If someone told me earlier this year that I would have spent my Easter holidays producing sewing patterns for scrubs, I wouldn’t have believed them. But when I came across the For the Love of Scrubs campaign, I knew that it was an opportunity to make a real difference and help NHS Scotland as it tackles coronavirus.
For the Love of Scrubs is an initiative set up by Fabric Bazaar and Mirka Bridal Couture to manufacture the essential workwear and scrubs needed by frontline and supporting staff. They put out a call for seamstresses who would be willing to produce scrubs from home and send them to the hospitals in need.
Many of my past students had got involved and were posting what they were doing on Facebook. From the posts, I saw that the organisers were asking for donations of material, especially elastic. At college, we had cupboards full of elastic and I contacted Holly Baxter at Fabric Bazaar to see if we could donate it all to them. She was so relieved, she’d had a big delivery of material that day but had no elastic or thread. It’s those sorts of materials that we take for granted every day.
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I drove around to the warehouse and delivered it all to her. It was quite an emotional exchange: she said that they had had thousands of responses from people saying they were willing and able to sew the scrubs at home. The fashion industry had answered their call in abundance. She said that thanks to the material, elastic and army of volunteers, hundreds of pairs of scrubs would be made within a couple of days.
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I had also noticed that on the For the Love of Scrubs Facebook page, a lot of people were struggling with the patterns: they were working from a PDF, and had to print out 30-odd pages to stick together and cut around. Three of my colleagues and I have card and pattern construction equipment and Holly asked us to take control of the pattern side of operations where people did not have a printer.
During the holidays, we were bent over our dining room tables, crafting away – quite a different set-up to the high cutting tables we have in college. We knew that mass production was key, and with card blocks, as soon as we get requests for sizes, we could get them cut out quickly. We’ve been getting up early, working for four or five hours and then rushing off to the post office: that’s been our daily exercise.
So far, we’ve cut and created hundreds of patterns in a range of sizes and posted them all over Scotland. They’ve gone to the Highlands, Aberdeenshire, Fife, the Borders, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and we put a little note into all of them to thank the seamstresses for what they are doing. We’ve had some lovely responses from people: they really appreciate the patterns. Many said they wanted to help and had lots of fabric, but couldn’t do it without an easy-to-use pattern. Now they’ve all been able to produce scrubs: some have been able to do 30 or 40 pairs, others have done one or two. Each pair makes a huge difference and it helps to give those in isolation a purpose. People are also making gowns and the bags that the scrubs can be transported in to and from the hospital.
We could not believe how many people requested patterns from us: we’re at a point now where we’ve managed to supply most people with the patterns they’ve needed. Even if people have run out of material, that hasn’t stopped them: they are making scrubs from old sheets and duvet covers. At the end of the day, a clean pair of scrubs is better than no scrubs at all, no matter what the material.
How can you get involved?
If you want to get involved and produce scrubs, you can get the pattern by asking for it on this Facebook page.
The fabric must be 100 per cent cotton or 65/35 per cent polycotton and between 140 and 190gpm. Colours are not hugely important, but plain is best and in the "traditional" hospital colours: blue, black, bottle green. Some other NHS services accept lower grade fabric, but, above all, it must not be see-through.
Once the scrubs are made, you can request for them to be collected here.
It’s been so great to see current and former students get involved. Sometimes we forget that the skills that we've taught them are really important in times like this. At college, we are used to focusing on future trends and catwalk looks. But it’s not just all about who is wearing what in Paris, and fashion shows. Clothing is an essential protective item and together, we are delivering that for the NHS. When it gets down to it, we really need the clothing industry in this country. I am really proud of myself and my colleagues for setting this example to our students.
Family members who work in the NHS are contacting me and saying "wow!". And I say to them, "What do you mean wow? We are just doing out bit." The past two weeks have gone by so quick, I feel really honoured to be able to help out in any way that we can.
A lot of the time our students are asked: why do you want to work in fashion? And now they can say we stepped up and used our skills to help the NHS to tackle coronavirus.
Sandra Thomson is a fashion design lecturer at Glasgow Kelvin College.