Dana Willard is the blogger, designer, and sewist behind MadeEveryday. She is well-known in the sewing community for fun fabrics and quick and easy tutorials. When the COVID-19 quarantine was announced in the United States, many sewists contacted Dana for guidance in making fabric face masks to stem the spread of the virus.
The make-a-face-mask sewing idea gained traction almost instantly through social media. How did it start for you?
I did make some masks, very easy. But I had reservations. I contacted three different doctors I know and asked if these will actually be used. One said no, they cannot replace the N95 masks used in a medical facility. Another said they could be used over the top of the N95 masks, so those masks can be used throughout the day with an extra layer over it. Another doctor friend said that these could be used in his clinic, so that real surgical masks could be saved for COVID-19 patients.
I also didn’t know where we would send our masks once they were made. Do we contact our local hospital? Also, are they sanitary? How do they know if someone making them isn’t sick themselves? It could add another layer of difficulty if they need to be washed once the masks are given to hospitals.
As a sewing community, people have such awesome intentions and want to help. I was not trying to downplay that. I just had a lot of questions and no solid answers. If the fabric masks really can be used, then yes, I would love to help with that. What I didn’t want to happen is we panic-sew, and sew up a storm, and then they just sit in a pile.
You still posted a tutorial with measurements for cutting fabric within a couple of days. How did you overcome your personal reservations about this whole idea?
I kind of re-thought the whole situation and decided, if it calms your stress level to sew something like this, then it’s a win. Or if it makes you touch your face less when you have to go to the store, then it’s a win. Or if it makes a new mama, in the labor and delivery department who just delivered a baby, feel better when she wears it, then it’s a win.
I got the sweetest email from a NICU nurse in California asking if she could buy some masks from me, because she doesn’t know how to sew, and their labor/delivery staff and patients are in need. Oh my goodness! No, they can’t buy a mask from me, but I would love to make them some! It made me so happy to have someone to make them for. Seriously, I was excited to wake up the next morning and get started on it, knowing that they would go directly to someone in need and using all the crazy fabric prints I could.
Do you have a lot of people asking you to make masks for them, either to donate or to buy? How do you handle that kind of demand on your time and energy?
I can’t physically make masks for all who have reached out to me. I’m also not organizing a group to sew masks or accepting donated masks. But it feels really awesome to make and give to others! So I did do a couple of things:
I created a one-page free downloadable pattern for anyone who would like to sew masks for themselves, for friends, or to donate to support centers. Print it, share it with friends, pass it around. This is only meant to help those who want to help, and to offer a concise pattern for sewing.
I also set up an Instagram post as a virtual bulletin board to connect the needs and the suppliers together. If someone needs masks, they could leave comments explaining their needs. Makers who want to give could find someone in those comments, and coordinate directly with them for quantities and shipping. It got over 400 comments of people asking and responding.
I also encourage people to check with their local support centers before sewing large quantities of masks, to confirm they will accept donations. Check with friends in the medical community. Hospitals and care centers are coming out with their own guidelines and recommendations for people who want to make and donate.
What is your background that got you into creating sewing projects and providing tutorials?
I learned to sew when I was about ten years old from my mom and my grandma. I loved to make clothing – simple elastic waistband shorts, pants, skirts, scrunchies, bags, all that kind of stuff. I sewed probably through high school, and even a little bit after college. But then, you know, life gets busy and I probably didn’t pick up sewing again until I started having kids, because then it’s so fun to make things out of tiny bits of fabric and you can usually get it done pretty fast.
What made me excited about sewing again was the concept of deconstructing clothing and figuring out how it’s put together. As I grew up, I used patterns from big fabric shops like McCall’s, Butterick. I always wondered, can I tweak this? Is that going to work out okay? For my brother’s wedding, Lucy, my oldest, needed a little outfit in the colors. She was just one. I thought I’d make her the exact shade of this little tank top to go with a skirt. I took apart a shirt that she had and started figuring out things like the straps – it was like a puzzle going backwards. What did they sew first? What did they sew last? I used some of her clothing as pattern pieces to draw new patterns.
I definitely do not have a background in pattern drafting. I sell sewing patterns, but I still consider myself a student of that. I feel like I am always learning as I’m making patterns and sharing with other people.
I went to BYU and have a degree in broadcast communications. There have been times I’ve looked back and wished I’d gotten a degree in graphic design, or learned true pattern drafting and things like that. But I don’t know. Sometimes I think my life is like a ball where it’s bouncing in different places, and at times it might feel a little arbitrary or unconnected. But often it will bounce back into a similar area. The fact is that I have a broadcasting degree, and I worked in the film industry for a while. When I left it and decided to be a stay at home mom, I didn’t know if I would use that skill set again. Here we are, ten years later, and now I do a YouTube channel. So it’s interesting to see, sometimes the things that you end up doing in life maybe aren’t even available. I look back – blogging, YouTube-ing – that wasn’t something you could major in. So I think of that, even with my own children – what things are they going to be doing that might not even exist right now. I think that’s an exciting part of life. Technology and ideas are always changing.
What were your steps into blogging and creating tutorials? Your degree provided a really good base for that.
I look back at the things I studied in school. I had to take a lot of writing classes and I love writing. It’s a really fun part of what I do, especially the style of writing you can do on a blog. It can be very informal, it can have funny moments, it’s a lot more casual and not as technical. Another thing I’ve grown to love is photography, which is very applicable to what I studied. In my broadcasting classes, we studied lighting a lot and composition and things like that. I’m a self-taught photographer in a way. Those two things married together is what I love about blogging.
When I try to describe in one word what I do professionally, I decided I am a designer, which probably sounds funny to people who have followed me for forever. They might think, no, you’re a sewer, or you’re a teacher. But deep down, I feel like I sew and make things so that I can display them in a certain way – take a fun photo of it with a fun backdrop and turn it into a magazine style. So that’s truly what I love. Even with my YouTube channel – I really wanted my channel to not just be a teaching vehicle, but to be really fun looking and pretty, almost like a cooking show. I wanted it to be high quality. So to me, sewing is the skill set that I have that I can teach people, but it’s the vehicle to do these other things that I really enjoy.
With sewing in general, it is sometimes looked down on as a female-only, housekeeping drudgery. I had that opinion for a long time, hated it because I wanted to be outside with my brothers doing Scouts. How would you respond to that stereotype?
That’s an interesting question. I think we are in a different space socially about gender and the way we view people. Anyone can be and do anything they want now. Not that I ever felt like I could or couldn’t, but I look at my mom – she was born in 1950 – for her, sewing was like you just described. It was utility. She had six children, there were no retail stores that we have now like Target, so she spent a lot of time sewing clothing for us because it was a necessity. She doesn’t love sewing very much, and she’d be fine with me saying that. She’s said to me, “I can’t believe you enjoy sewing so much. I think it is a chore and a pain.” Part of that maybe is the way she grew up around it. But maybe that’s just her personality too – it’s not something that brings her joy in the same way that she loves cooking. We all have different talents and interests.
But nowadays, it is totally cool and normal if a guy wants to be someone who sews and a female doesn’t want to sew. In fact, I follow a fair amount of Instagram people who are men quilters and garment sewers. I was a big fan of the Project Runway show, which is half men, half women.
I think sewing in general has turned into more of an art rather than a necessity. My mom did it as a way to save money. Now, sometimes it’s even more expensive to sew your own things. It doesn’t have to be, but in some instances, you could spend more because it’s fun, it’s an art.
Is the art aspect of it how you got into designing fabric lines?
As with anything, you do something for awhile, and then you are interested in finding what’s next. I’ve been blogging since 2008 but not as regularly as I used to. I was creating graphics to go along with my photos and I decided I wanted to learn Adobe Illustrator, which is one of the programs that graphic designers use for fabric. I took an online class and learned some of the basics, and created some fabric designs.
I really like minimalist, simple things. Before I started designing, I shied away from it because I always thought, “All I really like is stripes and polka dots. Who’s going to want to pay me to design stripes?” But the more I deconstructed things that I like, I realized that there were fabric designs that I liked that weren’t just stripes. You can look at a hand-drawn character or animal that is turned into a simple stripe or a simple repeat, something like that. It presented a fun challenge to me that I wanted to tackle.
I approached a fabric company and it was a shot in the dark. I did a few fabric collections with them. Later, I contacted a different fabric company that I felt was more my modern minimalist style. I’m on my third or fourth collection with them. It’s a really fun process.
My business is made up of a bunch of different elements – blogging, YouTube, selling PDF patterns, designing fabric. All of the different pieces are what help make my income and keep my creative interest. Sometimes the fabric can take a lot of time when I’m doing a collection – it can be about a month of designing, back and forth with the company. It’s not the most monetarily-driven part of my business, but I find it to be one of the most fun parts. It’s just so creative. When you see the fabric printed and watch total strangers sewing things with it, it’s another part of the creation process. I just created something, someone took that thing and created it into something else. It takes on this different life. It’s an evolutionary collaboration with people down the road that you don’t even know. I think that’s really cool.
I like that – you’re collaborating across the internet. You design fabric X and I make item Y that you hadn’t even thought of. So it’s collaboration and connection.
I’ve really found joy from the connection with people, mostly women – I’m aware that’s mostly who follows me – this connection with women around the world. It is such a boost of joy, with the comments that people will send in. I want this to come across in a humble way – when people have sent me messages, I’ve gotten one that said, “My mother passed away this year and I was in a really dark place and really depressed, didn’t know what to do. I stumbled on your Youtube channel and started sewing.”
Those comments are so touching. We’re all helping each other in different ways. For me, I will go on a cooking site – someone loves cooking and is sharing their recipes, that touches me. When I’m in a busy spot in my day and I need a dinner recipe, I’m so thankful that someone is out there teaching me that skill set. I just love how much blogs, Youtube, all these different technologies are able to connect us worldwide in ways that we couldn’t have before. We all, deep down, have the same things we are hoping to do in our day, the same loves, the same problems that we’re hoping to overcome.
It’s really cool also when someone leaves a comment – I’m in Ghana, or hello from the Philippines, or India, places that I never would have imagined. As children of God, as we truly call each other brothers and sisters, I love this connection through what I’m able to do. It’s really neat.
What does this mean to you – all of your creative things – how does this factor into your faith? How does this factor into your relationship with our Heavenly Parents? How do you connect with your faith and your creativity?
That’s a hard question because I don’t want to make what I’m doing into something bigger than maybe it is. I’m not thinking about that on a daily basis, as I sew. I do think that creating in general – I always go back to this talk by Elder Uchtdorf – you try not to play favorites, but he’s really awesome. He has a talk called “Happiness, Your Heritage” – it’s from 2008 – that’s really interesting. That’s when I started my blog!
“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.
Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty” (Uchtdorf, October 2008).
I love that, and I shared it in a creative book I was profiled in. It speaks to the human soul regardless of what religion you are, or what gender you are, or what race you are. Yes, I think there’s something in us that we just want to create and make stuff. When I feel like I’m happy in my day-to-day life, it’s often when I’ve made something, or I’ve been productive using my hands.
Sometimes people think, “Well, I’m not creative. I don’t like to sew, I’m not an artist.” It’s easy to feel like that’s not my skillset and I totally get that. I’m not saying every person has to be an artist. But we are all creators in different ways. There’s a woman in my ward who is so great at organization. She’s on top of the dinner chart and she’s very organized with how she shops at the store. This is something I am not good at. Not saying that I can’t improve, but I think we are all creators of different sorts in our families, in our communities, in our callings. It’s like Elder Uchtdorf said – it’s a yearning of our human soul. I think it’s maybe an inherent part of our spirits and what brings us happiness.
In Relief Society, a focus in ministering is building friendships. We’re trying to build common ground and get to know people. If you have a thing that you’re all working around – for example, the blog is sewing – you build camaraderie and community.
For sure. Some of my favorite activities in Relief Society have been when we’ve gotten together and shared some crafts. I think when you’re together creating, and you’re just sitting there doing things, I love the conversation that comes up. I am a person that is kind of fidgety, I always need to be doing stuff. I think that’s just a fun time to really bond with sisters or with family. Making something together is just a great experience.
That goes back to the Elder Uchtdorf quote – that it’s inherent within us to create, regardless of what it is.
I agree. He has another talk called “Come Join with us”– I love when he talks about how there’s room for everyone at church:
“Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result”(Uchtdorf, October 2013)
I love that too, because people may be in the margins or feel like they’re different, or maybe they don’t see eye to eye with what we think of as the Mormon mold. We want you here and we need all different skill sets and all different talents. Heavenly Father loves each of us and created each of us. There’s always a place for you here. I think that message is a wonderful one to hear from the top, from our leaders.
At A Glance
Name: Dana Willard
Marital Status: Married
Children: 3: daughter (14), son (12), and daughter (8)
Occupation: Designer, Youtuber, Teacher
Convert?: Born in the church
Schools Attended: BYU - BA Communications
Interview Produced By: Trina Caudle