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Reinvention: Purposeful Transformation

From stepping up to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to taking stands against racism and injustice, spring and summer 2020 will be remembered as a pivotal time.
Changing Mindsets

As the pandemic swept through the U.S., and consumables such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper became in short supply, we also heard about shortages of masks for health care workers and others. We were increasingly advised or required to wear simple face coverings ourselves, so masks became personally important.

I saw many examples of reinvention mentioned in the news. Perfume companies and distilleries shifted to producing hand sanitizer, while major fashion brands reconfigured to make masks. Manufacturers shifted to, or stepped up production of, medical equipment. Personal protective equipment became a topic for the general public, rather than just work environments such as mine. 

I applauded all these efforts, but I was especially struck by the grassroots “reinvention” happening by groups and individuals all over the United States and the world. As a member of two local quilt guilds — Kitsap Quilters and West Sound Quilters in Kitsap County, Washington state — I was able to glimpse the behind-the-scenes engineering happening from these unlikely groups. 

Quilters tend to be a generous group of folks, so it didn’t surprise me to see them stepping up. Thousands of charity and comfort quilts are created every year, but these quilters and other sewists began a well-coordinated effort to make and supply masks. While some of this was reported by local news outlets, the coverage didn’t give a full picture of what was happening. 

It reminded me of a team managing a small-scale engineering project. First, a request would come in, sometimes with a requested pattern, sometimes not. The request and pattern were shared to the group, supplies and parts were gathered, and the workers (quilters/sewists) would start assembling. In the case I witnessed, there were many Facebook group posts about who was sewing what, and when a particular request was satisfied, it was on to the next. 

Finally, the masks were distributed. Like any project, there were issues such as supply shortages. Elastic and some interfacing (used to add additional filtering) became as scarce as toilet paper. Via the Facebook groups for these quilt guilds, someone would post that they had elastic or interfacing and would leave it on their porch for no-contact pick up by others who needed some. 

I was especially struck by the grassroots “reinvention” happening by groups and individuals all over the United States and the world.

There were also parking lot meetups, and I am sure many phone calls and other messaging to coordinate it all.

According to a 3/31/20 article in our local paper, the Kitsap Sun: “The Kitsap Quilters Guild dropped off more than 600 masks at the hospital last week. Sewers from several local churches donated an additional 200 masks last Thursday; they previously delivered about 150 masks.”

Grassroots heroes are stepping up all over. For example, one of my sisters is a respiratory therapist in Fresno, California, and is benefiting from volunteer mask makers there. A friend in Indiana is making masks at the request of her daughter-in-law. 

As I followed the messages in these Facebook groups, I was overwhelmed by all the mask making, which is still going on, and very appreciative of all the work and heart that went into getting masks to local hospitals, care facilities, child care centers, etc. Kudos to these unsung heroes!


The original intent of this piece on reinvention was to acknowledge some of the grassroots heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. But as I wrote this, another form of reinvention started taking place throughout the U.S. People began transforming themselves into activists, fighting against racism and police brutality. At the same time, many conferences and awards shows became remote and virtual due to COVID-19, but the organizers created moments where the Black Lives Matter movement was given a spotlight. The recent ESPY Awards show and the Lesbians Who Tech (not IRL) Summit are just two examples. My hope is that this time, we as a country will do our own reimagining and make the systemic changes needed.


  • Marcie Mathis, SWE Editorial Board

    Marcie Mathis graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. She has spent most of her engineering career as a civilian U.S. Navy employee and works at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington. She joined SWE in 1988 as a student and serves on the multicultural committee and as a member of the editorial board.