Threading the Aspen community through the COVID-19 crisis |

Threading the Aspen community through the COVID-19 crisis

A grassroots effort is being done one stitch at a time at sewing machines up and down the valley by local sewers who are making masks for friends, family, essential workers and those most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis.

On a recent afternoon, a few of the sewers met at the Old Snowmass park and ride lot where Carbondale resident Claudia Cunningham peddled yards of fabric and other materials from the trunk of her car to local sewers Emily Taylor and Lara Whitley.

“I thought it was going to be a quick handoff but we talked for 45 minutes,” Whitley said. “It was really cool camaraderie.”

Taylor said she felt the same about the meet-up.

“We parked one space away from each other and would go over to the trunk and cut some of the fabric,” she said. “We were having fun hanging out 6 feet apart.”

Cunningham is acting as a distributor of mask material and is creating a network of individuals who are providing fabric, pipe cleaners and elastic, and then getting that in the hands of sewers.

She was scheduled to be in front of Natural Grocers in Glenwood Meadows on Wednesday to distribute fabric.

“I have such strong feeling for community,” said Cunningham, who is a hat maker and used to sell her work at the Aspen Farmers Market. “I love, love our community.”

She added that Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman is helping by putting her in touch with sewers and those who have materials.

Whitley, who also is an artist, said she made her first mask March 13 but it was more for her mental health than practicality.

“I was feeling anxious like everyone else, so I went to the studio to feel better,” she said, adding that her first mask was made out of magazine paper.

Now she’s using patterned fabric, pipe cleaners to fit over the bridge of the nose and elastic to act as the straps around the ears.

Demand is high, since Gov. Jared Polis last week asked Coloradans to wear masks to prevent the spread of the disease and the city of Glenwood Springs is requiring residents to wear them outside of their homes.

By engaging in social media, sewers and those who need masks are connecting.

Whitley has made 33 masks and has 42 requests. She pins them up on her porch outside of her Aspen home and people pick them up.

“The response has been amazing,” she said. “There’s a reciprocity here. … This is not just a gift to others; as a sewer it’s helping me to participate and fill my corona days with intention. … It’s calming.”

Taylor said she’s in prototype mode and is using different techniques and materials to increase the quality of her masks. Hers are more face-fitting and she is using two-ply quilter’s cotton with strap materials rather than elastic.

She’s also experimenting with cutting a hole where the mouth rests and sticking coffee filter material in so that it can be replaced after use.

Taylor said her friend, who’s a nurse in Chicago, said they are desperate for any protective wear.

“She said they are taking whatever they can get,” Taylor said, adding that locally, sewers need more pipe cleaners and elastic.

Cunningham is collecting it; she’s asked that anyone who wants to donate or be part of the COVID-19 mask mission to email her at

Whitley added that the effort is based on the actions of local companies like Marble Distilling Co. and Woody Creek Distillers making hand sanitizer during the crisis.

“This is based on other people’s acts of resourcefulness and ingenuity,” she said. “All of the goodness coming out of this is wonderful. … It’s bringing the good out in people.”

Taylor, who said there are not a lot of seamstresses in her 30-something age group, is happy to be part of something larger than her.

“It’s amazing how our community has come together around this,” she said. “We are lucky to live here.”

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