‘Making a difference’ — Milford woman battles COVID-19 with her sewing machine

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

MILFORD — Milford resident Barbara Long began making masks in March with her 1969 Singer sewing machine, at the suggestion of her daughter who is a nurse practitioner.

Little did Long know she would eventually be closing in on making 500 masks.

“My daughter sent me a link to a mask pattern she obtained through Morristown Medical Center [in New Jersey]. She instinctively knew I needed something to keep me occupied, as travel to see our five young granddaughters in New Jersey and Massachusetts was not an option when everything shut down due COVID-19,” said Long, 73.

She initially made masks for health care workers and extended family members. Next came personal friends and then Facebook friends. Then international acquaintances.

“My masks have gone to eight states, and Germany, and Spain,” said Long, a writer who previously held jobs as a waitress, sales representative and library assistant. She is the author of a memoir called “Bittersweet Memories: The Life Story of an Immigrant Daughter,” which was published in January.

She also gave out masks much closer to home — in her own building, and included a sign where recipients could pay it forward with a donation to the Connecticut Food Bank.

“We live in a 50-unit apartment building with a gracious lobby,” she said. “Each day, I'd put out five to 10 freemasks. In all, some fifty masks were taken.”

Long didn’t have a backlog of material to work with for making the masks. So, she got resourceful and used a tablecloth, shirts from her husband’s closet, and her own blouses and those donated by a neighbor in her apartment building.

“For the mask lining, I initially used a white flannel sheet, then damask linens from my s hotel once my grandparents once owned and operated in Germany,” said Long, who learned to sew at age 12. As a young woman, she sewed all her own clothing and her mother’s.

With her friends, family and neighbors masked, Long began dropping off masks at grocery stores and even went up and down Boston Post Road with her husband David, handing out food and masks to people asking for money at intersections.

When her trusty old Singer broke down, a neighbor offered her mother's 1985 Kenmore as a replacement.

“After an overhaul by a sewing machine shop I was in business again,” Long said.

This time, she was literally in business, as her hobby had expanded into Barb’s Masks, selling them for $5. She soon became a regular at local fabric shops, and the postal workers began recognizing her from her weekly trips to mail packages of masks.

She has made masks for her daughter’s nursery school teachers. She designed masks that show the teachers’ smile by inserting clear vinyl. She has since began featuring fall and Halloween designs and has an eye on the future, already working on Christmas designs.

“I intend to keep on sewing as long as I can fill a need,” she said. “Making a difference was always huge in my life. I honestly feel I can help people with these masks. I can keep them safe and well. It’s really a wonderful feeling.”