WHO WE ARE
The Auntie Sewing Squad was founded on March 24, 2020 by performance artist and comedian Kristina Wong as a casual effort to connect with other friends sewing homemade masks for essential workers due to the Federal Government’s failure to prepare them with proper personal protective equipment. Originally intended as a three week stopgap, the Auntie Sewing Squad is still sewing and has since exploded into a network of hundreds of active Aunties across the United States who have shipped tens of thousands of masks to vulnerable communities across the North American continent. Our team of Aunties are college professors, costume designers, screenwriters, scientists, published authors, actors, healthcare workers, retirees, teachers, students, award winning artists and filmmakers, labor organizers, graphic designers, lawyers and all over badasses. Our youngest Auntie is 8 while our eldest is 93. We are juggling families, careers, and our own losses from Covid-19, in addition to this sewing labor.
While inexpensive factory made masks are now readily available on the market, the need for homemade masks continues indefinitely in vulnerable communities throughout the country. Our Aunties have made strategic outreach into communities where Covid-19 outbreaks are considerably higher and are getting far less Federal support–First Nations, farmworkers, migrants seeking asylum, incarcerated communities, and poor communities of color. What many of these communities have in common is that they have historically borne the brunt of structural racism and violence. We work with a vast network of community organizations to distribute the masks, including CASA, Alma Backyard Farms, South Texas Human Rights Center, and Lao Family Community Development.
Auntie Sewing Squad has been featured on CNN, NBC, KCRW, Washington Post, Good Morning America and many more. We Go Down Sewing, a cross between an anthology, memoir, and a visual record of the work of the Auntie Sewing Squad will be published in Fall 2021 by University of California Press. The Aunties also collaborated with the Kronos Quartet on the film “Radical Care: The Auntie Sewing Squad” which uses music by Kronos and testimony and footage provided by the Aunties. We are a college course at San Francisco State University. We also have hosted two rounds of an online summer mask sewing camp for kids. Our relationship with various First Nations has extended to include fundraising and sending them sewing and relief supplies. We have sent several vans filled with sewing and hygiene supplies to the Seamstresses United Navajo & Hopi Nation for distribution throughout both reservations.
We credit our staying power as Aunties to our team of Care Aunties who support us with offerings of baked goods, cooked meals, Zoom yoga classes and more. By recognizing that our labor has value via this community caring for our mental, physical and emotional health, we have been able to sustain our ability to continue this work so many months in. We unabashedly acknowledge the political power of our sewing as a way to express our solidarity and support in the most impacted of communities when national leadership has failed us. We proudly trace the lineage of this sewing to our mothers and grandmothers, immigrant and refugee communities in America, and underpaid women of color garment workers globally.
OUR CORE VALUES
Auntie Sewing Squad Core Values = Transparency + Passion + Humor + Kindness
1. We seek to be obsolete, not profitable. We have no aspirations of becoming a non-profit organization because we don’t want to need to exist. We have stepped in because the US government has failed to protect the most vulnerable.
2. We prioritize vulnerable communities over money. For example, we don’t make masks for one community over another because there is potential for a bigger financial donation. In fact, if a community can’t afford to donate towards their masks, they are probably the community we should be sewing for FIRST.
3. We work collectively and encourage our Aunties to sew for where they have passion and to even helm the ask for communities they care about most. We are a team of leaders and empower anyone to step up and help where they feel most engaged.
4. We prefer having a direct and vetted connection with our recipient. We won’t mail masks to an address we have found online without making a connection to the recipient. We are not a labor farm that makes masks that get sent to an outside distribution hub. We are both the maker and the distributor. We want our masks to be a connector between the person who made it and the person who wears it.
5. We are not here for capitalism. Because sewing these masks is about making safety and health a human right, we reject capitalist language like buy, order or sell when it comes to requesting a mask. Our currency is our time in making these masks as a way to give protection and show solidarity to vulnerable communities.
6. We value our Auntie community as people first. We are invested in the creative lives and personal connections within this group over “more efficient” ways of working. This is why we aren’t organized regionally and why we will not break into “chapters.” This is why we sometimes mail elastic across the country to an Auntie who is the only member in their state.
7. We believe in Auntie Community Care. For Aunties who have made masks for our large group efforts, we have dedicated resources to shower these Aunties with appreciative care primarily in the form of food or stay-at-home-order-appropriate creature comforts.
8. We lead with love and fierce, sometimes twisted humor. People will screw up. People will make mistakes. We will joke and have fun. We will be kind and forgiving. But we will also hold each other accountable. It’s all in good fun as we work together to cope with this difficult time in our shared history. We realize this tone will not be for everyone but it’s who we are.
(Frequently Asked Questions)
How do I become an Auntie?
We organize mostly through our private group on Facebook. You can find us if you look for us in “Facebook groups”. We do have some Aunties who aren’t on Facebook and work through other Aunties who are in the Facebook group to get information about different campaigns we do. When you ask to join you will be asked three questions. Because we only have the capacity to manage so many Aunties, we ask that Aunties who join us be ready to work towards group goals when they join.
Are you all women?
We are mostly cis women but we have some amazing Uncles and non-binary volunteers as well! All are welcome! We use the term “Aunties” because it’s a term of affection and honor for women in many cultures.
I can’t sew. How can I help?
Part of what has sustained our ability to work is our generous network of “Caring Aunties” who make offerings of everything from baked goods, hand salves, and Zoom yoga classes for our Aunties. To contribute towards our Auntie Care fund you can Venmo “Gayleisa”. You can also email Gayleisa at Gmail with a care offering. You can also make a general donation towards us to support our missions.
If you love admin and organizing, we have a need for Aunties who can help organize, vet, and put out requests to the group.
Do you sell your masks or raffle them for donation?
We never have and never will. We make our masks for the most vulnerable of communities. And we’ve been able to sustain our work through generous donations from donors who expect nothing in return for their contribution. If you’d like to support our work, please do it with a straight donation.
I really want to buy a mask and I have money! Where do I get one?
The only place we refer people to purchase masks is Homework4Health, a brand new, LA-based collaboration between Al Otro Lado and the Garment Worker Center to promote public health, fair wages for garment workers, and the abolition of sweat shops.
Do you provide materials for the Aunties to sew with?
Yes, if an Auntie needs support in the form of fabric, thread, elastic and postage reimbursement, we use our donations to help send those to them. We also help locate loaner sewing machines if an Auntie needs it. Many aunties are able to get their own materials or pay postage. We don’t favor one auntie over another based on how many resources they may use from our donation funds.
Who do you make masks for?
At the start of the pandemic we made masks for medical, frontline and essential workers. Now that cheaper masks are available on the market, we have pivoted our efforts to making them for very vulnerable communities that are not even able to access cheap masks. We strongly urge any community that is able to afford masks to choose that option over asking us for our unpaid labor.
Can you help us get stuff like N95, face shields, scrub caps, isolation gowns?
Some of our Aunties have sewn scrub caps and gowns but it’s definitely not a thing all of us know how to do. We’ve been able to secure donations of N95s, face shields etc, for our relief vans headed to the Navajo Nation, but it’s a bit of work for us to source it as it’s not our speciality. Another PPE group could help you more there. But if you are super stuck, we can try to figure out if we have resources to help you.
What makes Auntie Sewing Squad distinct from other mask making groups?
We organize nationally, not regionally. We know this work is very political and aren’t afraid to talk about the failures of the Federal government that led us to a place where Aunties have to fix systemic inequities from our sewing machines. We also talk openly about feminism, anti-racism, allyship, and smashing white supremacy. We truly believe we have the best Caring Aunties ever who bake the best stuff for us. Oh, we also think we are hilarious because we are.
How does my organization request masks to be made by the Aunties?
Read this if you want to make a request of our UNPAID VOLUNTEER LABOR:
1. If you are able to buy masks from somewhere–PLEASE DO THAT. We are not Etsy or a free version of the 99 cents store. We are volunteers, juggling families and careers of our own who are here to keep the most vulnerable of communities safe. We are literally trying to stop genocide right now in the poorest of communities.
2. Invisible labor is not magic. You must convey your needs to us and be as clear as possible on who the recipients are. If we agree to take on your request, we post your request to the Aunties and individually, they CHOOSE whether or not they will use their time to sew through the night to help you. Sometimes this means that your request will only be partially fulfilled. We do not sit on a reserve of masks that we just mail out.
3. Let us know the access needs of your community. This includes access to running water, infection rates in this community, language barriers, health care access and lack of funding.
4. Let us know how these masks will go to the community that needs them. Who is going to make sure they get distributed? Nothing breaks our hearts more than a bunch of masks sitting inside an unchecked PO box for months.
5. Have a clear breakdown on how many masks you need (kids and adult sizes) and give us a sense that you have made a clear assessment of that need. We often get requests for more masks than are clearly needed for communities that seem to already be covered.
Please note. We don’t do custom work (as we are working with what materials we have available to us during a pandemic) but we do try to work with requests around sizing, cultural competency and color or pattern restrictions (typical on First Nations). If your community has certain color or pattern restrictions, please let us know this.
What patterns do you use?
Every auntie uses a different mask pattern depending on what their machine and tastes prefer. Our philosophy is, “Make the mask you can make, and we will find a face for it.” Some of us use a pattern called the “Uncle Van Huynh” pattern named after and designed by one of our Uncles. There has been a lot of interest in the Aplat mask as well. There are also Aunties who make pleated masks.
Where are the Aunties located?
We are all over the country! We also have a couple of aunties who have snuck in from Canada (but we granted them asylum). Because we were started and have leaders mostly in CA, the LA and San Francisco Bay Area are our strongest hubs. But we welcome all who are aligned with our vision, and are ready to do this work with us.