Mask Making in the Time of Covid-19

Yes, I’m publishing a post about masks, as has ever sewing enthusiast in the past month. Why? Here’s why…

Over the past few weeks, I went through the internal debate of whether to make fabric masks, who to make them for, and how to communicate the importance of good handling if one chooses to wear them.

My conclusion was that yes, they’re beneficial if handled carefully. I’ve also gotten to a point where I’m being asked daily for links to the masks I’ve made, so I may as well put all this information in one place.

I haven’t created my own design, but have used two existing patterns for two separate purposes; Generic one-size-fits-all masks to give away, and fitted masks for those you can get up-close and personal with for a closer fit.

To make either of these masks, you’ll need:

  • Tightly woven cotton (or poly-cotton blends with a mostly-cotton content)
  • Interfacing (optional)
  • Elastic bands or bias binding, as you prefer

All of the above need to be able to withstand 60 degrees Celsius wash, which is why I tend to shy away from elastic for anything that would be given to someone who’s out every day, as they’ll make more intensive usage than most of us. (You’re staying home unless it’s absolutely essential, right?)

Wash your fabric before you start, and remember to tell your recipients (especially if they do not live in your household) to wash them before use and between every use.

The Generic 3-Folds Mask

This pattern is from Shiny Happy World (yes, I know you might not feel that way right now) and is a simple three-folds mask with bias binding ties.

It’s SO quick to make – especially if you’re not making your own binding – and roughly fits any adult face.

3-Folds Mask Version 2: Improved, less fiddly version

[Edited on 28th April, to add a variation I have come to prefer to the ties above]

Since making the masks above, I’ve been looking for alternatives to the long ties, as they can be a bit unwieldy. I keep puling my hair when making a bow with the ties.

As an alternative to making miles of bias binding, this version simply uses short strips of t-shirt fabric to wrap around the ears. I used an old, cheap tank top, with good 4-way fabric stretch and no ribbing. It doesn’t fray or fall apart, and will remain sufficiently elastic for non-front line use.

Cut long 1 inch strips, then cut them at around 6.5 to 7 inches long. Pull both ends to make the fabric curl up.

Start the mask in the same way as the original pattern, but rather than wrapping bias binding over the raw long edges, fold the edges inwards, slide in the fabric strips and clip them in place.

You can then sew a straight line across the long edge, hiding the raw edges inside and catching the ties at both ends.

As a tip, for the first mask, sew one long edge, and leave the other one clipped in place. Try the mask on for size and work out how long you like your elastic strips. It’s safer for it to be a bit tight than too loose.

The Fitted Mask

This mask, using the Peanut Patterns free mask pattern is better suited to people in your own household, as the fit depends on the shape and size of their face. I need a Medium and my husband needs a Large size.

It needs to be fitted to your face without gaps on the side, at the jawline or around your nose. Luckily, we haven’t needed wires to keep it flat to our faces, and glasses – which you should wear on top of the edge of the mask – also help hold the edges down.

I’ve used hairbands as the elastics for some of them, and bias binding ties on others, so use what you prefer. It’s easier to get a good fit with ties, but easier to put on and take off with elastics.

My Modifications

The only modification I’ve made to both of these masks is to add a layer of non-woven sew-in light interfacing, specifically Vilene L11, which I already had in my stash.

I have no actual scientific evidence to back up my decision (and would be grateful if anyone has relevant studies on this) but adding a third layer hasn’t hindered the breathability of the mask and adds a different fabric structure (non-woven, so the fibres aren’t laid out in the same criss-cross pattern as the cotton layers), which may help with filtering.

A Word of Advice

This animation by New Zealand’s Spinoff Magazine summarises well why masks must be used correctly to be useful.

This is the crux of the matter; Whether or not you choose to wear a mask, make sure that you keep your hands the heck away from your face, wash them as soon as possible, and clean contaminated surfaces (keys, doorknobs, and please tell me you didn’t touch your phone while you were out)

When you’re done, take the mask off by the straps without touching the front. Put it straight into the washing machine to wash at 60c, or if you’re away from home, put it in a washable bag that you can throw in the wash as well. Then immediately wash your hands again. Don’t stick it in your pocket when you come out of a shop, then put it back on when you near another shop. That makes the whole effort pointless as you spread the contamination around.

I’m hoping that by the time the UK’s lockdown ends, we’ll have more conclusive evidence from trusted scientific bodies, but in the meantime, if you choose to use a mask, don’t let it make you complacent about other essential steps to keep yourself and others safe.

For the sake of our family members, friends, front line workers and strangers, stay home whenever possible. When you must go out, be responsible; keep clean, be considerate of distances and guidelines in public places.

Wishing you a safe and calm time, whatever your situation may be. 💖