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20 words for a new world:
Face mask

20 words for a new world: Face mask

Here, Rosie Millard, experienced broadcaster, journalist and author. She was the BBC’s arts correspondent for adecade, chief interviewer for The Sunday Times, a columnist for The Independent and has written four books. She was chair of Hull UK City of Culture in 2017, for which she was awarded an OBE, and is now chair of the board of directors of the charity BBC Children in Need. In here she writes about the meaning of “face mask”.

I used to love sewing with my youngest daughter when she was small. It was something we did together. It began by her helping me sew on name tapes and buttons. Then I got a bit more adventurous and bought a big heavy sewing machine. We made pillowcases and bags. Then I bought her a little cherry-red sewing machine of her own and signed her up for a sewing course. Before long I was running up dresses for her and she was doing textiles at school on a professional machine. She made a whole realm of beautiful appliqué coats, and even “drew” with special thread on fabric. Then her father and I split up. I didn’t go far away, but I left my sewing machine at the family house. No more name tapes to sew on. I kept the button box, on which one of my children had written “Buttons” in a childish hand. It became too painful for me to rest my eyes on.

When lockdown happened, my daughter suggested we make masks together. I think, like many young people, she was anxious to do the right thing and comply with regulations. And like many young people, she wanted her mum to do it with her so she didn’t have all the responsibility of making the family masks herself. I was really touched, even though I would have probably rather made something more fun and less overtly medical – given it will hopefully only have a shelf life of a few months. I went and collected my heavy sewing machine in the car and she brought over her bag of fabric scraps and some elastic. We called up a YouTube tutorial and followed it closely. Yet again we were doing something we loved together and I was reminded of the alchemy of sewing; by simply folding bits of material and stitching pieces together, that magical moment would arrive when one “turns out” a piece of cloth and, suddenly, like a butterfly from its chrysalis, an actual article of clothing emerges. It’s like making pastry or watching a cake rise; from flat bits of cloth, something new is created.

We made mask after mask. My first one was back-to-front and not quite right. But then we got into a routine and knocked out eight. My daughter was as competent as ever with the machine and I remembered the fun and sense of achievement in using it to complete a sewing task. But best of all, it was the experience of creating something with my daughter sitting alongside me. The whole shared venture was just wonderful. The way conversation rises and falls when you are both absorbed with a task in hand; the intervention of the YouTube sewing expert; the amusement she found in my failed first attempt. It was all amazing and magical.

Now, when I wear one of my homemade masks, I remember our day and hold it to my heart. Even though when I am wearing it, I find it quite hard to breathe and impossible to make myself heard.

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