A Mask Detour in the Time of COVID-19

So I haven’t posted anything since the “Shelter in Place,” “Safer at Home,” orders came in three weeks or a month ago (I’m starting to lose track!). I keep reading about people being bored stuck at home, binging shows and doing puzzles. And I get that—they’re not used to being at home all day, and what was keeping them busy, isn’t now. However, that is not my experience. I worked from home already, so with my daughter and husband now at home all day, too, I feel as if I have less time to do the things I want and need to do everyday.

Then came the realization that we all really should be wearing masks when we go out. But there are no masks for purchase at any stores. So, like a lot of other people with a sewing machine, I decided to make my own.

I may own a sewing machine, but I am not exactly a seamstress. I attempted to make a dress, a simple dress, mind you, when I first got the sewing machine when I was in college. It did not go well. I didn’t attempt another article of clothing until many years later when I turned an old duvet cover into a simple dress for my then four-year-old. In the interim, I used my machine only to make duvet covers from flat sheets. It was great because if I couldn’t sew a straight line—no one would ever notice!

Since making the dress for my daughter, I have broadened my sewing skills to include window seat cushions.

What I’m saying is, when I decided to join the ranks of home made mask makers I had little real skill and few supplies. So I can’t say I have been turning out tens of masks to donate, but I have made masks for my family and friends.

My foray into mask making started with the no-sew masks my mom’s boyfriend gave us, like this one: https://youtu.be/Mgp7DSGN33k

Because of the many folds, the fabric is quite thick in front of your mouth and nose (which likely make it more effective). Unfortunately, my husband found it too stifling and asked if I could try sewing one that might be more comfortable.

So I started looking at different styles. I didn’t have any elastic other than the hair ties that came with the no-sew masks from my mom. I also only had the fabric from those same masks. So my initial plans for masks was very small.

I came across two basic mask styles: the pleated one and the, for lack of a better word, tailored one. There are a ton of videos describing how to make one or both of these styles. The first one I watched had both: https://youtu.be/xL8ctct0Dz4

I showed it to my husband and asked which style he thought he’d like better, and he chose the tailored style. So I followed the link that Millie and Chloe provided for the pattern to the tailored mask. This seemed like a good style choice and the pattern included a pocket to add a filter, which since the mask would only be two layers, seemed like a good idea. 

The link took me to the website Craft Passion, https://www.craftpassion.com/face-mask-sewing-pattern/, where a face mask pattern from 2013 had been getting quite a lot of recent activity and updates. Including the free patterns, there was a video and lots of photos showing how to make the mask, including how to add a nose wire sleeve and a link to a post about how to make t-shirt yarn that you can use as ties instead of elastic for the mask. This last bit appealed to me since I didn’t have much elastic.

Before I got very far in this project, I happened upon an article in Refinery29 about the best materials to use in face masks (https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2020/04/9653771/cdc-surgeon-general-makes-face-mask). This was really interesting and very good timing.

The article talks about how the best materials are ones that are at least 180-thread count, with those willing to sacrifice 600-thread count pillowcases, in the best position. For those of us with less refined sheets, or who don’t know the thread count of the material at hand, the article had a valuable tip: hold the fabric up to a bright light; choose the fabric that lets through the least amount of light. And layers are good. And coffee filters.

So I held up the fabric from the no-sew masks and I could see the shape of the light bulb through it. I started wondering what thread could my pillowcases were when I suddenly remembered some extra fabric I had leftover from making a feather-proof pillowcase. Because it needs to keep feathers from escaping to help prevent allergies, it is really tightly woven. Sure enough, I couldn’t see the lightbulb through that fabric. So I decided to make that my liner. 

So I made some masks. It took a long time because the tailored nature of the mask means that there are different sizes for men, women and children. But, I discovered I could get ten tailored masks out of the fabric from the no-sew ones, and I had enough of the feather-proof fabric for that, so I made three masks for my immediate family, then offered some to my parents and my brother and his family. 

It took me almost two weeks to make those ten masks. My parents and I liked the masks, too. My husband, however, didn’t. He didn’t like how it felt when he tried to talk while wearing it, and the way the ties contracted the edges of the mask as he pulled them tight was affecting the fit.

So I decided to try the pleated version for him. By now I was out of the feather-proof fabric, so a filter pocket would be especially important. Also a nose wire to help keep the mask in place. Because of his issue with the way the ties worked on the tailored mask, I wanted a pattern that had the ties as fixed points on the corners of the mask instead of loosely pulled through a channel on the sides. And because I didn’t want to fuss with trying to make bias tape, I didn’t want a pattern that called for that.

I looked through a lot of videos before I found one, by Priscilla Jones, that seemed to satisfy all of my concerns: https://youtu.be/OxvB9xNrzfE

So I had a new pattern to try, but no more fabric. But that didn’t stop me—I used an old table cloth! Fortunately, my husband is not picky about colors because his new pleated mask is covered with pink sweet peas. 

But at least he likes this one. And as an added bonus, I can make one in less than an hour, from start to finish! So I’ve now offered all of my friends a mask.

Now that I’m just about out of fabric again, it might be time to get back to my regularly scheduled activities, and start working on my novel again.

One thought on “A Mask Detour in the Time of COVID-19

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