Written by Susan Little and posted by Judith Purdell-Lewis
Around St. John’s there are many Crafters. In non- pandemic times they meet on Wednesday afternoons and create amazing work. Some knit, some crochet and some sew; others use a combination of skills. Some can knit a baby’s sweater (without a stitch dropped) in two colours in the span of a weekend. Others can knit a sheep (9x12”) almost overnight for the Locke Street Christmas contest or make sample crafts for Messy Church the next day. However, there is one person who has never joined the Wednesday group but who truly deserves the name “Crafter”.
That person is Susanne Adams. She has done a lot of sewing around St. John’s: from the mending of Servers’ gowns to the creating the colourful banners still hanging in the stairway to the Activity Centre, there are many signs of her work.
Recently I asked her which handiwork she remembers most fondly. She burst into a laugh and answered, “Costumes for the Epiphany Pageant!”
She then related how when St. John’s had its annual Epiphany pageant, she was very busy with repairs and sometimes she had to create a new costume. “You see,” she went on to explain, “the Pageant was an opportunity to bring new comers into the life of the parish by giving them ‘safe’ roles to play. It wasn’t unusual, then, that sometimes a newcomer would need a costume specially fitted or adjusted.”
“Sometimes,” Susanne added, “there was not much time at all. Although St. John’s has a treasure of costumes for all shapes and sizes, sometimes with little notice, I was able whip up a costume that bedazzled the congregation and made our newcomer feel comfortable and valued.”.
Susanne has demonstrated her love of crafts for a long time at St. John’s. From making personalized greeting cards to stamped home-made aprons for the Church bazaar, she has always been ready to apply her skills. As part of the Church School, she was regularly putting together crafts for any occasion. Were we surprised, then, when COVID-19 arrived in March of 2020, that she was one of the first people making masks?
She started off making the pleated ones and then branched out into the 3-D one, which has proven more popular. From the start she used 100% pure cotton because they were more hygienic and safe. She used three layers of material and washed them before cutting and sewing. It was quite the process. I streamlined it so that I prewashed the cotton, pressed and cut out the masks all at once. Then I started to sew according to thread colour.”
“I had to use a lot of math to get the most out of a piece of material,” she comments. Throughout the process, she experimented with the best nose piece. She discovered that it needed to be metallic for a better fit. “It took a bit of experimenting, too, developing my own patterns especially for adults with large or small faces. One size does not fit all,” she laughs. She also branched out to make masks for children. Isn’t that just like Susanne?
When she began making masks, Susanne was using up her own store of materials; she was happy to be down-sizing but then she needed to buy more fabric. She gave masks away to some friends but soon discovered the noticeable costs she was accruing. She wrestled with pricing her work: she found it difficult to ask people for donations to cover her costs but she had to be practical. So a suggested donation of five dollars per mask began her ‘business’.
When asked what astonished her most about making the masks, Susanne was astounded to hear people requesting ten and twenty masks at a time. Then some local professional offices asked for stocks of 20 to 100. “I couldn’t believe it!” she exclaims. “When my machine broke down mid-way through a large order, a good friend loaned me her brand new machine, still in the box, while my machine was repaired. Actually, it was a bit crazy!” she reflects.
She described how sewing became a full time job, every day and every weekend, sometimes never stopping to break except to eat and sleep. However, she found great satisfaction with how people responded to her work. She was happy to be able to fill a desperate need for safe personal wear.
Before Christmas, she diversified. Some hospital front line workers asked Susanne to make scrub caps to wear at work, to cover their hair. She quickly responded with colourful ones with Christmas designs to lift their spirits. Similarly, she made masks for children with their favourite cartoon characters or super heroes. She also responded to calls for loyalty masks for different sports team enthusiasts so they could cheer on their favourite team. “I love making people happy. It really wasn’t that hard,” she says modestly.
Has the mask making had any fun to it?
“For sure,” Susanne responds. “When Christmas rolled around, I made masks with all sorts of Christmas designs. And after Christmas, when everything was going into lockdown, I had to find some heart-lifting materials.” So when the first signs of spring appeared, so did Susanne’s ‘new line’ of fresh and lively materials! They were gone in no time. Three times since March 2020, she thought her job was over when her store of materials was depleted. When asked what lies ahead, she pauses and thinks about the Fall. “Will kids need ‘Back-to-school’ masks? Will the rest of us continue to need masks for certain occasions in our lives, post pandemic? Who knows?” she responds.
A seamstress for all seasons? Susanne’s humility would deny such a claim but the facts speak for themselves. To date, she has sewn over 1600 masks, with probably 200 child-sized ones included. She has donated almost $5000 to St. Matthew’s House last year and this year so far. In the meantime, we thank God for her creativity and her generosity. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1Corinthians 12:7) Her dedication to excellence in crafting and her commitment to brightening the world have helped hundreds enjoy life a bit more during this pandemic and to stay safe while doing so. Alleluia!
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We acknowledge with gratitude and respect that our parish is located on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples. We are located in the Lower Chedoke Watershed.