The Mask Bandits – 12 Weeks of Madness!

Posted June 8, 2021 by WI Staff in Event Reports

4 Sewers – 12 weeks – £10,000.00

Women Working Together!

You know when you think of a good idea, but you know it will be a load of work, and you consider, ‘should I or should I not? – warning – do not ring a like-minded woman!  The phone call that followed those thoughts was ‘we will give it a go, and if we get a couple of hundred pounds for WI that’s ok.’  Came off the phone, and the next thought was ‘what have we got ourselves into?!’

Mairead investigated a mask pattern and made a ‘how to sew a mask’ video on her phone. The next task was a a recruitment drive for sewers, and we ended up with 4 dedicated sewers, who each brought in their own help.  Mairead Woods of Ballievey WI, Helen Newell of Seaforde WI, and Patricia McNeill and Fiona Patterson, both of Spa WI. The how-to video was duly despatched to each sewer via WhatsApp and our enterprise was ready for take-off. We named our Whatsapp Group ‘The Mask Bandits’!

Elastic was sourced from Sew & Sew in Lurgan, which at this point was not open to the public because of lockdown, but the staff kindly accommodated us by selling us our first 300-metre roll of elastic from the doorstep of their own home in Lurgan.  With enough material in stock to start (craft folk will be the only ones that will understand the need to have a stash, just in case you want to make something), and Helen contacting Paragon Fabrics who also opened for anything we needed, there was nothing stopping us. The price was decided at £5 per mask and 3 for £10 to WI members.

We then proceeded to get the word out with our own Institutes, and as we were keen to get going, Mairead led the shop campaign, with Walsh’s Newsagents in Banbridge the first to take our box of masks to sell to the public. We are listing all the shops that supported our effort at the end, without them we would never have achieved the final fantastic amount of money that we raised.

We want to sincerely thank every single member of Spa WI for throwing themselves into the project, both with practical help and word of mouth for sales, no task was refused, and the help was bountiful.  We’d also like to sincerely thank Barbara Moore from Ballievey WI, who joined in with our project from the very start, wearing a mask to Mairead’s door from her numerous journeys, to collect masks that she had sold to WI members during lockdown, the masks left for collection on the doorstep and Barbara posting the money through the letterbox.

Please don’t think that this was an easy task. Sewing machines were busy from early morning to the small hours of the night, and we can honestly say that for 6 weeks we doubt that any of us were outside of our sewing rooms.  When we talk about sewing machines, Melvyn Simpson from Tandragee kindly serviced machines, as they groaned with the work that was thrown at them.  Houses and food were left to the devices of our nearest and dearests, tempers may have been a bit testy at times, especially when 40 masks were needed for the next day, and the VAT needed done.  Along the way we have made masks for weddings/farmers/builders/ and special ones for folk who wear hearing aids, to name but a few special orders, and, to be frank, no task was refused.

We kept each other’s spirits up and shared materials, elastic and encouragement when needed.  We had a day together at the end of July, social distancing observed, and it was really good fun to be together, sewing and chatting in true WI style, with lots of home baking and refreshments laid on by Fiona. Usually Fiona takes August off, and we totalled our monies on 31st July, as Mairead’s wee tin was rather full.  We had a fabulous £5,751, so a decision was made to keep it going until the end of August. On 21st August we completed our lodgements to the WI Bank Account at WI Headquarters, and were delighted that the total was an outstanding £10,000.00!

Mairead Woods, Ballievey WI.

Barbara Moore of Ballievey WI. Barbara’s son’s veterinary clinic sold our masks.


Helen Newell of Seaforde WI – one of our 4 sewers.


Valerie Fegan, Loughbrickland WI, selling our masks in her Farm Shop.


Jean Sturgeon, Waringstown WI, who asked her local butcher to sell our masks.


Brenda Martin and Gayus Malcolmson, both of Closkelt WI, who made and sold our masks to their friends and neighbours.


Seated is Patsy Graham of Artana WI, with her two daughters – Joan McCandless and Patricia McNeill of Spa WI. Patricia was another of our 4 main sewers. 


The Mask Bandits! (L-R): Fiona Patterson of Spa WI and Mairead Woods of Ballievey WI, who planned and executed this amazing enterprise, and were part of the 4 main sewers.  There was plenty of dancing in the rain in this beautiful sunflower field in Banbridge to celebrate the final total lodgement to WI Headquarters of £10,000.00.  A testimony of what can be achieved with ‘Women Working Together’.



Shops that supported this effort:

Iveagh Area

Walsh’s Newsagents, Banbridge

Irwin’s Butchers, Banbridge

Fegan’s Farmshop, A1 at Loughbrickland

Lagan Valley Vets, Moira

Mace (Hughes), Rathfriland

McCullough Butchers, Rathfriland

Trader D Butchers, Waringstown


Quoile Area

Walls Farm Shop, Clough

Clough and Annalong Pharmacy

Pools Butcher, Ballynahinch

Charles Newsagents, Ballynahinch

Mace (Joe Hanna’s), Ballynahinch

Post Office, Ballynahinch

Spa Beauty Retreat

Carnbrooke Meats, Dromara and Lisburn



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