Madeline Duff, right, and her sister, Anna Grace, fill the gaps between online learning by sorting fabric for medical masks at their Auburn home. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The sidewalk in front of Madeline Duff’s home in Auburn appears to be getting longer.

The more times the Edward Little High School graduate has to carry bolts of quilting fabric from the car to her house, the longer the sidewalk appears to grow.

“That sidewalk gets longer and longer every day,” said Duff, who has carried “thousands” of bolts along the heart-covered walkway.

“The hearts kind of keep me going,” Duff said about the little red hearts painted across the bricks.

Duff and her sister, Anna Grace, have been home from school since March when the coronavirus pandemic closed most schools across Maine.

Anna Grace will finish her freshman year through online classes. “Finding the motivation to get up and do it is hard,” Anna Grace said. “It could be a lot worse than it is.”


Madeline combined her senior year of high school with her freshman year at Central Maine Community College in Auburn and will graduate with a two-year liberal arts degree in May. “I thought online learning would be really bad. But it’s not,” Madeline said.

Remote learning and the stay-at-home order have resulted in a lot of bored teenagers. Not so with the Duff sisters.

Madeline and Anna Grace Duff work four to six hours a day measuring enough fabric to make 25 medical masks at a time.

What started as a volunteer effort grew into a paying job as the demand for masks has grown as more people become comfortable wearing protective masks.

Sisters Madeline and Anna Grace Duff have seen thousands of fabric patterns come across their table since they started with the mask-making process. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Brothers Chris and Tim Riley of the Fabric Warehouse in Auburn originally had the intention of selling 25 mask making kits slightly above cost to ease the demand for the N95 masks that are critically important to health care workers.

Once health care experts and Maine Gov. Janet Mills suggested that everyone out in public should wear a mask, the demand grew and grew and the brothers offered to pay the sisters for their sometimes 30-hour workweeks.


“Some days we are dropping off and picking up fabric three to four times a day,” said Gretchen Duff, Madeline and Anna Grace’s mother.

Bolts of quilting fabric come wrapped around cardboard.

“We have been to the dump three Saturdays in a row to recycle all the cardboard,” Madeline said. The SUV is filled from floor to ceiling with room for the driver and only one passenger, she said.

Seeing all the fabric designs come across the dining room table has been fun, said Anna Grace.

Mr. Potato Head, Cabbage Patch Kids, first responder emblems are a small sample of patterns.

“Owls are cool. Thomas the Train, I don’t know about,” Madeline said.


“I want to let them know that someone’s been thinking about them,” Michael Grant of Auburn said. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Sign of support

Michael Grant is familiar with a ventilator and does not want to see one ever again.

His youngest of five children, Samantha, needed a ventilator six months after birth because of reactive airway disease.

“We almost lost her twice,” Grant said.

A shortage of ventilators across the country has caused concern during the coronavirus pandemic.

To thank those who have been on the frontlines of COVID-19 testing and treatment, Grant made a large sign for his front yard in Auburn.

“Thank U 1st Responders, Nurses, Dr’s. America Strong,” the sign says.


“It’s just a thank you to them. I want to let them know that someone’s been thinking about them,” Grant said.

The sign is counterintuitive to his former thinking.

“I was raised not to like the police,” Grant said. “But I’ve learned from my father’s mistakes.”

Grant made the sign two weeks ago while “just thinking about Samantha,” his 6-year-old daughter.

He said he “worries a lot” about the coronavirus.

“She is super at risk if she catches it,” he said. “Not enough people are taking it serious.”


Edward Little High School teacher Evan Cyr has been making face shield frames and mask strap retainers for health care workers. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

About face on COVID-19

Remember those overhead projector sheets that teachers would accidentally drop on the classroom floor while trying to teach a lesson ?

Evan Cyr does.

In fact, the science/engineering teacher has discovered a new use for them: COVID-19 protective face shields.

Cyr and two of his colleagues at Edward Little High School have been working together to provide face shield frames and surgical mask strap retainers through 3D printing.

Eric Eisaman is printing frames and retainers as well, and Val Ackley is overseeing the project.

Schools across Maine have been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but most teachers, including Cyr, have not stopped teaching.


Evan Cyr said to think about a 3D printer as a CNC (computer numerical control) machine and hot glue gun combined. The 3D printer lays down six layers of polyactic filament while making the frames and retainers. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

With the continuous hum of a 3D printer in the background, Cyr communicates daily with his students through Google Classroom and home schools his own two daughters, Amelia, 9, and Abigail, 6.

“It’s doing its work,” Cyr said.

One print of three mask retainers and one shield holder takes about 90 minutes. The printer hums for four to five hours a day.

Cyr said before the project got off the ground, Ackley reached out to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center to find out if there was indeed a need for the equipment they planned to make.

St. Mary’s said yes, there is.

“It would have been awesome to have the kids be a part of this,” Cyr said about his engineering students. “What we have been doing employs some of the techniques that I teach.”

“It does give me ideas for next year when we get back to school,” Cyr said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: