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Know Your Madisonian: Retiree chalks up 3,300 donated face masks and counting
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Know Your Madisonian: Retiree chalks up 3,300 donated face masks and counting

From the Know Your Madisonian 2020: a collection of profiles from our weekly series series

Over four to five hours a day, Laurie Warren Jones cuts fabric, snips elastic to length and sews the pieces together.

The retired American Girl employee has turned her home on Madison’s North Side into a one-woman assembly line for cloth face masks: Churning out 3,300 facial coverings in nearly five months of work — all of which have been donated.

More than half have gone to St. Mary’s Hospital. Others were donated to organizations and groups like the Lussier Community Education Center, the Platteville Library, the YMCA of Dane County and Pres House — a Presbyterian ministry and apartments on the edge of the UW-Madison campus.

Warren Jones, 65, even contributed masks to a recent study by a UW-Madison professor visually demonstrating the effectiveness of different styles of facial coverings. She got involved because the professor is a friend from Covenant Presbyterian Church on Madison’s West Side.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Warren Jones used her experience of 50-plus years of sewing to make masks for friends and family.

About 50 masks went to New York City when it was an early epicenter of the outbreak and where Warren Jones’ daughter works at a bus terminal for her to use herself and share with friends.

The mother-in-law of one of Warren Jones’ sons, who coordinates volunteers for St. Mary’s Hospital, first asked if Warren Jones would be able to make procedural masks and gowns out of surgical drape material due to a shortage of personal protective equipment.

That turned into cloth masks for the hospital to give to visitors who didn’t have facial coverings and more masks to be donated to other groups.

Warren Jones, who leaves home once a week just for groceries, said she’ll keep sewing and donating as long as there is a need.

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“I miss being able to go out and wearing a mask is a pain in the neck — I’ll be the first to admit that — but I do it for other people,” she said.

What got you into sewing?

I’ve been sewing since I was 10 years old. My mother was a seamstress and took in alterations when I was younger. My aunt was my home-ec teacher in both junior high and high school. My grandmother taught home economics in Michigan. I kind of come by sewing genetically, although my sister didn’t get any of the genes. I have had a very strong interest in it, I’ve made my own clothes for years. I made my own wedding dress.

If you’re donating the masks, how do you pay for them?

Most of the material I had, whether I bought it or I’ve had some material donated to me. I inherited some material from my mother because she was a seamstress. ... I haven’t gone out to purchase any fabric, and I’m not at risk of running out. The elastic I do have to purchase, though.

How do you keep track of how many masks you made?

I have a tally up in my sewing room. I keep a tally of how many I finish. I have masks at multiple stages on any given day. ... I cut them all out, and in the evening when I watch TV, I will pin it to get it ready to sew and then the next day I can stitch around it and then I turn them at night.

Has your faith inspired you to do this?

My faith has been a very big part of doing this. It’s one of the reasons I don’t charge. I don’t want to make a profit on a pandemic. One of my friends called it a mask ministry, which I found kind of funny, but do onto others. And it’s the right thing to do.

“I’ve been sewing since I was 10 years old.”

"I’ve been sewing since I was 10 years old."


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