Medford resident knits over 100 masks for Kirby’s Mill Elementary

Students receive protection from the virus thanks to Joan Brickley

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A small request from her daughter turned into a Medford resident’s 100 masks for kids at Kirby’s Mill Elementary School.

Medford Township’s Joan Brickley first made two masks for her granddaughter, Eva Kelley, to wear at school. Then an idea from her   daughter, Beth, to create masks for her class sent the elder Brickley to the sewing machine.

She happily obliged as “students can protect themselves and their families” from COVID-19. The Medford Township Public Schools’ board of education accepted the donation during its Sept. 21 meeting.

“At first, I started making masks for neighbors, friends and family members — and it’s the rectangular pleated ones — and I was introduced to these Olson masks,” Brickley recalled. “And I had to tweak them for center faces, and my daughter gave me the idea for Kirby’s Mill.”

The Olson Mask Pattern was named after the late Lyla Mae Olson, a nurse who designed the look commonly seen in stores and made by seamstresses. It has a curved top to affix to one’s nose and gathers two pieces of fabric with a seam from the chin to the nose.

The prototype is commonly recommended by health professionals and hospital networks because it has a pocket for wearers to insert filters and  protects against the virus.

Several design modifications came and went as Brickley tested filter pockets, elastic bands, various fabrics and mask breathability before producing a polyester-cotton blend for the Kirby’s Mill students.

Brickley has loved crafting and “fooling around with junk and stuff” as she devises ways to tweak an object to her liking or make it more effective. Her current proposal is to redesign face shields and make them more effective by attaching a layer or two of fabric below, a revision she hopes can block germs from getting underneath the shield.

Brickley laughed when she described the meticulous process of creating each mask, one that prevents her from sewing them in batches.

Masks are customized to properly fit a person’s face, accommodate for glasses and fit for over the ears. Other considerations include the aesthetics of a mask, such as its style; the type of fabric used; thickness; and a malleable bridge piece to reduce fog on glasses.

None of Brickley’s designs mimic the style of neck gaiters or bandanas. The Medford school district did not make a recommendation on permitted coverings, but it supplies disposable and knitted masks to students and teachers upon request.

Religion and an old job were reasons Brickley had a desire to give back to the district. Donations were made to her former employer and to the Medford Township Police Department, both contactless as she erred on caution against the virus. Brickley added she knew the department works with people in need of help, which she admired.

Time is often lost when working with a hobby, so her husband Patrick has helped her keep track through dinner or break reminders. He has supported her through her hobbies, especially in the pandemic as stay-home orders kept many residents home.

“I love the freedom of a hobby because you don’t have to do it,” she chirped. “At the same time, I get bogged down in wanting to do a good job and getting lost in my work. I’m an imperfect perfectionist – very frustrating!”