One of a Kind Family Tradition Inspires St. Clair Hospital Cook to Sew Hundreds of Masks

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By Grace Zarnas Hoyer

Masks have become as commonplace as having a cell phone. So, why not personalize or have a mask created that is reflective of you.

That’s what Sheila Shepherd, a full-time cook for St. Clair Hospital (under the management of Cura Hospitality) in Pittsburgh has been “stitching” in her spare time!  According to Sheila, who is known for her chicken Marsala and caramel brownies, “I started to make masks for my sister, Michelle Sieman, who is a cancer survivor. Because she is high risk, I wanted her to be best protected.” 

Sheila, who is from Castle Shannon, PA, is donating her time by sewing hundreds of one-of-a-kind masks with materials of her customers’ choice. She uses a surgical style mask pattern, creating them with a non-woven fabric to filter the mask.    

“I started looking online, and adapted my mask with a built-in interface (a stiffener for the fabric), which provides additional protection for the filter you choose,” she says.  

Sheila suggests heap sweeper bags or furnace filtersThe pockets are designed so that the elastic can be removed or replaced with another material.

“Another unique addition are the pockets sewn on the side of each mask.  Instead of sewing the elastic into the side of the mask, the elastic is threaded through the pocket so the customers have a choice of the fasteners,” she says.

To date, Sheila has sewn and sold 350 masks, and is busy filling 225 additional orders for nurses, housekeepers, dining team members, family and friends! 

This isn’t her first go at sewing. Sheila grew up in a household of sewing and crochet enthusiasts. Her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother sewed all of her and her sister’s Halloween costumes, and special occasion dresses for prom and communion. 

“We always had a one of a kind!”

At a cost of only $1.50 per mask, which covers only the cost of the material, Sheila donates her time, along with her sister and her sister’s daughters, Shannon and Emily, who have also volunteered to help pin and iron the fabric!  

When asked what the most popular fabrics are?  “Sugar skulls, comic book characters from Marvel Comics and Star Wars. Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins fabrics have also picked up.”

Sheila wasn’t doing this for recognition – “I was doing this to help keep the people I serve and work with safe, and most of all, my sister, who is my inspiration in continuing our “one of a kind” family tradition.