Whether or not to wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic has been a longstanding point of contention. Initially the consensus was that if it wasn’t medical grade it wasn’t worth it. However, as the situation progresses the current school of thought has changed to ‘something is better than nothing’. Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy to WHO during the coronavirus pandemic, has been quoted as saying masks will become an element of our day to day lives as restrictions are relaxed and society lives alongside the virus until a vaccine is developed.
Made at home masks will never offer the same level of protection as medical grade masks but research has shown that they can limit the spread of aerosolised droplets produced when we breath, sneeze, and cough, and “significantly reduce the number of microorganisms expelled” which is good for society as a whole.
An important factor in at home mask making is the materials you use. Cotton and cotton blend fabrics are proven to be the most effective due to their close knit fabric. Woolen weave products are not suitable due to the stretchy fabric and loose weave. Items you have around your house that are ideal for this include bed sheets and pillowcases or tshirts. If you have any polycotton fabric from craft projects this is also ideal.
To help you through the project we’ve put together a little how-to on making your masks with a couple of variations included to suit every household's supplies. This is what the completed version will look like:
What do you need?
- A pattern. I used the patterns available from Craftpassion.com which can be found here. Print out the pattern and cut it out in advance so you can easily cut out your sections.
- Fabric: A minimum of 2 layers is needed for your mask. For your outer layer you need TWO 9x7inch pieces of fabric, for your inner layer you need TWO 5.5x7inch pieces of fabric.
- Pins/straight needles
- Sewing machine or a needle and thread. Obviously a sewing machine makes the job easier but don’t let not having one hold you back!
- Elastic or similar fastener. You can use lots of things around the home to fasten your mask to your face. Flat elastic is great for comfort but string elastic is just as good. If you don’t have either, shoe laces or ribbon/twine can be used. If you don’t have these, a loop made from cutting a section from a pair of tights or socks can be used too.
Putting it together
Steps 1-7 are the same no matter what you use to hold your mask to your face. Using elastic loops over your ears, shoelaces, or cuts from socks or tights are finished off differently so each fastening type has its own little section.
1. Lay out your two sections of outer fabric flat, if it's patterned place the two patterned sides facing each other. Place your pattern on top of the fabric and trace along the edge.
2. Pin the two pieces together inside the outline of your pattern to keep them together and cut out the shape.
3. Repeat with your inner layer fabric.
4. Sew along the long curved side of both layers individually leaving a ⅜ - ¼ inch seam allowance. If you have a sewing machine there will be guides on your plate, if you are hand stitching trace a thin line along the edge to keep you straight
5. When both layers have been sewn, cut into the material along the edge. Be careful not to cut into the thread line. This will allow the fabric to move better when you assemble the mask.
6. Open out each layer and sew a straight line down the middle of the mask keeping close (but not directly on top of) the seam
7. Position and pin both layers of fabric together, the inside seam of both pieces should be on the outer sides with the seams facing opposite directions as shown below:
If you are using elastic to hold the mask to your face:
- Measure out the elastic you need by holding it to the top hinge of your jaw, bringing it over your ear and down to the bottom edge of your jaw under your ear. Add on an extra inch to this length to allow space for sewing in place.
- Cut two pieces of elastic of this length. Position the elastic inside the two layers of your mask with the edges of the inside layer fabric and the elastic lining up. This part is important, the elastic needs to go into the layers so when sewn up it will stick out the sides to go over your ears.
- Pin all sides together to hold the fabric and elastic in place. Start sewing along the edges of the material leaving a ¼ - ⅜ inch seam allowance. Do not sew all edges completely, leave one gap of about an inch wide where you can pull your mask right side out. (Note: If you are including a filter pocket you will need to fold in the outer material and hem the edge before closing the edges. Also only sew to the points where the elastic is in place on your filter edge and leave this side open)
- Turn your mask right side out and flatten out all seams. Sew along the edges of the mask only a few millimeters in from the edge to secure the seams. If you are using string elastic like me you need to make sure the needle goes through the elastic when sewing or keep it in place or else it will slip out. Alternatively, tie a little knot in the elastic before sewing along the edge to stop it from slipping.
- Flatten out your mask and wear!
- Sew the top and bottom of your mask together leaving a ¼ - ⅜ inch seam allowance, leaving the sides open.
- Turn your mask right side out. Fold the side edges of your inner layer inside the mask to be hemmed later. Sew in place the top and bottom edges of your outer layer. Fold your outer layer into itself (overlapping the inner layer and pin in place leaving space for your shoelace/ribbon to be passed through)
- Flatten out all edges of the mask along the seams and sew along the edges, only a few millimeters away from the edge (as in above picture for elastics). When at the side edges sew down along the join between your outer and inner layers to seal this closed. (Note: If adding a filter layer position your outer layer fold along the edge of your inner layer hem to keep the opening)
- Thread your shoelace/ribbon through the opening on both sides going up on one side and down the other so there is a loop towards the top of your head and the ends can be tied at the nape of your neck
If you are using loops from tights or socks:
- To make a loop from tights or socks cut the toes off and then cut a section approximately 1-2 cm wide.
- Follow the steps for using ribbon but when you are folding the outer material over to make space for threading in your shoelace simply place your loop inside and sew it in place as below:
- If your look feels a little loose holding your mask in pinch the loop to the correct tightness then put a little stitch in place to hold it to this length
Filter Layer Options
As we said, filter layers aren’t essential. If however you decide to include on then lots of things around your home can be used as an additional layer of protection. Coffee filters and paper towels are good everyday options for a filter layer but as they absorb a lot of moisture they can only be used once and then discarded.
Studies have shown that vacuum bags are an excellent option if they do not contain any fiberglass particles. This is especially important as inhaling these particles would be terrible for your lungs. However, in this bagless vacuum age we live in I don’t know if they count as everyday items anymore!
Really Important Information!
The beauty of fabric masks is that they can be washed between uses; and they absolutely should be! It’s recommended that you wash your mask after every use and if you are using a filter layer make sure to remove it after every use.
When removing your mask, touching it as little as possible is very important. Place your fingers through the loops holding it in place, pull the loops over your ears and pull the mask down. Do not touch the front or inside of your mask when removing it. If you are using shoelace, untie the knot at the nape of your neck, hold on to the band behind your head and lift it over your head without touching the main body of the mask. Pop everything in the washing machine and wash your hands.