Sunday 12 April 2020


Earlier in this pandemic, a lot of quilters and sewists got on the mask-making bandwagon and began churning out masks. My employer, however, was not "caught with its pants down," so to speak and had a good stock of both surgical and N95 masks. They were not asking for home-made masks, nor were they recommending them. The feeling was that home-made masks were not very effective in preventing the transmission of germs and could give the wearers a false sense of security, as well as possibly causing them to touch their faces more because they weren't used to wearing masks. In addition, the average member of the general public does not have annual training on wearing masks like health care professionals do. They could be doing more harm than good. So, I was taking a wait and see approach and chose not to commence mask-making production. 
However, the experts now recognize that the opportunity for spreading the virus by asymptomatic individuals is greater than first thought. And while not dictating that everyone should be wearing masks, it is no longer discouraged. They did, however, point out that wearing a mask protects others from your germs more than it protects you from theirs. So, the idea that everyone should wear a mask is probably a good one, but they really should learn how to put one on, take it off, how often to change it and what to do with it once it's contaminated. I have been encouraging people to find appropriate training online so that they can do it properly right from the start. If people are going to be wearing masks they should do it properly. 
Now I've started my mask-making by making these masks for my youngest sister. I used Leah Day's pattern because she left an opening to insert a filter. Here's her video: 
She also added a chenille stick (pipe cleaner) at the top so that the mask can be conformed to the nose. The only thing I did differently was serge the short ends of the piece of fabric from which the mask is made. Otherwise, there would be raw edges on either side of the filter opening, which could lead to fraying. The mask does gap a little at the sides and bottom, but as long as the wearer is maintaining the 2 metre (6 feet) social distancing rule, it should still be sufficient. Remember masks are not a substitute for social distancing. They are an additional precaution. 
About filters: in the research, it was indicated that vacuum cleaner bags are almost as effective as surgical masks. So, initially, I was considering the possibility of cutting up some bags to fit into the masks. However, most of us don't have a huge surplus of these around. In addition, one of my friends said that they have fibreglass in them. Not something you want on your face. Some people are using interfacing that's used in garment sewing. I have concerns about using interfacing, unless the user is going to be disposing of it each time. I have seen the results of repeated washing of interfacing. It's not likely to endure for the long haul. I had heard that coffee filters could work as well, so I decided to experiment. 

On my first shopping trip post self-isolation, I found these. There are 200 in the package  for just under $4 and they are about the right size to fit into the mask. However, I found them quite papery feeling and I was concerned as to how breathable they would be. 

So I also grabbed a couple of the coffee filters from work, on the left in the picture above. These are thicker, but more of a fibre-y feel. I don't drink coffee and I have no idea what brand they are. They are folded in half, so I separated the halves and used one half in a mask. 

The opening in the mask is only 3". If you choose to follow this pattern, you might like to make it bigger if you plan on using a filter. However, I did find that by folding in each side, I was able to get the filters in without much trouble. I then had to spend a little effort to unfold them and spread them out to cover as much of the mask as possible. The pattern actually recommends that you cut the filter down to 5" square, so that might have worked better, but I also wanted to cover as much of the mask with filter as I could. I found that I could breathe quite easily with either filter. However, if you wear glasses like I do, you must exhale gently or your glasses will fog up. I found this true, even without the filter, but less so. 
Now on to caring for your masks. I suggest carrying your clean masks in a Ziploc bag. 

If necessary, the outside of the bag can be wiped down with a sanitizing wipe. 

Change your mask if it becomes damp. When you remove your mask, only touch the elastics, not the mask itself. And once you remove it, it is considered contaminated. Don't try to remove the filter. Don't put it in your purse or on your car seat. If you look in the top photo, you will see a small drawstring bag.

This is for putting your used masks in. Pull the drawstrings tight for transporting your contaminated masks.
When you get home, take your bag to the laundry room, open the drawstrings and bag and all can go in the washing machine.
You don't need to remove the masks from the bag as the agitation of the washing machine will do that for you. Can you hand wash your masks? I don't recommend it. As mentioned above, once you have worn a mask, it is considered contaminated. All of the germs that you were trying to keep from getting into your nose and mouth by wearing a mask instead landed on the outside of the mask. So, the less you handle it the better.

I made the drawstring bag about the size of a sheet of copier paper, so started with a piece of fabric about 12" by 16", folded in half. I serged the inside seams to keep them from fraying and made buttonholes for the drawstrings. A double drawstring closes more easily than a single one. 
And back to filters. Once the bags were done in the washer, I removed the filters.
This is the coffee filter from work. 
Not sure how well you can see that, but the Melitta coffee filter turned into a ball at the bottom of the mask. However, both filters stayed in the masks in one piece. I was concerned about the possibility of them coming out and either ending up clogging the drain on the washing machine or getting filter shreds throughout the laundry. Kind of like when you accidentally leave a Kleenex in a pocket. But that didn't happen. So, it appears to be safe to leave the filters in when you wash the masks. No guarantees, however. And I did only check these two filters. 
The washing machine is pretty hard on the chenille stems. They were pretty twisted up when I took them out of the washer, so you'll need to straighten them out. And because they are not as wide as the masks, they will shift in their little pocket to one side or the other. I recommend that you stitch at each end of the chenille stem to help keep it in place, which is not in the instructions. I did this with some masks, but not all. Online, someone suggested floral wire instead of the chenille stems, which might be sturdier. 
I threw my masks into the dryer, but it likely would be better to just dry them on a rack. The dryer can be hard on both the elastic and the cotton fabric. 
One other alteration I made was to make some masks with elastic that goes around the head instead of around each ear. To do this, I used 15½" for the top elastic and 11" for the bottom. You may have to adjust these measurements, depending on the size of your head. I used ¼" elastic for this and ⅛" elastic for around the ears.
So, how many masks do you need? That depends on how often you will be changing your mask between laundering. As a nurse, my employer provides my masks, and I wouldn't be allowed to wear my cloth masks at work because they've never been tested to meet any safety standards. For the odd time that I may have to go out to buy essentials, I have made myself three masks, and that would probably be more than sufficient for most people. However, if you're working in an essential service, like a grocery store, where you will be meeting the public all day long, then you will need as many masks as you have breaks, plus two, per shift. Let me explain. Mask 1, you put on at the start of your shift. You will take that one off and put it in your drawstring bag at your first break. Remember that you don't put a used mask back on. After your break, you put on Mask 2, which you remove when you go for lunch break. After lunch, you put on Mask 3. Mid-afternoon break, you switch to mask 4. And you should have at least one extra mask in case any of them get damp or soiled. So, if you have two coffee breaks plus a meal break per shift, you should have at least 5 masks (3 breaks + 2). Unless, you don't plan on eating or drinking anything during your breaks and plan on wearing the same mask all day. 😝 And if you only plan on laundering your masks once a week and you work 5 shifts a week with 3 breaks per shift , then you would need over 20 masks - 4 per shift, plus 2 or 3 extra. And a bigger drawstring bag. I'm not the mask police, so whether or not you follow these guidelines is entirely up to you. I'm just sharing some of the principles of mask use and disease transmission that I know from healthcare.
Finally, a note about hand-washing and mask-wearing: You should wash or sanitize your hands before putting your mask on, wash or sanitize your hands before taking the mask off, again after you take the mask off, and once more after tossing the bag into the washing machine.
There you have it - my mask-making, use and care guide. 

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