Local teacher turns mask production into family affair

An extensive fabric stash, live-in workforce and clear schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic – Heather Skiba already had everything she needed to make a difference.

When Heather saw a mask pattern posted on Facebook, she reached out to a neighbor who is a nurse before she started sewing to make sure the masks were really needed.

“When she replied to my text, she said she was crying because when I texted she was in adoration praying for a solution to the lack of PPE,” Skiba said.

So Skiba, a 3rd-5th grade math instructional coach at Luling Elementary, started sewing. She enlisted the help of her husband Ed Skiba, 16-year-old daughter Madalyn, 9 year-old-son Joseph and 8-year-old daughter Marigny.

So far, they’ve sewn over 400 masks.

“My mom, Kathleen McCrary, sewed her whole life and she taught me a thing or two,” Heather said. “The masks are very easy to sew …although I can sew, I much prefer cross stitch and embroidery … I have joked about monogramming the masks.”

Heather and her family have gifted the masks to a variety of people, with many sent to neighbors and friends who are essential workers and medical professionals.

“These are the true heroes,” she said. “They are putting their lives at risk to save others and I have the utmost respect for not just healthcare professionals but for all of the workers in the hospitals that help to keep them running.”

A batch of 50 masks was sent to a Louisiana National Guard unit working to distribute supplies in Baton Rouge, and Heather said she is sending batches of 10 at a time to a nursing home with 200 residents. Some masks have also gone to friends who are immunocompromised and are concerned about going to the store and leaving their houses.

Skiba said everyone in the family has a job and pitches in to make the masks.

Her husband Ed cuts the fabric into rectangles and cuts wire for the top layer. The rectangles are sewn right sides together by her daughter Marigny, who then flips the pieces right side out so that they can be ironed. Daughter Madalyn irons the three creases in the fabric pieces, which assists in sewing the pleats. Heather then sews the pleats into the two pieces and sews the back and front layers together attaching the elastic and across the bottom to form the pocket.  Madalyn then trims the extra threads, and Joseph cuts the elastic the correct length.

Each mask has four layers of fabric and features a pocket for placing a filter. Wire is sewn into the top layer, which helps with molding the mask to the face and keeping it in place without gapping open.

“The kids are learning many things,” Heather said. “They know that we will always help anyone when we can … and when you have a talent, then you must use it for good and share with others.”

Heather has been sewing her way through her extensive fabric stash, which is comprised of fabric she has collected over the years and fabric she inherited after her mother’s passing.

“So, as far as fabric goes, I have been well stocked,” she said. “I have had many donations from friends and neighbors of elastic and thread.”

Some people have donated elastic they had at home, while others have ordered elastic and shipped it to her.

“Others have given monetary donations that I have used to purchase elastic,” she said. “This has been the greatest need because elastic is sold out most places.”

She said the masks are made with either 1/4” or 1/8” elastic.

“This past week when my husband was having shop class with the kids and showing them how to take apart an engine, he was talking about standard and metric measurement,” she said. “This gave me the idea to search for 3mm elastic rather than the 1/8” elastic that was sold out everywhere online.”

In doing so, she found 3mm elastic cord in stock from a company in Canada.

As for the wire, Ed’s grandfather worked for a furniture company and he had a large roll of picture wire that he has been saving for many years.

“It was one of those things you keep because you know you’ll find a use for it one day,” Heather said. “Well, we have found its purpose.”

Heather said she and her family will continue to make masks for as long as they are needed.

“I hope that the factories are able to catch up to the increased need sooner rather than later, but as long as there is a need I’m happy to help,” she said. “It keeps everyone busy and many hands make light work.”


About Monique Roth 482 Articles
Roth has both her undergraduate and graduate degree in journalism, which she has utilized in the past as an instructor at Southeastern Louisiana University and a reporter at various newspapers and online publications. She grew up in LaPlace, where she currently resides with her husband and three daughters.

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