2020 began with a fresh promise. I had purchased a sewing machine for myself practically free thanks to the credit I got for opening a new credit card. While I am not the kind to fall for gimmicks offered by credit card companies, this one was appealing since we shop at this online store ALL the time. The promise of earning a certain percent back on every purchase was tempting and of course the fact that I wanted to teach myself how to sew but had no idea how to and did not want to spend a lot of money had a lot to do with this decision as well.
The Sewing Machine
The sewing machine arrived at the end of December 2019 and I just let it sit there, unopened. Once I opened it, I let it sit there, this time opened but because I was so intimidated by all the paraphernalia, it just lay there. Finally, when I did get the courage to set everything up, watch YouTube videos for hours, and learned how to thread the needle, I went on a roll. I sewed every newbie and beginner project I could find online. Bookmarks, coin purses, zipper pouches, grocery bags, button purses, scrunchies, and other little things. The projects I enjoyed the most were different kinds of bags/pouches. I have a bunch of them now and use them for various things. I made pouches for Aaron, the kids, and other members of the family. I made personalized drawstring bags as gifts for the kids’ friends. It was all coming together. The CRICUT machine, the sewing machine, the creativity…all oozing out of me in different ways and I loved every single moment of it.
Then, COVID hit! My reinvention journey had just started and I had no idea! Of course, in proclaiming a reinvention of myself for what in reality is merely an adaptive personality or answering the need of time, I am word-spinning a serendipitous process that simply found me at the right time.
Typically, sales of my handmade items at the beginning of a year is extremely slow or nonexistent. People are so cashed out from all the holiday shopping that there simply is no reason to buy anything not needed for anyone in the first few months of the year. I get that. However, I had no idea what an abysmal year it would really be in terms of sales. No thanks to COVID that got worse over the months, I did not do any of the face-to-face festivals I usually do at different times – spring festivals, fall, holiday markets, and so on.
I had been warned by my tax software that if I continued showing losses so many years in a row, I was most likely going to lose my small business tax status. I couldn’t fake a profit. I have never profited from my “business”. Because I love making my dot art, I spend a lot of money on the best supplies. The supplies, along with fees for all the festival booths, takes a lot of effort and money, leaving me with no real income or profit. What could I do? I was and still am running a legitimate business though and it wasn’t like I was choosing not to make money! The stress over potentially losing my tax status would have to wait. I had things to do with no places to be!! That’s when a new need emerged: The need for masks, lots and lots of them. So I started making them…lots and lots of them.
I had a sewing machine and more fabric than a beginner should ever stash away and I decided to make use of it. The first couple attempts didn’t work well but I persisted until I finally found a model that worked for me. Just weeks before, we had bought a 3D printer. I recruited Aaron to make the neck hooks so those who could not use masks around their ears could use the adjustable neck hooks instead and still benefit from a mask.
Masks, masks, everywhere and the problems
I presented the fact that I was making masks, completely free to essential workers, on a couple of social groups of which I am a part. Within minutes, I had orders for over 200 masks. I worked hard, effortfully, diligently, and as fast as I could but then the problems started – first, I ran out of elastic – so I posted this on a neighborhood community email list. I had one lady immediately respond and offer me two rolls of her elastic which I gratefully accepted. Then, I ran out of those. I ordered on Amazon, on Ebay, and Etsy. Shipping times were getting extended due to COVID and I couldn’t promise a quick return on the masks. I worked as hard as I could but I was only as fast as the elastic I had. I removed the elastic off of a fitted sheet, I even stripped scrunchies off their elastic but things took their time. Even so, within a month, I had already donated nearly 150-175 masks to essential workers including nurses, daycare workers, truck drivers, and even a cop (we even drove to his house to drop it off since they were unable to pick it up).
A growing community
I loved the growing community of sewers that were emerging everywhere. Facebook groups had requests from nursing homes, small private clinics that got left out of the PPE distribution, and other places, and hundreds or perhaps even thousands of ladies (almost all were women) worked day and night sewing masks to meet these needs. My favorite NPO that I support here locally started handing out kits to those who had sewing machines but no other resources so they could at least sew the masks at home, they gave out kits for visor guards so people could make them at home and drop them off at collection centers, volunteers went from home to home to collect the masks that were sewed so they could be distributed to the requesting centers….there was an amazing sense of community. This is perhaps the closest to how I would ever feel about women entering the workforce during the world wars to help rescue the economy and to shoulder responsibilities of their households.
Another amazing thing that happened during this time was the showcase of generosity among people. When word got around on my groups that I was making complimentary masks for essential workers, three women asked if they could donate money to my cause to help support my efforts. I was extremely humbled and grateful. It is not that I wouldn’t have been able to do this without their financial support but that contribution meant something to them, to the community, to me…it was meaningful in SO, SO many ways, I just couldn’t say no. In giving me money to help support the purchase of the raw materials I needed (I spent nearly $200 on elastic alone!), these women were showing their care, their concern, their gratitude to the essential workers who put their lives in danger every day, they were enrolling themselves in a sisterhood that stood for something, showing their faith in humanity, in the kindness that often makes our world go around and I was only too grateful to be a part of it.
Masks for purchase
Once the requests from essential workers subsided, I opened my sewing machine to accepting orders from people who could pay and I earned some money from this effort. Of course, by then competition was fierce – masks were selling anywhere from $5 to $25. Stores had started selling them in the bulk and pretty much every store was now carrying them. Still, I got return customers, friends, family, and so many other supporters who ordered from me. My three-layered masks were comfortable, fit well, and were of great quality. One might think I made a lot of money from this but I didn’t. Yes, I did well but given that I was selling all the masks with free shipping in the beginning and only using first-class mail, that took a huge chunk out of my earnings. I also had to constantly purchase novel fabrics because people started getting choosy about what they wore and how it represented them.
In the end, I probably broke even and once orders started dwindling away, I turned my attention to my original love ….dot art. I painted almost everyday because by then, the holidays were slowly starting to approach and I had to have enough inventory.
I will still be making masks but only by request or for special orders. I will soon be removing most of the masks-related products on this website but if you need one, feel free to contact me: contact suchitra at gmail dot com
As the year neared its conclusion, my attention turned toward other things – most fruitfully, cooking and baking. Those experiments and tales are stories for another day. For now, I love the fact that I have reasonable confidence in my sewing abilities and even though I am not particularly great at it, I am quite alright and that will just have to do. Until…next time.