Mask-making stretches town’s elastic supply

Peter Hill

THE introduction of mandatory face masks in Melbourne and the recommendation rural residents should wear masks where social distancing is difficult, has stretched fabric stores to the limit.

Yarram Drapery, an historic store that houses a cornucopia of fabric, wools, cottons and craft materials, has experienced an unprecedented rush for material to make masks.

Store owner Zita Youens, who with her husband Peter bought the long established business in 2018, has been astounded by the demand for elastic.

“Fabric and elastic for face masks has been rushing out the door,” she said.

“Elastic is proving as rare as hens’ teeth.

“We managed to obtain an order for two 150 metre drums of six millimetre braided elastic last Thursday.

“It arrived on Monday, and in 24 hours we have sold more than 200 metres,” she said.

“There is no hat elastic left and we are having to ration the last of the elastic to a maximum of 10 metres per customer.”

Zita said she and long-time drapery assistant Leanne Thomas had determined two metres of elastic should be enough for five masks.

Leanne explained Monday had been an exhausting day, with a seemingly never-ending stream of customers wanting to buy fabric for mask making.

“One woman came in and purchased more than $100 in fabric for craft and masks,” she said.

“She returned a few hours later wanting more fabric as she said she had a special order from a child for a cat mask.

“I looked astounded until she said she wanted fabric with images of cats on it, not material to make a mask for a cat.”

Leanne and a casual assistant spent most of Monday cutting fabric to assemble mask-making kits, which were quickly snapped up.

“We were flat out – the work benches were piled high,” she said.

Zita said the business supplied more than maskmaking kits.

“We have catered for lots of kits during the pandemic, from wool based kits for knitting and crochet, to fabric and materials for embroidery, quilting and patchwork.

“People want to be able to buy everything they need to complete a project in the one purchase.”

The demand for wool has also astounded her.

She explained her suppliers had said they had supplied more wool during this one winter than the previous three winters combined.

Zita had imagined when buying the drapery the business would focus on fabrics and crafts, following on from her passion for quilting and patchwork.

However she and husband Peter have been astounded by the demand for window furnishings, with drapery and blinds being a major component of the business.

“I’m not complaining – it was just different to my expectation – and when you have a thriving business model you don’t change it,” she said.

The drapery closed for four weeks when COVID-19 restrictions were first imposed as Zita and Peter were acutely conscious of the danger to his 92-year-old mother who lives with them.

They then reopened for limited hours, with staggered staffing to reduce the risk of infection, before resuming full trading hours.

“We have been inundated with demand for drapes and blinds since we reopened,” she said.

Zita thinks the increase in demand for window furnishings may have been sparked by travel and entertainment restrictions under the pandemic lockdown.

“Perhaps people are spending their money differently, not travelling or eating out, and being locked up at home are looking at their surroundings and thinking they need upgrading,” she said.

Zita believes the pandemic has changed the way people look at life.

“It has altered everyone’s perspective,” she said.

“People are now thinking ‘I could make that myself and enjoy the project’.”

The move to Yarram from a corporate background was supposed to be a change of lifestyle and pace for Peter and Zita, but the business has proven anything but a slowing down.

“You have to have a laugh, enjoy life and that’s what we do in here,” she said.

“I handle the fabric and business side and Peter does the hanging of the curtains and blinds.

“I said to one woman who called me the drapery lady, ‘yes I’m the drapery lady and this is the blind man’,” she laughed.