Masks On, Minnesota

From theater shops to Etsy shops, Minnesotans across the state are making masks to do their part
Maggie Thompson's Ribbon Mask
Maggie Thompson’s Ribbon Mask project is helping healthcare workers and community members.


Following the Center for Disease Control’s suggestions that people wear homemade masks in public, people all around the nation are making the move to cloth personal protective equipment (PPE), and Minnesotans are no exception. The CDC recommends using face masks that are not N95 masks, as they are in short supply and are needed for healthcare workers. While you still must maintain six feet apart in accordance with social distancing recommendations, homemade masks are an added layer of protection to keep ourselves and our communities healthy and safe. Textile and fashion designers, theater artists, and even Etsy makers are chipping in to help do their part.

Local Artists and Designers

Minnesota artist Maggie Thompson runs a knitwear shop called Makwa Studio. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, she was planning a trip to Germany to get her industrial knitting certificate and working as a cleaner with Two Bettys Green Cleaning. She has put both on hold now. Since being furloughed from her job, Thompson has put all her effort into making masks. Her Ribbon Mask Project is, as she says, her “artistic response” and an opportunity to give back to the community.

Each richly colored mask features three ribbons. “The ribbon is a symbol of identity, adaptation, survival, and resistance,” Thompson says. Ribbon was introduced to Native Americans by the settlers, and even after genocide, Native Americans were still able to use it to hold on to their culture, creativity, and identity.

While her work is made with the indigenous community in mind (Thompson herself is Fond du Lac Ojibwe), it is for everyone in the community. “This is currently a time where everyone needs to learn how to adapt and survive,” Thompson says.

For every mask sold on her site, she donates two masks to places like the Native American Community Clinic and other local health clinics, healthcare workers, and vulnerable members of the community such as elders. Thompson wants people to walk with confidence and safety during these unsettling times. At the time of publication, she was sold out of her masks due to the high volume of requests.

Other local artists are also putting their talents to use. Artist Joy Teiken has partnered with Birchwood Café, where the masks will be a part of curbside deliveries. Clothier Design Source has launched the Be Silly Project and a “buy one, give two” deal. For every mask sold, they will donate two to healthcare workers and vulnerable populations who are short on PPE. Designer Diays Designs is making use of unused fabric to make masks, as well.

Theater Groups

People in the theater industry across the state are also using their resources to make masks. At the University of Minnesota Morris, costume designer Zoe Johnson saw the opportunity to help her friends, family, and the larger community. She says, “I feel a responsibility to use my skills to help where I can.” So far, she has made about 40 masks and has donated them to those who have asked, her payment coming from, in her words, “knowing that they are being used to keep people safe.”

Her colleague and theater professor at the U of M Morris, Lucas Granholm, has also stepped up to make masks. While he is a scenic and lighting designer by trade, he says, “I know enough to stitch fabric together. That’s all you really need to know to make a mask.”

Other theater groups who have stepped up include the Guthrie, who has donated PPE to healthcare workers and made homemade masks, and the Minnesota Opera, who has launched a Sew to Support initiative where volunteers sew medical grade masks for HealthPartners and other community organizations.

Etsy Shops and Local Volunteers

SewCozyMel is an Etsy shop run by Twin Cities local Melinda Deiss, where she regularly hand makes clothing and accessories for mothers and babies. However, she has set that work aside to make handmade masks for friends and family, and soon, healthcare workers.

Deiss, along with dozens of other local DIY-ers, is a part of the Facebook group Twin Cities Mask Makers – COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic Volunteers, which helps coordinate drop off spots for homemade PPE to be distributed to local healthcare workers, caregivers, or those who are immune compromised.

Here are some tips for those wanting to make their own masks:

  • Use two layers of 100% cotton material for the most effective homemade masks.
  • You can use bandanas, T-shirts, sheets, or other cotton material.
  • Elastic is fast and easy, but hand ties are more adaptable for different sized heads.
  • To wash homemade masks, hand wash them or put them in a mesh bag to lengthen the lifespan of the mask.
  • Check out more tips from Allina Health and the CDC.