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FOCUS: Former lingerie maven makes masks for neighbours (Apr. 2020)

May 1st, 2020 · 1 Comment

Non-medical masks can help everyone stay safer

Shana Tilbrook and her daughter making non-medical masks at home in the Annex. COURTESY BILL BEDFORD

By Nicole Stoffman

It’s week three of the global coronavirus pandemic and Shana Tilbrook has distributed over 100 handmade cloth masks in ten days. 

“At first it wasn’t that busy, but as soon as Dr. Tam said we should be wearing masks, all of a sudden that’s when the requests went crazy,” says the Annex resident and former co-owner of Tryst Lingerie. She adds that most masks stay in the neighbourhood, but orders are coming in from as far as Milton.

Since she began offering her free masks on the Annex and Seaton Village Facebook groups, strangers have been dropping off elastic and fabric on her front porch, where she puts out the completed masks for pickup. 

“I just got a package of pre-washed and cut fabric, and now I’ll be able to go a lot faster, because I have to wash and dry all of the fabric I get,” she explains. 

As co-owner of Tryst Lingerie, Tilbrook became an expert bra fitter, training her staff and other store owners across Canada on the basics of bra fitting. Her Queen West store, known for being especially welcoming to LGBTQ+ clientele, closed in 2019 after 15 years, a victim of a general downturn in retail. She will move the store online and offer bra fittings in a showroom in her home, when circumstances allow.

Tilbrook has a theatre degree from Ryerson, with a major in costuming. Her masks come in a wide range of vivid and attractive colours and patterns. 

“I want people to have masks that they are proud to wear so I give everyone a choice of 5 to 10 prints.” 

Health Canada did not recommend that asymptomatic people wear masks until April 6, at which time Dr. Theresa Tam conceded that a cloth mask can be a protective measure for asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19. 

For such people, a cloth or “non-medical” mask could protect others from their respiratory droplets in situations where it is difficult to always stay 6 feet apart. A cloth mask will not, however, protect the wearer from respiratory droplets from an infected person, so maintaining social distancing is still important. 

Tilbrook’s sister is a doctor and has been offering consultation on this project. She has restricted orders to one mask per person, and instructs each recipient to wash it after each use with soap and water, to wash their hands before  and after wearing it, and to only touch the elastics.

“I only have one, and my husband only has one. We don’t go out more than once a day,” says Tilbrook. “You don’t need more than one mask, unless you’re walking a dog.”

For Tilbrook, making masks is more than a public health service, it’s therapy. 2019 was a year of professional and family setbacks, so she took her young family on a recuperative 4-week trip to Israel, which was cut short by the pandemic. She came home, feeling depressed.

“I thought that if I could give masks to people and help people, then I would feel better. It really helped. People have been pitching-in and helping me. Every day I open my front door and there’s fabric or elastic. It’s been amazing.”

If you would like to sew masks, but don’t own a sewing machine, please contact Shana Tilbrook at If you would like a free mask, please send an email to this same address with “Free Masks” in the subject line. One mask per person.


Tags: Annex · News

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