Sew you want to go straight? Ex-prisoners’ sewing circle making face coverings

Ex-offenders join army of volunteers in national effort to sew face masks for all

Coronavirus face coverings
Coronavirus face coverings

A group of ex-offenders has gone from sewing mail bags to stitching masks as part of a massive national effort to meet the growing demand for face coverings.

The sewing circle run by a charity for former prisoners at Haworth House, a hostel run by the Probation Service in Blackburn, Lancashire, began sewing face coverings with fabric donated by Scottish fashion designer, Patrick Grant.

Grant, a judge on BBC TV’s The Great British Sewing Bee, has launched #BigCommunitySew, a national effort to provide free face coverings for all.

The group joined more than 100 Women’s Institutes, community groups and “scrubhubs” across the nation all sewing DIY face coverings.

Many hubs, who have helped make scrubs and gowns for the NHS, have switched to creating face coverings as Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested people consider wearing them in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible – such as on public transport or while shopping.

Their efforts will help ensure people make and use their own face coverings while key workers do not run short of medical-grade supplies.

Grant, a Scottish fashion designer whose Cookson & Clegg factory in Blackburn has been manufacturing PPE since the start of lockdown, said: “I’ve been blown away by the efforts of our sewing community.”

“I’d like to encourage those who can make or sew to find out who in their community needs face coverings and get making,” he added.

“There are around six million sewing machines in homes across the UK.

Scottish Fashion Awards – London
Scots fashion designer Patrick Grant, the man behind the face mask sewing drive (Ian West/PA)

“If every one of those can be used to make just a dozen face coverings that would be one for every person in the UK.”

One group in Somerset sewed 600 face coverings for the every resident in the village of Croscombe.

Carol Powell, from Liverpool Ladies Sewing for the NHS, said: “Our group has given everyone a feeling of self-worth after feeling useless under such stressful circumstances.

“We are not only helping healthcare and key workers, but we are helping to improve our own mental and physical health.

The founder of NI Scrubs, Angeline Murphy, said: “Sewing is a simple act of kindness that can make a real difference. It’s rewarding at the best of times, but sewing now, with the purpose of protecting friends, family and frontline staff takes that sense of pride and accomplishment to a whole other level.”

Amanda George, who runs the Scrub Hub for Bristol, added: “Thousands of sewers have joined forces to help the national effort and now there’s a big appetite to help produce enough face coverings for every neighbourhood.”

Coronavirus – Tue May 12, 2020
Passengers wearing face masks on a platform at Canning Town underground station in London (Victoria Jones/PA Wire)

The campaign has received support from the Government and Michael Gove, The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

He said: “The Big Community Sew is a wonderful example of communities across the United Kingdom coming together to do their bit for the national effort.”

How-to videos for sewers are available on the Big Community Sew website,

Public Health England has published guidance on creating your own face covering, which is available at

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