In the Midst of Angels

Rita Keegan: Sewing Surgical Masks

By Marci Narum

Submitted photos

Behind every quilter is a big stash of fabric, and Rita Keegan of Bismarck, North Dakota, has been happily making use of her supply as she practices social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rita is an independent volunteer sewer for Days for Girls (DfG), an international nonprofit organization which increases access to menstrual care and education for girls in more than 125 countries. DfG volunteers sew washable, durable shields and liners for girls in countries where feminine care products are not readily available. (Inspired Woman published a story about DfG in December 2019, see the story link at the bottom of the page.)

DfG kits Rita has sewn

“You can do any part of the project, the shields, or you can put the pads together and sew,” Rita explains. “I kind of have all these kits stacked in my sewing room. The hardest part is getting the little bars of soap. I’ve followed them and watched the testimonials, and the education they do across the world is just incredible.”

Rita has several kits ready to be shipped, but as the world responds to the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of surgical masks, DfG is inviting its 70,000 volunteers to help by sewing these critical medical supplies. Rita has made 24 masks so far. Her goal is 100.

Rita wears one of the masks she sewed for DfG’s Masks4Millions

“Seriously it’s so easy. The goal is to make a million. If 70,000 volunteers did 100, it would be easy to get to a million.”

Until a few years ago, Rita wasn’t aware of DfG. She stumbled onto it while searching for another pattern online. She says one of her dreams is to enhance the program by starting a local sewing group for DfG. Until then, Rita is hoping her sewing sisters will join her in this DfG campaign: Masks4Millions. The gal is to provide millions of masks to hospitals and clinics around the world. 

Rita’s first two masks

“I’m part of the Capital Quilters Guild and we weren’t able to meet this month, of course; I thought if my goal is a small goal, 100 or whatever I can do in the next few days — we have more than 30 members in our quilters guild. We could have an impact,” Rita says.

The pandemic is impacting Rita’s family personally. Her husband’s relative in the eastern United States is a nurse.

“I thought, ‘My God, what if these people are short of masks?’ It takes me about 15 minutes to make one of these adult-sized masks.

Rita’s sister Lannette and grandchildren

“I’m getting my family involved, too. My sister in Minneapolis is a sewer, too, so I’ve gotten her into quilting. Her daughter saw my post on social media and went to her mom and said, ‘Mom, why don’t you sew these masks like Aunt Rita is doing?’ So, now she’s doing it. It’s just the effect that the more people you tell, the more who can help out and we wouldn’t have a shortage.”

With no shortage of material and lots of sewers working together, Rita is confident North Dakota can make a difference for this mission.

“Right now it’s very difficult to reach the quilters in churches, but how wonderful it would be for them to have a project right now. We’re all limited in what we can do right now, and this is something that is really easy, to be able to do while you’re at home and make an impact.

Children’s masks Rita has sewn

“My sewing room is full of stashes,” Rita says. “The fun part is pulling out these baskets and looking at the fabric. I don’t even have to go to the store. The only thing I had to go to the store to do was to buy the elastic.”

Listen to Rita explain more details about sewing the masks in this short video.

To read the December 2019 article about Days for Girls, click here.