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Leslie Travis, a Chicago sailor, retired public school teacher, and, yes, a self-proclaimed sewer, stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic to help make PPE for her friends that worked in the local hospitals. Soon, the demand far outweighed her capacity to make masks and, in her effort to meet the desperate demand she turned for help to her friend Cate Swanson at UK Sailmakers Chicago.

UK’s Chicago loft has been run by the Considine family for over 50 years and they have earned the reputation for making race-winning sails and providing service and help to local sailors. Cate and her brothers, Mike and Pat, work with their father Jim and Pat’s son Kevin. Even though the loft’s new sail and repair business will be down 50% in 2020, for weeks the loft donated four to six hours every day cutting cloth for Leslie Travis’s efforts to make PPE for the healthcare workers in and around Chicagoland.

YouTube video

Leslie, who is used to organizing projects, acquired donated material to make PPE, had UK Sailmakers Chicago cut out pieces for masks, and then she would package kits for local sewers who picked up the kits from her front porch for sewing at their own homes.

“Neither one of us could have anticipated what Cate’s ‘yes’ meant,” explained Leslie. “She and Kevin are wearing out the cutting table by running the cutting machine five or six hours a day, five days a week, making the tie-strips and mask blanks. UK donated the labor and equipment! To date, we have distributed enough kits to sew over 5,000 cloth face masks for hospitals and clinics, nursing homes, homeless shelters, restaurants, juvenile detention centers, nurses, doctors, grandparents, friends, neighbors, Uber drivers, fire fighters, stores, postal workers.”

Cate Swanson and Kevin Considine cutting out pieces for surgical gowns and some of the completed multi-colored face masks.

One day at the loft, Leslie noticed that the cutter’s tabletop was getting deep gouges in the shape of the masks and mask ties from of the massive repetition of cutting the same shapes. Normally cutting surfaces last for years because sail panels are all different, but all the cutting of the same shapes was wearing out the cutting surface quickly. Not wanting to penalize the loft for donated work, she enquired what it would take to replace the table’s vacuum surface. When she found out the cost, she found an appreciative donor interested in helping. Leslie’s years of networking and scrounging paid off yet again and the new cutting surface was ordered.

When we eventually work ourselves out of this pandemic, and start resuming sailing and buying sails, think back to the folks that used their sailmaking skills and resources to help others in this time of need. Leslie and the staff of UK Sailmakers Chicago are collectively looking for the old normal to return, but until it does, UK’s Chicago and other UK lofts that made PPE will be doing what they can to help keep everyone safe.

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