Sewing in Solidarity

Updated: May 26


On Sunday March 22, 2020, Rising Voices Board Member, Mai Xiong presented a tutorial on how to sew cloth face masks. While we know that cloth face masks are no replacements for approved PPE (personal protective equipment) for healthcare workers, our capitalist system and inadequate federal response have exacerbated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic leading some health care providers desperately seeking crisis-solutions.


Mai wrote a blog post telling her story and what inspired her to want to create this tutorial. Jump to the bottom to find the recording, patterns, and how to help.


My name is Mai Xiong. I am a mom of four young children, ages 1, 3, 5 and 7 and I am a small-business owner. My husband and I have a boutique clothing store on East 12 Mile Road in Warren, Michigan. I started the clothing company out of our 3-bedroom ranch home in 2018. At that time, I had been a work-at-home mom for several years. I have a BFA in Graphic Design and I was designing products and building websites for other companies from home so that I could be with our four children.


Our clothing company quickly grew. We used our sunroom as the rack-room, our guest bedroom as my sewing room and the corner TV room was my computer desk. We fulfilled orders and shipped them as they came in from our e-commerce website that I had set up. After a year of operating out of our home, we decided that it was time to expand into our own commercial space. We leased a small space near our home to use as our boutique showroom and we have been open for business for a year now!


When I was about 11-years old, my mother –who was also a work-at-home mom caring for my 8 siblings and I, would go to a nearby manufacturing company in Ohio to pick up large boxes of hundreds of sweaters with greek letters on them. I did not know it at the time, but these were the same sweaters that students wore around the country to represent their college organizations. The company would hot press the greek letters onto the sweatshirts and hoodies, then my mom would bring them home for us to sew the zig-zag outline on the letter to finish them.


We earned $0.50 per letter even though the company could sell them for upwards of $40 a piece. We literally made pennies growing up. I honestly used to hate that my mom would make me help her sew these sweaters. While everyone else was outside playing after school, I learned how to use a sewing machine to help my mom make ends meet.


My father worked at a nearby factory, he made $6 per hour working as a machine operator. Both of my parents spoke very little English. My family and I are refugees of war. My parents were born in the mountains of Laos. During the Vietnam War, my parents had to escape out of Laos into neighboring Thailand. I was born in the refugee camps there in 1984. When I was three years old, we were sponsored and accepted into the United States under the refugee relocation program.


Now that I look back, I am so grateful for the life-long skills that my mom taught me. My hard working ethics, determination to succeed and entrepreneurial spirit is a direct result of my mother and my father.


Like many people across the country, as a self-employed, small business owner with a family to care for, we are going through very difficult times right now. But when I look at my childhood, I realize that we have been through difficult times before and we will get through this time in our life too.


Due to the COVID-19, I closed my shop to the public and have been home with my children, who are also out of school because of the shutdown. I worry about our medical professionals, doctors, nurses, first responders, elected officials and the people who are still working at the companies that haven’t shut down yet.


I know that there is a severe shortage of face masks now, and I asked myself, what could I do to contribute and still be able to care for my children and protect our health and safety? I did what I know best and that is to sew for a cause. I decided to make these reusable, eco-friendly cotton masks out of my left-over scraps of fabric. I hope others will find some peace of mind during this time of uncertainty wearing these. My goal is to make as many as I possibly can to help everyone who is in need. As a result of my passion and others who share a similar vision, there has been a growing community effort from crafters, stay-at-home moms and dads and concerned citizens who have reached out wanting to help do their part too. I hope that this small gesture will bring hope to someone who is in need.

Rising Voices calls on the President to use the Defense Production Act to ensure our hospitals and front line healthcare workers have the PPE and equipment they need to save lives. Now is not the time for half-measures, including having states compete with one another to purchase necessary tools on the private market.


However, if you sew and can volunteer to make cotton face masks, make one for yourself to reduce the number of private citizens purchasing supplies that should go to hospitals first, and help Rising Voices make masks that can be donated to facilities accepting cloth masks.


Here's the tutorial, the N95-shaped mask pattern can be found here, and the write up can be found here; and the pleated surgical style mask pattern can be found here, and instructions can be found here.


Join the Facebook group here to help with our coordinated volunteer sewing effort!

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