By Martie Thompson

In light of recent shortages of PPE (personal protective equipment) due to the coronavirus pandemic, many local people have heeded the call to sew masks of all kinds at their homes. Some, like St. Johns resident Jean Rolke and Shorty Robbins, district secretary for State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, say it is the perfect activity to keep busy and be helpful during the stay at home order.

“Everybody has their part to play to help out,” Rolke said, “and this is mine.”

Cronin Ace Hardware

Rolke said she learned to sew in home ec class in high school. Over the years, she sewed some clothes for herself and children, but recently had gotten away from it as other activities occupied her time.

“But when the information came out that volunteers were needed to sew masks, I hopped on it,” Rolke said.

She currently sews most days of the week for six to seven hours a day. Over the approximately 150 volunteer hours she has logged, she has sewn 230 masks.

Rolke said she started out sewing the cloth masks with elastics and then moved on to the ones with ties that are more comfortable to wear. She has gotten some materials donated, especially the ¼ inch elastic that has been in short supply with so many people using it to make masks. She said several neighbors who had some of the elastic tucked away with their sewing notions donated it to her and another neighbor has helped her with some of the sewing.

While Rolke still sews these types of masks, she recently became aware of an initiative by UF Health for a new design of surgical mask. She receives special material for these masks from the hospital; it is called Halyard H600 and is used to wrap sterilized surgical equipment. It can be autoclaved for sterilization and reused. Rolke said that UF is in the process of vetting and patenting this new design and while it cannot be used in place of the N95 mask yet, studies are optimistic that it might be proven even more effective. For now, Rolke is one of a group of volunteers who is making these masks from the specialized fabric and returning her finished products — 68 so far — to the hospital. 

“I’ve learned a lot about masks,” Rolke said.

Shorty Robbins also said she learned to sew in home ec class and said she has continued sewing as a hobby her whole life. Robbins lives in a tiny house and even built a sewing table in the precious little space she has.

She has been working from home, serving State House District 17 constituents. In the evenings, she looked forward to catching up on some sewing projects, but first decided to make some cloth masks for her son, who is asthmatic and lives in Orlando. Since he works for Universal Studios, she found some Harry Potter fabric in the store for his masks and some for his friends. Then, other friends of her son who worked at Walt Disney World requested masks made with Star Wars materials and she obliged. Then she sewed masks for her mom, other friends … and it just took off.

“I know that a lot of people are addressing the very real needs of hospitals for masks,” Robbins said. “I’m doing what I can for individuals in need, especially in light of the recommendation to wear face coverings when out in public. Some of the masks I have made have even been custom sized.”

Robbins is using all donated materials, since in her tiny house she didn’t have a stash of material to use — except for some coveted flamingo material, which she says she has “sacrificed” for the cause. When she began making the masks, she did some online research and found a pattern with a tutorial for a mask she felt was the most comfortable to wear. It calls for a pipe cleaner across the nose for a snug fit and hair elastics to hold the mask behind the ears. Her masks have a pocket in them for a coffee filter which provides additional protection, but Robbins is quick to point out that her masks are intended only for personal use.

As friends and friends of friends, along with members of the tiny house community requested masks, Robbins has tried to oblige. She doesn’t accept payment for her masks, but instead asks people to donate to the GoFundMe account of a fellow tiny house friend in Tennessee who has children with learning and health disabilities and has been very adversely affected by the coronavirus situation. 

“The tiny house community is all pulling together, just like our local citizens,” Robbins said. “It is a great thing to see.”

Photos courtesy Shorty Robbins
Shorty Robbins sews masks in her tiny house

  • Smiles by Glenos & Hadfic Orthodontists
  • I.T. Promise Inc. Computer Services Professional Computer Services business and residential
  • Pavers concrete and more Free estimates
  • Snip's Tree and stump service over 25 years experience
  • The right cleaners, LLC House cleaning services
  • Premier Homes Realty Inc. Michael Taylor and Tari Taylor
  • Quality Eye care 25+ years of experience
  • Vote Rod Hardwick for st johns county sheriff Working together for the strength of our community during challenging times
  • Preddy law firm estate planning, wills, trusts, probate, guardianship
  • Starling Nocatee, 360 degree virtual tour
  • Advertise in our May Issue The Creek Line
  • Staverman Hearing Centers Hear loud and clear
  • Support Community Journalism The Creek Line
  • Tutoring club of st johns. Text tutoring to 484848 for a chance to win one month of free tutoring
  • Being Well Florida News line is excited to introduce Being Well magazine
  • Westminster Woods on Julington creek. Live well. Be Happy
  • Have questions about your medicare benefits? Call a SHINE volunteer.
  • Ellegant earth solutions complete lawn maintenance with 28 years experience, complete lawn maintenance
  • Prudential Financial Planning Services with Andrew Laino
  • Vote for Dr. Erick Aguilar Republican candidate U.S. House Fl 4th district
  • Academy of Dance Open House & Registration August 19th and 20th 3pm to 6pm Classes start August 24th! Ballet, Pointem Jazz, Hip Hop Contemporary, Modern, Lyrical, Music Theatre, Vocal
  • Affordable Water
  • All About Ballroom
  • Do you only want cremation?
  • Craig Funeral services, Funeral, Crematory, Memorial Park
  • Cronin Ace Hardware
  • Vote for Christian Whitehurst! for St. Johns county commissioner, District 1
  • Doug Nunnery, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices,
  • Finding the right doctor just got easier, Dr. Levine Baptist primary care
  • DIscount up to 30% Jim Register state farm agent
  • Nemetz Dental Associates! Your new smile awaits!
  • Deerwood Academy register now for 2020-2021 VPK
  • Eye center of st augustine, The eye surgery Center of St Augustine
  • Famous Automotive and tire center
  • Fruit Cove Baptist Church
  • The Goddard School summer camp
  • Havana Printing and office supply Call us today for all your cutome printing needs
  • Ian MacDonald Mortgage loan originator with Regions Mortgage
  • Julington Creek Chiropractic & Wellness Center P.A. serving st. johns county for nearly 21 years
  • Wild Birds Unlimited Nature shop. Have you watered your birds lately?
  • Creeks Air Conditioning & Heating. We service all makes and models for residential and commerical!
  • Crosswinds Veterinary Hospital. Preventative Medicine and wellness, Surgery, Dentistry, Labs and Imaging, Farm Animal Medicine, In-Patient and Emergency Care
  • Florida Waterways Inc. Your trusted Waterway Advisers
  • Julington Creek Family Dentistry. Implant Cosmetic and Restoration Dentistry. We are following Advanced Safety protocols set forth by CDC, OSHA and ADA guidelines for dental practices
  • Alicia Washington for Circuit Judge
  • Re-elect Mike Orfinger for circuit judge
  • Concrete Works! Free Estimates, driveways, Patios, Walkways, Concrete removal, Driveway extension, Pavers
  • Family Remodeling Contractors! Bath, Kitchen &ADA Remodeling
  • River Garden Senior Services, However and whenever you need us we're here
  • Starlight Gymnastics! Our #1 priority is your children!
  • Chris Strickland for ST Johns county sheriff!
  • Sugar Bear Antique Mall Summer spectacular sale July 10th-12th
  • Baptist Health, Great tools for motherhood
  • A Green Cleaner, Free pickup and delivery to your home!
  • HarborChase independent & assisted living Memory Care Mandarin. Your safety and peace of mind is always our Top Priority
  • Havana Printing 904-447-5021