Making Face Masks

At the time of making these masks there was no government directive that we should all wear face masks in public to contribute our bit to the anti-coronavirus effort. However it seemed a good plan to be prepared. Also it was fun to get out my old machine (a 21st present in 1968) and start sewing.

The first thing to do was to find some patterns and instructions on the web. There was plenty to choose from, and they all had at least two layers of fabric. The most basic style that I considered was fabric cut off the bottom of a T shirt in such a way that the mask was a double layer with tie strings. Other versions had pleats so the mask fitted properly round the nose, mouth and chin and could either be hooked over the ears or tied behind the neck and over the back of the head. My preferred pattern includes a pocket into which can be inserted an extra layer or two, possibly including something that is not woven.

Home-made face masks are not a way to stop the wearer catching anything. What they do is to slow down the transmission of germs from the wearer to other people.

I looked for suitable fabric stored in a drawer of ‘oddments’. It had to be a fairly tight weave, safe in a hot wash and ironable at the highest temperature. There were many different materials, from sheeting and curtain offcuts to denim and an old shirt.

I put all the fabrics in a hot wash, dried them outside and ironed them. To shape each mask over the nose it is necessary to insert a short plastic coated wire, and plant ties are perfect for this. I also needed elastic (or rubber bands) to loop over the ears, and/or tapes to tie behind the head. I found enough elastic and rubber bands for the 20 or so masks that I made first and made tapes by machining long strips of fabric. I ordered a number of items online, including thread and elastic, so I could carry on making masks as the weeks go by.  There has to be a disposable side to this. If masks are contaminated washing and ironing is fine but there will be times when it is better to bin them.

Here is the old sewing machine, threaded in white cotton.

I used two patterns.  The first one had two outer layers and two layers of lining. I used cotton fabric for both the outer layers and the lining (although in the instructions it suggested the lining should be a non-woven material).

The other pattern was a single piece of fabric, folded in half and sewn in a way that allowed the space between the two layers to be used as a pocket. Here are three denim masks at different stages of construction using that pattern.

Here is one of these masks photographed in a different light hence the colour change!

To the back of the photo below is a pile of ironed and folded fabric waiting to be used.

Ironing seams, pleats etc after each stage of sewing is a good idea. Here the seams for the lined version are pressed ready to insert the nose wire.

Lay wire on the lining, along seam, fold over and stitch in place.

Then it was time to pleat the mask.

And press the pleats flat.

Sewing down the edges of the pleats is done with either a long piece of tape/fabric that extends to form ties that go behind the head, or a short piece of fabric that provides a casing along each side of the mask for elastic.

If you look very carefully at the back left of the photo, the most distant curtain matches the blue grid mask!

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