Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Sharon Royer spent half an hour sewing her first mask on March 22, 10 days after Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency in Nevada over the coronavirus pandemic.
She has since whittled it down to about eight minutes per pleated cloth mask, allowing her to make up to 50 a day. That kind of efficiency is a natural result of making masks consistently for 10 months.
The Henderson retiree is now up to 7,050 masks and counting, “and I’ve donated every one.”
They’ve gone to — among others — hospitals and clinics, the Boy Scouts of America and other children’s charities, neighbors, her dentist, her nephew’s entire Air Force squadron in Illinois, and her sister’s beauty parlor in Florida.
She makes them in sizes from toddler to adult, and especially likes to use fabric with patriotic prints.
“I like to help people. I like to be the one that makes it good for them,” Royer said. “I had four kids — it’s what you do when you’re a mom. You take care of people.”
Cloth mask-making exploded last spring, through sewing circles of handcraft veterans and online tutorials for novices, as the commercial supply chain caught up to the demands of mandates and public health guidance. Megaretailers like Walmart now sell masks out of bins.
Royer, 77, refuses to take money. Her house is dotted with signs of her benevolent cottage industry: stacks of raw fabric, cut into rectangles and sorted by color, on the breakfast bar. A hula girl pincushion doll next to an armchair. Cutting is done here, pinning and ironing there.
The nerve center for this operation is a sunny nook anchored by a Janome DC 3050 sewing machine flanked by empty thread spools. She has had her machine serviced twice since launching her project, which she will continue until masks aren’t needed anymore.
After sewing a mask for an enlisted nephew using Air Force-themed fabric, he called back to place an order.
“He says, ‘Aunt Sharon, if I sent you the material, would you make (some) for my squadron?’” she said. “I said, how many? He says, ‘is 100 too many?’ I said, not at all.”
Royer has lived in Henderson for about 20 years. She moved here as a new widow and joined as many clubs as she could to stay busy. That included a sewing club. Her usual products are infinity scarves and housewares: quilts, pillowcases, placemat and napkin sets.
Her siblings keep her in fabric and elastic these days. Neighbors also drop off material, plus buttons, on a chair on her front porch.
The buttons go to crocheting friends who make accessory “ear savers” to relieve the irritation from the straps on the N95 masks used in hospitals; she’s facilitated the creation of 3,200 ear savers, which means she’s also overseen the collection of thousands of buttons. That specialty kicked off when a grandson who’s a nurse asked for a few.
Royer, a retired usher at Caesars Palace, was socially active before the pandemic hit, taking in shows and going out to eat. Now, she tries to limit her trips. A grocery run is as quick as possible for enough provisions for two weeks. She assumes everyone around her has COVID-19. Even her son, who lives with her, maintains a distance.
On her few outings, she always wears a mask.
She has family all over the country and is determined to see them again.
“I have four kids, four grands, and four great-grands and one great-great-grand, so I have plenty of reasons to be safe,” she said. “Just as soon as I get both my vaccines … I’m going to Hawaii to see my daughter. They’ve got a boat and we’re gonna go fishing.”