As a child, my grandfather lived above an undertaker’s shop on West 25th Street. The building, like my grandfather, is no longer with us, but my uncle sent a photograph of it this week, reminding me that my grandpa would have been a New York City kid, just a year older than Faye is now, during the Flu Epidemic of 1918.
I can’t ask my grandpa to confirm, but it seems likely enough that from his own apartment windows he would have witnessed first-hand an overwhelmed funeral parlor; that he might have gotten lessons on the spread of germs and properly covering his sneeze; that he might have worried; that his mother might have tied a gauze mask around his mouth and nose before sending him out the door. It’s always a comfort to think of the roots my family has all around this city, but as I watch my kids on the daily walk we take to stretch our legs, it’s been especially poignant to also think of my grandpa.
I swapped the cotton ties on my kids’ masks for elastics this week. Tying and retying a mask around the slippery hair of an almost 6-year-old was becoming an onerous task on the already long list of things to do before we leave the house. Silas was boycotting his mask altogether. Most of all, I finally admitted to myself that we’re in it for the long haul mask-wise, and that we might as well make them as comfortable and easy for everyone as possible.
I’ve also realized we could probably do with some more. A cloth mask is something that needs washing and having a backup, for the kids especially, feels prudent. Since I’m not sure I have it in me to sew a second batch by hand, and because so many others have asked, here’s a short list of small businesses making comfy-looking masks, including those sized specially for kids. If you have others to add to the list, please feel free to share. And if you’d like to try your hand at making a mask yourself, well, I’ve got you covered there, too.
Adjustable Botanical California Cloth Masks from California Cloth Foundry
Admittedly, these adjustable organic cotton masks might be the holy grail of cloth masks. They’re USA-grown, milled, and sewn from a sustainable supply chain. They can be restrung and worn either over the head or behind the ears. Their buy one, give one model donates to a different nonprofit weekly.
Deadstock Fabric Masks from Christy Dawn
5-packs of masks in solids, stripes, and florals in sizes for adults and kids. For every 5-pack of masks sold, Christy Dawn will donate five more to folks in need.
Floral Face Masks from Wunderkin
These masks use dance nylon for strong and comfortable ear straps. They feature an interior pocket for an optional disposable filter. They come in three sizes, including one for kids.
The Keep America Moving Mask from Steele Canvas
Denim and flannel masks in sizes for kids and adults. Elastic ear straps are adjustable. For every mask sold, Steele Canvas donates a second mask to a front-line worker.
Fabric Face Mask with Ties from Reformation
Reformation is partnering with the City of Los Angeles on LA Protects, an initiative to organize local manufacturers to make five million non-medical masks for essential workers. Options to purchase or donate.
Linen Face Masks from Fog Linen
Linen masks with elastic straps and a pocket for an optional filter. For the remainder of the year, a portion of the sales will benefit The Center for Disaster Philanthropy Covid-19 Response Fund.
Organic Cotton Face Masks from For Days
For Days is donating five organic cotton masks for every pack of five masks sold. Options to purchase or donate.
And for anyone else curious about old New York, a few finds:
My grandpa’s building as captured by a 1940 tax photo. (Here are detailed instructions for how to search The NYC Municipal Archive Online Collections for New York City street photos. Just in case going down rabbit holes is something you like to do!)
New York in 1918 from Urban Archive.
How New York City Survived the Spanish Flu from Untapped New York.
What New York Looked Like During the 1918 Flu Pandemic from The New York Times.