Bridal and dressmaking shop use sewing skills to help in the fight against COVID-19

Chicago's Very Own
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CHICAGO — A bridal and dressmaking shop in the Portage Park neighborhood has been churning out bridal gowns and prom dresses for years. But with wedding bells on hold for most during the pandemic, a mother and daughter duo decided to use their sewing skills to help those on the medical front lines.

Every spring, Kathy Labedzki-Pierga, owner of Kasia’s Bridal Boutique, and her mother Grazyna Labedzki are busy fitting brides for their big day. But this spring, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned their bridal shop into a sewing shop where they’re making face masks for local health care workers.

Since the start of the pandemic, the pair have been anxious and worried. So they decided to put their nervous energy into helping others.

“So I came into work the next day and I said ‘Mom, we’re not giving up, you need to stop worrying and you’re going to stop making me worry and we’re going to start making masks and whatever happens at this point,” Labedzki-Pierga said.

With scraps of fabric and elastic found inside of their shop, they got to work. Labedzki-Pierga’s mother speaks little English, so her daughter took to social media and explained their cause.

Then, donations along with requests for masks came pouring in from staff at several local hospitals.

“It’s nice to see we can do this for the people that are on the front lines and essential businesses and essential jobs, we’re able to help them,” Labedzki-Pierga said.

At first, they were doubling up layers of cotton for a safe, washable mask. Then, they discovered some of the bridal garment bags they had were made from fabric used in the protective N95 masks used in hospitals.

“We took the mask and we created one layer of N95 type of fabric and we put cotton on top, so it’s reinforced, pretty, and still has a way to put on like a surgical mask,” Labedzki-Pierga said.

With increasing demand, the two had to put volunteer seamstresses to work.

“What started out as 500 pieces we wanted to make, ended up being 1,000 orders that I sent out with my mom by April 1.  Which is insane,” Labedzki-Pierga said.

She joked that although they’re not sewing wedding gowns, her mother is just as serious about the quality and intricacy of the face masks.

“Oh, she’s a quality control freak, my mom,” she said.

Labedzki-Pierga and Labedzki still worry about what the future has in store. Bills are piling up and brides are waiting on dresses, but they also believe the work they’re doing is just as important as the gowns.

“The only thing that makes me uncomfortable is when people say I’m a hero.  I’m not a hero, the people that are getting the masks are the heroes,” Labedzki-Pierga said.

As of April 17, the pair has donated more than 1,400 masks to hospitals, first responders and senior living centers.

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