Material Culture of Making Masks

For her birthday, Erika Briesacher received a sewing machine from her mother-in-law. Erika had always wanted to learn how to sew, but she just never had the time—until the pandemic, that is. And so, in the spring of 2020 amidst the mask shortage, Erika set out to fashion face masks for her whole family. But that wasn’t all she set out to do.

Erika is an associate professor of history at Worcester State University, and as she chronicled her mask-making endeavors, she couldn’t ignore the social and historical implications of creating face masks. How is mask wearing different for men of color (who might not want to wear a mask because of racial profiling), people who are hard of hearing, or the impoverished who struggle to acquire masks? What does the absence of a face mask tell us about someone? Is the pandemic response gendered with the majority mask making initiatives and sewing patterns coming from women? How are masks incorporated into BLM protests? At the end of 2020, Erika’s book project, Make Me a Mask: Material/Culture in a Pandemic, went under formal contract.

Worcester State University: Erika Briesacher Mask Book Proposal

“Analyzing masks themselves, as well as the experiences of people who make and use them – the design, the material, and the prominent place face masks have in our lives – is a way to gain insight into stories of the pandemic experience that cut across social strata.”

Material Culture of Making Masks