“I had an idea last week that we should donate 10000 reusable cotton masks to Sangli Police. The moment I spoke it aloud to a friend Neelima, she got to work and in less than 1 hour we had 25-30 women from Sangli signed up to sew the masks from their homes. We finished making all 10000 of the masks,” shares Shruti Dandekar, a quilter who lives in Sangli District and is working round the clock to see how the area can get more masks available. 10,000 masks were all packed and submitted to the police for use and distribution. “It feels good to be useful in times of a crisis like this,” says the award winning entrepreneur who spent a lot of her time exploring how to make masks at home via videos.

Homemade Masks. An all women's team led by Shruti Dandekar makes 10000 masks in Sangli District for COVID19
Homemade Masks. An all women’s team led by Shruti Dandekar makes 10000 masks in Sangli District

“Today India, along with the entire world, is facing one of the most difficult crisis’ we have ever seen in our lives. The doctors and emergency service providers, supported by the policemen and the military and para-military and led by the central and their respective state governments are doing all they can to flatten the curve. All the citizens are also co-operating to best of their abilities.When I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell me stories about the wars that she witnessed. She told me of the time when women in India were knitting sweaters for the soldiers to wear. In the hard times of this war against COVID 19, the Doctors and their teams are our soldiers fighting in the frontlines.” Shruti wanted to see how she could help. With a team of people around the neighbourhood, Shruti took on the task of making masks.

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“I am a quilter and my Facebook feed is filled with quilters from all over the world. A lot of us are feeling stuck, unable to help. Then I saw a post popping up on not one but many of the quilters walls. There was a shortage of single use masks (along with scrub caps, overalls etc) in hospitals. To give you an idea – if a doctor is treating patient A and needs to attend patient B he has to change all his disposable protective gear. A post pointed out that the N95 masks are really crucial in this care. If they are not used, the Doctors and other caregivers are exposing themselves to this virus. This post got me thinking about how people, who do not need the N95 masks, have been hoarding them while the doctors, who would potentially die without them, are making do with fabric masks that sewists all over America were making for them.”

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Shruti imagined this for India, given that COVID-19 cases were on the rise. “Doctors are telling people that N95 masks are not required by them, but people are scared. They feel safe if they use a mask. That is the time I decided to make masks for my family and friends. I searched for the material I could use. Cotton fabric is the perfect fabric for this mask. But I also knew that it required another layer that had less porosity than fabric. That is where the non-woven layer came from.” So Shruti picked what’s the most easily available fabric layer to play between cotton, this is the material biodegradable shopping bags are made of, or the same material as disposable environment friendly napkins are made of.

“Remember when the Maharashtra Government banned single use plastic bags and every store gave you a ‘fabric’ bag which later turned out to be Poplypropylene – that is the non-woven fabric. It is a commonly used material in making surgical and medical supplies. You can use a sheet that you can buy in the bag supply stores or you can even use bags that you have lying around in the house. Just wash them and iron them (covered with fabric – not directly) before using. I decided to add a layer of this material in between two layers of fabric to make the mask comfortable, breathable as well as reversible and reusable. You can use any cotton fabric (shirting fabric that is 100% cotton – not linen – is perfect). Even clean old clothes can be used. Just make sure that the fabric is washed and ironed before using.”

What’s key is to ensure the fabric is clean and disinfected. “The important thing is that you need to wash it (preferably with a disinfectant like Dettol) and dry it completely (drying in the sun is highly advisable) and then iron it between uses. There are a lot of tutorials available for making these masks, but there was none in Hindi. That is when I decided to make my own video. The steps are simple to follow.”

Shruti urges everyone to help out, not to make masks to sell.  “Don’t sell them. Make some for yourselves. And while you’re doing that make some extra and give them away.” Here’s Shruti’s suggestion, very valuable and heartfelt.

  • Give them to your milkman who risks a trip to your house every morning.
  • Give them to the policeman at the corner, who is there to make sure that some people do not risk their own lives and those around them.
  • Give them to the vegetable seller at the market, the medical shop owner – yes, even they are facing a shortage of masks.
  • Give them to those who have to step outside so that we can comfortably stay indoors.
  • And last but not least, leave the N95 masks for the hospitals.
  • If you have stocked any, go to your nearest Civil Hospital and hand them over and use these Fabric masks instead
  • My grandmother knitted sweaters for her soldiers, let us make our own masks to protect our soldiers armour!

Shruti Dandekar is the winner of the SheThePeople Digital Women Awards 2018 and an entrepreneur who makes specialise quilts. She is known to have a quilt with Shivaji Maharaj on it.

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