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GENEVA – Elizabeth Shackelford learned how to crochet from a cousin when she was 8 or 9, but it wasn’t until a teacher at Geneva Middle School South started a crochet club and refined her ability.
“It turned out I was doing it wrong,” Elizabeth said. “She liked to crochet and she showed me how to do it.”
Then Natalie Wierenga, a language arts teacher at the school, upped Elizabeth’s game one more time, prompting the 13-year-old seventh grader to crochet ear extenders on masks for health care workers at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva.
“It helps relieve the stress on your ears,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth’s kindness to front line health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic did not go unnoticed at Delnor, as Gina Reid Tinio, the chief nurse executive at Delnor, praised the girl's thoughtfulness.
“What may seem like a small act of kindness is actually a huge help to our caregivers at Northwestern Medicine Delnor,” Tinio stated in an email.
“Our caregivers are in masks for their entire shift, day after day. These ear extenders help prevent skin irritation and breakdown behind the ears making the mask wearing experience much more comfortable,” Tinio’s email stated. “Elizabeth’s work is truly making a difference! Perhaps we have a future nurse in the making.”
Elizabeth used Lily Sugar’n Cream all cotton yarn in different shades of blue to create a rectangle that looks like a bookmark, four to six inches long and about an inch wide.
She uses a single crochet stitch – crochet aficionados know what this means. And for the uninitiated, crochet is a form of needlework in which a hook is used to create interlocking looped stitches.
“I used cotton yarn because it’s tough, but it still has a little bit of stretch to it,” Elizabeth said.”
She fastens two 3/4-inch buttons that someone can use to extend the back loops of a face mask to be more comfortable.
“Each one took me like 15 to 20 minutes or more depending on how big I made it,” Elizabeth said. “I made 12 or 14 altogether. I gave 10 of them to Delnor. I kept a few for family members who used them, too.”
Now that she’s run out of Sugar’n Cream yarn, Elizabeth is waiting for an online order to arrive so she can continue making mask extenders.
Her father, Keith Shackelford, said since the stay at home order during the coronavirus pandemic, Elizabeth likes to do creative things on her breaks.
“She takes a break in the afternoon, going up to her room and crocheting,” her father said. “It’s her favorite part of the day.”
Wierenga said she started a crochet club because some of the girls had an interest. And then the school went to e-learning during the coronavirus shut down so they do digital meetings.
“They (the students) started contacting me, asking, ‘Is there anything we can make for the hospital?’” Wierenga said.
As it happens, Wierenga’s sister is a nurse, so she talked to her back in March about what the girls could do.
At that time, the suggestion was to modify headbands with buttons to reduce wear and tear on the ears, Wierenga said.
But that proved to be difficult and more expensive to do.
Then, Wierenga found a free pattern online through Ravelry, a yarn and pattern database for knitters and crocheters. She also found a YouTube video – made by a nurse – about crocheting mask extenders out of 100% cotton yarn to relieve the stress on health workers’ ears.
“And now (Northwestern Medicine) Central DuPage Hospital is accepting them now,” Wierenga said. The hospital network's website, www.nm.org, gives instructions on how to donate during the pandemic.
“I made my own pattern … and a video for them so they can practice on their own,” Wierenga said. “It involved different types of stitches, but it’s sometimes easier with a basic stitch to keep it simple, easy and fast.”