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How to make a mask to use during Coronavirus pandemic

A few weeks ago I volunteered to sew a small mountain of ‘anti-projections’ masks for the local government to distribute so I learned a thing or two in all that making.  I know there are plenty of Coronavirus/Covid 19 mask how-to’s out there but many of them end up looking like a face nappy so I am here to tell you all I know!  I’m going to show you how to make two different kinds and what you will need is some fabric, clothing type elastics, an old t-shirt cut into thin strips, bias binding or anything else that will work as tie strings.

First I have to point out that none of these homemade mask options are  the same as an N95 or 3M masks which are the best possible filtration masks against viruses and small particles and we have to reserve these for healthcare workers.  However when used correctly they can offer some protection to the wearer but more so to others if the wearer potentially had the virus.

So lets talk about fabrics, which one is the best to use?  You might be limited to what you have at home already and that is fine, any mask could be better than no mask when used correctly.   A company called Smart Air (www.smartairfilters.com) have run tests on a wide variety of materials from coffee filters to bed sheets and many others that we might have easy access to.  Their tests showed that the top 5 materials to use are denim (as in jeans denim), bed sheets, paper towels, canvas and paper towel for hand drying.  Now, I’m not sure how practical it is to make a mask out of paper as these will absorb the most moisture and fall apart quite quickly but maybe in a pinch something like this could work.   You can check whatever fabric you have be it polyester or cotton by holding it up to the light and seeing how many little holes you can see – the more holes and light getting through, the more particles can easily get through.  Just in case anyone was wondering the materials that preformed the worst were cotton bandanas, polyester microfiber neckwarmers and light cotton t-shirts.  You might read elsewhere that something like a coffee filter is the best but if it is difficult to breath through then it’s not the best thing to use.

mask-making-mterials

So all things considered I suggest using denim, high thread count bed sheets or a tight weave canvas.  Also some people recommend adding a layer of medium weight interfacing to your fabrics for added filtration or taking apart an unused HEPA filter so you have a flat layer of filter fabric which can be inserted between layers of thinner fabric.  If you are not too dizzy by now lets get started!

Mask #1

The first one I’m going to talk about is the kind I was asked to make as a volounteer- a light, surgical mask type, this is made with one layer of fabric can only really potentially protect others from what the wearer may have.  I used a tight weave polyester here, some say it is better than cotton because it doesn’t absorb as much moisture but either will do.  Here’s how to make one:

1. Measure and cut a 20-22cm square of pre-washed fabric and add markings with a pencil as shown in the picture.  For me 20cm was fine but it was too small for my husband so you could hold the fabric up to your face to get an idea of the size you will need.

2. The 3cm marks are where you will make the folds, there should be three of them.  Pin these and run stitches down through them as close to the edge as possible to secure.  Then run a zig-zag stitch down the full length of the sides to prevent fraying.  Repeat on both sides.  Note: I don’t have a zig-zag option on my machine so I made a tight hem at a later point which is fine too but more fiddly.

3. Fold down the top and bottom edges (the edges without the folds) next making a small hem, pin and stitch across.

4. Cut 2 lengths of thin or medium thickness elastic to 20-22cm each.  Or cut 4 strings to 35cm each.  I found that using 1cm wide strips of an old t-shirt worked brilliantly as easy string.  Honestly, try it!

5.  Finally, take one of the edges with the folds and fold it over by about 1cm and insert one elastic end (or one string end) at one corner and the other elastic end (or another string) in the other corner and pin then in place and sew down through everything.  Go slowly here because there are a lot of layers.  If you want to you can at this point do a neat hem to hide the fabric edge as I mentioned above.  Repeat on the other edge, press it with an iron avoiding the elastics and you are done!

You may have seen some people making this type of mask with layers or with a gap to insert a filter, but they can end up being bulky and not actually fitting the face well at all.  So if you want something thicker with hopefully more protection for yourself I would actually make the next type of mask.

Mask #2

This mask, although it looks more complex than the other for me really wasn’t any more difficult to make, in fact it may have been easier because there are no fiddly folds, so don’t be put off by the look of it!  For this one you can use denim or cotton with a layer of interfacing ironed on or leave one end open to insert a filter.  In my opinion this design is the best one of you want layers as you can get a better fit across the contours of your face.  You can also insert a metal nose band pretty easily in this one, I’ll show you how:

1. Find and print a pattern, choose your size and cut the paper pattern out.  Make sure you allow for a 1cm seam allowance if the pattern doesn’t already have it.  I used this one from www.craftpassion.com which is a free downoad, click the image below.

2. Lay your pre-washed fabric out and draw around the pattern- 2 for the outer part and 2 for the lining.  It will be helpful though not entirely necessary if you use pins before sewing and iron the folds after stitching.  

3. Place the two inner parts together with right sides facing each other and sew along the curved edge, 1cm in.

4. Place the two outer parts right sides facing in the same way and sew along the curved edge.

5. If you are inserting a metal nose band you can do it now in the outer part placing it 2cm down from the top and slowly stitching through it, hopefully your machine won’t mind but many will easily get through light aluminium.  I made one by cutting up a disposable aluminium tray but some people say you can use an unraveled paperclip or a wire and plastic bread bag closure.  It should be about 1.5inches and don’t forget to fold in any sharp edges.

6. Cut little notches along both curved edges to make it fit together more neatly.

7. Place the outer and inner parts together, again right sides facing and sew along the top and bottom edges.

8. Turn your mask right way out and get your strings or elastics ready, as above, 20-22cm for elastics and 35cm for tie strings.

9. Fold one open edge inwards 1cm or less and push one string or elastic end into each corner.  Pin and sew down this edge going over the strings a couple of extra times for security and repeat with the other side. Note: at this point you can leave one end open to insert a filter but you should hem the edges that will be left open before step 7. I think it adds to the finished look if you then top sew all around the edges and then you are done!  

Conclusion:

Mask #1 is light and easy to wear for long periods (I tried for a few hours without discomfort) of time being light weight.  It will not however offer the best protection to you as a wearer.  Mask #2 can be made with heavier materials that offer better filtration as the shape suits these best.  However the thicker you make it the harder it becomes to wear for long periods of time, so think about where and when you might want to use yours when choosing materials.

Once again, these are not a substitute for N95 or 3M masks and it is very important that you put them on and take them off properly without accidentally possibly contaminating yourself.  You should wash them at 60 degrees C.  Also they are not a substitute for proper hand washing and reasonable social distancing.  That all sounds a bit stressful, but we have to make the best of what we have right now and lets hope we can reach a new and better normal very soon :0)

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