Cloth face masks are now part of our daily wardrobe. Finding one that fits right and is comfortable to wear is really important, because wearing it can save lives. In the late Spring, when the public health orders advised wearing cloth masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, cloth masks were hard to find. The internet was full of suggestions for making your own, too. (I remember trying to make one with a t-shirt and rubber bands, which never worked for me!) In late March, we wrote about a friend who was making masks for her family, but most of us were stuck waiting for cloth masks to make it to stores. Even well-capitalized clothing manufactures like Buck Mason took some time to pivot to making masks.
But crafters and seamstresses were busy sewing them up for friends and family. And slowly but surely, comfortable, clever masks started to make their way into stores. Locally, Larchmont’s Pickett Fences now has a very nice selection of stylish, cotton masks that are hand made right here in the neighborhood by longtime staffers Shannon Penczar and Alyssa Benner.
We stopped by last weekend to chat with the makers. Penczar, a life-long crafter of handmade and vintage items, said she started making masks for herself, friends and family, and quickly realized that masks would be nice to sell in the store since they were in high demand. Her designs have evolved over the months as people have been wearing them and giving her feedback. For example, she said she started out with a pocket for filters, but realized that wasn’t as popular with shoppers. She also learned it was important to have two different fabrics on the mask, so wears would know which side they had worn if they take it off and put it back on.
Alyssa Benner, who studied fashion design and worked as a pattern cutter, just added masks to the projects she’s already got underway, like making loungerie or collaborating with her husband in repurposing designer fabrics into new items of clothing or masks. Both she and Penczar like to use vintage fabrics so each mask is unique and one of a kind. Both had lots of fabric around and they also used provided by owner Joane Pickett’s mom, like vintage flour sack fabric, which quickly became a favorite because it’s soft and wears really well.
Benner and Penczar also have masks designed with men in mind. They are larger and made from men’s cotton shirting materials, making them popular with guys. Along the way, the two discovered the need for adjusters, small round coils that allow the wearer to tighten the loops on the mask and adjust it to fit your face. Everyone knows that an ill-fitting mask doesn’t do any good. It should fit comfortably over your nose and mouth.
There are lots of fun holiday designs for adults and kids that make a perfect stocking stuffer. You can check them out in the shop and you can learn more about Benner and Penczar on Instragram.
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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