Face masks have become a critical piece of personal equipment as COVID-19 or coronavirus continues to spread across the world. As all of us prepare for how this virus spreads, emergency preparedness is critical. Vaccines are slowly getting distributed, so hand washing, disinfection, and caution about coughing and sneezing are vital. When cleaning your home, car, or airplane seat, use a household cleaning spray or alcohol wipe (60-95% alcohol) such as Purell or Sani-Hands. Be sure to include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, remote controls, and bedside tables.
The CDC recommends that we all wear masks when near other people. Iʻve done a lot of research on homemade face masks and Iʻve been sewing them for months. There are different styles that work for different face shapes (and beards!) and children need smaller masks. Here are some of my findings.
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The research Iʻve read indicates that 100% cotton is good for filtering the most possible particles. There are other fabrics and non-wovens that may filter more, but they are also more difficult to breathe through. I use 100% cotton thread when I can because masks will be laundered a lot, and thread with polyester can cause extra friction. The covid-19 virus dies with soap and water or temperatures above 100 degrees F. Wash fabric masks as frequently as possible in hot soapy water.
- 100% cotton from Harts Designer Fabric, Santa Cruz
My favorite patterns are the Kaiser Permanente and Olson masks. I sew the flat, pleated Kaiser mask with an opening in the center of the inside, so that a filter can be inserted. Filters can be cut from a HEPA vacuum cleaner bag or hvac pleated filter made of paper or polypropylene (NOT fiberglass). Do not launder the filter, you will need to hand wash and air dry. A 3 inch by 5 inch rectangle seems to fit in most masks. There are 100% polypropylene craft fabrics available that can also be used.
Filters have a MERV or MPR ratings. The higher the number, the more microparticles will be captured. MERV 14 will capture 75% to 84% of particles 0.3 to 1.0 micron.
Kaiser Permanente face mask pattern: https://about.kaiserpermanente.org/content/dam/internet/kp/comms/import/uploads/2020/04/02_COVID_Mask-Instructions_v10.pdf
Olson face mask pattern: https://www.avera.org/app/files/public/76443/Olson-Mask-with-Pattern.pdf
For the Kaiser mask, I cut 8″ x 16″ for adult and 7″ x 14″ for children. 1/8″ elastic seems to suit more people, I use 7 inches for each ear loop. With 1/4″ elastic, if it stretches a little stiffly, you need to use 8 or 8.5 inches.
For children, I use 100% cotton T-shirts to cut one-inch strips across the body width. For each ear loop I cut a 7 or 8 inch long strip. Hold tightly on both ends and pull. The strip will curl up and made a comfortable stretch ear loop. I pull through a wooden bead (you need a 6mm opening) to make it adjustable for any childʻs face.
The Olson mask instructions made a mask for a small or medium face. For larger face or ears, search for more mask sizes. I like to make the Olson mask with one long bias strip tie. About 54 inches allows the tie to make a loop at the top of the head and tie tightly at the nape. A popular choice is to cut two 14 inch or longer 1/8 elastic strips and insert into casings. Tie the elastics around each ear for a snug fit. Slide the knots into the casings.
- Making bias strips single and continuous from University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service
Mask makers groups
- The Masks Now Coalition has a great packing slip to include with your masks
- Information on face masks from GetUsPPE.org
- Operation #SewTogether from tieks.
- Face masks from The Turban Project
Itʻs been very helpful to me to watch some of the many face mask videos on YouTube. Here are my favorites.
- The Jesse mask from The Fabric Patch
- The Olson mask tips from Gail Kollmar
- What Sewing 500 Masks Taught Me from amberx19
- Make a paper template for pleating from Kimʻs Kitchen Affair
Letʻs Talk Story
With all the months of sewing and working in my office every day, Iʻve had lots of time to reflect. I am glad to be clearing out my stash of fabrics from the closets and other hidden places I apparently was squirreling away fabric. I enjoy thinking, “oh, this fabric was a bridesmaidʻs dress,” or “oh this fabric was my daughterʻs favorite dress when she was 4,” or “this was the first aloha shirt I made my husband.” Itʻs like going through old photo albums. Iʻm not sure what I thought I was going to do with these scraps, but itʻs amazing how many of them are the right size for a few masks.
- Science Advances 02 Sep 2020: Vol. 6, no. 36, eabd3083. Low-cost measurement of face mask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech. Mask research from Duke University. The best homemade mask has 2 layers of cotton and one of polypropylene.
- A case to keep your mask on a keychain from Learn Create Sew
- From CNN, research from Florida Atlantic University on fabrics for face masks
- From American Chemical Society Nano (ACS Nano 2020, 14, 5, 6339–6347 Publication Date:April 24, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.0c03252
- From Archyde, a report on research done at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in the clinical microbiology laboratory
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