My boyfriend ventured to our local farmer’s market to pick up our produce for the week. On this particular Saturday, the market manager called him aside to ask where I was, to make sure I was okay as I hadn’t been in several weeks. I was at home, he explained, as I am at higher risk of complications if I contract covid-19. She nodded empathetically, paused, and then asked, “Is your wife a professional seamstress?”
Over the last six years, we’ve become friendly with Christina–the petite hippie who dons a sparkly coat, a glowing smile and, more often than not, the elaborate henna tattoos that embellish the arms of Indian brides. When I first saw her, I thought she looked bit high-maintenance and judgemental because she was so stylist and put-together. It turns out, she is one of the most big-hearted people I have ever met.
Last February, at the onset of covid-19, I wanted to show my appreciation to the farmer’s market staff. They were committed to providing an essential service–providing healthy food to the community–even with some level of risk to their own well-being. The market even set up a pre-order, drive-up service which stretched them incredibly thin. Seeing their hard work, I really wanted to do something nice for them. Baked goods may not have been well-received in the middle of a pandemic, so I decided to make some masks. At the time, they were hard to come by, so it was meant as a makeshift option for the time being.
I used scraps of vintage vegetable-print cotton for the exterior, an old sheet for the lining, and butcher’s twine for the string because I didn’t have anything else. For months, the ten mask recipients–some of whom I had never met–loaded produce into the backseat of my car, as they called me by name and thanked me profusely. Not only did they wear them while working at the market, I learned, but out in public as a sign of their passion for fresh produce. With a bit of forethought and a few hours of my time, I made a small group of people feel seen and appreciated.
The market shut down for the summer because nothing grows in the 120° Arizona crevice leading down to hell. However, come mid-October, I was excitedly stuffing pre-bagged broccoli and spinach into my “buy local” tote, while trying to decipher the readiness of zucchini through a nitrile barrier. The drive-up market service was no longer available, as it was too expensive to maintain and too much effort. And I was secretly grateful.
By Thanksgiving, Phoenix has the highest rate of transmission in the world. Fearful, I stayed home. There was no need to put two people at risk just for the sake of getting out. When my boyfriend tested positive for covid-19 in December and its antibodies in January, we decided he would do all of our errands, including the weekly trip to the farmer’s market. By the time her returned to the market in mid-January, I has forgotten about the veggie masks entirely.
My boyfriend explained to Christina that I was by no means a professional seamstress, but rather someone who enjoyed sewing as a hobby. She claimed that of all the masks she had purchased over the last year, she liked mine best. She even asked if she could pay me to make more for her and her friends. In our few trips to the market over the last year, she was always wearing a different mask. Yet, compared to all the store-bought versions, she preferred the mask made with thoughtfulness, love, and reclaimed materials. It’s hard to believe, yet somehow simultaneously not.
I feel flattered. Yes, I’m pleased that my simple project was viewed as professional-level. After 24 years of sewing on-and-off (mostly off), it was a surprising compliment. Even more surprising was the realization that one small act of kindness offered nearly a year ago is still remembered today. And, not only is it remembered, but it is viewed as a far grander gesture than it truly was or had been intended. I wanted those individuals who were taking care of me to be taken care of. I wanted to express my gratitude with more than just words.
This weekend, I plan to make Christina several more masks with additional cotton scraps. Not because I expect her to pay me, but because she reminded me of the power of kindness in a time when my human interaction are dismally minimal. She has offered me the opportunity to intentionally direct my time, attention, and gratitude towards a meaningful project. She is giving me a chance to make another human being feel seen, loved, and appreciated.
And to me, right now, being a competent sewist with a big heart and the opportunity to make someone smile with my limited skill set is so much more valuable than being considered a professional. I would much rather be viewed as someone who truly cares.