In Mitzvah Stories

The Sewing Army

By Karen Kollins


The Sewing Army, started by a Toronto based Fashion Designer, was established to respond to the growing need for PPE for essential workers as Toronto moved into the pandemic lockdown. Bringing together sewers and other helpers from across North America, the Sewing Army has made and donated close to 26,000 masks, scrub caps and gowns within its first month alone.

When I first learned of the need for handmade masks I decided to try to put my basic sewing skills to the task. A few YouTube tutorials later I found myself filling my time between work and family by sewing. Responding to a friend’s need for masks for The John Howard Society of Toronto I donated 50 masks for both their clients and front line workers. My second donation was 20 masks for L’Chaim Retirement Home for use by residents and staff outside of work. In addition to these donations, I have responded to friends, neighbours and even Facebook strangers who have requested masks.

The most inspiring thing about The Sewing Army has been watching this amazing grassroots effort begin from nothing and turn into something phenomenal. Contributors include not only sewers but a collection of individuals looking to help – individuals providing fabric donations, people donating time to drive finished products across the city, steelworkers who have donated metal strips for mask nose clips, etc. There is a way for anyone to pitch in and help. If you have a sewing machine hiding in the basement, check out The Sewing Army for all the resources you need to help you make masks. There is nothing formal about being part of The Sewing Army. Anyone can contribute to any organization in need. If you know of an organization looking for PPE you can make a request and one of the hundreds of local sewers doing this incredible work will answer your call.

For each mask, I have made I can’t help but think of my late grandparents, who came to Canada as garment workers and relied on their sewing machine for their livelihood. Today, thousands of sewing machines across Canada are being used to ensure the safety of our country’s most vulnerable. As people who dedicated so much of their lives to fighting for the rights of others, I believe that my grandparents and their brothers and sisters in the textile trades would have done the same, using their sewing machines and their skills for good.


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