Coronavirus

Houston Costume Designer Makes Masks For Emergency Room Staff

Donna Southern Schmidt making emergency room masks in her home
Donna Southern Schmidt making emergency room masks in her home Photo by Elian Schmidt
Costume Designer Donna Southern Schmidt was thinking way ahead of most Houstonians when she decided to grab a bunch of leftover materials and take them into isolation with her as the stay at home order hit Houston.
Social media connections with fellow costume designers all over America, but especially Schmidt’s colleagues in New York, were telling her that masks were desperately needed by health professionals and that her professional skills were perfect for answering the call.

Lucky for Schmidt, she’s also the manager at The Costume Exchange which houses an inventory of stock from member theaters around town for storage and shared use. One call to Main Street Theater, who gladly donated stored fabric from the recent children’s shows Schmidt has worked on (The Wizard of Oz and Sideways Stories from Wayside School), and she was all set.

But the work didn’t begin right away.

“I didn’t want to make a whole bunch of masks that people weren’t going to use”, said Schmidt. She waited until it was confirmed that closely woven cotton fabric was the preferred material, and then she contacted her friend and LBJ Hospital emergency room Clinical Resource Nurse, Dr. Dana Oldham, to see if she was interested.


The answer was a resounding yes.

“The N95 masks that they’re presently wearing were supposed to be a one-time use. Use it for one patient and throw it away. But because they’re in short supply, they’re having to reuse them,” explains Schmidt. “So, the cotton masks that I'm making are specifically to create another protective element outside their usual mask so it can last longer."

click to enlarge Dr. Dana Oldham wearing one of Schmidt's masks - PHOTO BY DR. DANA OLDMAN
Dr. Dana Oldham wearing one of Schmidt's masks
Photo by Dr. Dana Oldman

click to enlarge The skirt material from Sideways Stories from Wayside School was used to make Dr. Oldham's mask - PHOTO BY BLUEPRINT FILM CO.
The skirt material from Sideways Stories from Wayside School was used to make Dr. Oldham's mask
Photo by Blueprint Film Co.


































To make the masks, Schmidt sourced a pattern on the Internet and then modified it after sending a prototype for approval to Oldman. Turns out a simpler pattern worked just as well, meaning Schmidt could make more of them in less time.

And more of them are needed. Working solo in an assembly line fashion, Schmidt has thus far made 30 complete masks, is working on 20 more and intends to make masks for all 200 of Oldham's staff.

“My career is not one on the frontlines of lifesaving,” says Schmidt. “But this is a way I can join in on that. I’m not a nurse, I can’t go in and help. But staying home and sewing is my way of helping as best I can with the talent I’ve been given by God.”
click to enlarge Completed masks ready to ship out - PHOTO BY DONNA SOUTHERN SCHMIDT
Completed masks ready to ship out
Photo by Donna Southern Schmidt

click to enlarge The Scarecrow's top was used to make most of the above masks - PHOTO BY BLUEPRINT FILM CO.
The Scarecrow's top was used to make most of the above masks
Photo by Blueprint Film Co.


Not only is Schmidt providing masks, with the fabric she’s using, she’s also introducing some color into the lives of these brave medical professionals.

“Someone posted that they appreciated the colorful masks because it’s such a dreary situation right now that any bit of humor and joy that can be brought into the situation is welcome”, says Schmidt.

In that spirit of spreading a little joy, Schmidt says moving forward she's going to try and let the staff know what play and character their mask is from. "When I send the next batch I'll tell them that they're wearing a Wizard of Oz Flying Monkey mask."

Photo by Donna Southern Schmidt - COMPLETED FLYING MONKEY MASK
Photo by Donna Southern Schmidt
Completed Flying Monkey mask


click to enlarge The jackets on the Flying Monkeys was the material used for the above masks - PHOTO BY BLUEPRINT FILM CO.
The jackets on the Flying Monkeys was the material used for the above masks
Photo by Blueprint Film Co.


If you would like to know how to make masks or where to send them, please contact [email protected] and Donna Southern Schmidt will be happy to provide information.
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Jessica Goldman was the theater critic for CBC Radio in Calgary prior to joining the Houston Press team. Her work has also appeared in American Theatre Magazine, Globe and Mail and Alberta Views. Jessica is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
Contact: Jessica Goldman