It’s getting to the point she can’t keep up with messages, and she has resorted to writing things down in a notebook to keep everything straight.

Karla Merhar, (Lawrence Lake), saw a post in regard to a need for homemade safety masks for healthcare workers and those working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So she started asking her fellow co-workers, friends and others she knew in the healthcare field.

She found a need to help.

She began by writing a 7:09 a.m. Facebook post on Saturday morning: “Can all my local friends dig through their sewing boxes/craft boxes and look for ¼ inch elastic? A friend needs masks along with a lot of others. I’ll sew all day long if I can find more elastic.”

By Sunday afternoon, Merhar, who works for the Bovey-Coleraine Police Department, had 88 comments on her post, nine shares and several people wanting to help in whatever way they could.

One being Julie Tracy, a retiree living near Wabana, who sewed 12 alone on Saturday. And by Sunday, Tracy had sped up the process by asking her husband to cut and while she sewed.

Tracy actually timed herself on Sunday, and with the fabric already pre-cut, she had it down to 10 minutes.

Within 24 hours, several had this pattern down to a science, with what Merhar thought was more than 250 completed.

But the number climbs and changes both ways for need and finished by the hour.

“People all over have been sharing the different patterns,” Merhar said, adding she kept asking herself, “Is this true?”

The pattern itself is quite simple, even for inexperienced sewers. According to a pattern on the Deaconess website, which also shows a very detailed how-to video, one should start with cotton fabric (preferably 100 percent cotton or tightly-woven), rope elastic, beading cord elastic will work (you may also use 1/8 inch flat elastic). Cut the elastic seven inches long and tie a knot at each end (do not knot the ends of the flat.

One can make two sizes, adult or child.

Put right sides of cotton fabric together, and cut a 9x6 inch (adult mask) or 7.5 x 5 inch (child mask). Starting at the center of the bottom edge, sew to the first corner, stop. Sew the elastic with the edge out into the corner. A few stitches forward and back will hold this. Sew to the next corner, stop, and bring the other end of the same elastic to the corner and sew a few stitches forward and back. Now sew across that top of the mask to the next corner. Again, put an elastic with the edge out. Sew to the next corner and sew in the other end of the same elastic. Sew across the bottom leaving about a 1.5 inch to 2 inch opening. Stop, cut the thread. Turn inside out. Pin three tucks on each side of the mask. Make sure the tucks are the same direction. Sew around the edge of the mask twice.

There have been some sewers locally that have been trying to add nose supports. But one struggle has been the need for quarter inch elastic.

One can make the masks with 18-inch long fabric ties (self-made, twill tape), one in each of the four corners., recommends to pre-wash all fabric on hot and dry on high heat which is to ensure pre-shrinkage. Area providers and organizations will have sanitized the masks before use.

“I think everyone is tickled to be helping out,” Merhar said. “I can’t emphasis enough how people jumped in. It gives everyone else something to think about.”

Adding her friend actually left supper for her outside the front door.

With Tracy adding, “Help when you can.”

Within two days, masks were being prepared for the area police departments, nursing homes, childcares, and the requests have continued to keep coming in. Tracy and Merhar knows of people connected to them that are helping from International Falls all the way down to Elk River. Merhar even received a phone call from a friend in Alaska whom is mailing a check to donate to the cause.

As of Monday evening, more than 300 masks had been made and or distributed. Tracy and Merhar asked for completed masks to be put into a sealed plastic bag.

Merhar Monday was contacted to start sewing for the Buffalo Children’s Hospital.

“They want all we can make,” Merhar said. “Fast forward a couple hours, and another lady in Marcell called asking what to do. She cut 204 sets of masks but doesn’t sew. And… her friend is in a quilting group in Elk River so we hooked her and my friend up and they are making them for the Buffalo Hospital.”

Merhar has sewn for years and was part of Operation Minnesota Nice in the past and made homemade items for soldiers.

As for Tracy, she said, “I think we are crafty sewers” and has off and on sewn projects throughout the years.

“I was kind of down about it all,” Merhar said. “It [sewing masks] helps to take your mind off things.”

Merhar also has an 18-year-old senior who is to graduate in a few months.

“This really has turned into something bigger than anyone would have thought,” Merhar said.

Tracy posted on Facebook Sunday, “It’s really really hard to sew when you have tears in your eyes!! I am so overwhelmed with emotion on how our wonderful community is pulling together!! You all are amazing and we cannot thank you enough!!!”

Angela Kleffman, Chief Operating Officer at Bigfork Valley Hospital, stated Monday, “There is absolutely a need in the healthcare field for industrial-grade face masks and fabric N95 mask covers.”

She added, “If the general public or businesses have medical grade masks that they are willing to donate or sell to the healthcare community – that is where our biggest need lies. Fabric masks may also be helpful for patients entering healthcare organizations with symptoms.”

Kleffman said donations of masks can be dropped off at the front entrance of Bigfork Valley and questions can be directed to her at 218-743-4147 or

For the time being, those willing to help or donate 100 percent cotton or quarter-inch elastic, can contact Julie Tracy through Facebook private message or call Karla Merhar on her home phone at 245-2600.

Very importantly, keep social distancing in mind, and do not use this as a way to “sew together.”


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