Kelly Knapp making face masks

Thriving Together: A Sewing Project Helps Keep the W&J Community Safe

Created: April 16, 2020  |  Last Updated: October 5, 2021  |  Category:   |  Tagged:

WASHINGTON, PA (April 16, 2020) – Normally, Kelly Knapp’s kitchen counter would be full of files, phone numbers, order forms, and anything else she’d need to reference as she planned events and projects for W&J’s campus. Now, that counter is full of fabric and sewing supplies.

For the past two weeks, Mrs. Knapp has been making protective face masks for campus community members, with her husband, Washington & Jefferson College President John C. Knapp, serving as a model and test subject.

“When the CDC came out with this recommendation I thought, ‘I can make these, and if I’m making them for my own family then this is the W&J family and I need to make these for them, too,’” Mrs. Knapp said. “If you wear a face mask, it’s going to protect everyone. This was a priority.”

Mrs. Knapp’s concern for public health developed early in her career, when she was editor of internal publications at the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. That experience still influences her and, in this case, pushed her to act.

She worked quickly to research the most effective sewing patterns and safest fabrics to use, and then utilized the JoAnn Fabrics curbside pick-up service to safely get the supplies. She’s made about 80 masks so far in two different styles, one a basic face covering and the other in the Olson pattern that medical professionals often wear – all red and black, of course. She put the masks in individual bags and has been leaving them in the lobby of The Commons, a central area on campus, so that students and employees can easily take them while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

W&J moved its operations online in mid-March in an effort to slow the regional spread of Coronavirus and keep its community safe. However, a small number of students, for whom staying at W&J was their best option, remain on campus, as do the essential employees in W&J Dining, Campus & Public Safety, and Facilities who keep them safe and cared for. And while those who remain see it as their duty to care for each other, Mrs. Knapp sees it as her duty to care for them.

“Now that I’ve been making them, I’m just going to keep doing this,” she said. “I’m really enjoying sewing them, and this is something that hopefully will benefit those on campus. We just don’t know how long this will last, and this way people can get an extra if they need them, or the employees can take them for their families.”

She’s also leaving extra elastic and safety pins in The Commons, just in case a masks breaks and needs a quick repair before she has the chance to make a new one.

The Knapps also didn’t forget about two of W&J’s most well-known faces - George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. With leftover fabric from one of her early batches, Mrs. Knapp constructed two custom masks, one each for George and Tom, whose statues overlook the campus intersection at Beau and Lincoln streets. During a serious time, it’s a fun and lighthearted reminder to keep yourself, and others, safe.

This article is part of Thriving Together, a series of articles and videos showcasing the ways in which W&J community members are here for each other during this unprecedented time. Read other articles in the series in the W&J News Section.


About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.