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A law professor and a truck driver join to make "A Million Masks a Day"

March 30, 2020 6:15 PM
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu

Prof. Elizabeth Townsend Gard and Indianapolis truck driver Seth Hackler have lauched "A Million Masks a Day" -- a website and movement to provide the protecive gear for health workers.


Through a common interest in quilting, a truck driver from Indianapolis, Ind., and a Tulane Law professor have come together to help health care workers in need of masks.

Tulane Law Prof. Elizabeth Townsend Gard, whose research recently explored on intellectual property norms in the creative world of crafting and hosts the popular podcast, “Just Wanna Quilt,” and Seth Hackler, who runs a Facebook group called “Quilting on a Budget” with more than 38,000 members, called upon their sewing and quilting communities. Within 24 hours of discussing the possibility, the two launched "A Million Masks a Day" – getting local crafters to make masks for those in need, like first responders and the elderly, as the nation battled the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “We talked about it on Thursday, March 18, and we had established a joint Facebook group then next day,” said Townsend Gard.

“Quilters are the most generous and giving community I have ever known,” said Townsend Gard. “These are people who will spend hours upon hours, spending their own money, to work on a quilt for charity. They will make a quilt for a stranger; now multiply that by tens of thousands of quilts donated to every cause imaginable across the nation each year. So no, it’s no surprise to me that this is happening.”

So far, the Facebook page has more than 1,300 members, over 1500 visits to the website, and a new Instagram page is growing in popularity. The posts are inspiring: Grandmothers distributing homemade face masks to seniors in their communities; Hackler arriving at Hancock Regional Hospital in small-town Indiana, dropping off a box of colorful masks.   Hackler’s video on how to make a mask has been viewed more than 16,000 times in the last week.

Hackler, who got into quilting four years ago after his mother passed a way, says this moment has made him come full circle. You see, his mother was nurse. When he found himself with all of her old scrubs, he decided that a quilt would be a lovely way to preserve his mother’s legacy for his daughters.

Seth Hackler, center, his wife, Brittany, and  
neighbor, David Hess.

“So, our nurses and doctors have a special place in my heart,” he said.

The idea for A Million Masks a Day literally came at 3 a.m. when he and Townsend Gard were talking about the growing shortage of masks for health care workers.

“We could not be more opposite,” said Hackler, who calls himself a Midwestern, truck-driving-guy. “But quilting has a way of bringing people together, every age, religion, political views, even education. Within 10 days people were following the page and making masks.”

As with any social media group, of course, there are lively discussions. Members discuss community needs, patterns that work well, and, like all good craftspeople, how to add little things to improve on the basics, to give comfort to stretched health care providers.

There are tips on making masks from old T-shirts, how to make them with or without elastic, with or without a chin pleat for comfort. Seemingly daily, there is a whodathunkit post, like “Bungee cords are FULL of elastic!” posted by one member.

There is a myriad of colorful fabrics; patterns with cats, dogs, and from Townsend Gard, the expected crawfish. There are polka dots and fleur de lis, solids, stripes, muted colors and bright, chili peppers, Tonka trucks and, of course, American flags.

Meribah Moore-Christensen
of Iowa with her masks.

 Nothing compares, though, to the daily counts from members.

“We made 36 today,” said one woman, “Delivered a box full” to a hospital, posted another. A grandmother is seen holding a mask, with a caption explaining she delivered them to fragile seniors in her community.

As for her research and work, Townsend Gard wrote her PhD thesis about the culture of catastrophe during WWI that brought people to volunteer to do their bit, including knitting for soldiers, volunteering for war, and nursing. She plans to use what is happening in the group as part of future research on the intersection of culture, crafts and copyright, and in particular the “useful articles doctrine.”   

“We all pitch in, and that’s what’s happening now. We see open source solutions for the ventilator crisis and the widespread sharing of mask patterns.  It’s the way culture is supposed to work,” explains Townsend Gard.

Townsend Gard joined Tulane Law’s faculty in 2007. Since then, she became the co-inventor of the Durationator® Copyright Experiment, a software program that aims to determine the worldwide copyright status of every kind of cultural work.

She is the co-director and co-founder of the Law/Culture/Innovation Initiative, housed at the Social Innovation Social Entrepreneurship Program, and is director of the Copyright Research Lab at Tulane Law School.

She also is a Greenbaum Fellow at the Newcomb Institute and a Lepage Facuty Fellow at Tulane’ A.B. Freeman School of Business.

“It’s so gratifying to see the way members of the Tulane community have rallied to help others during this crisis,” said Law Dean David Meyer.  “Professor Townsend-Gard is a shining example of the Tulane Law spirit, putting her characteristic creativity and entrepreneurship to work to fill a critical gap in the national response.”

As for Hackler,  his whole family has gotten involved, including his wife and daughters, and other family members.  He’s taking care of those around him that are elderly or have health conditions, and he is honoring both in providing masks to local hospitals and also getting the word out, along with Townsend Gard, to sew until the crisis is over. 

“No one wants to be making these masks.  This is horrid.  But we will sew until we are not required to do so anymore,” said Townsend Gard. “That’s what quilter’s do.  We pitch in; we sew with love.  And, we joke, we’re prepared with all of the supplies we need to be called into action to make homemade masks.”

For more information, join the Facebook group, A Million Masks a Day, or visit the website, www.millionmasksaday.com where you can find information on groups that have need throughout the country, patterns, and other resources.