Lawyer, jewellery maker, lecturer among magnificent seven sewing PPE for frontliners

“We are not all cut from the same cloth, but together we make a beautiful quilt.” – Linda Poindexter, author

The quote above best describes a motley crew of seven volunteers which is doing a magnificent sewing job by putting in long hours to suit up our frontliners at hospitals.

The team is led by renowned fashion designer Bill Keith and includes an insurance executive, a jewellery maker, a lawyer, a doctor, a lecturer and a full-time volunteer of a performing arts centre.

These men and women have been working hard to sew personal protective equipment (PPE) at a workshop in Saito University College in Petaling Jaya.

Work started three days ago and although they are a long way off in meeting the target of 1,000 suits in the next few days, they are determined to labour on and do their best.

The idea to give back to frontliners was mooted following the predicament faced by our hospitals in sourcing for PPE equipment for medical personnel.

Speaking to Twentytwo13, Bill said Saito University College put him in charge of the project.

“The university asked if I would like to lead and I told them of course, I have nothing else to do,” said Bill, an adjunct professor at the university.

“But we couldn’t get students involved, so we decided to get volunteers instead.”

He described those in his team at the workshop in Saito University College as “wonderful people”.

“On the first day (Saturday), they came not knowing what to expect. They were taken aback to learn only industrial sewing machines were available.

“They said they would not be able to sew with these machines which were too fast and they were not professionals at the job,” said Bill.

“But they were determined. They went home and brought their own sewing machines … including those portable home sewing machines,” Bill said with a hearty laugh.

Bill hard at work at Saito University College.

Part-time jewellery maker Kenneth Foo Sze Cheng told Twentytwo13 he had never used a sewing machine but volunteered as he wanted to help his friends who are medical frontliners.

“My friend, a doctor at Kuala Lumpur Hospital, is being tested for Covid-19 every other day as he is either in close contact with a patient or is exposed to a colleague who has been exposed to a patient.

Kesian (pity) them. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t even buy them a drink right now,” said Foo.

He said he bought a sewing machine a few weeks ago to assemble his jewellery.

“But the machine has been in the box ever since and I am finally using it for the PPE garment initiative.

“I can finally say I can sew and in a straight line too,” he said in jest.

“Practice certainly makes perfect and I have been sewing the shoulder part of the protective garment,” said Foo.

He, however, said the workshop needs more people on board.

“We need people who can sew to join us. You don’t have to be a professional but if you have basic knowledge in sewing, you are most welcome to join,” he said.

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C. Mankayarkarasi, 67, the vice-president of the Temple of Fine Arts, said being part of the workshop meant she could put her sewing skills to good use.

“I am a full-time volunteer at the Temple of Fine Arts but since we are closed now and as my hobby is sewing, I thought why not be part of this initiative.

“I am glad to be doing this and have had the opportunity to meet some really nice people. I had never heard of Bill Keith and I thought he was a chef. I went home and Googled him only to realise he is a big name in the fashion industry,” she said.

The entire experience has been extremely rewarding for Mankayarkarasi despite the tedious long hours.

Another volunteer, lecturer Sharifah Mazwari Syed Mohd Bakar, said she spends her time shuffling between online meetings with her faculty and sewing at the workshop.

“Some of the volunteers can only come on weekends as they need to work on weekdays, but I try my best to be here as much as I can,” said Sharifah.

The 44-year-old who heads the fashion design department at Saito University College, said: “I have been sewing and cutting. The cutting work is tiring as we are using our hands and not machines.”

“We are supposed to deliver 1,000 suits in the next few days, but we can only do it fast if we have more hands,” she said, adding they had only completed 50 suits as of yesterday evening.

Bill said sewing PPE suits is not as easy as it seems.

“We don’t have a laser cutter and my thumb is sore,” he admitted.

“We were also told that each time we took a break, we need to wash our hands before starting work again. So I try not to stop too often,” said Bill who has been in the industry for over three decades.

He said the team was equipped with sanitisers and face masks.

“But what we really need now is more volunteers. With a few more people, we could form an assembly line and things will move faster.”

Bill said Malaysians need to play their part for our frontliners.

“They have sacrificed a lot and we must not take them for granted. They are tired but they continue to do their best and we should not demand and complain.

“We need people who can sew but it is okay if you can’t. We will welcome you at our workshop as there will always be something you can help with,” added Bill.

Those wishing to volunteer can contact Bill at 013-3510302.

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