GOSHEN — Goshen’s Christine Guth has spent most of the past year being “very cautious” about staying home and isolating. Because of that, she has kept busy sewing thousands of masks and knitting baby blankets to donate.
Guth and her husband Bob are retired. Guth said she’s had cancer in the past and other health issues.
“I’ve been in pretty good health lately, but we’ve been very cautious,” she said. “This disease (COVID-19) sounds horrible, and we didn’t want to get it. But I found ways to keep busy in meaningful ways.”
One of those meaningful ways has been sewing 5,700 masks to date that she’s given away.
“I’ve been sewing masks practically every day for a whole year,” she said.
Although Guth learned to sew when she was young, she said she’s sewn more in the past year than she has in her whole life. Guth said when they first learned masks could be helpful, she sewed them for family and friends, but then started learning of others who needed them.
She sewed masks for Maple City Health Center, Elkhart County Community Foundation and an organization on Facebook called Elkhart County Masks for Students, led by Kris Peterson. They wanted to be able to provide a mask for every student in the county.
Then around April or May, Barb Nelson Gingerich, whose husband is Dr. James Nelson Gingerich of Maple City Health Care Clinic, decided to put a clothesline in front of their house at 218 S. Eighth St. to hang masks for neighbors. Christine helped provide the masks.
“I told Barb our neighborhood is larger than we thought,” Guth said. “We heard people were taking masks and sending them to family in Mexico and someone drove up from Warsaw to get masks. A lot of Goshen College students were taking them too.”
She said she’s sewn several thousand masks for the clotheslines.
“It’s proven to be real popular,” Guth said. “There’s quite a demand for them.”
The two women didn’t care who took the masks. “We just wanted to express generosity to people in their time of need,” she said.
Guth said most of the fabric has been donated or purchased very inexpensively — like buying a bed sheet for $2 to $3 and making lots of masks from one sheet.
Peterson donated a lot of fabric and already cut strips for ear loops, she said. Peterson also showed Guth how to make the ear loops adjustable.
“Sometimes people drop off a few dollars at Barb’s,” she said, which they then use for materials for more masks.
“A lot of people were making masks in the beginning and gave up and some of them donated materials too,” she said.
Christine said it takes her about 10 minutes to make one mask, but she does them in batches. She said she’ll do one step at a time with a bunch of them like pinning them, then putting the nose wires in, pressing pleats, etc.
“By the time you do the first 50 it’s hard, but after a bunch; it goes easy. I watch TV while pinning or I listen to audio books,” she said. “It’s been part of my routine.”
At the peak, she said she was sewing 48 masks a day. Now she’s doing about six to 12 a day.
Guth said early on, “I heard someone say they made 1,000 masks and I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s incredible!’ And now I’m almost at 6,000.”
She’s sewn so many masks she had to replace the steam iron and had to replace a foot pedal on her sewing machine. Gingerich got her a more efficient cutting system with a rotary cutter.
Guth enjoys wearing the sweatshirt her sister sent her for Christmas which states, “Saving lives, one mask at a time.”
In addition to sewing masks, Guth has also been knitting baby blankets to donate to newborns at Maple City Health Center. Before the pandemic, she was meeting with a group of women who were knitting at the center. She explained there’s a program at the Health Center called “more than money,” where people can do volunteer work to get credit on their health care.
Guth wasn’t interested in the health care credit, but she did want to learn Spanish and many of the women in the group, called Martha’s Gift, were Spanish-speaking. She met with the women once a week for about two to three years.
“We haven’t met since the COVID, but I had a lot of donated yarn so I kept going,” she said.
She’s knitted and donated 41 blankets so far — nine since the start of the pandemic. Guth said they make them larger than a normal newborn blanket — the size is about 40-by-40 inches. This way when the child grows they can still use the blanket.
Christine said on average it takes her about a month to knit the blankets, but when she used to go on bird-watching trips she could “really crank them out.”
As to why she’s taken on these projects, Christine explained, “I came from a family of doers. Mom was always doing different things to help.”
She said before she retired her job was “pretty cerebral. So it’s been real satisfying to do things with my hands and see tangible results.”
“If you would’ve asked me when I started if I’d be sewing almost 6,000 masks,” she paused then said, “but after awhile it becomes easy.”
Guth enjoys the physical process and “it’s fun to give things away.”
She said she’ll occasionally receive positive feedback about what she’s done, “But you don’t do it for that. If you can make someone’s day easier or brighter — that’s the reward,” Guth said. “Spreading kindness — this is our gift to the community.
“It’s good to feel like I’m contributing,” she said.