Sewing Supplies in High Demand as People Make Their Own Masks

By Ilene Eng
Ilene Eng
Ilene Eng
Ilene is a reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area covering Northern California news.
April 11, 2020Updated: April 11, 2020

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Due to the shortage of protective masks, people have been making them at home or switching from their usual fabric-related business to mask production. As a result, sewing machines and supplies are in high demand.

Epoch Times staff called sewing machine stores around the San Francisco Bay Area and learned that these stores have been especially busy lately.

Active in San Jose

Raza Ebrahim is the owner of California Sewing and Vacuum in San Jose and two other stores in the Bay Area. He also owns two sewing stores in Hawaii. He has been flying back and forth between the two stores, helping people.

His stores are giving free masks to people who walk in without masks on. Ebrahim said his business is booming now, but his motivation comes from helping people.

They sell machines, fabric, thread, elastic, and many other supplies.

“We are also helping people cut the fabric over here. We have a cutting table right there,” said Ebrahim.

He said they won’t run out of materials because they had just ordered plenty for their 5,000-square-foot store before the COVID-19 pandemic.

His stores in Hawaii have gotten three times busier.

“I have never seen people lining up to buy fabric and sewing machines and all kinds of things,” he said.

“Everybody walks in, ‘I’m glad you’re open, I can make a mask,’ ‘I can donate some masks,’” he recalled. “People are buying like hundreds, and some people are buying thousands of dollars’ worth of fabric.”

That’s also with the 35 percent discount on all the fabric in his stores.

“I’m not looking for a $10 profit, I’m looking for more to help the people, because this is really getting out of hand,” said Ebrahim.

Swamped in Redwood City

Ralph Garcia, owner of Ralph’s Vacuum & Sewing Center in Redwood City, is overwhelmed.

“It’s been nuts. It’s way up over normal,” he said. “It is selling more low-end machines than upper-end machines, which is okay.”

“Repairs have jumped up dramatically, because obviously the more you use it, the odds of it breaking goes up,” said Garcia.

He said people are also buying a lot of HEPA vacuum bags to make their own masks.

“It seems to be working out where they make the mask with a pocket in it, then they cut a section of the HEPA vacuum bag and then put it into that pocket, so that if they need to wash the mask, they can take the HEPA filter out and wash it and then put it back in,” said Garcia.

His store has become a necessary business that is staying open to provide supplies and help people.

“We are an essential need. People are coming here to have their machines repaired. They’re buying HEPA filters to put into the masks. They’re buying thread. They’re buying fabric. They’re buying their sewing machine. They’re having us fix their sewing machine so they can sew,” said Garcia.

The store workers are wiping down as frequently as possible, washing their hands, and wearing masks.

Booked in Piedmont

Cecilia Franklin, owner of Sew Images in Oakland, said her store is classified as an appliance store, so it’s still open.

“‘You have any elastic?’” Franklin said, laughing. “That’s the conversation of the day.”

The most common topics she gets asked about are interfacing fabric, elastic, and whether she can repair a sewing machine.

“They’re also pulling out old sewing machines that they haven’t seen in years … and then they discover that their machines don’t work as well as it used to, so they bring them in for repair,” she said. “It could be because they don’t know how to thread it, or they put their bobbin case in wrong—it could be almost anything.”

She has an independent contractor to help her, but otherwise, she fixes everything herself. Both are overloaded with work.

She limits her hours and takes all the necessary safety precautions.

Running Low in San Bruno

Matthew Lai, sales director of Apparel City Sewing Machine in San Bruno, said they are a lot busier selling elastic for people to make masks.

“That’s basically the only business that we have now,” he said.

He estimates that their sales have increased a hundredfold since the outbreak. They ship items out and also do over-the-counter service outside their store.

Typically, people buy 2 to 4 rolls of 144 yards of elastic from their store. Now people are buying as many as 40 rolls.

Lai said they are having trouble keeping up with the demand, and much of what they sell is out of stock.

“We’ve been taking numbers for when we get elastic back in stock. Or we also found alternative stretchy material that can work as well,” he said.

They order domestically and have different types of elastic, such as knitted, folded, and shelled-edge elastic, ranging in width from an eighth to a quarter of an inch.

“So not just the traditional braided elastic,” said Lai. “We’re encouraging people to use different types of elastic that can work equally well.”

They have also sold some sewing machines and cotton tape.