Fabric Face Masks

Last evening, Rachael Maddow had an item on the surgical face mask crisis in the US and talked about Deaconess Health Centre’s call for crafters in the community to help build a supply of masks.

I’ve been looking for a way I could do more than self-isolate as a way of pitching in during this pandemic. I can’t do much because I’m “over 65”, with a preexisting cough that makes it difficult for me to be out in public at this particular time, but this was something I could do.

I found the link: https://www.deaconess.com/How-to-make-a-Face-Mask and this morning I printed out the instructions from the Turban Project Face Mask and gave it a try.

First, the instructions recommend using flannel for the inside layer. I have a relatively large fabric stash but no flannel – I did, however, have some densely woven muslin which I thought would work reasonably well. I also wanted to improve the impermeability so I added a layer of thin fusible batting to one sample, and a non-woven fusible interfacing to the second. The instructions also called for either “rope” elastic or 1/8″ elastic – neither of which I had on hand – remember I can’t go shopping and local fabric stores are closed anyway – so I improvised using some metallic-wrapped Christmas elastic I had in a drawer which was fine for a sample.

Then I sat down to sew. I quickly sewed the two layers together (elastic included in the side seams), turned the mask right side out. The rest should have been easy but trying to position the pleats and stitch them in place was a bit awkward. In my first attempt I made the pleats too narrow so the side of the mask was too long and the whole thing wouldn’t sit well over my face. I need to make a template marking the pleat position if I’m going to make a batch.

I then decided I needed a small bit of wire over the nose (like one of the commercial masks I found in a drawer in my bathroom – heaven knows where I got it). I dug around the apartment and came up with a set of twist ties in a box of garbage bags – I took two and stitched them to the top edge of the mask. This allowed me to pinch the mask to my nose! But the mask still gaped on the sides so I took the pleats apart and made them a bit bigger – turns out a good fit needs to reduce the side measurement by about a half. To finish off,  I added two small pleats to the bottom edge which made the mask fit snugly beneath my chin.

Inside of mask showing wire at top edge

I still don’t have the elastic length right – the pattern calls for 7″. Because they recommended tying a knot in the end (to prevent pulling it out from the seam) I cut the elastic a bit longer – turns out on the first (mauve) mask the ties are a bit too long.

With the second mask I cut the elastic to 6″ – too short!  6 3/4″ would be about right to allow me to tie knots and stitch the pieces into the side seam.

So my masks are actually three layers, not two – a firmly woven print (a batik would be even better), a fusible non-woven interfacing, and a closely woven muslin with a slightly brushed side for softness. The point of the mask isn’t to stop virus particles from coming in to me but to stop my coughing and sneezing droplets from getting out – in other words to protect other people.

I plan on making one for each of the gals in the Friday afternoon knitting group here in the building – the recommendation from health professionals is not to wear a mask if you’re not coughing/sneezing but it can’t hurt to have one one hand, in case. And for the ears I will cut lengths from my roll of 1/4″ elastic (of which I have quite a lot!).

The caveat, of course, is this face mask is not meant to replace a surgical face mask; it is a contingency plan for those who haven’t been able to find any surgical masks in the stores. And it’s washable – it can be cleaned repeatedly after every use.