Updated: Jul 17
Susan Marshall has twenty years of experience working as a conference director. She spends a significant amount of time in the UK for work and fun. In her spare time, she sews, binge watches television, reads, and writes romance novels. You can check her out here: http://slmarshall.com/
Susan recently donated hundreds of beautiful masks in support of Fred Finch staff and participants.
Growing up in the '80s on a farm in a small town in Central California, there were a few things a girl needed to know how to do-sew, cook, and clean. Sounds old-fashioned now, but ithas kept me fed, clothed, and clean all my life.
As an introverted kid, I loved solitary hobbies, so I'd learned to needlepoint, embroider, knit, and crochet by the age of 10. I grew up in the era when children didn't have a million after school activities. You made a sandwich, watched The Brady Bunch, and did your homework. One afternoon, my mother announced that she was taking me to sewing lessons instead of watching Gilligan’s Island. Needless to say, I was not amused.
As we drove to the store, I wanted to cry at the thought of meeting new people and doing something I'd never done before. When we pulled up, my heart was pounding, and my hands were sweating. I wanted to jump out of the car, run home, and see what Gilligan was up to on the island. My stomach grumbled, and I began to worry I'd throw up in front of all these strangers, over all the beautiful fabric. How embarrassing? The town I grew up in was small. Everyone had a nickname in my town and being Don Marshall's little girl was considerably better than Barf Girl.
As I put my hand on the door and walked into the store, I took a deep breath, and I immediately relaxed as I took in the smell of cotton and lavender. The owners of the store stood at the counter and welcomed us in. I'd seen these women around town all my life, so they weren’t strangers. They smiled and told me about our first lesson as I wandered around the store, touching the soft cotton, satins, and lush faux fur fabrics, imagining what I could make with them one day. My brain was swimming with ideas, and my dread had turned to excitement.
When I went into the back area of the store where the lessons were held, there wasn't anyone else there. The rest of my tension left my body as I realized I would be the only one in my class. My mother said goodbye and left me for a few hours to learn how to make my first project, which was a t-shirt. By the time my mother came to pick me up, I’d made a lavender t-shirt, and I loved it! For the next few years, I continued to take lessons and learn to make different clothes and win awards for it.
To this day, the memory of that first lesson has stuck with me whenever I’ve wanted to quit something that scares me. The fear of going was much worse than the reality of doing it. I can’t imagine not knowing how to sew and am grateful to my mother for making me go.
Fast forward to 2000. I decided I would make myself a quilt for my bedroom, to go with a duvet I’d made for myself. My friends loved my quilt, so I began to make them for their babies or other special occasions. Many of these quilts are still around, and it makes me happy that they've kept them as keepsakes.
When Etsy started, I created a store called My Nerd Quilt. After a trip to Comic-Con, I was inspired to design one-of-a-kind quilts inspired by Star Wars, Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, and other popular shows. The store was a fun way to be creative and make heirloom pieces for a bigger audience. A big part of my business is special orders, and I am often approached by people to make a special quilt for a relatives' birthdays or Christmas. My hope is that those blankets will become a part of their own personal history.
As someone who works from home and has asthma, shelter-in-place hasn't been changed my routine. As a conference director, my industry has been turned upside down, and the events I am working on probably won't happen until next year. Working on my quilting projects and hobbies has been a good distraction from what is going in the world.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I would watch the news every night and see the pleas for masks. I donated money, but I wondered how I could do more to help. When I saw that the sewing community had banded together to help, I realized that I could do that, too.
A longtime friend contacted me because his partner's workplace, Fred Finch Youth & Family Services, was desperately looking for masks , and he knew that I sewed. He asked if I could make them 200 masks, and they would pay me to make them. I told them to keep their money, and I'd fire up my sewing machine and get to work. Having something to do gave me a purpose and kept me distracted about the anxiety of contracting the coronavirus. Win! Win!
I had a closet full of excess fabric from quilts. What else did I need? As I began to do research, to find a mask design, getting sewing supplies like elastic and even fabric were tough because of shortages and store closures. I was able to find the right design and the supplies to begin to make masks.
For a month, I worked and made my first 200 masks for Fred Finch Youth & Family Services. I've also donated masks to friends and family who are immunocompromised. With every mask I make, I have a sense of pride that this mask will keep someone from getting sick. The masks help people express their sense of individuality at a time when people are feeling isolated and invisible. When I see someone in a fun mask, it always makes me smile.
Making masks has turned into a job now, I am continuing to make masks for Fred Finch as well as making masks for my Etsy store, My Nerd Quilt. Every time I get a good review, it makes me smile. If you’d like your own mask, you can get them here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MyNerdQuilt
Learning to sew, like many things I’ve done in my life, has given me great joy. I am grateful that I didn’t stay home with Gilligan that day. If I'd have known at nine that sewing would still be giving me joy 40-plus years later, I would have been far more excited about going that day. I’ve learned that listening to your fear is a misuse of your imagination. Don’t do it; go for it. You won’t regret it.