Sewing Masks – WHIG article

‘People need them’

Steph Crosier
Published on: May 8, 2020 in the Kingston Whig Standard: Updated: May 8, 2020 5:49 PM EDT

Leda Raptis hard at work sewing face masks for health-care workers. (Supplied Photo) STEPH CROSIER / SUPPLIED PHOTO

Despite a painful diagnosis caused by previous breast cancer treatment, when one Kingston woman heard the call for masks across the country, she sat down at her sewing machine and set to work.

“I thought, my God, the need is huge,” Leda Raptis said earlier this week. “If they work in the intensive care unit and they don’t have masks, that’s terrible. So, to help them, that’s why I started.”

Raptis, a professor in the school of biomedical and molecular sciences at Queen’s University, said she heard that ICU nurses were struggling to find masks from a friend whose daughter works in the unit. Raptis explained that she’s not a professional sewer, but has spent years sewing clothes and Halloween costumes.

“And my last name actually, Raptis, means tailor in Greek,” she laughed. “It’s perfect.”

With the help of her husband, Kevin Firth, cutting the material, it takes Raptis about three minutes to sew each mask before disinfecting them with alcohol. So far she’s made about 300 masks, with no intention of stopping.

In 2010, Raptis was diagnosed with breast cancer and completed all of the various treatments, such as chemotherapy. As a result of that therapy, she developed lymphedema, a chronic condition that causes swelling in an extremity after a lymph node is removed or damaged during cancer treatment. She uses her skills to also sew compression sleeves so she can continue to work comfortably.

In addition to sending masks to local health-care workers, Raptis sent a package to her physiotherapist in Montreal, who specializes in lymphedema. Marize Ibrahim was thrilled to learn of her patient’s efforts and reached out to the Whig-Standard.

“It’s not easy to sit there and make masks all day long, particularly when you have swelling in your arm like that,” Ibrahim said. “We’ll be using the masks here at the clinic, they’re using them at the hospitals in Kingston, they’re reusable, she’s not destroying the environment, we keep throwing out all these masks. …

“It’s just such a nice gesture that I felt it was a way for me to allow the community to just say ‘thank you. She’s not charging for these masks, she’s spending hours upon hours sewing them and she doesn’t even know who they’re going to.”

Raptis is not alone in her enterprise. Her fellow members of Breast Cancer Action Kingston are also sewing thousands of masks. There’s just one thing holding them back: the great elastic shortage.

It was the first thing Raptis brought up when speaking to the Whig-Standard. With Fabricland closed, she’s tried Amazon and some local stores with no luck.

“I don’t know where to find some. A friend gave me some and then I found all the elastics I could find in my home,” Raptis said. “I’m using the elastic in fitted bed sheets. I take it out and use it in the masks.”

One fitted sheet has enough elastic for six facemasks. If anyone has elastics or knows where to find them at a local store, email Raptis at

“The masks need to be made fast because people need them,” Raptis said. “Especially the nurses, doctors and patients at KGH.”

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