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Mom’s lessons from long ago reaps what he sews

By Thor Jourgensen | April 4, 2020

LYNN — Jack Herlihy never thought he would put to use the sewing skills his mother taught him. But that was before coronavirus hit.

A retired National Park Service museum curator and Lynn native, Herlihy is busy sewing masks and “scrub hats” for medical personnel fighting the global pandemic in hospitals and other medical facilities and desperate for personal protective equipment (PPE). 

He was closing in on making 100 masks by mid-week and when the sewing machine he was using broke down, he dragged out his mother’s half century-old Singer machine and put it to work. 

“Everyone should haul out those old sewing machines and use them,” Herlihy said. 

Kelly Parks, a Beverly Hospital nurse and sister of long-time Herlihy friend Jim Parks, said medical professionals appreciate Herlihy’s nimble fingers.

“He is a life-saver. He’s got us all covered in PPEs,” Parks said. 

Herlihy went to the Deaconess Hospital website featuring a detailed demonstration on protective mask making. Lynn-based Brickyard Collaborative used the same site as a blueprint beginning about two weeks ago to start sewing masks for Lynn Community Health Center workers. 

Herlihy feels like he has come full circle with his new project. His mother sewed doll clothes for needy children and he learned about the American textile industry’s history while stationed in Lowell — a textile industry capital — with the Park Service.

“I’m not a crafter, but it is kind of like my mother inspired me,” he said. 

Once he receives a new shipment of elastic bands, Herlihy will get to work on making more masks. The masks he is sewing can be worn by medical professionals over more sophisticated N95 masks in order to prolong the N95’s use life.

“Jack’s masks are bigger than others and better constructed,” Parks said.

A demand for masks at the Union Street-based health center prompted creative people associated with the Brickyard Collaborative to answer a call for assistance. 

Collaborative Director Ted Dillard said about 30 people affiliated with the Collaborative, as well as people who responded to requests for help making protective gear, have sewn 1,000 masks, 50 protective gowns for medical workers and made hand sanitizer. 

He urged people interested in making protective gear to contact him at

“We need more people to sew,” Dillard said.

Health center practice manager Roseliene Conway praised the Collaborative’s work and said more than 500 masks have been delivered to the Center. 

“As we continue to speak with Ted, we mutually decided to halt our acceptance of the masks at this time so supplies can be allocated to other Lynn agencies and places in need. While our need is constant, we want to be sure everyone has equal access to support,” Conway stated in an email.

The Center released an updated coronavirus precaution alert on Friday containing these reminders:

*wash your hands frequently.

*avoid close contact with those who are sick, stay home when you are sick.

*cover your coughs and sneezes, and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

*practice social distancing when out and about. 

*When you are sick, call your doctor’s office immediately — do not come into a healthcare facility, including an urgent care, health center or emergency room, unless you are instructed to do so.