UW News

April 23, 2020

Face masks sewn for UW housing, dining, custodial staff

UW News

Derrick Van Kirk got the request early this month: Could a makerspace on campus produce some cloth masks? The question came from a UW Housing & Food Services facilities manager who had safety for custodial staff in mind. These workers could benefit from washable, reusable masks. The idea soon extended to other HFS staff, including dining and food service employees across campus who are doing essential work and want to complete their tasks safely.

Van Kirk, an instructional shop technician for UW Housing & Food Services Makerspaces — the MILL, the DabbleLab and McMahon8 — was happy to help. He assembled a socially distanced production line in the MILL’s large work space where a team of facilities and housing staff and students work at sewing machines.

Using donated cotton fabrics and repurposed bedding from Haggett Hall, staff and students cut the material to size and sew layers of cloth to create the body of the mask. A small piece of pipe cleaner is sewn into the seam above the nose for a customized fit, and an opening is left for the wearer to put an extra filter inside the mask if they choose. Finally, material for straps is cut and sewn to be tied behind the head.

The goal is to make at least 900 masks — about 60 masks per day — and offer them for free to UW housing, custodial, dining and food service workers. Most of the materials for the masks have been donated from HFS and other UW departments, creating a splash of different fabrics and colors.

Van Kirk is especially pleased that the spaces and resources he manages can be of service when there is a community need to fill. In addition to producing cloth masks, the MILL’s 3D printers recently helped in a UW-wide effort to make durable face shields for medical workers.

“We have all of these machines here on campus,” Van Kirk said. “That we can do stuff like this — it’s a passion of mine. It’s been great.”