ordered metal nose pieces, I tried twisty ties and also used pipe cleaners. Floral wire works if you curl the ends so they don’t poke through. And you have to try to figure out a pocket for the nose piece,” she said.

She said she tried a variety of patterns and options and relied on a couple of Facebook friends, Laura Mumm of Lansing and Jackie Reikens of New Albin, to answer any questions.

“There are a lot of people doing this. If I had a sewing question, I’d just get on Facebook messenger,” she said.

Recognizing her efforts
Lyon said she was honored recently when Lansing VFW Auxiliary to Post No. 5981 President Barbara Fore passed her name along to someone higher in the Auxiliary organization for recognition.

“We haven’t been able to have meetings, so the Auxiliary presidents were asked to share the names of Auxiliary members in their communities who are doing things to help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lyon.

Making a difference
Lyon said although she has put in endless hours - sometimes sitting at her sewing machine from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. for several days in a row, she has really enjoyed the experience.

“It took a lot of determination. I ended up putting in a lot of time on this, but I felt it was worth it. I felt like I needed to help,” she said.

“The biggest thing is something so little can make such a big difference. I think as far as COVID-19 goes, everyone is aware of how serious it can be … I had a cousin diagnosed with COVID who recovered and a friend who recovered. Al had a cousin diagnosed who recovered as well … I am an advocate for stopping the spread, and I truly feel masks make a difference,” she said.

When asked how she and her sister, Michele, think her Mom would feel about them using her supplies to help others, she said, “We just figured (if she were alive) she’d be sewing her little heart out making masks,” she said.
 

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