In my previous blog, I promised this post would be about “composing a gallery wall and installing it easily and perfectly by yourself”. Well, as all of you know, these days plans change fast!
Since I wrote my previous blog, I’ve set aside my decorating efforts for a couple of days each week to make face masks for my family and friends to protect them from the COVID-19 virus when they are out and about.
I’m not selling these masks, or making them for the general public, so why am I blogging about them? Well, in short, to offer what I found out about making masks to any other people who want to make masks themselves, so that they don’t have to go through the same learning curve that I did. The US sewing community (professionals and home-sewers) have really rallied to all the calls from hospitals, nursing homes, the Surgeon General, and the whole population of the US for fabric masks to help protect individuals (regular folks like me and maybe you) with an effective face covering. We’ve been advised that because of the current shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the “official” N-95 medical masks should be reserved for medical workers and essential personnel on the front lines fighting the COVID-19 virus. The disposable blue masks seem to be available at the present time, but they’re really only for one-time use – not a great option. So what’s the alternative? The best alternative appears to be handmade 100% cotton fabric masks that are washable.
Let me be the first to acknowledge that there are numerous patterns out there on the internet (for free, of course) for these fabric masks. If you go to YouTube and search “fabric masks” you’ll find an amazing amount of helpful advice, videos, and patterns to hand-sew or machine-sew fabric masks. All of this advice and these patterns are probably better than nothing – but there are significant differences in the protective quality and fit of the patterns. I know, since at the start of my mask making journey, I surveyed many articles and videos, and downloaded many of the patterns. After I found what looked like the best pattern, I started producing masks. That’s when I found out that some of the patterns look fine – until a person tried to put it on only to find out that it’s too bulky, too loose, has ties that won’t stay tightly tied, has elastic that’s too tight, or has some other problem that limits its wearability or breathability, adaptability to various face/head sizes proportions, or effectiveness.
Here are some photos of the masks that I’ve made to date – from my initial pleated version (which was the initial home-sewer “design of choice” because of the ease of cutting a rectangle and sewing, but had some fit and bulkiness problems) to the more fitted version that I’m sending out now to my family and friends.
Mask #1 (version 1.0): This initial design was the best of the rectangular pleated designs that debuted on the internet in early March. It looked good and seemed to have the proper attributes. To start with, I preshrunk all of the 100% cotton fabric by washing it in hot water before starting fabrication. I then made about 30 masks to send out for the “something is better than nothing stage” and to request for feedback. On this initial version, my friends and family commented that the fit wasn’t snug enough and the ties were hard to keep tightly tied. They did appreciate the fact that the outside was clearly a different fabric pattern than the inside, which made the “contaminated” side easily discernable from the side worn next to the face. They also liked that there was a way to insert additional filtering layers inside the mask if needed and that I had added a piece of floral wire at the nose (top of the mask) so the mask could fit tighter on the face and not fog the wearer’s glasses.
Mask #2 (version 1.1): This had a much more refined mask. Instead of a pleated rectangle this mask was actually more contoured and placed the pocket for adding an additional filter on the front so that the opening didn’t rub against the wearer’s face. The biggest downside was that the twill ties were still ungainly and didn’t work well for some people based on their head shape.
Mask #3 (version 1.2): This version was essentially the same mask as v1.1, but with elastic instead of twill ties. The feedback that I received on this mask was that the fit was better and the mask stayed on better. Unfortunately, since the elastic was a preset length, some people had problems wearing the masks for long periods of time because the elastic pulled on their ears.
Mask #4 (version 1.3): This version refined v1.2 by contouring the mask even more for a tighter fit and refining the filter pocket to be more streamlined.
Mask #5 (version 2.0): As I refined my mask pattern I continued to innovate and go back to the design space based on the feedback I received from my family and friends. While I was doing this a breakthrough occurred when one of my vendors, Sailrite, sent me an email detailing their mask research efforts and their discovery of what they believed to be the “best mask pattern” (https://www.sailrite.com/how-to-sew-diy-face-mask). I discussed the merits of this new pattern with my interior design and drapery workroom colleagues, as well my 92-year-old mother who had tried out my v1.0 design. In addition to lots of great comments from my colleagues, my mom provided a brilliant suggestion to make a casing (or channel) at the sides of the mask so that the elastic could be inserted through, and tied to the best length by the actual wearer, rather than cutting the elastic to length and hoping that it wasn’t too tight or too loose for the specific wearer. Once adjusted. the knot can then be moved so that it is hidden in the fabric channel. Mom’s so clever, and is the one that taught me to sew when I was 6 years old. Thanks Mom for the great suggestion!
The photos below show my current (and probably final) mask design with a close-up of the internal pocket where you can insert any type of filter (e.g. paper towel, piece of a hepa vacuum bag, piece of air filter, etc.,). This design fits snugly over the mouth and nose, but still allows for good breathability, and has adjustable elastic.
If you’re interested in what the attributes of a medical quality N95 mask are, here’s a good article to read through:
Making An N95 Mask For COVID-19 Coronavirus? What You Need To Know
So that’s it for today. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not selling these masks, just providing them locally to my family and friends as a small effort of community service. Frankly, it has been fun to resurrect my quilt fabric stash and use up all those small bits (for good). Today I just wanted to share what I’ve learned so that others can learn from my trial-and-error process.
I’ll get to that blog post about composing a gallery wall as originally planned in the near future. Until then, stay safe and sane. We have a bright future ahead, I am sure of it, and I wish you all good health. (And wear your mask when you go to the grocery store!).
Barbara Phillips, interior designer and owner of Center Stage Interior Designs, has delivered impeccable window treatments and design services to both residential and commercial clients in Massachusetts since 2001.