If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the Creative Capital truly lives up to its name, and perhaps the most colorful example is in the newest addition to our everyday wardrobe: face masks. Equal parts protection and fashion, these go beyond scraps of fabric and enter the realm of art. There are cheery, bold patterns like those made by Pawtucket designer Laura Burkett, who uses proceeds to offset costs for masks she donates to first responders and health-care heroes. There are exotic prints sourced from Bamako, Mali, sewn into masks by RISD and MIT instructor Eliza Squibb. Then there’s the innovative solution to irritating ear loops brainstormed by former toy designer Jen Long, who can share simple instructions to make your own mask. Dozens, if not more, city dwellers have found creative, artistic, inventive ways to craft this social distancing essential for friends, family, and frontline workers – and we’re loving every single one of them.
Squibb is co-founder of ZTwist Design, a design studio that partners with international artists to create visual communication for social impact. Based in Providence, Squibb received a BFA in Textile Design from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she currently teaches at Project Open Door, RISD’s college access program for adolescent artists. Squibb is also co-instructor for D-Lab Design, a course at MIT that connects innovative global start-ups and nonprofits with teams of student engineers.
When Squibb saw some of the first DIY mask patterns circulating on social media in mid-March, she immediately shared it with a friend and fellow textile artist in Niamey, Niger. “We messaged back and forth, sharing photos and inspiration,” she says. “Seeing his productivity and motivation to protect his community helped me get started trying out different patterns and digging into my fabric supplies.” Squibb’s work as a textile designer in the field of global health has taken her to many parts of the world. Fabric in the pictures hails from near and far; Bamako, Mali, as well as the New Battambang Market in Providence.
Making masks for friends and neighbors (and taking the occasional selfie!) has been a way for Squibb to feel creative during a stressful time.
Long is a former toy designer who may just have designed some of the toys you or your babies and children have played with through the last few decades, like My Little Ponies and Kick n Play pianos, or, most humorously, The John Deere Corn Cob Teether!
As Long researched more patterns, she saw reports of irritation from the kind that loops over your ears, and read about shortages of elastic itself. She decided to design a better one and that’s how the Badass BandanAIRa came to life. It’s a design that’s easy to make, does not require patterns or printer, and involves little pinning and almost no sewing. If you have questions or would like a copy of the directions, you can contact her at email@example.com.
Burkett is a full-time designer and entrepreneur. Her company, Laura Burkett Designs, creates finely crafted leather goods such as backpacks, messenger bags, totes, and other business accessories. She is the founder of ArtSmart productions, a team of experienced marketers that produces the Art Providence Show and offers integrated, low-cost marketing services to artists and art-based businesses. Burkett grew up in Kentucky and lived in Europe for nine years before moving to Pawtucket in 2009.
Burkett decided to switch gears and jumped into mask-making and selling them online, using part of the proceeds to offset costs for masks she donates to frontline heroes working in healthcare and emergency response teams, who use them to keep their medical masks cleaner longer. She focuses on cheerful color and bold patterns, as well as a “Thank you for keeping us safe” message printed onto the mask to help brighten their day and remind them how much they’re appreciated. Response has been incredible, and Burkett’s thrilled to be able to help.
Masks are made of dual-layer, double-stitched cotton and range from $14 to $19, with ability to choose ear loops or ties and the option to add a six-inch stainless nose bridge wire. Buy online at LauraBurkettDesigns.com.