BUCKTOWN — A 91-year-old great-grandmother is sewing masks by the hundreds and donating all proceeds to charity.
Eszter Kutas has sewn more than 200 masks inside her Streeterville home over the past month. Her grandson, Jon Kutas, has advertised and distributed the masks — the majority of which have been purchased by his neighbors in Bucktown and Logan Square.
At $10 a mask, the Kutas family has raised more than $2,000 for COVID-19 Relief Fund at Northwestern Medicine.
Eszter Kutas said she plans to continue sewing masks for neighbors as long as she has materials. As of Tuesday, the family had about 70 masks in stock.
“This … is helping out any way I can to make this virus as short as possible,” Kutas said. “I know it’s not too much, but it’s something. If everybody would do just something, we might get somewhere.”
For weeks Eszter Kutas has woken at 5 a.m. and worked into the night making masks. When she’s not sewing she likes to cook meals or take mile-and-a-half walks.
She’d rather work at the sewing machine than watch the news, she said.
“When you turn on the television, what do you hear? Problems,” she said. “It’s too much for an old person just to hear problems all the time.”
By staying busy and using her skills to help others, Kutas said she feels “more alive.”
“I’m really helping myself, that’s my philosophy,” she said. “If the situation would get better, let’s say normal — I don’t know anymore, what is ‘normal’ — then I would feel better.”
Kutas learned to sew in her hometown in Hungary, though she didn’t particularly care for the skill.
“In school, in the first four years they are teaching the basics of everything what you need in life,” she said. “I never wanted to sew. No, no, no, far from that.”
Kutas, her husband and their two children fled their native country in the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. They arrived in America as refugees in 1957 with $20. They settled in Cincinnati, where Kutas’ brother-in-law was living.
There, the family raised their children and Kutas put her sewing skills to use out of necessity.
“We were very poor … we were not making more than just to barely make it,” she said. “Whatever I needed for the house … whatever we needed for the kids, I was trying to make it.”
Later in life, Kutas discovered her biggest hobby and source of joy — needlepoint artwork. She also worked for 25 years at Standard Textile, a wholesale fabric company where she worked with computers.
Kutas decided to leave Ohio after her husband died. She moved to Chicago, where one of her two children was living.
Today she lives across the street from her son and daughter-in-law. Her grandson Jon Kutas and his wife and child live at the border of Bucktown and Logan Square.
When Eszter Kutas learned her grandson’s neighbors needed face masks, she once again put her sewing skills to use.
“My grandson is the one who said, ‘Can you do that?’ I said, ‘I can try. Why not?'”
Jon Kutas said he’s proud of his grandmother for helping the community during the crisis. He misses being able to bring his 9-month-old daughter to visit her on weekends.
“Not being able to see us all has been one of the tougher parts for her,” he said. “I’m glad that she can do something to help with everything going on.”
You can buy a mask from Kutas by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting the family’s Facebook page.
Interested in buying some of Kutas’ needlepoint artwork? She’s trying to sell her collection, which currently fills her Streeterville condo. Send inquires to the email address.
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