When Barb Sublette heard that people needed masks, she knew that she wanted to help. Sewing masks was something she was made to do. She’s a quilter who has been sewing almost her entire life, as well as using her skills to give back. Making masks is the easy part for Barb. The question was how to get them to the people who needed them.

Fortunately, she didn’t wait to think on that. Barb was placing an order online for quilt fabric, when she heard on the news that only essential businesses were going to stay open. She knew that mask supplies would go fast. She figured the fabric store was not going to be deemed essential and headed there right away.

Barb has plenty of fabric, but masks also need elastic. She only had a little at home. At the store, people were practicing social distancing. Barb was waiting for her turn in the aisle with elastic and started talking to another woman. That person turned out to be who Barb needed to meet. Michelle Isley works at Senior CommUnity Care PACE and with Volunteers of American Western Slope. Michelle said that they needed people to sew masks. Barb had found her connection and Lori had found a resource to make masks.

A tradition of helping

Barb, who is 62, is not the only person in her family who likes to sew and to help. She comes from a long line of quilters and seamstresses. Her family has a quilt with a star pattern from her grandmother that dates back to right after the Civil War. Barb’s 91-year-old mother is also sewing masks, a natural fit for someone who uses her skills to help others. Barb’s mother is part of People Comforters. The group makes “personal-sized” quilts for Jefferson County Victim Services. Sheriffs carry the quilts in their cars for victims of crimes and accidents.

In normal times, Barb makes quilts for The Dolphin House, a child advocacy center. The program gives blankets to children who come there. Some will get one of Barb’s quilts. Barb also organized a fundraiser for the program. Barb’s bookclub hosted a movie night for The Dolphin House, with a presentation from its director.

More than just knowing how to sew

Barb is a resourceful sewer. When the VOA needed medical gowns, they knew who could do it. They brought Barb bed sheets to use for the gowns. Some were fitted sheets, which turned out to serve two purposes. Elastic is in short supply and some it could be removed from fitted sheets, before using the material for gowns. The quarter-inch elastic was perfect for masks.

Barb also saw another way she could help. The pattern for the gowns was difficult to follow, but as an experienced seamstress, she could make it work. She knew that others needed to use this pattern and that it wouldn’t work for less experienced sewers. So, she re-did the pattern and took pictures of each step. In the end, she had a set of illustrated instructions that anyone could use.

Barb’s mother has sewn 135 face masks as of April and Barb isn’t sure how many she’s made herself. The folks at VOA counted 65 masks from Barb in early April, but she is still sewing masks and gowns for nursing homes and VOA PACE program staff. Barb has even made masks for the family and crew of one of her bookkeeping construction clients.

Barb and her mother’s skills and desire to help are invaluable. Armed with years of practical experience and ingenuity, they are doing much more than sewing masks. They are putting their talents in service of others. It is people like this who make our communities work, especially in times of need.

Read more about older people making a difference.

Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger