Warren seamstress turns to making masks

Warren business owner switches from clothes to facemasks and has all the work she can handle

By Ted Hayes
Posted 4/7/20

Carol Riley has always loved to sew, and the Dublin, Ireland native designs and sells her hand-made clothing online and at her store, Tatters, in the old St. Jean the Baptiste Church her family owns …

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Warren seamstress turns to making masks

Warren business owner switches from clothes to facemasks and has all the work she can handle

Posted

Carol Riley has always loved to sew, and the Dublin, Ireland native designs and sells her hand-made clothing online and at her store, Tatters, in the old St. Jean the Baptiste Church her family owns at 324 Main St. in Warren. Things have changed though and for the past week, Ms. Riley has found a new product in desperate need here — facemasks.

Since well before Gov. Gina Raimondo recommended last week that all Rhode Islanders wear facemasks to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, Ms. Riley had been sewing and giving masks away to local hospitals and nursing homes — in total, about 350. Last week, when the recommendation came down that all should wear them, she decided to produce them for the public to help supplement the family’s reduced income. Able to make about 20 masks a day on her own, she has as much work as she can handle and is selling them online for $5 each. Customers who purchase them can browse through every day’s selection at the church. The foyer is left open, and she asks that customers only handle the mask they want.

“I’m spending so much time on this,” she said Monday. “I think on Friday I put in 15 hours. It’s very time-consuming.”

Ms. Riley is sewing the masks in her family’s home on Fried Avenue in Bristol. Using what stock of fabric she has on hand, the masks range from solid colors to patterned. She tries to accommodate order requests and has even made a few special one-offs — her mask has a zipper on the front in a nod to Hannibal Lecter.

She has a production line-style system in place, and completes one step at a time in lots of 20 masks. The work is repetitive and helps pass the time, she said.

“I’m a solitary person, so when I’m working I work alone,” she said. “So for me it’s not any different work-wise. Every now and then I need to get up because my back starts hurting, and I’ll need to take a break or else I’ll lose my mind.”

For her the hardest part about the crisis hasn’t been being forced to stay in, but giving up on the little things she once enjoyed in life:

“Just not being able to get a cup of tea with a friend” is one of the hardest parts, she said.
She also misses her family, which is scattered far and wide. While her husband Mike and one daughter are here, another daughter lives in Florida, one son lives in Geneva, Switzerland and another, who traveled to New Mexico just before the virus hit, is stranded there for the foreseeable future.

While she notes that the masks, like most, do not protect the wearer from becoming infected with the virus, they are useful in spreading the virus to others and the state Department of Health recommends that everyone wear some type of mask when in public.

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