The world is a hot mess right now. There are so many people suffering, so many at risk, and so there’s so little we can to do help them that it makes a person feel…. well, helpless. So when I spotted a post on Facebook about a simple little crochet band with a buttons on the end that was supposed to be a huge help for health care workers, I thought, “THERE is a thing I can do!” Or, more accurately, “there is a thing I can instigate!”
The issue is that folks who are wearing masks for 12 hours straight are finding that the elastic straps on the masks rub the backs of their ears raw. Someone – I don’t know who – came up with the idea of making a little band with buttons to hook the straps onto instead, thereby protecting mask wearers’ ears. They posted the pattern in a group, and it was shared to another group, and so on. There are patterns on Ravelry as well, and others popping up here and there (there are patterns and links to more patterns near the end of this post).
I saw one of these posts and thought it looked like a good idea but before I mobilized the yarnerati I wanted to make sure they really were both useful and desired. I sent a picture to my friend (and family doctor) Margaret Fraser – who’s been working lots of shifts in emerg at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital – and asked what she thought. “Those look awesome!” she said. “We’ve been using paperclips!”
Paperclips. They were using PAPERCLIPS.
Step two was to make one and give it to her to try out. The next day I got her reply: “The crocheted band is the right length and the nurses all wanted to steal it! Success!”
Well, okay then. GAME ON. I shared the pattern I’d used on the Bobbin Tree page & groups, Margaret shared it on her own page, and right away people started responding. Bunch of people were all in right from the get go. Lots of folks had yarn and hooks but no buttons. No problem: I have (had!) tons of buttons in my stash. Others wanted a knitting pattern rather than crochet. Not to worry: Margaret came up with a quick and easy one which we shared around. Folks wondered where they could drop them off. Easy: either at the store or up at the hospital.
And then the bands started coming. And coming.
Pretty quickly I realized that my button stash, though prodigious, was not going to enbutton all the bands that folks were making. I also realized that, between trying to get The Bobbin Tree online and several other irons I have in the fire, I don’t have nearly enough time to enbutton dozens of bands. What I do have, though, is a fabulous bunch of folks (the yarnerarti) who also want to help however they can, a central drop off location, and deliveries to make once or twice a week anyway – which means I’m perfectly situated to get all the supplies to the people who CAN do the thing, then get them back again, then deliver them to Margaret.
Today my day went like this: go to the shop. Find a bag of already buttoned bands from Kate tied to the doorknob. (Spray the bag with bleach and) take it inside. Hang a drop off basket on the door to make it easier for folks to drop stuff off and pick stuff up. Get a text from Kara saying she dropped off bands; find two bags in the basket: one with buttons, one without. Put unbuttoned bands from Kara and a bag of ~90 or so buttons sifted from my stash out for Anne; have her stop by, drop off a bag of 55(!!) finished bands, pick up the new supplies, and take them home again to put buttons on. Do the rest of my shop stuff, then go to Sandra’s and drop off more buttons so she can finish up the bands she’s been making. Make my store deliveries, drop off 90 or so finished bands at Margaret’s, stop at Barb’s and pick up a giant bag of buttons from HER stash, and bring them home.
ALL of this happened via doorknobs, baskets, mailboxes, tables out on the deck. ALL happened with zero physical contact. I caught a quick glimpse of Anne through the shop door. I shouted hello to Sandra from halfway down her drive. The others I didn’t see at all.
To date, I’ve only made about a dozen of the bands myself but between me, my button stash, Margaret, Sandra, Anne, Cora Lee, Deb, Kara, Kate, and others, we’ve gotten close to 200 of these bands made and into the hands of folks at the Regional. I started to wonder, so I asked Margaret “how many bands is too many?” Her response: “You cannot. make. too. many. Each person will need several. At least two: one to wash and one to wear.” [emphasis mine]
Even if we DO somehow manage to exceed demand at the Regional, there are home care workers, pharmacists, and any number of other essential workers out there who are also wearing masks and could use them.
So… GAME IS STILL ON, folks! If you’re willing and able to help out, here’s what we need:
- MORE BANDS. There are patterns and specs below. If you have buttons to sew onto them, great! If not, I’ll get them enbuttoned before turning them over to Margaret.
- MORE BUTTONS. They should be at least 1/2″ or else they won’t hold the straps in place. I think 3/4”-1” is best, but bigger is fine, too. Margaret says “buttons cannot be too big – I think if you had really oversized, like 4-5 inches, they might [be uncomfortable], but 1″-1.5″ is fine.”
- MORE ENBUTTONERS. I can hook you up with bands that need buttons and the buttons to put onto them. (At least until button supplies run out. See #2.)
If you’re donating buttons or bands, you can drop them off at the store any time. Maybe shoot me a message or email to let me know you have done so I don’t leave them languishing there for days. If you’re picking up buttons and bands for enbuttoning, contact me and we’ll arrange a time when I’ll be able to put them outside in the basket for you to pick up.
- Tension is not important. Colour is not important. Buttons do NOT need to match!
- Use a yarn and buttons that are machine washable and dryable. We want folks to be able to toss these into the washing machine with whatever clothes they wore on shift. (Laundering fabrics is thought to effectively kill the coronavirus.)
- The buttons should be at least 1/2″, or a cluster of smaller buttons would also work. There needs to be a secure surface for the mask elastic to loop through.
- I’m using a DK weight cotton yarn and 3.5mm hook. The original crochet pattern was for worsted weight and a 5mm hook. Margaret is using dishcloth cotton and 4 to 5 mm needles.
- My bands are around 5″ long, but don’t worry about making yours a particular length. Mask straps are stretchy and, more importantly, heads are different sizes! It’s a good thing to have a variety of lengths.
The original crochet pattern I used is here, and was provided by Vicki Leverre Duncan. Emily Rinke made a video tutorial for folks who want some help.
I’m using an ever-so-slightly modified version, because I found that my ends were curling closed:
Make a slip knot, leaving a long tail (6-8 inches). Chain 20. Starting with the 3rd chain from the hook, half double crochet in each stitch along the chain until the last. Into the last stitch, half double crochet four times. Turning around at the end of the chain and working backwards now, half double crochet in the next stitch. If it feels like the band won’t lay flat at the end, work one or two more hdcs into that stitch to help it go flat. Then half double crochet all the way down the chain, working into opposite side of the same stitches you worked into before, until you get to the end. Half double crochet three or more times in the last stitch on this end, too. Finish off, leaving a long tail (6-8″).
Use the two tails to sew a button (at least 1/2″ but preferably 3/4″ or bigger) securely to the face of the band at either end.
And here’s Margaret’s knitting pattern:
Using cotton yarn – the same yarn as the dish cloths – and 4-5mm needles, cast on 22 stitches. Knit 6-8 rows, ending on the same end as the cast-on tail. Cast off (so the new tail is at the other end). Use the ends to sew on buttons and to weave in. Trim.
Here’s another knitted version I saw go by on Facebook as well. I’m honestly not sure who posted these and have forgotten which group I saw it in, so I’m not going to post the pattern. If you peer at it closely you can probably figure it out. The point is: it doesn’t really matter how to make them, as long as they’re about 1 or 1.5” wide and somewhere between 3 and 6 inches long, and there are some buttons at the ends.
Finally, here’s another pattern on Ravelry. It makes a shorter band, but includes instructions for knitted, crocheted, and sewn “ear savers”.