Creative for a Greater Good: Making Masks with Danielle Susi
COVID-19 has been debilitating. The pandemic has shut down most aspects of social and economic life, and for multimedia artist Danielle Susi, COVID-19 has been creatively debilitating as well. “My anxiety around COVID-19 was paralyzing,” says Susi. “To be honest, I found it difficult to feel inspired to create anything at all until early May.” Susi saw many of her friends and family lose their jobs due to the pandemic, and her great aunt passed away from the virus.
As an artist who practices many mediums (including weaving, quiltmaking, embroidery, poetry and journalistic writing) Susi felt creatively stymied by the negativity brought on by the virus. However, she soon found an opportunity to use her artistic abilities to contribute to some worthwhile causes amid the pandemic. “I saw that Craft Lake City had put a call out for donated masks for [Gail Miller Resource Center], and I felt like I could help,” she says. “I saw a connection between my skills and an essential need for our community.”
“It was as if powering up my sewing machine lit a fuse.”
Susi studied fiber and material studies while earning an MFA at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and has been sewing and quilting since a young age. With the need for masks and PPE becoming dire during the pandemic, Susi knew her artistic disciplines would be useful for making masks. “For me, [it’s] really about quality and attention to detail, which makes mask-making similar to embroidery or weaving,” she says. Additionally, having the goal of making masks for a great cause helped to reignite Susi’s engagement to her craft. “When I started feeling the need to make masks and use it as a way to contribute to safety and community, I began feeling like I might be able to make other things again,” she says. “It was as if powering up my sewing machine lit a fuse.”
In addition to responding to the call for mask donations at the Gail Miller Resource Center, Susi has also given away masks to family and friends in need of PPE around the country. “My mom works in a dental office in the Boston area, and I sent her several masks because she was having trouble getting any PPE in a city that had been so greatly impacted,” she says. As for the masks themselves, Susi makes sure that the materials and construction are up to CDC standards. “Masks should be comfortable and be made from CDC-recommended materials,” she says. “I use a double layer of quilter’s cotton and create a pocket in each mask where a filter can be placed for extra coverage.”
“I believe that masks should be beautiful.”
Susi’s masks come in a variety of fabrics and are often made-to-order, with options such as choosing between elastic or ties to secure the masks and smaller options for children. For Susi, the intention behind making her masks versatile, customizable and practical is that it will encourage people to use them more. “I believe that masks should be beautiful, and that we will want to wear something more if it is a reflection of our personal style. I am using some really fun floral prints, as well as leaf-and-vine batik prints and fruit-print fabric.”
In addition to donating masks, Susi also has masks available for purchase on her website. A portion of the proceeds go to World Central Kitchen, an organization that aims to provide solutions to poverty and hunger through quality meals, community programming and disaster response. Most recently, WCK has been working to provide meals for people who have lost access to meal services (i.e., school lunch or meal services for the elderly) due to COVID-19. “I have followed WCK and Founder and Chef José Andrés for many years and have always been astonished at their relief efforts in Puerto Rico and during other disasters, especially when the U.S. government turns a blind eye,” says Susi. “As someone who does quite a bit of cooking and freelance writing about food, I felt like this was a necessary contribution. I’m very grateful I was able to donate 70% of proceeds and make a sizable donation to help support their incredible work.”
For Susi, having a cause to fuel her creativity and create masks has helped alleviate the stress from the pandemic and reinvigorate her creativity. Her advice for anyone looking to make masks is to study the standards on the CDC website and to find templates of masks online. For any artisans looking to use their creativity to help a cause, she says, “Choose [a charity] that means a lot to you, and hopefully, that’s one that focuses on COVID-19 relief or supports the liberation of Black and Brown bodies from police brutality and systemic racism.”
Susi plans on expanding on the several fabric choices available on her website to make her masks more customizable and for those who order locally in Salt Lake City also to have the option for pickup or delivery.
For more information on Danielle Susi, her work and ordering masks, visit her website.