50 Face Masks – Done

I started this latest batch of face masks four days ago – that’s how long it’s taken me to complete this batch of 50. There are a lot of steps which I’ll itemize.

Halfway There

To get this far I had to:

  1. Cut 50 fabric pieces 9″ x 13″; cut 50 interfacing pieces 8 1/2″ x 6″; cut 100 elastic pieces 7″, cut 50 pieces of pipe cleaner to 5″ lengths
  2. Fuse interfacing to one end of the fabric
  3. Fold right sides together
  4. Stitch the end seam in two sections (leaving an opening in the middle)
  5. Press the seam open (rolling the tube to position the seam 1/2″ from the “top” edge)
  6. Pin elastic on one side, pin elastic on second side
  7. Stitch both side seams
  8. Turn face mask right side out
  9. Position and clip pipe cleaner at opposite fold from the seam
  10. Sew 1/4″ seam along edge to encase the pipe cleaner
  11. Trim threads

Pressed And Pleated

Next I had to:

  1. Press each face mask in half, then in quarters, then pleat at each fold
  2. Stitch across the pleats on one side; on the second side
  3. Trim threads
  4. Wash in washing machine
  5. Hang to dry

That’s where I am at the moment: 50 masks to be delivered tomorrow are hanging and drying.

Washed and Drying

I still have to:

  1. Press
  2. Place in bags

I’m just about to press them and bag them and then they’ll be ready to go.

All Ready To Go

In a factory setting these tasks would be going on simultaneously as small batches would be moved along. In this one person sweatshop each step for all 50 masks has to get done before passing the masks on to the next step – it’s been more labour intensive than I imagined before I started.

I actually have managed to scrounge supplies for another 50 masks (elastic and non-woven fusible interfacing are now in short supply both locally and online), but I’m not rushing to commit myself to making them. We’ll see whether the nursing home I’m delivering them to REALLY needs me to do another 50 or whether their call to the local sewing guilds will produce enough masks for them that I can put those supplies aside and get on with other sewing.

Craving Cocolate!

I ate the last of the chocolate I had in the apartment three days ago (except for the chocolate chips which I have been saving to make some cookies – more later).

This afternoon I found myself craving chocolate. I remembered the sugar/dairy free chocolate which I haven’t made for a number of years – I had the ingredients, I hauled them out, and put a batch together.

Sugar/Dairy Free Chocolate

I more or less followed the recipe – I added ground cacao nibs, some finely chopped candied ginger and dried cranberries along with finely ground hazel nuts. This batch should last me a couple of weeks. A little satisfies.

Click here for the recipe and other commentary.

The chocolate was actually the second thing I made. I started with Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (Flourless, No Butter). (I made a batch last week which are, of course, gone.)

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Another recipe I didn’t follow precisely. I used both chunky and smooth peanut butter, but I also had a small amount of tahini I wanted to use up which I threw in. In addition to the oatmeal (called for in the recipe), I added 1/2c finely ground hazelnuts; forgot raisins or dried cranberries.

No flour in the recipe, no butter. What makes this very sticky dough is the nut butter/egg combination. The only way to get it onto the cookie sheet is to pick some up with a tablespoon and push it onto the cookie sheet using a teaspoon. You can’t handle it. The Silpat baking mat makes it easy to remove the cookies when baked and cooled. I store them in the refrigerator.

Says to bake for 9-12 minutes; I baked these for close to 15 before I thought they were firm enough to take out of the oven.

They are “right some good!”

The cooking/baking overcame me AFTER I finished up the face masks from yesterday, washed them and hung them to dry.

Today’s Batch Of Masks Hanging To Dry

I have to collect 20 of them, pack them up to courier to Toronto tomorrow. I have another batch of 40 sitting by machine ready to work on when I get up in the morning.

There’s now a huge controversy raging over whether there’s any value to these face masks or not. One of the local seniors’ homes has put out a call to the local sewing guilds to please make face masks for them. So whether public health considers them useful or not, clearly there is a demand in my community.

I’m Bored On An Assembly Line…

I’ve got the mask making process down pretty well, now. I continue to improvise as I figure out more efficient ways of doing each step but I’m now bored out of my mind. I’ve figured out what to do and doing it over and over and over is driving me batty – however, I’m keeping at the face mask making.

There are still a number of bottle necks:

  1. Cut the rope elastic – but each mask needs two pieces and each piece needs a knot in both ends – 50 masks – 100 knots and that takes more time than you realize!
  2. Either pinning (as in the photo below) or clipping the knotted elastic in position in the corners of the sides takes WAAAY more time than I want it to; and I haven’t yet sewn the side seams!


I got all 25 masks in today’s batch pinned and side seams sewn:

Stack ready to turn right side out

However, each mask needs to be turned right side out – that takes a lot longer than sewing the side seams which went quickly.

Straight Stitch Needle Plate

Along the way, I realized I didn’t need to measure each mask for the first seam with the opening in the middle – I positioned a piece of green masking tape at the start point where I could align one edge, and the marks on the blue masking tape mark the positioning on the second edge. Sewing the seam with the opening went quickly after that.

Another problem arose: sewing in the rope elastic was difficult – the start of the seam kept getting caught in the wide opening in the zigzag needle plate. I finally switched to the straight stitch needle plate with a small hole for the needle – much better.

I’ve also figured out which foot is best for each operation and I make sure I keep changing feet to do the job. That keeps the process running smoothly.

At the moment my tally is 37 + 25 masks. I still have to stitch in the pleats on the 25 – I’ll get that done tomorrow. The bulk of those masks are for family in Toronto. They’ll get shipped as soon as they’re washed and dried.

This afternoon I called a nearby seniors’ residence offering to make masks for them if they can use them. Haven’t heard back as of this writing.

I’m not planning on making this effort a life-long project. I’m now finding the mask making boring; but I’m willing to work away at another 50-100 to help out should they be needed.


Production Underway

I don’t want to bother with instructions – Leah Day’s instructions are the most comprehensive I’ve come across, although I made modifications as I went along.

Sewing Side Seams – Elastic in Place

First of all, I had already cut a pile of fabric 6″ x 9″ (Leah cut hers 15″ x 9″ – I found that a bit too long from nose to chin) so instead of putting the cut pieces aside I sewed two together and treated them as a single piece (although shorter than 15″).

The part that may be hard to follow in Leah’s instructions is her step #5 – it’s a bit easier to see where the 1/2″ seam goes with what I’ve done – the seam is a bit more than 1/2″ above the fold (which is in the second fabric). In the picture above you can see that. You can also see as I sewed the 1/4″ side seams that the elastic is held in the corner with a quilting clip (I don’t use mine very often be they’re perfect for this project! Leah’s suggestion.)

Pipe Cleaner Clipped In Place

With the side seams sewn, turn the mask right side out, press flat. Next, I slipped a piece of pipe cleaner (I’ve also used twist ties) into the fold opposite from the opening (Leah put the pipe cleaner on the near side – I think the opening lays flatter with my adaptation leaving the opening at the bottom rather than the top of the mask). I used a clip to hold the pipe cleaner in place.

Stitching Pipe Cleaner In Place

With a 1/4″ quilting foot with centre guide, I stitched a 1/4″ seam across the entire top edge using the guide to hold the pipe cleaner against the fold – worked nicely.

Pipe Cleaner In Place

You can see the 1/4″ seam holding the pipe cleaner in place in the bottom of the picture.

Now, I had done the next step before inserting the pipe cleaner. Leah carefully measures where to pleat the mask – that’s fine if you’re doing one or two. I’m planning on 100 – too time consuming. I’d seen another video where the gal folded the mask in half, pressed, folded it into quarters, pressed. I’d recommend doing the folding/pressing AFTER inserting the pipe cleaner/twist tie/floral wire – whatever you’re using.

Pleats folded

Next it’s time to fold the pleats. I put the mask open side down, opening at the bottom, and began folding from the bottom toward the top, clipping the folds as I went along to hold them.

Sewing Pleats Down

I found it easier to sew the pleats with them facing me, the presser foot (I used the universal foot for this operation) flowed over the fold better, but that meant sewing one side of the mask with the bulk of the mask within the harp (usually the bulk of the sewing is to the left, outside the harp). The other side of the mask gets sewn in the usual way, since the pleats are going in the right direction. Also, I used a 2mm stitch to sew the pleats – just a bit more secure.

I didn’t bother edge stitching the whole face mask. Didn’t think it was required.

16 Completed Face Masks

One other thing – I cut my elastic 6 3/4″ in length which I found was long enough for my face. I recommend doing a test run to check the finished length from nose to chin, and width including elastic before going into any kind of production mode.

Why the opening in the bottom of the mask? Well, first of all, you need it to be able to turn the  mask right side out after you’ve sewn the first seams. Leah left it open so that a surgical mask, (or some other breathable but less permeable material like a piece of vacuum cleaner bag) could be inserted inside, making the cotton face mask a cover rather than the mask itself.

I have 10 more masks set up to work on tomorrow (using my 6″ x 9″ pieces). When those are done, I plan on doing another couple of batches following Leah’s instructions – a single folded piece probably 13 1/2″ in length and follow on from there.

I’ve Almost Got It…

I made a single mask yesterday – way too fiddly with flannel as the inner layer! Seams were too thick and it was very awkward to pleat. I stopped at one! I decided to sleep on the problem. If my goal was to make just a few masks I could have carried on, but I want to make 100 – I need to be able to streamline the process.

This morning I decided to match up fabric pieces with fused non-woven interfacing with fabric pieces without – less bulk in the seams.

I made a single mask – first sewed elastic onto the ends of the front piece; then zigzagged two twist ties to the wrong side of the back piece. Then sewed the two pieces together leaving an opening on the bottom so I can turn the mask right side out.

Folded in half and pressed, then in quarters and pressed. Turned pressings into folds. Stitched the folds down as I edge stitched the whole thing.

Five Masks Done

After the first was completed I did four more production style – doing each step on the elements of four masks, next I put the four masks together.

Then I watched videos by Jenny Doan (Missouri Star Quilt Company) and Leah Day (a widely followed quilter). Jenny’s version (Instructions) of the mask is simpler; Leah’s is closer to what I’m aiming for (with an opening to add further protection (Leah’s instructions)).

Leah had a couple of innovations I hadn’t thought about – she used pipe cleaners for the wire support at the top (a really good idea), her way of creating the pocket is simple, and she used clips to hold the pleats in place.

I’m still going ahead with the fabric I cut two days ago, more or less following Leah’s instructions, which is going to make a stripe of fabric on the fronts – to create the pocket opening I will have to offset the top/bottom seams by 1/2″. (I’ll post a picture when I’ve done one).

Right now the masks I’ve made are in the washing machine; next into the dryer, then they’ll be good to hand out.

More pictures will come as I rework my production process. The idea is to refine production to be as simple as possible.

Fabric Face Masks – Production Begins

With table runners and other stuff completed, time to turn to fabric face mask production.

I started by pulling fabric from my stash. I have quite a number of “scrap bags” from Keepsake Quilting which just happen to contain 9″ (1/4 yd) coordinated fabric strips – fancy that – I need rectangles that are 9″ x 6″. I cut several strips into 6″ rectangles.

Next, I cut what non-woven fusible interfacing I had on hand into 8.5″ x 5.5″ rectangles and fused them to the back of the fabric. The 1/4″ seam allowances will be less bulky without the interfacing included and because the interfacing is fused to the fabric, it’s going nowhere. I was able to prep 56 pieces of cut fabric. Now I have to go looking for more non-woven fusible interfacing.

Fabric with non-woven fusible interfacing (as a third layer for added filtering)

A friend brought me a metre of unbleached flannel the other evening. I washed it, dried it, and cut it into 9″ x 6″ rectangles. Today I briefly stopped by her place to pick up 4 more metres (the rest of her supply). It’s been washed and is now drying. I also picked up a bunch of twist ties from her.

Flannel rectangles for inside of mask

I have been collecting twist ties from all my friends in the building and have ended up with, would you believe it, almost 140 to use at the top edge so the mask can be pinched to fit the nose.

All that’s left to do is cut the 1/8″ elastic. I need 13″ for each mask, I have nowhere enough at the moment. I ordered a roll via Amazon the other day but it’s not going to arrive quickly enough for this assembly line. I’m going to have to scrounge around the building and touch up some other sewing friends to see if I can come up with more. If all else fails I have the better part of a 100m roll of 3/8″ elastic I can use.

Elastic (as yet uncut), twist ties for fitting over nose, more cut fabric

I’m now ready to start production tomorrow and get as far as my materials will let me. I am aiming for 100 masks. That’s not going to be enough – I have requests for 20+ for family in Toronto; I have 25 friends in the building to outfit; other friends in the city. I haven’t yet contacted the hospital community to find out whether they have a shortage of face masks and could use some. If that turns out to be the case, then I will have to enlist a bunch of other sewing people to pitch in. However, I’m hoping I won’t have to turn this project into a large enterprise.

Tomorrow, I will have to set up a batch of 10 and see how I can organize production so I can arrive at a finished product with the fewest steps. I’ll report on my process.