The US Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) has again gone on the record with updated mask-wearing recommendations, stating this month (November 2020),“wearing a mask not only protects others from your expelled respiratory droplets, it protects you as well,” In addition, standard personal prevention practices are also still important, such as: hand washing, staying home when sick, maintaining social distancing of 6’.
The CDC stresses that medical-grade masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should still be saved and directed to the frontline healthcare workers who need them most. This message is targeted in particular at the N-95 masks. The CDC states that this type of mask is considered a critical PPE supply and must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.
Be wary of the look-alike N95-type masks being sold with exhalation values. Experts say these may actually make things worse because they concentrates your breath into that valve, allowing it to come through with some force and the droplets may travel a little farther.
The general population is encouraged to use DIY items. Makers are the best! The call goes out, and we’re ready to help. As the testing of face covering options continues, DIY mask makers should be encouraged to hear that two to three layer fabric mask is still one of the most protective options.
There are several key things to keep in mind about DIY masks:
- Use a high thread count cotton fabric with a tight weave. When held up to the light, you should not be able to see the outline of the fibers.
- Several health experts, including Dr. Vin Gupta from the University of Washington recommend mixing the type of fabrics in the layers to increase the protection. For example, using a high thread count, tight weave cotton as one layer is a polyester blend as the second or third layer. Another highly touted fabric is silk.
- Use at least two-three layers. You don’t want to sacrifice breathability as that is more likely to make you want to take off the mask.
- Insert a polypropylene layer as a filter between the fabric layers. According to the CDC polypropylene “may enhance filtering effectiveness” because it creates a triboelectric charge — or in simple terms, static cling.” That electrical static traps both your outgoing respiration and any droplets headed your way from others. Washing kills the electrical charge, but don’t worry. A brisk rub between your fingers should bring back that “clingy” charge.
The importance of caring for and cleaning your DIY Face Masks
All DIY fabric masks should be laundered in hot, soapy water after every use! Put them on AND take them off using the stretchy ear loops or ties; don’t touch the front of the mask. Then immediately wash your hands. ALL the mask tutorials are fast and easy; make several for each person in your household so there’s no temptation to wear them more than once before washing.
Carrying hand sanitizer with you is also a good idea. You may need to make periodic adjustments to a mask or take it off when eating. Having hand sanitizer with you means you can always have clean hands to tighten your mask or to pull it back up.
Sew4Home has designed a cute Face Mask Zipper Pouch designed to hold your favorite face mask plus a spare as well as additional protective supplies in the outside pleated pockets, like gloves and wipes. Best of all – it’s a beginner friendly project that is the perfect next step for all those new sewers out there who are ready to step up from mask making to a fun, new project. Click for the free pattern.
An August overview article in the Wall Street Journal did a good job of laying out all the studies made over the summer. As mentioned above, it is impressive that handmade masks perform so well. One particularly interesting note from the article states, “For an added benefit, rubbing the outer layer of the mask with a latex glove before donning it creates static electricity—which Stanford researchers believe can better prevent virus particles from passing from the mouth to outside of the mask.”
We developed this resource article as a central collection point for links to free patterns and other information for making Masks, Scrub Caps, and Gowns. The article debuted on 03/23/20, and we’ve updated it frequently since then and will continue to do so, adding new tutorials and resources as we come across them.
Demands are different in various areas, so please continue to posts your comments below with tips, suggestions, and local needs/news from your city/town/state/country. Let us know if there are particular requests from local healthcare professionals, what you’ve heard regarding the best materials and tutorials to use, where the donation collections points are, etc. Together we can make a difference.
Below are twelve face mask static tutorials, including our own No Sew mask
A few notes about fit from Scientific American: A DIY mask should fit without gaps and fully cover your nose and mouth. The most comfortable option is for the mask to be tucked under the chin. Take special care to ensure a snug fit across the bridge of the nose. If your mask doesn’t have a flexible wire built in, you may be able to fashion one from a pipe cleaner, a tie from a coffee bag or even recycle the flexible wire from a used paper mask. If the mask is on correctly, air should pass through it rather than around it.
Here are nine video tutorials we liked on YouTube + Vimeo:
A NEW template from Creative Grids: we were impressed with the shaped mask template in hard plastic offered from our friends at Fat Quarter Shop. It has markings for several sizes, seam allowance, etc. There’s an included video tutorial.
Video Credit: Images below are from the DIY Covid-19 Fabric Mask with Filter Pocket and Stretchy Cord video tutorial, showing interfacing inserted into a pocket as added filtration.
Another item that is easy to pull together from fabric you have on hand is a hair cover, also known as a scrub cap or skull cap. We found three free tutorials for you to check out. Because elastic can be rather hard to come by these days, we specifically looked for tutorials that did not specify it.
In addition, there are home healthcare workers who prefer a “buff” over a traditional scrub cap as a hair cover. We already have a great S4H project for our version of this versatile head scarf. This type of buff – also called a neck gaiter is NOT recommended as a mask replacement nor is its fabric cousin, the bandana. Neither offer enough protection.
DIY gowns come in two basic styles. One is more smock-like and more likely to be used by patients or less-at-risk care staff. The other style is called an isolation gown that covers more thoroughly and tightly with elastic around the ends of the long sleeves and a much higher neckline. We were only able to source one reputable free pattern for each style. However, you can purchase commercial patterns from a variety of sources. Bear in mind that gown construction takes much more fabric – usually 2+ yards.
Early on, there were a lot on concerns about whether DIY masks were even appropriate to make. There was conflicting information from news sources, the WHO, the CDC, and local governments about what could and could not be used. As mentioned above, that is no longer the case. Since April, the CDC and others have been advising the public to wear cloth masks in public spaces. A face mask continues to be one of the best ways to cut down on airborne respiratory droplet spread. Wearing a mask in public also keeps you more aware of not touching your own face.
As mentioned above, medical-grade masks and other PPE should be directed to the front line healthcare workers. The rest of us should focus on DIY solutions. We certainly understand that DIY items are not likely to be used within critical care situations, but they can help within our personal environment.
For the power sewers out there, after making masks for yourself and those around you, extra masks can provide protection for people who don’t have anything. Remember – there is a wide range of workers and others who need the masks, so while the DIY variety is unlikely to go to surgical staff, hospitals and other care facilities are still welcoming donations to help protect admin personnel, janitorial staff, nursing assistants, people delivering meals, and more.
Speaking of these amazing folks on the frontline, we were blown away by a recent article from the University of Florida Health’s Department of Anesthesiology. A professor there created a simple respirator mask from the sterile wrapping that is normally used to surround surgical instrument trays before they pass through gas sterilization or an autoclave. This material comes in 4′ x 4′ sheets and is typically discarded after surgical instrument trays are unwrapped and before coming into contact with patients. About 10 masks can be made from one sheet.
“The innovative mask uses Halyard H600 two-ply spun polypropylene that cannot be penetrated by water, bacteria or particles. It blocks 99.9% of particulates, making the masks about 4% more effective at blocking particulate material than the N95 masks, according to Bruce Spiess, M.D., a professor of anesthesiology in the UF College of Medicine, who made that calculation based on the manufacturer’s specifications.”
The image below shows two of the prototypes created from kits being developed by UF Health. They hope to take it across the country as nearly all facilities use this same material. We don’t know when or where the kits might become available but wanted to bring this brilliant re-purposing idea to your attention so you can be on the lookout in your area. Here is a link to the full article.
Family members and friends of the Sew4Home Team are currently working on the front lines of this healthcare crisis. They mince no words when it comes to describing the turmoil, and they are just as vocal when it comes to their appreciation of the help that is coming from all corners of the country. From one nurse, “It’s so heartwarming to see how people are trying to help and understanding what we are up against…please let everyone know that it is so appreciated, not just for the physical product, but the emotional support … beyond measure!”
In the photo above, S4H Seamstress Team Member, Debbie Guild models the latest mask she made for local donation.
Where Can I Donate?
In terms of where to donate, that is changing daily, and we will continue to search for and post any news we find. At the moment, we know that most Joann Fabric stores are acting as donation collection points. You can also follow the hashtags #millionmaskchallenge and #millionmaskmayday to find programs and projects around the USA and the world. And, if you know of donation points in your area, please comment below. The more information out there, the better!
We read a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter that explained how in Los Angeles – where most film and television projects are on indefinite hold – IATSE’s Theatre Wardrobe Locals, the Hollywood Costumers Local and Costume Designers Guild are leading an effort through which its members will sew protective masks for immediate distribution to health care facilities. That is maker re-tooling at its best!
There are social media groups that operate as clearing houses to share information and build community. Mask Makers and Face Mask Warriors on Facebook are both strong options.
Finally, if you know of people within your own circle who may have purchased commercial face masks, gowns, wipes, etc. and are keeping these extra stores for themselves – or worse, to sell at a profit — PLEASE encourage them to do the right thing and donate these supplies to healthcare facilities where they are needed the most! This is not the time for profit over people.
In the comments below is a specific request for masks in the Midland, Texas area. If you are in the area, please take a look. Thanks go out already to Cheryl Baltz to answered the call immediately.
NEWS ARTICLE: This article on a Sewing Army Making Masks appeared on 03/25/20 in The New York Times. We found it particularly heartwarming and it made us proud to be a part of the Maker Community.
REQUEST IN UTAH: We received an email on 04/08/20 from a visitor in Utah with a request for mask donations. The Gail Miller Homeless Resource Center in Salt Lake City is looking for help. In you are in this area, you can reach out for more details to: HHernandez@ccsutah.org.
Resources + Links for Supplies
If you are looking for fabric, we were impressed by the outreach of one of our S4H sponsors: Fabric Wholesale Direct. They recently donated 500 yards of clear vinyl material over to Providence Health and Services in Seattle. This fabric allowed the staff at Providence to make emergency face guards to protect the health care workers. In addition, because FWD is a direct manufacturer of quality fabrics, they have been able to provide the large quantities of cotton fabrics that healthcare workers and hospitals are needing right now to make face masks and other PPE gear. They also sell direct to you, the individual consumer.
Some mask making supplies, especially elastic, have been hard to find at the retail level. Our friends at Fat Quarter Shop recently notified us that they now not only have elastic available, it comes in a rainbow of cool colors! See their full range of Galaxy Notions elastic spools here.
And, we were contacted by the Xpand shoelace company who sent us some of their elastic shoelaces as an elastic alternative for masks. What a cool idea. You can find out more here, including about their own Xpand mask tutorial.
Below is a chart developed by Researchers at Cambridge University who tested a wide range of household materials for homemade masks. To measure effectiveness, they shot Bacillus atrophaeus bacteria (0.93-1.25 microns) and Bacteriophage MS virus (0.023 microns in size) at different household materials. This is a helpful starting point when determining what to use for your DIY face masks.
When working with quilting cotton, we have heard suggestions to look at batiks because they have a tighter weave and a higher thread count. Yes, even with two layers, it is still breathable.
Additional Filtration Notes, Links + Comments
This fabric company in Pennsylvania produces specialty fabrics that align well with the current need for DIY masks. They have produced several informative articles about their fabrics in general and filtration fabrics in particular as they relate to mask making. We do not have direct shopping experience with this company, but found their information to be helpful, thorough, and detailed. This link takes you to their specific post about filtration materials. From there you can browse to other resources.
One of our visitors commented below about using a maxi pad as a filtering insert between the layers of a mask. Many of the patterns listed below that feature a pocket recommend interfacing as a filtering layer.
Here is an article we found by a person who tested using HEPA filter material. In this case, the person took apart a thin furnace filter. Others have suggested cutting up HEPA vacuum bags. It’s been noted to make sure you are not using a filter that might contain fiberglass as that can be harmful to your lungs.
We have not found any definitive information on paper-based filter options, such as coffee filters. Some anecdotal comments emphasize that paper might not be best because it retains moisture as you breathe.
Let us know, in the comments below, if you have tried any of these options (with success or not) and/or have heard of other positive alternatives.
Remember, DIY masks are not some magical method for keeping us 100% safe. Social distancing and hand washing are still just as important.
Although the recommendation says “everyone” should be wearing a mask remember that cloth face coverings should NOT be placed on children under age two. Never put a mask or any other face covering on an infant or an incapacitated adult who is not able to adjust or remove the mask themselves as this could compromise their ability to breathe.
Again, don’t forget to leave a comment below with your local information, experiences or other information to share. No negative comments, please. Our goal is collect resources not moderate disagreements. There is no one perfect solution, but if we work together, we can come up with multiple ways to help.