Handcrafting Face Masks for Brave Healthcare Workers

Handcrafting Face Masks for Brave Healthcare Workers

Maintaining a safe workplace for our staff and encouraging healthy living among our customers and community have always been top priorities for Softstar. We normally define “healthy living” in terms of strong feet and an active lifestyle, but as we continue to watch the COVID-19 coronavirus spread across the country (and world) our concerns have shifted to public health and prevention of contagion.

A national shortage of face masks is endangering the safety of healthcare workers tending to those who test positive for COVID-19. We happen to have a workshop full of sewing machines, so we began researching how difficult it would be to make masks ourselves to donate to local hospitals and health centers.

It turns out it’s not difficult at all.

A segment of our shoe production team is now pivoting to a face mask production team. Starting today, we are sewing our first batch of masks using handcut patterns. Our talented shoe designers developed mask patterns for metal dies, which are like big cookie cutters we use to stamp out shapes quickly from leather… or in this case, fabric for masks. We are rush-ordering these dies to be made and shipped overnight to our shop, which will then allow us to speed up and streamline our mask production.

Handcrafted Face Mask
Shoe designer Molly demonstrates one of her handcrafted masks.

We are still unclear how many masks we will be able to produce, but we will have a better idea after we work out the kinks in the coming days. In addition, we have several talented seamsters who have opted to work from home (more about this below) and have volunteered to spend their time making masks using their home sewing machines.

Update - April 2, 2020:
We have refined our mask-making process and are now producing hundreds of masks each week. Our mask pattern has also been updated to fit better and allow a filter insert. Since many of our employees are opting to stay home, but still want to volunteer to make masks with their home sewing machines, the skeleton crew remaining in our workshop are dividing their time between making shoes and prepping mask-making kits. We are purchasing materials, cutting patterns and packing them in sealed kits that are delivered to the homes of our volunteering staff. Once the masks are finished, we return to pick them up and deliver to hospitals. Thanks to our wonderful fans for all of your kind words of support!

By chance, we also had a box of 200 brand new N95 respirator masks sitting in storage that we were able to donate right away. We acquired this box of masks over a year ago when a local superconductor manufacturing business closed and planned to discard their remaining supply. We salvaged the box simply because we thought it would be a waste to let it end up in the trash and wondered if our employees would ever need to use the masks in our shop. We never did need them, but we recently learned that this type of mask is currently in high demand by healthcare workers as it offers a better level of protection than simpler masks. We are very grateful they are now fulfilling a valuable need for our community.

All masks will be donated for free to OHSU (Oregon Health and Science University) and our local Good Samaritan Hospital.

N95 Respirator Masks

If you have a home sewing machine then you can help, too! Check out this article that includes links to patterns and instructions for making face masks out of common materials. Contact your local hospital or health center to find out where your homemade masks can be donated.

Safety in Shoemaking

At this time, we are still making shoes and fulfilling orders, but at a limited capacity and with many modifications. We increased the rules in our shop regarding hygienic practices and social distancing and we will continue to make changes as we find more opportunities for improvement.

We are monitoring daily updates and recommendations from the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and our local public health officials. At the time of writing, we are grateful that none of our employees have shown signs of infection, nor have there been any reported cases of COVID-19 in our town. Nonetheless, we are prepared to halt all operations at Softstar if we feel it becomes necessary to do so.

Sterile Shoemaking Practices

Here are the precautions we are currently taking:

Showroom Closure - Our workshop consists of our production floor and a public showroom. The public showroom has been closed since March 12 and will remain closed at least until the end of April.

Limited Shop Access - Only essential shoemaking employees who choose to continue working are permitted in our workshop, although any employee who wants to stay home is permitted to do so without penalty. No visitors or non-essential staff are allowed on the premises.

Disinfect! Disinfect! Disinfect! - Employees who continue to work in our shop must sanitize their workstations four times daily. All doorknobs, handrails and tools will also be sanitized four times every day and bathrooms must be sanitized after every use. Printouts of popular song lyrics have been posted above handwashing sinks to encourage employees to wash for a full 20 seconds.

Distancing - Workstations in our shop have been arranged to maintain a minimum of 10 feet between employees. Our communal staff breakroom is now off-limits. Employees are encouraged to store their lunches in individual coolers and practice social distancing during breaks.

Work from Home - Remote workstations have been set up for employees who are able to work from home and opt to do so. This includes our office staff as well as our customer service employees, who will be answering customer phone calls from their homes.

Self-Quarantine - Any employee who develops a fever must stay home in quarantine for a mandatory 14-day period after the fever has subsided before returning to work. Similarly, a 14-day quarantine is required for any employee who is exposed to another person with a fever or known exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Limitations for the amount of time off employees can take have been removed. We are also extending benefits for paid time off and paycheck advances.

We would like to thank our fans and our community for your continued support. We understand the fear and unease that has crept into everyone's lives and we hope to encourage each other to stay strong and persevere.


  1. Gwyn Newcombe
    You are awesome Thank you for your community awareness and willingness to make a difference!
  2. Betty
    Thank you for doing this for your/our community, it is greatly appreciated.

    Betty Hooper
  3. Mary
    Your business is a real credit to our community. Not only did you create a beautiful building out of a crumbling landmark, but your product is wonderful. My daughter bought her babies' tiny slippers from you and bought more as they grew. Now they're all adults so it has been a long time. I want to thank you for your current contributions in providing masks for our healthcare workers. You're saving lives.
  4. Mary
    Your business is an example of how to thrive and at the same time serve your community. Providing masks for our healthcare workers is a generous gesture. Thank you.
  5. Connie Stevens
    Connie Stevens
    Two of our Southern Oregon hospitals have said they will not accept homemade masks. What can we do to ensure they can use them? They are in dire need of masks too.
  6. aaron deneui
    Proud to have you a part of our community. thank you!
  7. Pam Gordon
    Would you be able to make N95 masks? Those are the key ones that most appropriate to keep us safe.

    Thank you for all your help ♥️

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