A stitch in time

Jill Whiting sits at her sewing machine

Wanting to help while staying at home, Jill Whiting met the challenges of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by uniting a group from Hamilton, Western Victoria, that has now sewn 4000 personal protection gowns for local medical staff.

Local Jill Whiting led and co-ordinated almost 100 generous volunteers who comprise the Team Sewing Project (TS Project) supporting Western District Health Service.

“It has been marvellous to pull the project together so quickly,” says Jill. “We were all told to stay home but the sewing fulfilled a need and allowed us to be connected,” she explains.

She says once COVID-19 restrictions began in Australia, many people in her western-district community were looking for ways to help health workers – with initial fears surgical and medical supplies would become scarce or unobtainable. “There were a lot of people on social media looking for ways to get involved and help,” she says.

Jill, who calls herself a ‘sewer from way back’, saw Bendigo’s Gowns for Doctors group and emailed them for advice on sewing personal protection gear. “They were really generous with their information,” says Jill.

The Bendigo group was making cloth gowns but the Hamilton-based medicos that Jill liaised with preferred heavy-duty plastic gowns and the group set out to design them. “A team at the hospital designed a gown and two employees came up with the prototype that we could work with. It was simple, with holes for the arms and ties at the back. They trialled it at the COVID-19 clinic and came back to us with it,” Jill explains.

Thankfully, volunteers did not require couture-level sewing skills. “Everyone only had to sew the two underarm seams. A straight stitch. Two lines,” says Jill.

Now 4000 gowns have been delivered to the Western District Health Service. “They had to quarantine the gowns for a while after delivery, just to be sure, but now they are all available for use,” explains Jill.

She says the TS Project allowed volunteers to contribute when and how they could. “Some sewers took 100 gowns; others took smaller bundles,” she says.

The sewing team is now taking a breather but, if the need arises, they can connect again easily. “I think it has really filled a void in some people’s lives at a really challenging time,” adds Jill.

Tell us how your community has connected in recent months.

Pictured above: Hamilton local Jill Whiting hard at work making a protective gown for medical staff

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