How to Start Batch Sewing Fabric Masks Right Now
The sewing world has risen to the challenge of these troubling times and an army of sewists are working day and night to get fabric masks to those in critical need. It is truly inspiring to see the selflessness and dedication of my fellow sewists. While all of us are in shock at the lack of PPE available for healthcare workers and other frontline essential personnel, we have put our sewing machines to work and raided our fabric stashes to help meet the need in any way we can. I’ve never been so proud to be part of this community.
However, the sheer amount of patterns out there is overwhelming and the contradicting information on best practices seems to change daily. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but there is no truly perfect pattern out there. These are all “better than nothing” types of solutions at the end of the day so don’t worry too much about which exact pattern you use.
The best advice is to ask the facility that you are sewing for exactly what they need and want and go from there.
Many hospitals are now requesting their own patterns and some are even providing their own preferred material called Halyard. Most other facilities just request simple surgical style masks made from 2 layers of quilting cotton.
In general, there are two types of masks being made: surgical pleated style and contoured shaped style.
The most popular patterns of each kind are probably the Deaconess/ AB and Craft Passion patterns, respectively. Many people have found the deaconess small, however, and have increased the size of the rectangles to 7″x 9″ (I did). I’ve been sewing a variation of surgical pleated style for donations and have been making Craft Passion masks for my family and friends.
For all my masks I include a filter pocket and a channel for optional nose wire.
I have elected not to permanently sew the wire in since I’m not sure how the donated masks will be washed and if they would hold up. And for masks for friends and family, I figure they can spend the extra minute to take out a wire before throwing in the washer (and then subsequently washing their hands).
Filter pockets are really helpful options to have on masks and depending on the filter material used the efficacy of the mask can greatly be increased.
Blue shop towels (now sold out most places) were shown to have great filtration. Some people have also used coffee filters and dried baby wipes as disposable barriers. Some of the most effective filters are being cut out of air filters, but the safety of those is unknown. Vacuum cleaner bags should not be used as some have warned that they may contain fiberglass.
I ran out of elastic a while ago, and indeed many hospitals have started asking for masks to be made with cotton ties anyway so this is what I’m doing. Hospital donations are getting 100% cotton binding (not bias- just straight grain) straps and I’m saving time by cutting strips of jersey knits to stretch out and use for ties for all the rest of the masks I’m making. I also don’t bother cutting the fabric (just rip it) or pressing the binding (sew and fold at the machine) and that saves a lot of time.
It’s also been requested that the front and the back of the masks be made of different materials so that the front is easily identifiable.
In lieu of different materials, some people have marked with sharpies which side is the back. This is so that people don’t accidentally contaminate themselves by putting their mask on the wrong way when rushing to put on a mask.
Here is a youtube video I made that shows how I modified the pleated surgical style mask to have different fabrics for the front and back, an opening for a filter, an optional nose wire channel and how I apply the binding at the machine without any previous pressing, etc. There are also some tips on how to sew to avoid flipping inside out and how to pleat at the machine. It’s longish so I included time stamps so you can skip around to the section you want to see. 🙂
If you’re thinking about making some masks and haven’t started yet, don’t worry about perfection, just get started and make some for the people in your circle and community that need them.