Photo Courtesy Mike Schaefer: Amy Hui, a seamstress at Soaring Heart Natural Bedding, sews some of the organic cotton masks the business is selling to customers. Through the month of May, Soaring Heart is also donating N95 masks the seamstresses are sewing for frontline workers at Evergreen Hospital in Bellevue.
Photo Courtesy Mike Schaefer: Amy Hui, a seamstress at Soaring Heart Natural Bedding, sews some of the organic cotton masks the business is selling to customers. Through the month of May, Soaring Heart is also donating N95 masks the seamstresses are sewing for frontline workers at Evergreen Hospital in Bellevue.

Staff at a longtime Queen Anne mattress and bedding store are doing their part to help keep people safe in the coronavirus pandemic response, namely by sewing masks for hospital workers and residents.

Through May, seamstresses at Soaring Heart Natural Bedding, a specialty organic bedding and mattress store, are dedicating at least one day a week to sewing N95 masks for frontline workers at Evergreen Hospital in Bellevue.

Mike Schaefer, Soaring Heart owner, said the decision to have seamstresses shift their focus to sewing masks to seamstresses was an easy one. Not only is his business responding to a community need, Schaefer said he is able to offer his seamstresses more work and help keep them employed while the storefront is closed and the bedding part of business is slow.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” he said.

After the business closed around March 19, Schaefer said an employee reached out to someone at Evergreen Hospital to see if there was opportunity to help.

“We all were kind of aware of the [mask] shortages in the hospitals,” he said.

After the initial conversation, Soaring Heart and hospital representatives worked out the details, including providing mask patterns that meet N95 specifications. While the hospital was happy to have the help, Schaefer said, the N95 special fabric had to be pre-cut because his staff are sewers, not cutters. The hospital enlisted the help of a laser-cutting company whose owner agreed to donate their services to cut the material, which was sent to the seamstresses.

“Once we had all the fabric, then it’s easy for us to sew them up,” Schaefer said. “It’s just a lot of assembly, but we’re pretty good at this because we sew all day, every day.”

While hospital staff initially said the hospital needed 50,000 masks, Schaefer said he only has three sewing machines and two full-time and two part-time seamstresses. The first week, Schaefer said his equivalent of 2 1/2 seamstresses made 250 N95 masks for Evergreen.

“It’s just kind of a matter of how many we can do,” he said.

Schaefer said he agreed that they will donate masks through May and will reevaluate on June 1.

“Right now we have the time and the supplies,” he said, adding his staff could stay employed

At the same time, with N95 masks going to the hospital, Schaefer said that raised the question of what everybody else is supposed to wear.

“So we started making regular organic cotton masks,” Schaefer said.

The cotton masks, which are selling for $15 each, are made from soft organic cotton sateen fabric and come in small through large. They do not use elastic, nor do they loop over people’s ears. Instead, Schaefer said they designed a mask with one cotton/polyester “shoestring” type tie that loops over a person’s head and ties once above the ears. Schaefer said they are made for heavy-duty washing and will shrink to fit even more comfortably.

Schaefer said it did not take his seamstresses long to learn how to make the N95 masks or perfect the Soaring Heart mask pattern once they perfected their pattern for a secure, comfortable mask.

“It’s more you’ve got to keep yourself entertained while you do it over, and over and over again,” Schaefer said.

Soaring Heart employees received five masks for their safety, and they were given multiples so staff can wash the dirty ones at the end of the day and still have clean ones to wear. Keeping that in mind, Schaefer said he expects people will want at least a couple of masks.

“I think that the bottom line is that we think masks are hear to stay,” Schaefer said. “We all have to be prepared for that, and taking care of yourself is where to start.”

To purchase a mask, people can call the business and pay by credit card over the phone, 206-282-1717. Masks can also be ordered through the Soaring Heart website, at soaringheart.com/products/organic-cotton-washable-face. They are available for curbside pickup at Soaring Hearts, 101 Nickerson St., Suite 400, in Queen Anne.

For more information about Soaring Heart, go to www.soaringheart.com.