LACONIA — In mid-March Katie Haddock was working on a nautical-themed quilt for the young son of a friend.
Haddock has not worked on that quilt for weeks now, instead turning her skills to cranking out face masks for health-care workers around the Lakes Region.
She and 100-plus other members of the Belknap Mill Quilters Guild have, as of Monday, produced 3,354 masks which have gone to Lakes Region General Hospital, nursing homes, senior living facilities and social service agencies.
For guild members, it’s a labor of love and gives them a sense of purpose in the midst of the social upheaval brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guild members started making the masks on March 26, Haddock said.
It was on that day that the U.S. became the country with the most coronavirus cases in the world — about 85,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The death toll nationwide was 1,300. As of Monday the number of cases had soared to 978,680, and the number of fatalities had reached 55,266, according to Johns Hopkins.
“Our members feel ‘I’m doing something’ (productive during a difficult time). Instead of dwelling on the fact that I can’t get out,” Haddock said.
Quilters typically have a half-dozen projects going on at any one time, and so they have lots of fabric on hand, Haddock pointed out.
But as shoppers scavenge to find toilet paper and other quarantine essentials, Haddock and her fellow quilters have been struggling to find one necessary item for the masks: elastic.
“We’re had to be creative,” Haddock said about coping with the scarcity. At one point they bought up skinny headbands from a dollar store and used them for the mask’s elastic cord, she explained.
With the need to maintain social distancing, the guild has set up four distribution points around the area — one each in Laconia, Sanbornton, Belmont and Meredith. Each is located on a porch of a guild member’s house. On the porch are two 44-gallon plastic tubs. One is for quilters to drop off their finished masks. The other contains supplies for making more masks.
Haddock periodically goes around to the distribution points, replenishes the supplies, and collects the completed masks and then brings them to the places that need them.
Those places include Lakes Region General Hospital, the Belknap County Nursing Home, St. Francis Home, the New Hampshire Veterans Home, and Taylor Community. But other groups and organizations have benefited from them too, including Central New Hampshire VNA & Hospice, GOT Lunch Laconia, the Salvation Army, and Meals on Wheels.
Haddock is certain that virtually all guild members are making masks these days. Those that are not making them as part of the organized effort are making them for their friends and neighbors, she said.
While the group has been able to produce more than 3,300 masks the demand continues. For those who must wear a mask for all or most of their working day, they do not last long.
“They don’t always hold up that well in the wash,” Haddock explained.
Some quilters understand all too well the importance of adequate protective equipment. Haddock’s fellow quilter and guild member, Judy Robertson, is a retired nurse. So far she has made 390 masks, Haddock said.
Quilting is more than a hobby. It’s an expression of dedication, Haddock said. And so it is not surprising that quilters have thrown themselves into this undertaking.
“It’s a lot of work to quilt,” Haddock said. “That’s what makes it so special. It’s a gift of love. It’s stitched from the heart.”