Topeka Public Schools employee sews and donates 1200 face masks nationwide

Published: Jun. 24, 2020 at 6:45 PM CDT
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Teresa Walters has been sewing since her grandmother taught her at five-years-old.

The School Psychologist for Topeka Public Schools said she spends at least 30 hours a week in her craft room where she makes lanyards, bags, quilts and other creative projects.

“Masks were not really on my horizon as far as that goes,” Walters said Wednesday when reflecting about the time before she sewed face masks.

According to Walters, she was hesitant to take on actually making masks; she started out by cutting fabric for them at the Viking Sewing Gallery, but as shutdowns grew, friends and family in health fields asked if she could take her skills a step further. \

“When it became obvious that people were being asked to wear them out in public, and it was something we needed to do I thought “okay, just put on my big girl panties and start making them, just get it done.”

Her donations locally have reached Stormont Vail Hospital, the Kansas Neurological Institute, Valeo Behavioral Health Care.

Beyond Topeka, the masks have been sent to Montana, Arizona, Alaska, Michigan, New Jersey even Mexico.

"Looking online they were being sold for $10, 15, 20 dollars it can be really pricy and everybody needs it and I just feel like you shouldn't have to pay out the wazoo for it."

Walters said the challenge was finding a design that safely protected the face and was not too tedious to sew.

Through some connections and a lot of elements from different mask making YouTube tutorials, Walters made an ideal mask.

“I ran this by our son who’s in his last year of residency and he said this was the design to use and I found something that made sense to me,” she said.

The innerworkings of the final product includes replaceable elastic, luxe cotton and a piece of pipe cleaner so the mask and rest on the nose.

“As far as sewing some of them more tedious some of them took forever and it wasn’t efficient and I found an efficient way to make them and I don’t know there’s a challenge in that.”

Walters said she can make 12 masks an hour and one thing that helps the process is putting on a favorite show like Gilmore Girls or The Big Bang Theory.

“I just love to sew and anytime I find a project I can do I do it.”

She’s even inspired friends to learn to sew to make masks, even teaching them how to use machines themselves.

With over 600 different fabrics Walters said one of her favorite aspects of the process is giving each mask a personality.

Her favorite colors to work with are purple and gray--her favorite pattern to work with is Disney’s Maleficent.

The school psychologist says being in a service profession made the project feel natural, not exhausting.

"I love that it’s out there and that people feel safe I guess that's my goal for people to feel safe emotionally and now physically and that makes a difference that mental health piece that people walk around in."

Walters says she is taking a break for now -- but will jump back depending on the case numbers.