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12.08.2020

Heather Porter ACR: Lockdown life in my living room face-covering factory

Icon member Heather Porter ACR talks about making face coverings for conservators while on furlough from the National Trust. 

In March I was one was one of millions of fortunate workers put on the government furlough scheme. I am employed as Senior Conservator (Upholstery) at the National Trust. Initially I was secretly quite pleased to have uninterrupted time to progress a never-ending list of DIY jobs, interspersed with a long walk every 3 days. What wasn’t to love! But as the weeks went on the feelings of guilt about not putting myself forward to do something for the national effort increased. I can use a sewing machine; I should have been sewing scrubs for the NHS. By the time I looked into it, the local groups said they didn’t need any more home sewers.

A friend was making face coverings and giving them away to friends and family. Good idea, I could do that. Even better, I could make them for the National Trust, but the caveat of furlough means you can’t provide a service to your employer, so that option was out. I downloaded some designs, watched videos, and sent handfuls of early attempts to friends for feedback. Conclusion – one of the fitted designs was most popular and men have very large heads. Adjustments followed.

In June I attended the Textile Group Zoom AGM and presentations. One of the conservators in private practice mentioned kitting out her studio with PPE, including face coverings, for when social distancing isn’t possible and for meeting clients. But she was mindful of waste from disposable masks. Maybe there was an opportunity here. So I pitched an idea to the Textile Committee – could ‘we’ make and give away a face covering to everyone in Icon (I like to think big! I later checked – there are 2000 members. Problem).

As some people are being recalled from furlough there is a psychological shift among those of us still at home. I have time and nothing much to do or worry about, so I decided that cutting and sewing small bits of fabric would become my occupation. It is a small gesture that I can do for another conservator – make and send a face covering. We all need them. Perhaps others have done the same.

To get the ball rolling the Textile Group set up a sew-along Webinar workshop, which was great fun for me to teach. Fully illustrated instructions were posted for download on the Textile Group page and everyone was prepared with their fabric, sewing machine and steam iron. Regardless of whether those people had already made their own face coverings or it was their first attempt, it was actually really nice to do an activity with other people for a change.

To scale up further I’d like to offer a face covering to Icon members who would benefit from having one to hand at work for those times that you just can’t get away with not needing one. There are problems with materials supply costs, admin and distribution. To help with this the Textile Group generously bought some fabric and these face coverings are now ready for distribution.

There are two designs, both are made with a double layer of tightly woven cotton / polycotton and are supplied with elastic ear loops. These face coverings do not have a filter pocket (there are plenty face coverings with filters available online). Wearing a cloth face covering can reduce, but will not prevent, the spread of infection from Covid19.

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How to receive a face covering

If you would like a face covering, please send an email to: iconfacecovering@gmail.com with your name in the title box and you will receive an automatic reply asking for some further information and requesting that you send us a self-addressed envelope (to cover postage costs). Fabrics choices change frequently as new materials are purchased so we will email you a photo of two fabric options and you can select the one you like best. There are currently about 100 face coverings available.

If you would like to make a face covering for yourself, friends and colleagues, written instructions detailing how to make both designs will remain available on the Textile Group page. If you would like to donate cotton shirting fabric (patterned or plain), make a financial donation to material costs or contribute to the process please also use the gmail address to contact us.

Stay well.

Icon staff were lucky to receive a batch of their very own masks made by Heather. 

“We were delighted to receive Heather’s generous offer to supply the Icon staff with face masks, and I suspect that we are now amongst the best dressed shoppers in town. The masks are beautifully designed and stitched – demonstrating the attention to detail that conservators are renowned for!" Icon Chief Executive Sara Crofts commented. 

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