Seamstress pivots to make face masks

Author: Marissa Gebhard

Face Mask Sewing

Early on Saturday, April 4 Larose Saint Jean, director of St. Michael’s Laundry, received a call from a colleague who had an answer to the problem of a shortage of face masks: If the University’s seamstress could sew face masks, those could be made available to staff working on campus. 

A talented seamstress who completed her education and training in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Nina Ansimova, was a good fit for the project. “Nina is very skilled; she can make things from scratch. We are very lucky to have her as a seamstress,” said Saint Jean. “When the project came along, she was happy to do it.”

After she completed her training in Novosibirsk, Ansimova became a professional dressmaker and worked at a tailor shop in the city where she made custom suits, dresses and other apparel before coming to work at Saint Michael’s Laundry in 2015. When she heard about the face mask project, she created her own pattern, purchased material and got to work making about sixty masks per day.

She selected a material that is 100 percent cotton that will wash easily. In the first two days of the project, she had already completed over 100 face masks and continues to make more. She has made white and black ones, some with roses and others with cheerful, spring flowers.

“I am happy to help people,” Ansimova said. “I hope the masks will protect people and will be comfortable for those who wear them. That is my hope.”

Her colleague, Wieslawa Ruchniak, a laundry attendant crew leader for St. Michael’s who also happens to speak Russian, offered to help her sew the masks, so the project is moving along quickly. Staff in Campus Dining, the Morris Inn, the Center for Culinary Excellence, Building Services, research labs and departments across campus will use the face masks for their personal safety on the job. In the next phase of the project, Ansimova is making face masks with removal filters.

This is not the only unusual project Ansimova has sewn. About three years ago, a young couple who were both alumni asked her to create a Notre Dame Band uniform for their three year old son, so she did. The navy, white and gold uniform even included a large monogram on the back, just as the authentic band students’ uniforms do. The parents were ecstatic to see their son in the same type of uniform they had worn as band members, and were delighted to show Ansimova on the Friday before the game. 

Although not as excited, perhaps a few staff members will be equally as appreciative to wear their face masks, knowing the time that Ansimova and Ruchiniak have spent sewing the masks to keep them safe.