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(WFRV) – All across Wisconsin, volunteers are pulling out home sewing machines and enthusiastically sewing hundreds of cloth face masks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

You’d be hard-pressed, though, to find someone who brings more skill to the machine than New London’s Mary Ellen Fields.  Fields, 72, who has sewn super-hero costumes for Hollywood movies, is now sewing face masks, she says “for the real super heroes!” 

You most likely have seen her work on the big screen. Fields had a successful career building costumes and collaborating with award-winning costume designers in Hollywood for nearly forty years. She’s worked on costumes for ‘Iron Man’, ‘Superman’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, ‘The Avengers’, ‘Captain Marvel’, the Broadway production of ‘Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark’, and most recently on the Oscar-winning film ‘Black Panther’. Just this year she was honored by the Costume Designers Guild with their Distinguished Service Award, and is a member of the Motion Picture Academy, as well as The Television Academy.

Mary Ellen retired and returned to her hometown of New London a little over a year ago, after her husband John, an accomplished stage actor, was diagnosed with dementia. 

Since mid-March, Mary Ellen, along with other costume designers across the country, has been making face masks for California with assistance from a medical advisor on specifications.  When the pandemic hit closer to home, she began making masks for her family, and the volunteer effort has grown from there. 

What started out as a team of two, Mary Ellen and her niece Brenda, has expanded to 4 people sewing full-time.  One of the volunteers is Marilyn Sullivan, a former Home Economics teacher in New London. Each volunteer is working from home with their family support team, using donated materials and sanitizing as they go along. 

So far,  Mary Ellen’s team of volunteers has provided washable cloth face masks to assisted living facilities, churches, hospitals, nursing homes,  and most recently to poll workers in New London. 

They have produced and donated 1000 masks in the past 2 weeks.

Seeing a problem she could address with her design skills, Fields came up with her own face mask pattern, one that helps the mask fit snugly to the nose, has a pocket for an additional filter, yet is comfortable to the face. Besides cloth, it calls for a material that is inexpensive and in wide supply – vinyl twist ties. Fields says they use 3 vinyl twist ties that can easily be molded to the nose, go through the wash without trouble, and are less likely to poke through the fabric.  She is sharing it with anyone who would like to try it themselves using materials they have in their homes.  These masks can easily become a family project with everyone contributing toward the effort.

Incidentally, we learned of Mary Ellen’s efforts through her niece, Cynthia Thompson. You may remember Cynthia was recently honored by Local Five as a Remarkable Woman for her non-profit ‘Family Caregivers Rock’, which supports the health and wellness of family caregivers.

Mary Ellen, a remarkable woman in her own right, says she’s happy to use her skills to help keep people safe, and perhaps save lives during the pandemic. She’s hoping to encourage others to help in the effort, perhaps by donating fabric, especially now that the fabric stores are closed and many materials are unavailable online.

For those who received her masks, there might be some extra comfort knowing that the mask they wear was sewn by hands that dressed the most resilient characters on screen and stage.  When facing the threat of contagion,  one might do well to remember the Spiderman quote  “You are much stronger than you think you are”.  Proper precautions, and a positive mindset, can only help.


These masks can be duplicated by anyone in your small ‘contact’ group who has access to a sewing machine (perhaps your grandmother has hers tucked away in a closet) or needle and thread (they can be stitched by hand)

  • Material (use a pillowcase to provide 4-6 masks for your family).

The 4 critical factors to getting the MOST protection from your homemade mask are listed below and described in detail in the instructions provided.

  • Tightly woven fabrics (similar to a sheet or pillowcase…..large thread count)
  • Nose ‘bridge’ for best protection
  • Sides pleated down to 2 ½” (to help close gap at chin in too wide)
  • Height (must cover from the bridge of the nose to under the chin (6 ½” will cover MOST faces) Width (8 ½” – 9” will cover MOST faces)


  • These masks are NOT surgical grade medical masks!
  • They are made from 100% cotton that has been pre-washed with detergent and laundry sanitizer.
  • They should be washed and sanitized prior to 1st use.
  • They have a metal nose piece for shaping that is made from 3 pieces of heavy duty vinyl covered wire (twist ties).
  • They should be bent to fit as tightly as you can over the bridge of the nose, which adds additional protection than those without a ‘nose bridge’.
  • They are washable, so can be re-used.
  • Thank you for the work you do and for helping to protect yourself and others!
  • Stay safe by continuing to wash your hands, and to practice social distancing!
  • Your mask is providing an additional layer of protection!


“Physically distant, spiritually connected”

We’re all in this together!

Please feel free to provide any feedback you may have for ways to improve the masks. We are producing as many as we can with whatever acceptable fabric we can obtain and adapting as needed for materials we can no longer obtain (like elastic). We’re making masks with a pocket that can hold a removable/replaceable filter layer as an added level of protection. We are working without the machines that would normally be used in the manufacturing of such garments, so they may not be as BEAUTIFUL as we’re used to doing, but we are rather focusing on function to produce as many as we are able to in the shortest amount of time!


FROM YOUR MASK MAKING TEAM……remember there is no ‘I’ in TEAM

Betty, Larry, John, Brenda, Cindy, Marilyn, Mark, Linda, M.E.

***We welcome everyone to small ‘army’, so if you know of anyone with a sewing machine, we would be happy to help with materials and instructions so you can provide masks for your own families! Or if you know of anyone that would be willing to donate any supplies, it is most appreciated***

You can reach Mary Ellen for feedback, gratitude, or donations here: