Husker theatre alum helps sew masks for New York City hospitals

Left: David Tousley. Right: Some of the masks Tousley has sewn for hospitals in New York City. Courtesy photos.
Left: David Tousley. Right: Some of the masks Tousley has sewn for hospitals in New York City. Courtesy photos.

Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film alumnus and New York City resident David Tousley (M.F.A. 2015) is using his theatre and sewing skills to help sew masks for hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Towards the end of our first week of quarantine, I was feeling very depressed and defeated,” Tousley said. “I was on the phone with a friend from California, and I was so upset about what was happening in our city. She suggested I find a way to volunteer and help out. Soon after that conversation, my aunt texted me and suggested I make masks for the city. I reached out to the New York City artist community to see if anyone was in need of a sewer to help out, and the responses were immediate. I didn’t have a sewing machine of my own, so I created a GoFundMe, and in about an hour, I had enough donations to order a great inexpensive model.”

He joined Fashion on the Front Line and Art Makes Masks. These groups are bringing together fashion and theater artists to make masks.

“I started last week, and I have no idea how long this will continue,” he said. “As long as people need them, I suppose. It sounds like we will be fighting this virus until we have a vaccine, which could take up to 18 months. I hope our efforts will help flatten the curve and keep the death toll down. This just feels like the right thing to do for now.”

Tousley is able to make 25 masks a day and had made about 100, so far, as of April 7.

“The groups have delivery drivers who deliver patterns that have been cut and prepped so that I just need to assemble, sew and apply the elastic straps,” he said.

Tousley has lived in New York City for more than four years since he graduated from the Carson School in 2015.

“It’s been a non-stop whirlwind of project after project. Non-stop until a few weeks ago,” he said. “I try to get outside and see the sun when I can. The news has been terrifying, but I’m trying to stay positive.”

New York City has been a different place recently.

“New York is a very scary place right now,” Tousley said. “We know people are dying at a very rapid rate, and our lives have been turned upside down. Most of us have lost our jobs, but we are trying to stay positive. It’s so strange to live in a busy city like New York City, where you take the subway every day and are used to being in crowded areas, and then to live a life avoiding people at all costs. It’s so strange.”

He recently went outside and walked around Central Park, which is his close to where he lives.

“This was my first real walk outside in two weeks,” he said. “Before that, I had only gone for a brief walk around my block, but no more than a few minutes. Central Park is in bloom, and the weather has been gorgeous. Many people were wearing masks, but there were still quite a few who weren’t.”

Prior to work stopping as the pandemic hit, Tousley had several projects in the works.

“I was in the middle of creating all of the graphics for the second season of The History Channel’s show called ‘The Food That Built America,’” he said. “I was also drafting for Momentum Worldwide, a total brand experience agency. My most recent project as an assistant on Broadway is the new musical ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’ designed by Derek McLane. This is the new Michael Jackson musical, which was set to open this summer. I have no idea when Broadway will open up again. It’s quite eerie to see the theater district so empty.”

He never imagined his theatre and sewing skills coming to good use during a health crisis.

“I did not, but I’m so happy I can help,” Tousley said. “My grandma taught me how to hand sew when I was eight years old, and soon after that, I started sewing using her PFAFF. I would spend summers quilting and making gowns for my cousin’s Barbie dolls. I did a ton of sewing in Nebraska making props and costumes with Janice Stauffer. We made some fun costumes, including a dinosaur and a Wooly Mammoth. These masks are a walk in the park compared to that Mammoth.”

Every Monday and Wednesday at noon EST, Tousley does a “Serenading Seamstress Session,” where he sews and sings on Instagram Live @davidtousley.

“Stop by and say hi,” he said. “Anything to stay connected and keep this time fun.”

If you would be interested in supporting his efforts to make masks, Tousley has a GoFundMe available at