Vacaville fashion designer sparks mask movement – Vacaville Reporter

What do you do with a passion for fashion, talent with a needle and a heart for humanitarianism?

Become a sewing superhero, of course.

Enter Marleen Maltby of Vacaville and her dedicated crew of volunteers, aka Marleen’s Mask Makers.

With thread to spare, armloads of fabric and time on their hands, the sewers have crafted thousands of face masks for local healthcare workers, public safety employees and, essentially, anyone in need since Solano’s shelter-at-home directive went into effect in March. About a thousand more have been made for the Navajo Nation, with more on the way.

All were given free of charge.

Masks made by Marleen Maltby of Vacaville and other members of her group, MarleenÕs Mask Makers that are ready to bagged and shipped to the Navajo Nation for children as they head back to school.(Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter)

Mask-making is a labor of love, Maltby said, a fun and yet practical outlet and also the fulfillment of a desperate need.

“I am like an Australian Shepherd. I need a job,” joked the retired interior designer turned fashion designer and 2016-17 Mrs. Vacaville. “I need a purpose and this gives me such purpose.”

Maltby grew up in a family of talented sewers and has made her own clothes since the seventh grade. From simple outfits to suits and prom dresses and bridal wear, she’s done it all. But she put her passion on hold to design interiors for 35 years before returning to her first love and creating a fashion line, Marleena Maria.

While sheltering at home during the early days of COVID-19, Maltby found that she needed a new focus. A friend asked for help with making face masks for healthcare workers and so she did. When more requests came in, she put out a call to action, creating Marleen’s Mask Makers on Facebook.

Sewers came from all over the county and beyond to lend aid, from providing mask-making materials to the masks themselves. All used different patterns and shared tips, as well as a listening ear when it was needed.

Fabric poured in, elastics, even a wealth of much-sought-after pellon, a lining material, from the “Hula Girls” in Sacramento. When the two dancers heard Maltby needed the item, they provided it as they used pellon to make their dance outfits.

“I didn’t have a goal,” she said, regarding numbers. “I just get an idea and jump in and see where it takes me.”

The work was quick, with masks dropped off at Maltby’s door. She would then package them and ensure they got where they needed to go.

These days, the need has changed but the sewing continues.

As the local need for masks waned, Maltby heard from a friend that the members of the Navajo Nation were in dire need as they return to work and to school. So she put out another call, and it was answered.

“If I can help them, then that touches my heart,” she said.

About 1,000 masks have been donated thus far. At least 100 more are expected to be delivered by week’s end.

While others create masks for adults, Maltby’s focus is on youths. Kids, she said, often get lost in the shuffle. But in Navajo families, she said, multiple generations live together.

“Grandparents, parents, kids. They all need masks,” she emphasized.

Though the designer said her projects right now are all about practicality, she admits that she herself is more about fun and creativity.

Which is evident in the eclectic art around her home, the colorful fabrics strewn across her dining room table and even her own vibrant clothing and bright orange eyeglasses.

Ensconced in her joyful workspace, aka her living room, Maltby declared: “This is where the magic happens.”

Indeed, it’s where she put together her latest creation — a plastic face guard that doesn’t steam up her glasses.

“It’s a headband and Scotch tape,” she shared. “It’s the next thing.”

For more information on Marleen’s Mask Makers, visit the Facebook group at and ask to join.


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