Friday, December 8, 2023


What making face masks has taught me about life

By Nanci Dixon

Like so many others in lockdown, quarantine or under stay-at-home orders, I have been making face masks. I have learned so much in the simple process of making dozens of them. 

My history, my family history: My father offered me my stepmother’s 1970’s boat-anchor-weight Kenmore sewing machine to use. As I rummaged through her sewing box, learned to thread her machine and placed my hands where her hands had gone, I got a sense of connection and appreciation that I had not had when she was alive. 

She was an avid, accomplished seamstress – my mother was not. I was an avid sewer, too, with two sewing machines and a sewing room when we had a house. Selling my antique  Necchi (also a boat anchor) and Brother machines was a hard choice when we decided to full-time. Yes, I bought a three-pound plastic “toy” machine for simple repairs but it is not the same.

Now I have a real sewing machine, and every surface is covered with fabric, filters and my mini ironing board setup. I have a sewing room again! Actually, now the whole motorhome is a sewing room.

Patience, patience, patience. There are hundreds of directions on the internet, written and on YouTube with a variety of styles and vagary of instructions. I ended up mixing and matching styles to create one of the most complicated face masks possible, complete with N-95-like filtration.

Ripping out a completed face mask four times in one day because one of the wrong sides kept showing until I figured it out required more patience than I have ever, ever had. 

Giving. At first the masks were just to be for my husband and me, then my sister and her husband, then my 97-year-old dad, then the other park hosts, then the park staff, then our out-of-town children and close friends.  

Yup, people wanted the masks and offered to pay, at least some did, but we gave them away. We gave them away because, well, it was the right thing to do. We wanted to help keep people safe and ourselves safe, too. I am rather ashamed to admit it, but I am not naturally giving, not naturally a volunteer. I was learning the gift of giving.

Stamina. Getting up early every morning, sewing all day and only getting two or three masks done with more orders coming, the machine jamming and needles breaking was frustrating with no end in sight. But I kept going and eventually I could get more than a half-dozen or so done in a day.

Solitude. Yes, I know that solitude does not sound that desirable during a stay-at-home pandemic, but the solitude of just cutting, ironing, sewing provided a bit of zen-like peace. I found I could listen to music but not pay attention to the TV. The news of the coronavirus could play on with dire warnings, death counts and alerts of imminent threat – but I couldn’t give that much attention. I was evidently in my sewing zone.

Gratitude. We have not been sick and all in our immediate family are still healthy and alive. I have been forced to actually look at the possibility of a very inconvenient death. I have rolled it around in my hand like a stone. Worrying it, exploring it, examining it, crawling under it, setting it down and picking it up again. 

Picking it up until I actually had to accept that being in the vulnerable group made my husband and me actually vulnerable. And what followed that slow acceptance was the need to get my house in order. I needed to appreciate this day, this moment, and not just anticipate a future when the pandemic would be over. Acceptance helped foster a deep sense of gratitude for a varied life well lived, a loving family and an amazing retirement filled with camping, travel, new friends and new places. No matter what the future may hold. Gratitude.

Emily Woodbury
Emily Woodbury
Emily Woodbury is the editor here at She was lucky enough to grow up alongside two traveling parents, one domestically by RV (yep, Chuck Woodbury) and the other for international adventures, and has been lucky to see a great deal of our world (and counting!). She lives near Seattle with her dog and chickens. When she's not cranking out 700+ newsletters for she's hiking, cooking or, well, probably traveling.



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Debbie Nauta (@guest_97504)
3 years ago

Nanci, thank you for one of the best articles I have read in a long time. We are fulltime retirees and our ladies in our park made well over 300 masks given to the local hospitals and to the residents of the park and extended family. Yes, it teaches you that giving to someone in need is the blessings we all need. God bless you.

Cindy (@guest_78289)
3 years ago

All good things to learn and in addition I’m sure you learned some new sewing techniques/tricks. I’m sure people appreciate what you did. Post a picture of one of the masks when you think of it.

Linda (@guest_78009)
3 years ago

Nanci, thank you for what you are doing and I love your attitude. Stay safe and best wishes to you and your family.

Paul Relgne (@guest_78008)
3 years ago

I suggest reading this Best Seller, “The Invisible Rainbow” by Arthur Firstenberg, available on Amazon and here to read: This will give you an insight to what is happening right now, not the lame stream MSM editions.

Billy Bob Thornton (@guest_77917)
3 years ago

It’s got the wife sewing. That in itself is therapy for the sewer, the recipients. All good.

We do need to restart this whole thing back up though. If we don’t, there won’t be an economy left you want to be a part of, because all this pumping of money 2.8 trillion so far, has a service debt side to it that the piper needs to be reconciled with.

Grace Wilfong (@guest_77913)
3 years ago

I have been making masks with two layers of quilting fabric and two layers of non-woven interfacing. It seemed the safest pattern (which I modified). I would love to see your pattern.

Tom Smithbrother (@guest_77896)
3 years ago

The Virus is 1/2 the size of the smallest hole in an N 95 mask, so it is a FEEL GOOD tactic. It is to make you FEEL safe w/o any real protection.

Mary M (@guest_77923)
3 years ago

Nonetheless, the authors — who hail from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, NY — note, “Everything we know so far suggests that wearing almost any kind of mask in public is better than nothing, that a tight fit is best, and that, with certain limits, many types of masks can be reused outside of medical settings.”

Billy Bob Thornton (@guest_77972)
3 years ago
Reply to  Mary M

But, the price of feeling unsafe, vulnerable, hopelessly at the will of this silent enemy (Wuhan virus) has a bigger toll I suspect. Preliminary reports of suicides, drug addictions, calls to crisis counseling have gone up many fold.

Be safe, but start your life up. Don’t go visit grandma in the nursing home, some knuckleheads in several states have already sent the virus there, poor souls.

butch morgan (@guest_78354)
3 years ago
Reply to  Mary M

If your mask is not an N-95 or surgical quality then it is 5% or less effective for virus protection. Cloth mask are useless .

Linda C (@guest_78006)
3 years ago

So, now you know how the health care workers feel. They are caring for people with inadequate personal protection, yet, they keep up the work for you and me! In some states, 20% of the cases are health care workers. Many are dying. I just got finished reading 53 testimonials for some of the health care workers who have died while performing their jobs. They can not avoid being in close contact with patients. They can not follow the safety guidelines of staying 6 feet away. Aerosoled particles are spewed while health care worker are performing treatments. They can’t back away.

N95 masks and correctly made and correctly worn DIY masks do not keep you absolutely safe. Wearing masks is a mitigation guideline to keep others safe. All of the guidelines being asked of people, such as social distancing, the wearing of masks, washing your hands…..are a combination of techniques that are in place to help decrease the transmission of Covid-19.

I want to keep safe. I want to keep my husband safe. I also want to keep those in my community safe. Nothing is risk free; however, in this situation, there are scientifically based practices that can help reduce the transmission of this virus.

You are thinking in terms of “keep me safe”. YOU can only be kept safer if everyone tries to decrease the transmission of the virus. When you and I do this, we are helping to keep others from getting sick and from dying.

My husband and I are retired, so, we can choose what we do and where we go. Others have to work and many are suffering because they are not working. If following the guidelines will help keep the working people safer and allow people to go back to work, then I’m on board.

RV Staff
3 years ago
Reply to  Linda C

Well said, Linda. Thank you. 😀 —Diane at

Ran (@guest_77859)
3 years ago

Hi Nanci
What a great story, and thanks for what you’re doing. I would love to purchase some of these masks for myself and wife, who are also vulnerable aged retired folks!

Bob D. (@guest_76924)
3 years ago

Dear Nanci,

Thanks for the work you are doing and taking the time to post this.
It has been very helpful for me because it helped lift me out of the disagreeable funk I have been in lately. I’m now thinking about how I can use my talents to make, in some way, the world around me a better place. I don’t see this as sacrifice but maybe even a little selfish because doing this makes me feel so good.

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