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Dickinson College Theatre & Dance Faculty and Staff Provide Cloth Masks and Video Mask-Making Instruction

Cloth masks made by Sherry Harper-McComb's Dickinson College's resident costumer.

During the COVID-19 health emergency, Dickinsonians help meet a critical need

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a recommendation for all Americans to wear cloth face coverings when around others, Google searches for “how to sew a mask” skyrocketed—along with the number of online tutorials answering the call. With thousands of options out there, it can be hard to figure out where to begin, especially if you’re new to sewing. 

A skilled costumer—who’s also an educator—can help, and that's exactly what members of Dickinson’s theatre & dance department are doing.

Since Gov. Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order in Pennsylvania, Professor of Theatre & Dance Sherry Harper-McCombs, Dickinson’s resident costumer, Costume Studio Supervisor Juli Bounds and Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre & Dance Karie Miller have collectively sewn approximately 500 masks. (Of these, Miller has contributed several hundred and counting.) They began making cloth masks for Cumberland Goodwill EMS, so the first responders could save their medical-grade masks for when they needed them. The Dickinsonians then made masks for loved ones and members of the Carlisle community, including the small group of Dickinson students who still reside on campus. Miller also makes masks available to passersby during weekly trips to the grocery store.

And at a time of year when Dickinson’s costume shop would otherwise be busy creating and finalizing costumes for the spring play, Harper-McCombs also created a how-to video to help those with little to no experience with sewing. Last week, her friend and professional theatre colleague Morgan Vaughan, a producer at the public-access television station LTV, asked Harper-McCombs to record a how-to sewing video for broadcast in hard-hit New York. The professor was happy to help.

“It is really easy to feel helpless right now. Doing something useful alleviates some of that feeling of helplessness while also offering up something that can be helpful to others,” says Harper-McCombs. “There is also a real satisfaction in knowing that as it turns out, in times like this, it helps to have a costumer or two on your team."

Read more stories about how members of the Dickinson community near and far have responded to emerging needs and challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Published April 13, 2020