Bianca Fernandes, 12, of Marco Island

Reporting By Lance Shearer MARCO EAGLE

Sew to soul: Making masks on Marco Island, FL to meet today’s demand Marco Eagle, April 7, 2020. 
Marco Eagle, April 7, 2020

If our country’s struggle against the coronavirus really is a war, then the little girls sewing protective face masks on Lauren Johnston’s pool deck are the spiritual heirs of World War II’s Rosie the Riveter. You could call them, collectively, Susie the Seamstress.

The girls who plied their craft at sewing machines spaced a safe “social distancing” apart from each other on the lanai overlooking the Marco Island waterway were named Ava, Lily, Jaidyn, Mikayla and Bianca.

Mostly Marco Island residents along with a couple from Naples, they ranged in age from nine to 12, and sewed busily away, producing dozens of face masks. The 60 or so masks they assembled will be added to over 900 that Johnston’s business, Sew Easy, has created in the last month, between its Southwest Florida and Boston locations.

With news reports full of accounts detailing the acute shortage of protective masks for medical personnel, those afflicted with COVID-19 and those eager not to catch it, Johnston figured that assembling the masks was a “win-win” for all concerned.

Between locations in Massachusetts and Naples, Johnston estimates that Sew Easy has taught 21,000 young ladies (and maybe a few young gentlemen) the art of sewing, but with the pandemic looming, they have had to shutter their businesses.

“We had to close our business locations here and in Boston. But kids and their mothers were eager to help, and we figured this was a way that we, and they, could give back.”

Lily Irwin, 11, agreed. “It feels good to sew – it helps people first of all, and it’s really fun,” she said.

Jill Settles, mother of nine-year-old Mikayla, said she weighed leaving the sanctuary of their “shelter in place” home against the good they could do.

“It’s a calculated risk worth taking,” she said, while remaining six feet from a reporter. “For people in hospitals saving lives, it’s the least we can do – and it’s nice to get a little social contact.”

Locally, masks have been going to the NCH Marco Healthcare Center, and Johnston hopes to deliver some to a local children’s shelter.

“This makes feel we’re helping a bit,” said Johnston’s neighbor Dune Hempleman, who has been sewing masks for “a couple weeks” now, but was put on ironing duty Tuesday, pressing the fabric for the masks under a hot iron.

In addition to the masks she, her students and neighbors are sewing, Johnston has created kits which contain instructions and materials to allow people to sew masks on their own. Each kit comes with the wherewithal to create 18 masks, including two yards of fabric, but they have been running short.

Johnston created what she calls an “abundance kit” on the Sew Easy website, that includes instructions and a supplies list to allow anyone with a sewing machine and sewing ability to create masks independently. Groups including the Marco Patriots have also been making masks to help alleviate the shortage, said Johnston.

Sew Easy has also started a GoFundMe page to help defray the cost of supplies and expenses for their shuttered operation and provide for laid-off employees. To access the GoFundMe, enquire about receiving one of a limited number of physical face mask kits available, or the unlimited abundance kit, go online to

The face masks turned out on Marco Island by Ava Ball, Lily Irwin, Jaidyn Sweazy, Mikayla Settles and Bianca Fernandes fit snugly over the face, feature two layers of fabric, and go on and off easily as the straps loop around the ears rather than all the way around one’s head. They are not made to meet the N95 specifications, but certainly add a layer of protection for the wearer or those nearby.

The girls are happy learning to give back as well as learning to sew, and Johnston said she wanted to thank the local community for being “sew supportive.”

Paige Johnston, owner

Reporting By Dannielle Garcia | WINK NEWS

Naples business sews homemade masks for health care workers
Wink News, March 23, 2020

There’s a huge demand for masks to protect people from the coronavirus, especially in hospitals where doctors, nurses and staff are on the frontlines to help people who are sick.

Now, people are stepping up to sew masks and help stop the spread.

Lauren Johnston of Sew Easy has gone from teaching people how to sew to sewing masks for health care workers.

“Our sewing classes for kids are temporarily shut down but not for this project that we’ve started,” said Johnston.

She isn’t alone in helping during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m buying materials so I can make face masks for my sister who’s a nurse in an assisted living facility, and they are in desperate need of masks,” said Karen Kepner.

“I heard that there was a shortage and I’m sitting home and you know, I can keep myself busy like we’re all trying to and I decided this is a much better way of doing things,” said Chris Casmirri.

Lee Health, NCH Healthcare System and SalusCare, a mental health facility, all said they need masks to protect their employees.

“Our crisis unit, our emergency unit and residential units, those folks, the employees that work, can’t unfortunately do that in a telemedicine environment. Someone has to be there and be hands-on with our patients, so therefore, those extra masks are needed,” said Todd Cordisco, vice president of SalusCare.

Homemade masks aren’t perfect, but they’re better than nothing, and it’s an opportunity for people to help those on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight.

“I think everybody has to do whatever it is that they are decent at and volunteer their time and services and material if they have them,” said Casmirri.

“We have so much time on our hands and we’re all feeling a little down without anything to do and now we’re so busy,” said Johnston.

Lee Health said they’re accepting the donations at its foundation office. Just call ahead first – (239) 343-6950.

NCH said you can drop off masks at its business office at 2157 Pine Ridge Rd. in North Naples.

Sew Easy Naples has also created sew-at-home kits. Email them at if you’d like one.

Jo-Ann Fabrics is also collecting donations for face masks. If you drop them off at a store, they’ll pass them along to home health nurses in the area. The company’s website has how-to guides.

The Centers for Disease Control said when N95 masks aren’t available, health care personnel can use homemade masks as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE), since their capability to protect is unknown. “Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.”

By Shelby Reynolds | Naples Daily News

Teaching the world to sew, one stitch at a time

Nine-year-old Karly Atkinson took a brave step on a recent Thursday evening.

“I’m Karly and I made a cat’s tail,” she proudly announced at the front of the room, wriggling the tail for a costume for her brother.

When students complete a project at Sew Easy, a North Naples business that offers sewing classes children and teens, they ring a bell.

The other six students in the room clapped for Karly, and then turned back to their own projects. Homemade creations lined the walls — skirts, pillows, stuffed animals and pouches and bags of varying shapes and sizes — and rolls of fabric in every shade and pattern were organized under the counters. There was one with monkeys, one with socks and one with an exotic Cheetah print.

“If it doesn’t feel right, just holler,” said their instructor, Lauren Johnston, who’s on a mission to teach the world to sew.

Johnston, a Marco Island resident, has taught children and teens in the Boston area how to sew for 22 years. She opened her third location in North Naples about a year and a half ago after she relocated to Southwest Florida, but the other two locations remain up north.

“I love what I do,” she said.

Sew Easy offers day — or week-long — camps when students are out of school, or 2 ½- hour-long classes after school. Johnston teaches the basics of sewing using instructional videos and step-by-step sewing guides. She shows them how to cut and pin fabric, how to use the sewing machines and the various tools around the classroom.

“Within two hours they are completely confident at the machine and they know where everything is,” she said. “And then it’s independent.”

New students must first make a pillow and drawstring bag, and after that, they can pick from any of the items off the wall. There are 390 projects to choose from, with corresponding booklets for each.

On that Thursday evening, 9-year-old Karly, a student at Vineyards Elementary, first made a purple tail filled with stuffing for her brother’s school project. Next she moved onto a circle pouch with a zipper, and picked the pattern with glittery cowboy boots.

“I show horses,” she explained.

Catherine Angstrom, 12, a Pine Ridge Middle School seventh-grader, sewed three cord holders. She learned to sew from her grandmother. They used to make pajama pants together.

“It’s very relaxing because you’re so focused on one thing,” Catherine said. “As a kid I used to ask about it, so my mom got me (a sewing machine) for Christmas.”

Catherine and her friends from Pine Ridge said their classmates at school don’t know how to sew.

It’s a quickly disappearing craft, Johnston said, with many school systems getting rid of home economics classes.

“I see a difference in children since I started,” Johnston said. “It’s diminished for sure, and then there’s a whole missed generation. The moms don’t know how to sew for the most part. So that’s why we’re in business.”

And not only are the students learning a valuable life skill, they’re also finding their confidence, which Johnston said is the most rewarding part of her job.

“When you’ve made something,” she said, “it’s a feeling, and it’s very empowering. And there’s not many places to get that for your child.”



New Wellesley Business Wants To Teach The World To Sew!

Lauren Johnston is doing her part to ensure sewing doesn’t become a lost art.

Sew Easy, a business she started 15 years ago in Needham to teach kids and teens how to sew, expanded this summer into a second floor space in Wellesley at 159 Linden St. 3C.

Sew easy, which begins its next 8-week session in Wellesley on Sept. 17, has taught more than 9,000 girls and boys to sew over the years. Students range in age from 5.5 to about 16, and classes are held after school and on Saturdays. Sew Easy charges about $325 per session, which includes materials. The Wellesley location has 12 sewing machines.

“I want to teach the world to sew,” says Johnston, whose programs mainly involve using sewing machines, though also include hand sewing. She says that she thinks sewing is coming back, even though most kids’ parents don’t sew and even though sewing classes are rare in school these days. “They’ve seen grandparents sewing,” she says.

At Sew Easy, kids learn how to sew buttonholes, zippers, pockets and hems as well as how to thread the sewing machines. They get to use a variety of fabrics, including cotton and fleece. Students complete between 5 and 10 projects per session, creating clothes, bags and even American Doll outfits.

While Sew Easy’s two locations are just a few miles far apart, Johnston says she appreciates that the closer the better for parents shuttling their children from activity to activity after school. She said parents of kids who have taken classes at the Needham spot have been begging her to open a place in Wellesley.

It would be a stretch to call Wellesley the sewing capital of the world, but there is maybe more needle-and-thread action around here than you might think. For example, there’s the Button Box shop on Rte. 9 that caters to quilters, the Wellesley Needlepoint Collection on Grove Street, and local artist Abby Glassenberg has made a name for herself via the soft sculptures she sews.

Classes start at 3:15 p.m., but children’s noses press up against the glass of the Needham storefront long before the door is unlocked. Here, six days a week, the nearly lost art of sewing is revered and creativity is unleashed.


By Susan Chaityn Lebovits | THE BOSTON GLOBE

Enriching Fabric of Their Lives

Lauren Johnston, owner and founder of Sew Easy, has been teaching children how to sew since 1995. She said she’s taught the “dying art” to more than 9,000 kids and teens in the past 15 years.

Johnston recently expanded her operation to Wellesley. The Townsman caught up with Johnston at the new location, 159 Linden St., to ask her about her business and why so many children still want to learn to sew.

“They choose the project that they want to work on and the fabrics that they want to use, and are excited and proud about expressing their creativity.”

Johnston has over 300 projects for her students to choose from – book bags, fleece vests, ponchos, mittens, quilts, American Girl Doll accessories, pajama pants. Some use their time to alter clothing, and during the holiday season they tend to make gifts.

Each time someone finishes a project, they ring a large bell and the class goes silent in order to see what has been completed and give the student a round of applause. Johnston then encourages them to place their project in the storefront window “to show the world what they’ve made.”

Some projects are basic, like small decorative pillows, and others are more elaborate. One girl, she said, walked in with a sketch of a lobster costume and made it for Halloween.

An eight-week session of one class a week costs $299, which includes all materials. On average, classes are capped at 18 students. With 15 sewing machines, no one has to wait to use one, since not every student needs a machine all the time. “They help each other out and really feel like they’re a part of this place,” she said.

Johnston said parents often tell her that their child is creating things using tape and staples to hold the fabric together. Those kids, she said, are really ready to learn. But it’s not just the creative and technical aspects of teaching that bring Johnston satisfaction, it’s also observing the emotional growth of her students.

“There is no gossip allowed in here,” said Johnston. “I tell the kids ‘I’d rather hear about you.’ ” Sometimes during a snack break, she will throw out questions for discussion, such as “What is something positive that we would never guess about you?” or “What are some experiences that you would like to have but aren’t yet old enough?”

And on occasion she will read aloud an inspirational thought for the day.

“They laugh, but then they quiet down and listen,” said Johnston, who hopes that insightful, introspective words will encourage self-awareness and confidence.



Sew Easy opens new location in Wellesley

Nine-year-old Karly Atkinson took a brave step on a recent Thursday evening.

“I’m Karly and I made a cat’s tail,” she proudly announced at the front of the room, wriggling the tail for a costume for her brother.

When students complete a project at Sew Easy, a North Naples business that offers sewing classes children and teens, they ring a bell.

Where did you find the inspiration for this business?

“I always loved sewing,” Johnston said. “So my children always wanted to get at the machine. I saw that it was easy to teach them and then their friends started joining and the masses came.”

What prompted your expansion to Wellesley?

“Wellesley wanted us to come and so I said, ‘Why not?’” Johnston said. “Wellesley asked us over and over to come here.”

Why do you think kids and teens want to sew when they could just buy everything they needed?

“It’s not about being able to buy it,” Johnston said. “When you create something you feel empowered. Most of the last generation doesn’t know how to sew so kids feel empowered because their parents don’t know how to sew.”

What kind of items do the students sew?

“We have over 300 projects,” Johnston said. She said that students make everything from clothing to American Girl Doll accessories and even, sometimes, dog clothing.

Do any boys come to these classes?

“I usually have one or two in a class,” she said. Classes range in size from 12 to 20.

Where did you learn to sew?

“[I learned from] my grandma and Home Ec in junior high.”

Is that where the passion began?

“Yes, it felt so good to complete a project from scratch and I couldn’t believe I made it myself. The stuff I made when I was young was so elaborate,” Johnston said. “I really loved it.”

What would you say to a kid who said sewing is boring?

“I’ve never heard that once from the 9,000 kids I’ve taught,” Johnston said. “So I don’t think I have to answer that.”

“It’s word of mouth,” she added. “It’s the kids that do all the advertising. I’m always full despite the bad economy.”

How do you stay current?

“We know what kids like,” Johnston said. “After 15 years and 9,000 kids, we know. I have to buy fabric with peace signs, turtles, polka dots and monkeys.”

What do you love about teaching?

‘I love to teach,” Johnston said, “and the some of the kids come in nervous, but within an hour and a half they don’t want to leave.

“I love to see the shift in kids to when they start feeling empowered. I get to witness the shift from knowing nothing to feeling like they know a lot in a short amount of time – it’s instant.

“I ask them, ‘do you feel like a good sewer?’ and they say ‘yes.’”

“Our mission is to instill confidence and creativity. And we feel every child needs to feel success. We want them to walk away with that feeling and completing a project makes them feel that way.”

Johnston said it’s her particular system that helps her students find this success.

“The system is the reason why we are successful,” Johnston said. “It allows kids to create quicker. The way we design our things more streamlined. The detail is not like yesteryears.”

“The kids that come in with learning disabilities,” Johnston said, “in 99 percent of them I don’t find what they’ve been diagnosed with here. And I’m looking for it, but I never find it. They just take it in and grasp it.”