Butler Theatre faculty and staff are utilizing their skills and passion to keep healthcare professionals safe worldwide.

The Indianapolis-born Safer With A Gown (SWAG) project is helping remedy isolation gown shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic by urging home-crafters to download their medical isolation gown patterns. Butler Costume Shop Manager Megan Wiegand, Theatre Professor Wendy Meaden, and Deborah Jo Barrett, Production and Stage Manager for the Jordan College of Arts, joined the collective in mid-March. Meaden drafted the gown pattern, which is to be printed out and pieced together as a blueprint similar to purchased patterns from a fabric store. When finished, the isolation gowns would be donated to a community healthcare facility.

The SWAG website states “that these gowns are critical to the safety of doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and home health care workers to keep them safe when they are in close contact with patients.

So far, SWAG has received more than 2,500 downloads. The organizers received word that some expert-level sewers have crafted several gowns. So much stitching adds up.

“I have made only a handful of gowns for SWAG,” Meaden says, “but if each of the 2,000 people who downloaded the pattern made only one gown, or two, it would make a huge difference.”

Wiegand digitized the work, making it downloadable as a PDF. 

Meaden says the gown’s design would take a novice sewer about an hour to prepare the pattern and two hours to sew together. More experienced crafters can get it done in half that time. Of course, the more gowns you make, the quicker the process becomes.

“I’ve noticed as I’ve been sharing this pattern around,” Meaden says, “so many people really want to help in any way they can. I think we all feel good about creating something that is very satisfying. That’s one of the reasons I got into design.”

Most SWAG stitchers have used bolts of fabric or lightly used or new bed sheets as gown material. Meaden recommends tightly-woven cotton or a cotton polyester blend for best protection.

“Cotton is the most comfortable for the wearer,” Meaden says. “The poly blend will make a little better of a barrier.”

Butler Theatre joined SWAG in mid March thanks to Barrett, who is friends with the Indianapolis family that came up with the idea. As soon as she heard of the need to draft a gown pattern for the project, Barrett immediately thought of Wiegand and Meaden.

“There wasn’t a moment of hesitation from Wendy and Megan,” Barrett says. “Our first line medical professions need all the help they can get and I just think it’s wonderful that there’s this opportunity that the public can help.”

Dr. Deanna Willis, an Indianapolis family physician and primary care doctor, is the aunt and mother of some of the young SWAG starters. She says most factory-made gowns are going to large hospitals nationwide. The shortages are being felt most in smaller healthcare facilities like urgent care clinics and homecare programs.

“Microdroplets can stay suspended in the air quite a while,” Willis says. “These gowns provide a really important source of protection for those folks.”

Meaden consulted with Willis in the gown’s design, and Willis says she was impressed with their approach. They asked questions about medical professionals’ activities during shifts.

“It’s designed to be simple, not a lot of ties for taking on and off,” says Willis, also a Professor of Family Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “They really understand that the garments must be functional. The choice of materials, how they are constructed, and how they are worn are all part of that.”

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