A grandmother in the Four Corners area, a school district employee and a Superior seamstress have a common thread. All three have been involved in sewing and donating cloth masks during the COVID-19 health emergency.

Megan Alanen expected to be knee-deep in wedding and prom dresses this month. She opened her Superior business, The Stitchery, Feb. 24 to be ready for the wedding season. Instead, she’s been cutting, ironing and sewing hundreds of cloth masks.

“It’s not how I thought my first few months would go,” Alanen said.

With her first six months’ rent already paid, most of her brides postponing and low overhead costs budgeted in, the seamstress has focused her efforts on helping others.

“I can’t just not do anything,” Alanen said.

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A Facebook post from a friend prompted Alanen to download a mask pattern and start sewing. Instead of medical facilities, she’s concentrated on schools and day care providers. Alanen has gifted masks to Cloquet High School, Washington Elementary School and even a few less child-centered businesses.

“I did drive around last Friday to my favorite breweries,” Alanen said, including Earth Rider in Superior.

Megan Alanen connects ties to a facemask at the Stitchery in Superior Tuesday afternoon, April 14. After donating many masks Alanen is now selling masks to the public at her shop. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Megan Alanen connects ties to a facemask at the Stitchery in Superior Tuesday afternoon, April 14. After donating many masks Alanen is now selling masks to the public at her shop. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Tim Prosen, assistant principal at Cloquet High School, said the gift was a reunion of sorts. Alanen was a student in his economics class 10 years ago. The school put out a request for masks on Facebook, and Alanen answered. Paraprofessionals and bus drivers use the masks to serve 1,300 lunches a day and drop homework off for students. They were impressed with the quality of the masks.

"It's pretty cool," Prosen said.

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Bonnie Brown has been collecting quilting material for years and felt it was time to pay it forward. She found a pattern online and started mass-producing tri-fold cloth masks.

The Superior School Board on April 13 recognized Brown, a teacher’s assistant at Superior Middle School, for her work. She provided 85 homemade masks to district food service and transportation staff who provide meals to children 18 and under every weekday. The district has served more than 40,000 meals since schools were shuttered due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“I’m looking out for my fellow Spartans,” said Brown, who was a lunch lady at SMS for 10 years.

Bonnie Brown, a teaching assistant at Superior Middle School, wears one of the masks she's made. Brown has donated hundreds of masks to community members, including 85 to food service and transportation staff delivering meals to students in the Superior School District. It keeps her busy and makes her feel good, Brown said. (Submitted photo)
Bonnie Brown, a teaching assistant at Superior Middle School, wears one of the masks she's made. Brown has donated hundreds of masks to community members, including 85 to food service and transportation staff delivering meals to students in the Superior School District. It keeps her busy and makes her feel good, Brown said. (Submitted photo)

In addition to the Superior School District, Brown has donated masks to post office employees, the staff at Superior Meats, the Department of Natural Resources office in Duluth and people she meets.

Brown was putting the finishing touches on a batch of 50 masks Tuesday. She said she’ll keep making them "until people quit asking for them.”

Quilter Marge Kehoe has been sewing all her life and she’s hoping to pass the skill on to her granddaughters. The 77-year-old made about a dozen masks for her neighbor and a fellow member of her quilting club recently with the cotton fabric she had on hand.

“I know the mask doesn’t protect you 100%, but something is better than nothing,” said Kehoe, a member of the Douglas County Home and Community Education group.

She’s turned her skills back to making quilts (the HCE donates about 100 quilts a year to various charities), but Kehoe said masks would be an easy project for someone with basic sewing skills to make. Kehoe learned how to make hers on YouTube.

Their patterns may differ, but the three share a common trait. They want to keep busy.

“I can’t just sit in a chair,” Brown said, and she appreciates the fact that the school district is paying employees while the buildings are shut down. Besides, she said, it’s too cold to garden right now.

Alanen has reached out to the Twin Ports Mask Brigade, but plans to continue her solo efforts.

“We kind of all have the same message,” the seamstress said. “Just to get them to anyone who needs them.”

Brown isn’t part of HCE or the brigade. She calls herself a “lone wolf," but she’s committed to getting masks to the public.

“It does make me feel good,” Brown said.

Masks can help protect the public from the spread of COVID-19.

“I want everybody to have one,” Alanen said. “I want to go to Walmart and see everyone wearing them. It only takes one person.”

The Stitchery is accepting donations of materials for masks. Alanen wants to provide them wherever they’re needed, from elder care facilities to businesses.

She is also selling masks, with proceeds going right back to buy more material. If someone needs a mask and can’t afford it, however, Alanen said she’s happy to provide one.

Call 218-940-4524 or visit The Stitchery Superior Facebook page for more information.