Sewing Tips

The Great Elastic Shortage of 2020

Most people will remember 2020 as the “Year of the Toilet Paper Shortage”. Will sewists remember 2020 as the “Year of the Elastic Shortage”?

Although I’m very much on top of the Covid-19 news because I read the Wall Street Journal daily, I wasn’t all that aware of the need for home-made masks until recently when the “Mask Wars” exploded in Facebook Groups this week (see previous post:
https://7pinedesign.com/corona-virus-home-made-masks ) (You can right-click to open in a new window).

Within 1 week the argument that “Those handmade masks do more harm than good” was replaced with “Our local hospital is begging for them.”

I have never seen such an outpouring of volunteer efforts by the sewing community. This is waaaaaaay bigger than relief efforts after natural disasters, hurricanes etc.

  • everybody with a sewing machine is donating time and using their own materials, people are sharing extra fabric
  • fabric stores are donating supplies
  • Facebook sewing groups are updating information constantly
  • hospitals are putting out requests, coordinating sewing teams
  • pattern-makers are drafting and publishing free patterns
  • YouTubers are videotaping instructions
  • There are literally thousands of sewists around the world making millions of masks at this moment.

(I’ve only come across a single maker who is asking for cash, to help with shipping costs. As in $1,200 for 400 masks. For somebody with a home-based business, meaning she hasn’t lost her job….who has wholesale bolts of fabric and industrial machines….yeah I was disappointed in her.)

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Yesterday afternoon I was listening to the news and heard that NY state was going on lockdown at midnight, and since Massachusetts could very well be next I decided to make a shopping run for necessities. I stopped by our (very tiny) Joann store and the second I walked in the manager said “I hope you’re not here for elastics, we’re sold out.” Seems they’d been bombarded all day with customers buying up all the 1/4″ and 1/8″ elastic, plus loads of cotton fabric and even sewing machines (this branch carries maybe 6 machines total at any given time). People who had never stitched a thing in their lives were jumping on the mask bandwagon.

Next stop, Walmart…same thing. Customers had bought up all of the narrow elastic and the manager told me they were even out of the multi-width packs. Suddenly it hit me: are people hoarding elastic like toilet paper?

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So last evening I went online to my trusted supply source, Wawak, and put 3 rolls of elastic in my cart. By the time I went to check out, they were gone!

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I checked my other fave, Sew Sassy.….no narrow elastic in stock at all. This was getting weird. A friend told me to check Overstock and they actually do have some. Look how many customers have this in their carts! Kind of bizarre for such a niche item:

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There are plenty of Etsy shops with elastic, however they vary greatly in reliability according to their reviews so buyer beware. I took a chance on this shop and they shipped the same day!:

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Of course there’s always Amazon…and they have some availability but who knows when it will arrive because it comes from overseas:

Here’s the irony:

  • we are running low on elastic in America because people are hoarding it to make home-made masks
  • which are needed because people hoarded medical-grade mass-produced masks
  • which are out of stock in the U.S. because they are made overseas
  • and now we can’t even make home-made masks because the elastic is also mass-produced overseas

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If there’s a silver lining in any of this, maybe some basic industries will move back to America?

Thank you to all the charity-sewists out there.

Happy Sewing! Janet

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3/21/2020: Hair elastics make a colorful substitute for elastics:


https://www.lisascarolina.com/2019/02/fabric-face-masks-easy-but-fiddly-and.html?m=1

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3/22/2020 As Solene from France notes, ties are probably better anyway! They are traditional for surgical masks, they last longer through the hospital washings. Time to source some twill tapes rolls? Or even shoelaces!

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3/23/2020 Another elastic source!
https://www.bohofabrics.com/collections/stretch-lace-elastics/products/1-4-elastic-144-yard-spool

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3/27/2020 SewingPartsOnline just announced they’ve restocked!
https://www.sewingpartsonline.com/gypsy-quilter-14-braided-elastic?variant_id=289379

6 Comments

  • Solene

    Hi from France!
    Here we are officially confined since Tuesday (me since Tuesday the week before). DIY masks topics are running wild here too, to provide for health professionals and hospitals. Lots of discussions about which fabric filters best, pros and cons.
    Truth be told, I think the government is still recommending masks for health professionals only for fear of a mass panic about it.
    Anyway, I wanted to add that you can make masks with “only” ribbons to fasten it. Its quite usual in surgical masks.
    Cheers

  • [email protected]

    Bonjour Solene! Yes you are right, actually ribbon ties are best…more long-lasting than elastic. I will add that to the post, so merci. Best wishes in keeping everybody in France safe and healthy. Cheers!

  • Elle C

    Hello from Canada. Of course you can use ties instead of elastic, but most people that I know who work in health care prefer elastic to ties. Including me. I went out yesterday to my local fabric store to buy elastic for masks, and found out that Saturday was the last day they will be open for awhile.Lucky me. I bought 5 meters (39 inches per meter) of elastic, so I should have enough for a while. Keep sewing

  • ShirleyC

    I’m using the 1/8″ elastic because it’s much faster. I hope these aren’t needed long term. I found some on Etsy, and she’s supposed to ship it Wednesday. In the mean time, my friend gave me some.
    These are for friends and family here in a local clinic.

  • [email protected]

    Oh I hope they aren’t needed longterm either….I read that 3M corporation is cranking out millions of N95 masks. Really hope we can keep some production (of everything we need!) local.

  • [email protected]

    I hear that all the time: people have a preference one way or the other! At this point I’m not even sure what to keep making. Happy for you that you that you caught some elastic before lockdown!

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