Hero of the Day: Broadway stylist making masks from her NYC apartment

When Kai Ravelson found herself alone in her small Washington Heights apartment after she began to self-quarantine last month, she admits she spent a few days feeling sorry for herself.

Then she took out her sewing machine and got to work.

After two and a half days, the portrait photographer and wig stylist, who recently worked on Broadway’s “Beetlejuice,” had fashioned 60 stylish masks — all reversible — out of a pile of quilting squares and beading elastic that she ordered from Amazon.

She then gave them away to healthcare workers who have experienced severe shortages of medical equipment, and to anyone who needed them. She is starting a new batch as soon as she replenishes her supplies, she said.

“I know that it helps people have peace of mind when they wear them,” said Ravelson, 37, adding that her brother and his girlfriend feel more comfortable wearing them when they walk their dog in the park. She also gave another to a friend who taped a panty-liner to the inside of the cloth mask for added protection and uses it whenever she goes to the supermarket or walks in Central Park, she said.

In addition to family members and friends, she has donated masks to a hospital in Dorchester, Mass., near her hometown of Boston. “They were so happy to get them,” she said. “I was thrilled.”

Ravelson, who has lived in New York since 2014, said she initially wanted to give them all to her neighborhood hospital, New York Presbyterian at Columbia University. But two weeks ago when she appeared with her bundle of colorful masks, the guards at the entrance refused to accept it.

“I’m sure they’re just overwhelmed,” she said, brushing off the encounter. “I will just try again, until I get the right person who is accepting donations.” She is determined to give the next batch away to nurses and other health care workers in her neighborhood.

Ravelson said she was inspired by her boyfriend, a member of the Air National Guard who is working at the Javits Center hospital, and in New Rochelle, the first local community to be placed on lockdown in early March. Ravelson’s boyfriend sent her a link to a hospital website in Indiana which featured a how-to guide on mask making. Inspired, she got straight to work, perfecting a prototype, before she began the bulk sewing.

“I have a background in costume construction, but it was still a little tricky to make them out of the quilting squares, which was the only fabric I could find,” she said, adding that she has called on her mother, a seamstress in Boston, to aid the cause.

“My mom has always been enthusiastic about giving back to the community and using her craft skills to help someone in need,” said Ravelson, adding that her mother “pumped out 50 masks” in a single day.

When she first went into quarantine on March 10, Ravelson said she spent time walking through Fort Tryon Park, knitting and practicing sashiko mending, an ancient Japanese stitching technique. But she said she felt “useless, helpless” even as she donated money to a fund for actors unemployed because of the pandemic.

“It’s hard to feel like you are able to be productive when you are just sending money to some website,” she said. “So now, if I can, I will just keep sewing.”

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