Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Susan West of Boaz hadn’t sat behind her sewing machine in three years.
“The first time I used it after I bought it, I broke the needle. I replaced it, but I just put the machine away after that and never used it again until now,” she said.
Her husband, Wade, inspired her to try her hand at sewing once again, this time with more useful results.
“Wade works in the CT/MRI/Nuclear Medicine Department at Marshall Medical Center South. He needed face masks to wear to work, so I started making them for him. I tried to be creative with it, like using material with bones or skeletons on it. I had to get creative in finding that kind of material since it’s not Halloween,” she said.
Now 70-plus masks later, the Snead State Community College employee has equipped not only her husband with face coverings, but also his co-workers, her co-workers, friends and family.
She began in April after Snead State closed its campus to the public and had its employees working remotely. Wade was having to wear masks all the time, so after having the idea to make him some cloth masks, she conducted research on the best patterns and materials to use. She also tweaked the pattern to better serve the people she made the masks for.
“I researched on the internet and watched a lot of YouTube videos to learn how to make them. Getting the pleats just right was the hardest part, but once I figured that out, I had no trouble. I listened to what people told me about the masks they had being too tight or not fitting just right across their face. So based on the shape of their face, I adjusted the pattern. I might make the mask a little wider than the pattern calls for or smaller if it’s for a child. I made the ear pieces a little longer in some cases, and it seemed to work.”
Her husband showed his masks to his co-workers and then came home asking her if she would make some for them.
“I said yes. I thought this was one way that I could help,” she said.
When she showed the mask to a co-worker of hers, she started receiving requests from Snead State employees for masks. What began as employees needing a face covering expanded to family members needing face coverings, and she lost count at the number of masks she’s sewn.
“I’m not interested in selling them. I’m happy to help my friends and family. When they tell me the mask is just what they needed and fits just right – just knowing that I’ve helped somebody – that’s all the payment I need. Once I got comfortable with the pattern, I started to enjoy it and my sewing machine.”
It took about four hours for her to learn and perfect the pattern she used, but now she can complete a mask within 30 minutes.
Susan has worked at Snead State Community College for 22 years, and she currently serves as part of the custodial crew.
“Getting to know Susan West has been a pleasure and a gift,” said Dr. Karen Watts, Social Science Division Director and Director of the Child Development Program at Snead State. “She is the kind of person who quietly goes about not only doing her assigned work duties but also is always looking for opportunities to help or make things better.
“Susan’s heart is so big, and she tirelessly gives of herself to others. She expects nothing in return and is humbled when you acknowledge what she has done. Our lives have been enriched by Susan as she is not only a colleague, but also a friend,” said Dr. Watts.
Whether it’s sewing a mask or sanitizing and cleaning the buildings on campus, Susan is happy to do her part in keeping her co-workers and students safe during the pandemic.
“I’m just a part of this community, and I’m glad I can do what I can to help.”
Susan West, right, stands with the faculty of the Social Sciences Division at Snead State Community College, who are sporting masks made by Susan. Pictured from left are Psychology Instructor Lindsey Robbins, Division Director Dr. Karen Watts, and History and Political Science Instructor Grover Kitchens.