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Byron Shire
February 3, 2023

Leisa bringing sewing home for nurses

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Leisa modelling one of the hats which she says is helping her put her fabric addiction to good use.

So many people are doing what they can to help those medical staff working daily with people who have contracted coronavirus.

Local woman Leisa Mcilwain has been donating her spare time to make nurses caps.

Mcilwain says she was asked by a friend who works at Tweed Hospital to help out as she knew there was a group of people who had sewn pouches for fire-affected wildlife. ‘My friend told me about a post on Murwillumbah Matters Facebook group so I contacted the lady who posted the request for help.

‘I had offcuts of 100% cotton from a product I used to make but I couldn’t print the pattern I was sent.’

Mcilwain said the hat pattern was a pretty simple thing made complicated in the instructions, so she YouTubed a few different designs and made up her own pattern that worked.

Hats are sanitised and distributed to nurses

‘I passed on the pattern to a few people via email. I’m not sure how many have been made overall as the coordinator for this project has been busy herself working as a nurse. People have been dropping them off to nurses they know who are going to Tweed so they can be sanitised and distributed.’

Mcilwain, whose ‘day job’ is in aged care, has made about 120 caps and has heard of people making anywhere from four to 50 hats. ‘I put a call out for fabric but haven’t been able to coordinate that as yet and I’m waiting to hear how many more they need. A rough estimation of people sewing caps would be around maybe 80.’

This has really confirmed the need for Australian manufacturing to once again be the norm instead of taking the manufacturing overseas which has been happening since the late 80s

Mcilwain says that when they were sewing the pouches for animals, people were able to get together and cut and sew bulk amounts but that couldn’t happen this time for obvious reasons. ‘I had been waiting for sewing projects to come up as I am a member of lots of different Facebook sewing groups all over the world. I have been keeping an eye on the US who have been making masks and scrubs for hospitals for many weeks.

Leisa has sown dozens of hats which will be can be sanitised and distributed to nursing staff.

‘This has really confirmed the need for Australian manufacturing to once again be the norm instead of taking the manufacturing overseas which has been happening since the late 80s. I was a production sewer at 17 but by the time I was 25, sewing contracts were so hard to come by. I remember Berlei bras shutting their doors and all those wonderful sewers losing their jobs.

‘I remember many clothing manufacturers in this area when I was starting out and within a few years all had shut their operations down. Some evolved, did their own ranges, sold through markets. Some created lines for Big W and the like only to be priced out of the market by China and India.’

The army helping sewers

Mcilwain says she was happy to hear that the army had been sent in to assist our only medical mask manufacturers in Shepparton but still they had trouble getting the materials to sew and staff with knowledge on how to operate the machines.

‘This situation has truly highlighted how bad things had become for Australian manufacturing.

I have simply responded to a need, as have many others, to help those who help us and that is how we operate not only in Australia but worldwide

‘I have simply responded to a need, as have many others, to help those who help us and that is how we operate not only in Australia but worldwide.

‘There are a lot of community projects making a difference all over the world, so many ingenious humans working for the greater good and in this time especially needed. It makes me feel like I can still contribute my skills in a positive way no matter the circumstances, everything is workable somehow.

‘I sort of feel like I have been in training for this my whole life. I’m also happy that my fabric addiction was able to be of use!’

For more information on how to make caps or to donate fabric, you can email Leisa: [email protected]

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  1. Like Leisa, I found the instructions difficult to decipher, the pattern printed the wrong size, but once all that was sorted, they are easy to make not only for a good cause, but a good way of using some of the lifetime collection of fabric remnants us crafties have squirreled away, lol!

  2. I loved reading the article about Leisa McIlwain responding to a need, by making the caps for the nurses, by doing what she loves. Sewing. Good on you, Leis! One of the most obvious shortcomings that have come out of this corona19 episode, is just how ill-equipped we are as a nation, to be independent. The first time I became aware of this, was when our recyclables were refused from neighbouring countries. – And rightly so. We, as well as every country, need to become self sufficient. To deal with our own garbage, and to make our own goods here, in Australia. I also think a lot of cottage industries and lateral thinking will come from this time of enforced reflection. More people will be working from home. We need to ‘put back into’ instead of continually depleting this country. Growing our own organic food, doing what we love and incorporating that into paid or unpaid service. To get grounded, and back to our roots, and rebuild with mindfulness and integrity. And be happy.


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