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Kristine Frailing of New York Sewing Center taught an Instagram Live class on how to make masks.
Kristine Frailing of the New York Sewing Center taught an Instagram Live class on how to make masks. (Credit: Courtesy of the company)

A few weeks ago, Kristine Frailing’s sewing school was hosting “Sip & Sew” workshops at its Garment District location in New York City, inviting beginners to sip wine while learning how to complete denim tote bags.

Now, Frailing is working out of her Brooklyn apartment, going live on Instagram and teaching students around the country how to make CDC-compliant face masks. On Monday, she hosted an Instagram Live class (here’s the 45-minute archive) for over 600 sewers.

“I couldn’t keep up with the questions,” says Frailing of the New York Sewing Center, who is much more accustomed to teaching in-person private lessons and group classes of 10 people, usually about how to make things like coats, jackets or even prom dresses. She had only done a handful of Facetime lessons before the coronavirus crisis shuttered non-essential stores in New York. During Monday’s Instagram class, her manager, Chloe Luetkemeyer, working from her own Brooklyn apartment, jumped in to help supply answers.

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Frailing says she first got the idea to sew masks after talking with her parents and brother, who all work for grocery stores in her home state of Missouri but don’t have access to masks. “I said, ‘why don’t I make you some, and you can wear them and get a little bit of protection,'” Frailing says.

Then, last Wednesday she saw a news article about Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Indiana, asking the public to make face masks for hospital staff amid shortages. “I knew I had to host a free class,” Frailing says. She posted the idea to Facebook, at which point she was deluged with interest, from sewers and medical workers alike.

Frailing is far from the only sewer answering the call. Volunteers across the nation have formed sewing groups, many after the Centers for Disease Control and Protection noted on its site that hospital workers could tie bandanas or scarves over their faces as a last resort. National crafts retailer Jo-Ann Stores has published resources, including this video tutorial, on how to make face masks. Small businesses like Initial Decor, founded by Michelle Stokes, are using design expertise and raising funds to make masks.

During her Instagram class, in which Frailing demonstrated how to make a face mask from a red polka-dot fabric, she reminded viewers that it’s no replacement for an N95 mask. “We’re trying to give people some coverage, instead of wearing a bandana or nothing at all,” she told viewers.

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In terms of response, Frailing says some participants pledged to make 100 masks, and she encouraged sewers to make at least 10. She has provided on her site a list of ways sewers can distribute masks to various hospitals while keeping a social distance.

The experience of hosting the live video on Instagram was good training for Frailing, who now is offering a variety of individual and group classes for a fee on Zoom while New York City remains shut down. She hopes it will sustain her five-year-old business until the threat of coronavirus passes.

The transition from a physical studio space to online “has been a little stressful,” Frailing says. “Actually, it’s been very stressful.” Normally, she employs nine freelance instructors to help teach classes at her Garment District studio, but “we don’t have enough lessons coming in to support nine people.” She has applied for a small business grant through a city agency to cover expenses.

Meanwhile, she plans to host more free Instagram Live videos like Monday’s class so she can connect with fellow sewers. “It’s really fun to have a community of people get together like that, especially now,” she says. “It gave me a little bit of normalcy.”

[Related: See all of The Story Exchange’s coronavirus coverage]