Mildred is my bright blue Citroen C3 Picasso, who used to be driven by my late 93 yr old mother. Mildred is a bit like me ….getting on a bit in age, strange shape, usually reliable and has attitude with a capital kick ass “A” …. Mildred is more than somewhat tetchy at the moment … She has gone nowhere since her driver got “Shielded”. Mildred is beyond Grumpy as she hasn’t moved now for 7 months, no jolly jaunts or adventures that I could blog or write about as “Mildred’s Marvelous Meandering Musings”. I am fed up her glaring at me through the front window saying….. “Where are all these promised Marvelous Mildred MMMM blogs then?” … so OK Mildred, just for you, I will try a bit harder. My previous blogs can be found HERE

At the start of the Covid 19 Pandemic a local appeal was made for any “people who sew” to make scrubs bags for front  line medical staff. This was in response to an appeal from the Oxford University Hospitals Trust which wanted to supply each staff member with two bags. The OUH Trust runs the Horton General Hospital, the John Radcliffe, the Churchill Hospital and the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. Huge efforts had been taking place to adapt facilities at the JR and Horton to take the influx of coronavirus patients.


The laundry bags were simple drawstring bags, about the size of a pillow case rather like school PE bags. The fabric they were made from needed to be cotton or poly-cotton and able to withstand multiple hot washes. This enabled the staff members to take their work clothes home safely and wash them without removing them from the bag. Hundreds of Crafters across Oxfordshire joined together to make 6300 bags, which were distributed to hospitals, care homes, community nurses and paramedics. One of my lovely neighbours had sadly moved into a care home. She used to be an avid dressmaker and crafter and made all their own soft furnishings. Her husband gave me 4 huge boxes and several mahoosive bags of material that sadly she would never sew with again. This was then distributed among our local group for scrubs bags. One of our lovely volunteers took all the smaller pieces of material and with the help of others made face coverings/masks which were sold at a local farmers market to raise funds for YoCO (Youth Challenge Oxfordshire) which is a local charity and youth group which develops vulnerable young people aged 14-21 by personal challenge

They follow a guided 18 month programme designed to help them overcome the problems they face during teenage years by developing resilience and confidence. The programme includes education, team-work, citizenship, community development, fund raising projects, and residential volunteering trips within the UK and Overseas, including volunteering at the Nasio Trust in Kenya working with disadvantaged communities and vulnerable children. 

Through this the young people develop a greater awareness and appreciation of the lives of others and a greater level of confidence and personal development and to become effective citizens and to make good personal life choices. From the face coverings/masks they made and sold at the local market £500 was raised. My neighbour used to be a very popular local teacher, so her husband was delighted that her fabric was going to help young people here, and for their next trip to volunteer in Kenya.

I know blogs on UKQU are meant to be about quilts, not just about fabric or community initiatives. In Mildred’s normal meandering way there is one later…… sneak peek here of work in progress on a hand crank Singer 201 in the garden!

The next call for help came from our local GP’s practice who desperately needed surgical scrubs because any existing supplies were being prioritised for our local hospitals but the local Dr’s, Nurses and surgery staff needed scrubs urgently as well. This was so they could minimise any chance of cross contamination and be able to launder them at 60 degrees plus. My local friends know I have quite a substantial stash of fabric (sshhhh!) and appealed for my help. A total of 83 metres left my house, donated by me, over the next week. My husband was over the moon. I was shielded so my husband would put the fabric in my car, we would then wait 72 hours, to reduce any risk, as recommended at the time, of contamination. When my friends came round I would open the car from behind the front window using my key fob….. It was the car that kept on giving!

To say that some of my fabrics were somewhat “unusual” would be be a massive understatement. Try stark raving Bonkers instead! The fabric I donated included monsters, aliens, plump ladies swimming, surf boards,  tropical fish, ice cream, beach scenes of sun beds and ladies in swimming costumes, tropical flowers and foliage. We even had special requests for tartan and one local Dr wanted Pink Pigeons. Now this might seem unusual but for where I live it is quite normal because it is the unofficial town emblem, a Pink Pigeon. All because the eccentric late Lord Berners, who owned Faringdon House, used to dye his pigeons with harmless vegetable dye, a tradition that continues to this day throughout successive owners of Farindgdon House.

Well I didn’t have any pigeons but I did have some fairly garish funky birds. He loved them!

We soon became known locally as “The People Who Sew” and the other people in our group loved the funky fabric I had donated, because it brightened their day when sewing set after set of scrubs. We were very lucky to have a local lady who used to be a textiles lecturer at a local college, who now makes wedding dresses and costumes for local amateur dramatic productions, and she was absolutely ace at adjusting patterns to fit the actual bespoke size needs of individual personnel at our local practice. Another lady made bespoke embroidered patches for each set as well as sewing scrubs herself. Our group made over 60 sets of scrubs for the GP practice, plus some extra ones for the local Critical Care Mental Health team, who would normally wear their own clothes when working with clients. They needed scrubs to work with patients who had been admitted to the Great Western Hospital in Swindon who had been diagnosed with Covid. These patients were on a separate secure ward, but although nurses on that ward had access to issue scrubs, that didn’t include the Mental Health Nurses, so we made them some fun ones.

The local White Horse Medical practice were so chuffed with what had been made that they put a gallery up on on the Practice FB page with a fashion parade of the latest scrubs as they arrived. When I went in for my flu jab in November they were still wearing them. I complemented one of the nurses on her unusual scrubs, turquoise monsters that look like alien beings, and she then told me that a local lady had kindly donated a lot of zany material, but that best bit of all they were softer and so much more comfortable than issue scrubs and washed well. I admitted that it was me that had donated a substantial amount, basically all the bonkers stuff. She told me that her colleagues loved them. She also said that with younger patients they were perfect because the children were distracted by the fabric and became less scared of the masks and visors.

The visors had actually been 3D printed by a local good friend of mine. Raoul is an IT Guru, Astronomer (Fellow of the Institute of Astronomy no less) and total Space Geek. Prior to making the visors his 3D printing was mainly scale models of spacecraft. He has given some amazing talks locally to young and young at heart people to get them interested in astronomy and space. He put out a local plea for elastic, because everything was sold out online, or on a long lead time, so I was able to help him with my late mother’s elastic stash. Nothing was ever thrown away by my mother. Tin after tin of buttons, knicker elastic, suspenders, old zips, bra extenders, elastic for half slips, darning wool, press studs, kilt pins, and bias binding. I had already had a mini cull of stuff I was never likely to use, but kept the elastic and buttons because it might come in handy one day. It did!

 

 

The next thing our local group did, after taking well earned temporary respite from the scrub making was face coverings, setting up community mask trees at 4 locations in the town, one at a Tesco supermarket, one at an independent coffee shop called Stay Grounded, another at a small local Costcutter convenience store, but most importantly one at the Faringdon Food bank run by our Town Council. I was of the opinion that if you needed to use the food bank, you didn’t have spare money to spend on disposable or reusable face covering, although you need them to use public transport or to go shopping to comply with legislation.

 

The face coverings at all the 4 locations were given away for free, but if the recipient wanted to make a small donation it was welcomed to help out with the purchase of elastic, silicone elastic adjusters, aluminium nose bridges and bags to put them in. Excess donations would be split 50/50 between the Faringdon Food Bank to buy new food supplies, and the YoCO youth group which was mentioned earlier. To date 2859 face coverings have been made (excluding the Poppy Fund Raising Masks/Face Coverings) and donations have totalled £2,014.53. Just £155 was used to purchase new elastic etc, and £929 has been donated to each of the two porganisations, the Faringdon Food Bank and YoCO. Just 15 of us made the face coverings and it is great that 2 local organisations have also benefitted. 

I made a mixture of shapes and types and used my husband as a test guinea pig because as a driving instructor he has to put on a clean mask for each pupil, after sanitising the car, and then wear it for the entire lesson, as does the pupil. I used the Creative Grids acrylic template to start with to make a shaped face covering/mask. To make it a recommended 3 layer mask I added a fusible woven cotton interfacing to the outer layer, such as Pellon SF101 or Visiline G700. The addition of bendable aluminium nose bridges and silicone elastic adjusters ensured that the adjustable fit suited most users. 

I also made some pleated 3 layer masks with the lining made of double layer fabric with a central slit where the user could add a disposable non woven filter if required or desired. These appeared to be more comfortable to wear especially if you have a beard.

 

An idea to make Poppy themed face coverings was then suggested to support the British Legion in their fundraising because this year street collections would not be happening and donations would be much reduced due to Covid. Two of “The People Who Sew” have served in the Army themselves, and others in the group have connections to the Armed Forces. I am a former servicewoman and thought it was a great idea, BUT thought that it absolutely had to officially involve our local RBL branch to give this project total credibility and accountability. Too many people with the best of intentions attempt fundraising for all sorts of different causes without necessarily having the right safeguards in process to pass scrutiny. With their backing and endorsement it ensured that people making a donation in exchange for a mask would be totally confident that every penny raised would be going direct to the RBL in official collection tins. The fundraising manager of our local RBL branch was totally delighted with this innovative idea, so much so that some of the local RBL members wanted to sew them too, and match us mask for mask in the end. We did 498 poppy themed face coverings, and I think they managed the same, bless them! 

 

As an Armed Forces Disabled Veteran myself, and curator of the local Fabric Stash Central, I knew I had even more Poppy material in there somewhere, having just made a Poppy themed quilt for my neighbours. The rummage successfully yielded 15 metres of fabric for our group. So about 1000 face coverings have been made. We won’t know what the final total is until this weekend, but in just one day at the last Saturday Market before Lockdown on the 24th October, they raised £1000 in exchange for these face coverings. That was only for a few of them with a lot of masks left and even more in production. With a total of 1000 now sewn we have high hopes of filling at least some of the gap in local fundraising efforts. Some of us already know other people in the group, and we will hopefully meet other volunteers in due course when it is safe and allowed to have a socially distanced meet up to celebrate our massive achievements over the last few months.

 

Every group needs an organiser and a friend of mine Coleen Gray became the central logistics manager and organiser, sharing out material I had donated, collecting finished face coverings, but importantly keeping as all enthusiastic with regular updates on what we had achieved. She restocked the local Community Mask Trees, which were often emptied in less than a day, and even appearing on Radio Oxford on many occasions to give an update on our progress. She was on the Radio Oxford again today, which is Armistice Day, promoting the locations of the fundraising Poppy Masks. 

 

I promised you a quilt earlier, because normally my blogs are all quilting related, and this blog has been more about fabric and community involvement. I received the left overs from the ladies making the scrubs after they had cut them out.  I then made my own Lockdown/Shielding quilt featuring monsters and aliens which seemed appropriate for what we were all going through.

It is just 5” squares in the monster fabric which was made by Makower, I then added in complimentary fabric to make the quilt big enough for a sofa cuddle. I used variegated Mettler thread and inbuilt embroidery stitches on my Pfaff sewing machine to quilt it.

So Mildred …… I finally did another blog, albeit more meandering than my usual efforts. Normal service will resumed ASAP.  

Although I am a fan of all things up-cycling or reusing this is one trend I will not be trying anytime soon!