Baker keeps the masks coming

JoAnn Baker works on sewing masks. She has sewn 3,650 masks since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

After styling hair for 50 years, JoAnn Baker rediscovered sewing and she has been busy ever since.

Baker, a member of the UT Family Community Education group in Hamblen County, has sewn 3,650 masks since the COVID-19 pandemic began a little more than a year ago.

“Our UT Ag Extension Director Marti Henry contacted everyone in the group who could sew to start making masks,” Baker said. “She brings the fabric, elastic, thread, everything I need and she comes by once a week and picks the masks up.”

Baker was one of the first to sew the facemasks which are so common now due to conditions of the pandemic.

“She has done just an outstanding job making the community facemasks way before you could buy them,” Henry said. “UT Extension came up with a pattern in March of last year and our FCE group started making masks for anyone who needed them.

“The recipients of the masks included delivery drivers, bus drivers, grocery workers, postal workers, KARM facilities, Goodwill stores, hospitals, nursing facilities, convenience store employee, county employees, fast food restaurants, gas stations and anyone who had to be open while the pandemic was starting,” Henry said.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, as well as the Hamblen County Health Department, have been the targeted recipient of the masks lately.

“They have asked for as many masks as we can send for their admits and volunteers,” Henry said. “We send a shipment every two weeks.”

The masks are all two-ply 100% cotton, according to Baker.

“Marti has picked out really cute designs,” Baker said. “(Both) Children’s (and the health department) wanted both children’s and adult sizes.”

Making 3,650 masks would burn out some people, but not Baker. She limits the number of masks she makes to 10 a day to prevent burnout.

Baker has been a member of the UT FCE group since 2007. She moved to Morristown after hairstyling in Florida for 50 years in 2006.

“I hadn’t sewn in years when we moved here,” Baker said. “I found my sewing machine and someone started a quilting club, the Scrappers Quilt Guild, in 2012. I didn’t know a thing about quilting, but the head of our scrappers taught me how to piece together.”

Baker is also one of many quilters who help make Quilts of Valor for military veterans.

“I make the top piece, then it gets quilted,” Baker said.

The UT FCE group judges for the 4-H projects at area fairs, among other things. The club also had a shower for the Pregnancy Crisis Center and has given donations to Food on Foot and other nonprofits.