Self-taught seamstress threads together community with handmade masks

A mother-of-five has handmade 7,000 face masks since March for key workers and school children in need.

Syebvonne Nguyen, 42, picked up a needle and thread for the first time to help provide masks for NHS key-workers during the PPE shortage.

Nguyen set up a ‘community mask tree’ outside her Morden home as a place for those in need to collect a free face-mask, more trees have since bloomed in Wimbledon, Lambeth and Wandsworth.

She said: “We don’t know who is in what situation, we are all in this together so I thought why not try to do something.

“This really trusting behaviour and community spirit is really contagious, other people are then very willing to break down that trust barrier and help each other.”

Nguyen began sewing for NHS workers but was inspired to extend her support to the wider community after seeing a similar project in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

She hand-cut and ironed each piece of fabric before taking it to the sewing machine to make the 7,000, and counting, face masks from bed sheets, duvets and upcycled materials.

MASK TREE: Handmade masks on show on a Community Mask Tree in Morden.
Credit: Syebvonne Nguyen

Nguyen’s husband Quang and their five children Emily, 16, Jasmine, 15, James, 14, Annabelle, nine, and Daniel, seven, all had a vital part to play in the project which became a family affair at the start of lockdown.

She said: “Everyone had to play a role in it, even the little ones were helping, when I was sewing they were helping me to bag and put on the sticky labels.

“My very best friend blew up her iron because it was not made for such industrial use.”

Quang was in charge of home-schooling to give Syebvonne time to produce the masks and her tireless hard work did not go unnoticed by her neighbours.

The family was interviewed by Martin and Roman Kemp earlier in the year and Syebvonne handmade masks for the Kemps and their guests, including James Bay.

Upward of 13,000 face masks were produced for the ‘community mask trees’ since March.

As the pandemic continued into the new school year Nguyen’s focus shifted to helping parents for whom buying face masks, on top of uniforms and stationery, would be too expensive.

She has since distributed 1,000 masks to three high schools in South West London and is in the process of making 1,200 more for other schools in need.

NEW UNIFORM DELIVERED: Syebvonne (right) delivering masks to Cheam High School in Sutton. Credit: Syebvonne Nguyen

Time & Leisure Magazine awarded Nguyen with a Community Hero Award last month and the project is in the early stages of becoming a Community Interest Company, which will help boost funding alongside the GoFundMe page which Nguyen’s friends pushed her to create.

The community mask trees have begun to feature inside public spaces, such as the Leather Bottle pub in Earlsfield and Gina Conway’s hair salon in Lambeth.

THE FOREST GROWS: Community Mask Tree inside Gina Conway’s hair salon. Credit: Syebvonne Nguyen

Nguyen hopes that the community spirit she has seen grow during lockdown will continue in the future.

She said: “There are lovely people around, we are all normally just too busy for each other.

“People are understanding this is not something we are only doing in COVID, but it is something that we should carry on doing, to help each other.”

The GoFundMe page can be found here and has so far raised over £2,000 for to help production of more masks.

Featured image credit: Syebvonne Nguyen

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