How to DIY a Covid-19 Face Mask

Monday, April 06, 2020
If you read the Little House on the Prarie books, you'll know what I mean when I say I felt like Laura today as I repurposed fabric to use for face masks.

Common practice among pioneer women was to carefully take apart a dress that had faded, and then sew it together again "inside-out" so it looked like a new dress.

I've been self-quarantining myself for the past two weeks. Today I saw on Facebook that our local urgent care clinic is happy to receive homemade face masks. That's all I needed to hear, and I went to work.

I am sharing these tips with you in case you, like much of the world's population, are sequestered and want to do something to help. Case histories from other countries show that face masks help people from infecting others. Even if you are not sick, a mask, even a simple one like what I am making, will give you some protection.

The Center for Disease Control now recommends using a mask when going outside your home into settings where social distancing is difficult or when caring for someone with the coronavirus.

Wearing a mask will also remind you not to touch your face, an important part of the overall plan to slow the spread of the virus infecting millions of people. For my prototype, I made my first mask from fabric left from covering some chair cushions. You can actually see the chair behind me in this photo.

Instead of ties, that I thought would be bothersome, and possibly get all tangled up in the washer, I opted for elastic. You can order elastic on Amazon, or you might have some if you sew. Otherwise, you can cut the elastic out of the edges of an old contour sheet. If you recently purged a closet of clothing you don't wear anymore, perhaps there is an elastic waistband in that bag of clothes you've been meaning to take to the Salvation Army.

Using an assortment of fabric patterns
makes it easy for people to know
which mask is theirs. In some cases, I flipped
a fabric over to the backside to create variety.
  
It's recommended that you choose fabrics that are all cotton or cotton/synthetic blends. The fabric's weave should be a tight one in order for the mask to screen the small viral particles.

If you hold it up to bright light, you should be able to see just some light through it, and also to be able to breathe comfortably through it. The cloth used for good quality pillowcases and bedsheets will work.  Each of my style masks is made of two layers of fabric.

I watched and read quite a few DIY face mask tutorials, and then adopted the style and methods that made sense to me -- simple procedures that produced an effective yet comfortable mask that was easy to put on and remove, and easy to wash and reuse.

I didn't want to use elastic loops or hairbands that looped around ears. That seemed uncomfortable to me. I use a sleep mask every night, a mask that has two elastic strands across the back, so I figured that two large loops of elastic that crossed in the back of the head would be comfy and secure.

I encourage you to make a few masks of your own, so that after one use, you can carefully remove it, and then launder it and dry it, either in a clothes dryer or -- better yet -- outside in the sun and fresh air.

If you plan to make more than just a handful of masks, set up a system to make the process go quickly and smoothly. Gather all the supplies you need. Cut the rectangles and match them up. Cut all the elastic pieces. Then start your sewing.

It's comforting to make masks for those around you or people in your community. Since I started writing this post, my local library announced it is starting a drive to have people in our small town organize to make masks at home to provide for residents here. I'll be giving them my masks today. 

I cut my fabric rectangles (9 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches) on the bias because I knew it would
drape better and therefore hug a face better, just  like the dresses Hollywood
designed for starlets in the 1940s movies. Bias-cut edges are at 45 degree angles
to the woven edge of a bolt of cloth. Bias-cut fabric is easier 

to work with and more forgiving than "straight-of-the-goods"
fabric. The above photo shows a dish towel I repurposed.  
I traced around the paper pattern I made from a grocery bag, and then cut out two
fabric rectangles. I wanted to make the front and back of the mask different
so anyone using it would always have the outside away from the face. The fabrics
I used had been in my house for over a year and had been washed, so I knew
they did not harbor any virus. I leave groceries I pick up at the supermarket drive-up
in the garage for 2 days, so I felt confident using the grocery bag for a  pattern.
This photo shows the elastic pinned ready for sewing. I crossed the pieces 
so they would help the mask stay positioned on the head. 

I took a few machine stitches in each of the four corners,
to secure the elastic. Then I pinned the two rectangles together,
making sure the elastic was positioned correctly. 
This is how the mask looked after it was stitched around the
four sides, leaving a gap to turn it right side out. I clipped the
corners to reduce the bulkiness, but I don't think this was really necessary.
Once I turned the mask right side out, I topstitched around the entire edge, then made three pleats on each side
of the mask, making sure that I didn't stitch over any elastic.

The pleats on both sides need to lay in the same direction.  
This is how the pleats looked on another mask I made, keeping the pleats spaced
so they don't overlap one another, because that would make it difficult to stitch through
multiple fabric layers. On this mask, I used some thin elastic cording I had.
These are some of the masks I made for local health care people.

Once you are comfortable stitching up these masks, you'll want to make some for family members, or neighbors, or local health care workers who are on the front lines of defense. What better way to use your time, channel your creative energies, and recycle scrap fabric and thread you already have as you shelter in place? These masks can even be sewn by hand. If you have only rudimentary sewing skills, this is one time your handiwork will not be judged! 

Remember to follow CDC guidelines, wash your hands often, stay home, and don't touch your face. Wear your mask if you have to go out. By wearing a facemask, you'll be encouraging others to wear one, and doing your part to halt the pandemic.

Stay safe, so we can all return to a new, better normal. 

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