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Make Your Own Cloth Face Mask

July 6th, 2020 · No Comments · Children, City Library, Main Branch, News, Teens

With masks now strongly recommended by NH pandemic guidance, and many businesses requiring them, you may be figuring out how to make your own. The very first step of mask-making is deciding what pattern to use. This is, of course, the most difficult step! It depends entirely on the purpose of the mask and the preferences of the wearer. I’ve made and tested a bunch of free patterns for you and will discuss their strengths and weaknesses. While these are all free some may require that you sign up for a newsletter, make a $0.00 purchase, or join a Facebook group to obtain the pattern.

If you’re making masks for donation, your choice of pattern is simple: whatever the recipient organization is asking for. Manchester has three major medical providers each asking for a different pattern because their teams have determined what will best suit their needs and resources. These needs may change, so please check the latest updates to their websites. Dartmouth-Hitchcock is asking for surgical-style masks with no pocket. The Elliot Hospital needs masks with filter pockets. The Catholic Medical Center is in need of covers to extend the use of N95 masks and headbands to protect workers’ ears from the mask straps.

If you’re making masks for yourself or other individuals then personal preference will have the greatest role. But there’s so many patterns it’s hard to narrow down the field! Ultimately any cloth mask is better than nothing and the best one is one that works for you. Remember that the goal of this type of face covering is to be a barrier to droplets, not to filter the air you’re breathing. You may find that the ubiquitous surgical-style pleated mask works just fine! But if you want to get a bit fancier, try some of these patterns.

My family all wears glasses, and we found that the Elderberry Blossoms pattern had the best fog reduction. It uses a soft band of stretchy knit cotton along the top of the mask as well as a nose wire. This combination worked like a dream! I highly recommend altering any pattern you use to include this nose band. We did find that this particular pattern is tight on the nose and mouth, but it includes many children’s’ sizes.

In contrast, the roomiest mask design was from Made By Barb. This Darth-Vader-like design is so comfortable! There’s zero pressure on the tip of the nose or the mouth. This would be a great design for those who feel claustrophobic or short of breath in a mask. A close second was the Suay design which leaves plenty of room around the mouth.

If you’re just starting out sewing, the absolute easiest pattern to try is the Pretty Handy Girl Best Fit Face Mask. This pattern also has the least fabric waste but despite the name we didn’t find the fit particularly exceptional. However, it is VERY easy!

If you really want to focus on filtration, we found that the only design with a good seal was the University of Florida’s Prototype #2. This link goes directly to the pdf file. This small but well-fit pattern is tight, uncomfortable, and completely seals around the face.

What about securing the mask on your head? Any of these designs can be modified with either ear loops or ties behind the head. Most call for quarter-inch-wide elastic, but that’s in short supply right now. Fortunately there’s many alternatives! For ties you can substitute fabric bias tape, cotton twill tape, or strips of t-shirt yarn. As far as length goes, a single mask will use 40 to 60 inches of tie material. Plan accordingly!

Many people have been dealing with irritated ears or masks that just fall off due to single-sized ear loops. It can be easier to just tie a knot and get going! I recommend two different ways of making ties. One requires a casing (a tube of fabric on the edge of the mask) but the other can simply be four 15” lengths of tie material sewn to each corner of the mask. If using a casing, you can make a single 40-42” tie and pass it through both sides of the mask. This will make a loop and a single tie closure.

There’s also several ways to make adjustable ear loops if you don’t have stretchy elastic available. By adding ties to only the top corners of the mask and adding tight loops to the bottom edge, the tie can be drawn through the bottom loop and adjusted as needed. Pony beads can also make a tightening mechanism; by threading the first normally, then putting both ends of the tie through a second bead from the same side, both ends of the tie can be secured to the mask. Perhaps the easiest method is often used to make adjustable bracelets: just tie two sliding knots. (In the example photos colored yarn was used for clarity; yarn is not an appropriate material for ties.)

One of the keys to avoiding dry eyes and foggy glasses is nose wires. These wires can be adjusted to form to your face and create a better seal, preventing your breath from blowing into your own eyes. If your mask pattern allows for removal of the wire you can use steel – just remember to take it out before washing or it will rust! For this reason I recommend aluminum. It doesn’t rust and it’s less likely to cause an allergic reaction than copper jewelry or electrical wire. Nose wires can be purchased pre-cut or you can make your own from 16-gauge aluminum wire. To form the nose bands you’ll need a wire cutter to snip the length you need and needle nose pliers to curl the ends safely. You can find those tools at most craft or hardware stores.

For the material of the mask itself it’s hard to keep up with all the latest recommendations for fabrics and filtration. However, if you’re making masks for a hospital, your selection is simplified: use only 100% new cotton. Hospitals sanitize the masks at a temperature that will melt polyester. Check what materials are in your thread as well as the fabric! Most all-purpose thread is poly or a poly mix. If the thread melts, the mask will fall apart.

Ultimately, when selecting fabric for your personal use, use your best judgment. The CDC does not currently have guidance on mask materials. Remember that the purpose of the mask is to prevent droplet spread and not to filter out airborne virus. (COVID-19 is not airborne.) Two layers of cotton works well, and so does an outer layer of poly/cotton blend and an inner layer of cotton. Duck cloth is extremely difficult to breathe through and tulle won’t stop a single droplet, but just about anything between those two extremes will be perfectly adequate. If you’re shopping online and can’t check the fabric in person just look for quilting cotton. Always pre-wash the fabric in hot water! Cotton shrinks and it’s better to get that shrinking out of the way before cutting and sewing.

Wearing a mask is straightforward. Keep your mask over both your mouth and nose. Touch the mask as little as possible. Definitely don’t eat or drink through the mask, and don’t take it off to answer the phone or talk to someone! Wash your mask between every use. It’s best to have 2 to 3 masks per person so that you can go out with a clean one on and a spare for if the first mask gets damp. Remember that wearing a mask is not a substitute for physical distance and hand washing.

Above all, stay safe.

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