Stitching In

Using needle, thread, and a sense of fashion to help in the war against COVID-19

BY Amanda Lisk

SSergey and Lesley Tamaev
Husband-and-wife team Sergey and Lesley Tamaev make cloth face masks from the Rove and Roam studio in downtown Wilmington. Allison Potter.

In 1914, the popular tongue twister “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers” depicted the importance of seamstresses in the war effort. “Susie on her Singer” became a mantra for those providing much-needed clothing to troops during World War I. 

World War II again called on sewers as demand for military uniforms caused a nationwide shortage of fabric. On Feb. 17, 1942, some 800 fashion industry representatives led by H. Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus met at Manhattan’s Hotel Astor to figure out how to help.

In 2020 we’ve experienced a different kind of war — a war on Covid-19. The troops on the front lines are the medical workers in the hospitals, and our version of a fabric shortage was for face masks.

From all parts of the nation, private industry from large to small stepped up to meet the need.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center posted requests for face masks on their website along with a YouTube tutorial on how to make them from home. The JOANN Fabric and Craft Store in Wilmington handed out free mask-making kits to anyone willing to stitch in for a good cause.  

“Every day we gave away kits able to make 10 masks each,” says Lynn Ethridge, the store’s inventory coordinator. “Many of our customers have made hundreds of masks. One customer made over 1,500 masks.”

Clothing designer Lesley Tamaev decided to have some fun with the task, giving her masks some flair. She is a former design director for Ralph Lauren sleepwear and now has her own clothing line called Rove & Roam headquartered in downtown Wilmington. With everything from plaids to florals on hand, she designed a face covering prototype, joined the local chapter of Open Source Covid-19, and donated as many masks as she and husband Sergey could make in a day.

“Once I put a listing for ‘free masks for healthcare workers’ on our website, orders started flowing in,” Tamaev says.

Messages of thanks along with selfies flooded her in-box.

“Not only are they beautifully made, but the fit is perfect as well,” wrote one happy recipient. “Thank you for your great product and for sharing the free ones with those who need it most!” wrote another.

As demand grew, Tamaev put the masks for sale, promising one would be donated for each sold.

The masks are made with pre-washed woven cotton as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and each has its own name. 

“I think people enjoy them, and are drawn to the names,” laughs Tamaev.

There’s “Cat People,” covered in cat faces, “Feeling Ferny” made with a print of ferns, and “Island Bliss,” a Hawaiian print one restaurant ordered for all its workers.

“It’s Saturday night!” was the caption on a post on the Rove & Roam Instagram feed with a picture of a model striking a dance move wearing a “That 70’s Floral” face mask.

“This wasn’t in our plan for the upcoming season, but plans change,” Tamaev says.

Leave a Comment