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'Cosplayers Unite!' Medical officials in Washington state solicit homemade face masks

caption: Mask and gloves.
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Mask and gloves.

As Washington faces a mounting COVID-19 crisis and amid a shortage of medical supplies, new face masks for medical personnel are on their way — from cosplayers.

If you need an army of sewers and crafters, you could not ask for a more handy crowd than cosplayers. And with a healthy comicon community, Washington is full of them.

Need a replica of Wonder Woman's boots? That's easy. How about a Klingon bat'leth? No problem. Medical face masks are no challenge for the crafty cosplayer. That's why so many in the Seattle area are taking materials provided by hospitals to help fill the gap in supply.

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Providence, which has medical centers around Washington, has now organized a 100 million mask challenge, asking people to make the masks at home.

You don't have to be a cosplayer to make the masks. But shortly after the announcement, word started to go around the Northwest cosplay community under the mantra "Cosplayers Unite."

"Signing up was very easy," Brian Morris said. "I simply went to the website and had my name in their system in under five minutes."

On Monday, Providence will provide mask-making materials at its Renton location to anyone (you don't have to be a cosplayer) who can get the job done (details here). Each kit will have enough materials to make 100 masks.

Morris is well prepared. He operates Zak Labs in Renton, a custom cosplay and prop-making company. He is also CEO of Kingcon Northwest, a local comicon. As such, he is tied into the local cosplay community. Once he gets materials, he plans to challenge other cosplayers to a mask-making contest.

"Our plans are to gather the material and live stream the sewing process," he said. "We have two Sergers (sewing machines) ready to go and so 200 masks shouldn't take that long to make."

Here's how Washington state health care workers are collecting medical equipment donations

Morris is not alone. Shortly after Providence made the request for mask makers, a call went across social media among other cosplay circles.

Lori Bryant saw the notice from Providence on one cosplay Facebook group. Then it spread to others. She has already signed up to make masks.

"That was last night, now today I've seen posts in all kinds of cosplay groups and cosplayer pages," she said.

"I signed up right away, although I haven't gotten an email back yet," she said.

Other cosplayers have simply put out a call to donate any gloves and masks crafters might have in their shops.

Others in the Seattle area have also put out a call for mask makers.

Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health - Seattle & King County tweeted such a request on Friday. The public health department notes that this was an informal call from Dr. Duchin, not an official request from the agency.


Renee Spencer doesn't live near Providence's Renton location where mask kits will be available. But after seeing nurses post about the shortages online, she isn't waiting for an official call. She's already starting, using materials she has in her cosplay studio, just in case.

"I am making the masks to have ready once more specific instructions are provided by my local hospital," she said.

Spencer is an avid cosplayer who has won competitions for her work, including first place for tailoring at Emerald City Comicon. She therefore has a box full of excess fabric.

"Using the supplies and talent I have is what I can offer," she said. "I'm friends with a few medical workers ... I'm remaining in contact with them as my local hospital has not released any mask information as of yet. The need is clear, it's just about how and when.

"I've made dressing gowns for my local hospital in the past," she said. "I am still working full-time as a state employee so committing to 100 masks is a tight turn around for my schedule. I took the Providence announcement, posted it to my own Facebook page and asked local Snohomish and King County nurses what they needed."

It is unclear that any DIY donations will be accepted by hospitals so, make them at your own risk of being turned away. But elsewhere, officials have asked for such help, posting CDC guidelines for masks. Deaconess hospital in Indiana asked for homemade masks, and put out instructions on how to make them.

Online sewing patterns have also popped up across the globe.

The Washington State Department of Health has already asked federal officials to send more medical gear for health care workers on the front lines. But the response has not been adequate, state officials say.

Washington has received more than 500,000 surgical masks among other supplies requested from the Strategic National Stockpile. But the items received thus far constitute just 25% of what the state has asked for, according to a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Health.

Why you can trust KUOW