Evy Warshawski, The Arts Landscape: Keeping Napa safe, one mask at a time
The Arts Landscape

Evy Warshawski, The Arts Landscape: Keeping Napa safe, one mask at a time


The Napa Valley is fortunate to be the hub for scores of talented artisans. This is evident if you’ve visited participating artists in their (mostly) home studios or perused the catalog during the annual Open Studios/Napa event.

Collectively these artists create striking pieces of jewelry, ceramics, clothing, glassware, photography, paintings, woven items plus so much more. As a visitor to many of their studios, I’ve witnessed the time, energy and heart that goes into “doing what you love.”

In this “love” mix are Lorna Ritter and Heidi Toknow, two innovative local artists parlaying their respective sewing and design prowess into making masks. I recently discovered the extent of their resourcefulness, generosity and reach on Nextdoor.com and learned how they are giving back while sheltering at home.

A self-taught seamstress, Ritter began sewing at the age of 12 locking herself in her bedroom with her mother’s Singer Featherweight sewing machine. She’s run her own business for the past 23 years creating one-of-a-kind, hand-painted garments and accessories.

For the past six weeks, however, Ritter has become “obsessed”—sewing hundreds of two-layered cotton masks, wanting, she said, “… to get a mask on every face in Napa. I’m hoping that someday I’ll be at the point where I can carry them in my bag and hand them out,” Ritter said.

To date, she’s either sold (at $5 each to replenish supplies), but mostly given away more than 1,150 homemade masks using fabrics on hand, ordering needed materials like elastic or thread online or obtaining donations through Napa Maskers, the group she began on Nextdoor. Ritter found her pattern on YouTube adjusting it for what she describes as “mass production.”

“I can do about 40 in one day, although I’ve done as many as 70,” Ritter said. “You have to be good with tedium, the same thing over and over, and I’m okay with that. Something changed inside me when I started this.” Ritter’s mask recipients include: the Veterans Home of California at Yountville, Nob Hill Foods’ employees, Nazareth Classic Care of Napa, Napa County Animal Shelter and most recently, Navajo Nation, among others.

As the wearing of a face covering when out and about becomes more important each day – and is strongly recommended by the California Department of Public Health –the need for inventory has only grown.

Ritter gets more and more mask requests daily. “You would think it’s going to be the new fashion accessory,” she said, “but I am just so happy to be able to do this and to give back to the community.”

Heidi Toknow also used Nextdoor to create her group called Fabric Swappers.

“It’s when, for example, I have a fabric that you want, like red, and you have a fabric that I want, like blue, and we then trade to keep our stockpile going within our own community,” Toknow explained. “Fabric Swappers can also include thread, elastic, sewing needles, etc. I created the group so we can continue to help each other out.”

“I myself am looking for 100% cotton fabrics that can come as fabric itself, sheets, pillowcases, curtains and even clothing,” Toknow said. “I use 100% cotton because it’s the most comfortable and breathable. Also, if you make a mask for any healthy professional, that’s the materials they are asking for.”

A former dancer currently completing Political Science, History and Graphic Design AA’s at Napa Valley College, Toknow learned to sew through the making of ball and dance costumes. She also works with fabric and yarn to create wearable art such as bags, belts and art quilts for walls.

The first 15 masks produced from Toknow’s sewing skills were donated to firefighters with the help of the Napa Valley Quilters Guild of which she is a member. For the public, she’s now making masks with ties that will not only last longer over time but also fit over an N95 mask to extend its use. “It seems,” she said, “I’ve naturally created a Mask-Making Boutique on Nextdoor for men, women and children!”

“The response,” Toknow said, “has been very positive and heartwarming. Sometimes people will even tell me their life stories or how they are doing at the moment when they are placing their order. We have a great supportive community.”

“I have had to buy some fabrics when I was looking for specific kinds, but other people have been generous as well with their donations. Luckily, masks are a small project, so you don’t need a huge piece of fabric to keep sewing, as long as the fabric comes in.”

For information on how to obtain a mask and/or donate fabric and other mask-making items, contact both Lorna Ritter and Heidi Toknow on Nextdoor.com.

And please, don’t leave home without your mask.

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