A nurtured impulsive idea

Lets make face masks!

It was the third week of April. It was the fourth or fifth week of a different type of living. I had taken the position as residency Tutor, as well as Maya my other half, over in the middle of February. Those days feel so long ago now…
The half of our first month we were taught what to do. Then march came and with it dozens of new international students. One of our side tasks is to help the House manager with key giving, so we had very often the pleasure of being the first ‘real’ people international students encounter in Berlin (real = somebody who they may encounter again).
The incident actually happened the year before, but its repercussions only hit Europe in the middle of march.
We received many calls about people wanting to give their keys, the very keys we handed to them, back. Most of them would travel back to their home countries while they could. The rest of us were stuck.
Many many many things changed, among them our tasks and responsibilities as tutors.
One of them is/was to promote intercultural exchange, mostly via events which were not allowed to happen due to health and safety regulations.  
So the days went on, exams were canceled, no spaghetti was to be found in the supermarkets, and don't even get me started with toilet papers.
A couple of weeks passed and we arrive to the third week of April.

I read a news article about the BVG (the company that runs the metro, underground and buses) implementing a new rule: every passenger in public transportation is now required/obliged to use a mouth and nose cover (Face mask, but using a scarf or bandanna is also O.K.). I immediately wrote to my other half with an idea: lets make face masks!
At that very moment I had not thought about anything at all, it was an impulsive idea, but luckily my other half thought the idea was really cool and we made an appointment to meet and organize everything!
We met on a Wednesday afternoon. First we called our BOSS and asked if it was O.K. to materialize such an idea. With the green lights and the suggestion we should order things online we set onto the organization.
We took and old shirt of mine and with scissors and an old stapler machine (we had no sewing kit just yet) we manage to build three different prototypes that were good enough to move forward.
Then we spent a whole lot of time browsing through the interweb for cotton, elastic bands and sewing kits.
Once we had decided what to order, from which seller and whose account we would use (my other half’s, since she had a student amazon prime subscription) we logged into her account only to realize that we had been deceived. All of the delivery estimates quickly changed once we had everything in our online shopping cart. The highest variance was with the elastic band. One and a half months waiting time, to be precise. Annoyed, tired and a little angry we decided to call it quits and reconvene another day.

The German government had decided, earlier that week, to ease up on the safety regulations and let up to 35 people shop in stores up to 80 square meters (or numbers around that magnitude) and so many stores opened their doors to customers on that very Friday, after a month of being only occupied by mannequins and hollow lights.
Having learned of such event we met up and traveled to our nearest commercial hub (Wilmersdorfer Straße).
To enter the first store we had to wait 15 min in line outside it. There we bought some cotton and two sewing kits with 70 needles and 25 different colored threads. Then we moved forward to another shop which after 10 mins of waiting told us to come the next day. A little annoyed we decided to ask google for an alternative before going home. Sure enough google maps delivered and showed us a promising alternative a couple of blocks away. With the sun up high we walked those blocks and waited 5 minutes outside a movie-like shop which only allowed 2 customers inside at the same time.
As we entered we were greeted by a Turkish salesman who not only spoke its mother tongue, but English, German, Arabic and even a little Spanish.
Rolls of cotton from the floor all the way to the ceiling. There was not a gap that allowed the color of the walls to be noticed. Prices ranged from 5 euros the running meter to 500. (a running meter is a measurement unit where the width of the textile you’d like to buy is set, and only the length is variable).
Silk, cotton, polyester and other types of fabric all over the two small rooms. So many colors would have made a rainbow jealous.
The other customer who was there with us (since we came together we were counted as a unit-customer, rather than two) was flirting/bargaining with the salesman. It looked (better said it sounded) as if she wanted to buy fabric to make herself a dress. After 15 min of talking about their projects, debating prices and telling each other stories about their time in last weeks, the customer decided to offer the Turkish man lunch in exchange for an even bigger discount. The salesman happily accepted and she went on her way, disappearing behind the windows into the bright light of the sun.
In the meantime we had selected three options. A green-yellow fabric with hand painted flowers from India, a sober dark blue fabric and a white-purple one from turkey. We also selected  black, silver, chestnut and scarlet bands (not elastic ones, since they were long gone, apparently everywhere).
Extremely satisfied with our bargain (we got a special discount when we explained the purpose of our purchase) we headed back to our office. There we followed a YouTube instructional video  on how to do a face mask and after 1 hour we had two lovely prototypes and were more confident in the art of sewing.
Our vision was to sit outside in the garden, in front of the now unavailable Clubhouse, with all the materials ready for anyone, who dared engage in a conversation with us, to take home. (Mainly because most Eichkampers still didn't know we, as tutors, existed and we wanted to shake foots – actually touch shoes, as the current health regulations and our own common sense dictated – with as Many Eichkampers as possible)
This doesn't work well if your instructions are a video (which require internet to even run) and so I gathered all my Image design knowledge, opened Microsoft Paint, and started translating the video to a format which could be printed and given as a handout. The result was hilarious but understandable (it would so happened that only one person would complain about its inaccuracy at one specific part, while other would just giggle at the fact that it was done with Microsoft Paint).
With everything set up and having previously made a Facebook event, shared in our Eichkamp groups via Facebook and Telegram, and some poster which we hanged at the entrances of Eichkamp, we said our good byes and met at the day of our little face masks workshop/event/sit-in-the-garden-and-offer-anyone-we-see-a-chance-to-make-its-own-face-mask-whatsit. (whatsit=Dingsbums, for a lack of a better term).

The day came and we sat at the given place at the given time (16.00 hrs). There was actually somebody already waiting for us and this person had brought its own fabric and its own idea. He just wanted some tips and general guidance into the sewing realm.
He finished his project in no time and was quickly on his way. By then two other Eichkampers had joined us, taken some materials and sat next to us, waiting on instructions or hoping for some beginning guidance.
And so we offered everything we had to every soul we met. Some stayed, some took all they needed and went, some promised to come back later and did, many did not.
By the end of the day around 16 Masks had been sewn by hand, and materials for up to 22 Mask were distributed. Many foots were shaken, silly jokes told, new names learnt and so on. We managed to make Eichkampers notice us, and my other half and I agree that it was an overall success.
We still have some cotton left (roughly the half it) and are overflowing with motivation to sit outside the Clubhouse shake foots with as many Eichkampers as possible and guide them into the art of making their own Face masks.

½ of the Eichkamp Tutors


Foto: Joaquin Palacios

Foto: Joaquin Palacios

pdf: Instructions.pdf (157.16 KB)