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.

Cotton Binding

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.

We are all in this together.

Below is a picture tutorial of my process if you prefer to read instead of watch video.

Batch Sewing Tip #1- Rip, don’t cut

Snip through selvedge every 1.5″ & rip the strips
Right sides together, sew 1″ in on either side at 5/8″ seam allowance, leaving the middle open.
At the sewing machine fold the raw edge over and under against the seam and top-stitch, careful not to fold more than 1/4″ or the opening will gap.
Fold wrong sides together so the bottom meets.

Batch Sewing Tip #2- Turn under at the machine

Sew the bottom seam at the sewing machine by folding under each edge 3/8″ and sewing.
Top stitch the bottom edge, keeping the ends taut to keep them turned under, but not pulling too much or the seam will be distorted. This method saves time by eliminating the need to flip inside out after sewing the bottom edge the usual manner.
Edge-stitch all around the rectangle at 1/8″ seam allowance.

Batch Sewing Tip #3- Pleat at the machine

Pinch the fabric about 1/5″ down and bring a 1/2″ fold under. Sew the fold down. Pinch two more 1/2 pleats, butting them against the folds above.
Sew the pleats on the other side, making sure they are going the same direction as the other pleats. (You will be sewing in the opposite direction). Pleats must face down from the top.
Fold the binding in half and line that mark up at the top of the mask (so that the ties are longer on top) and tack down the binding to the sides as shown.

Batch Sewing Tip #4- Fold & Sew Binding at the machine

Fold the edges of the binding in and sew, keeping it taut to make it easier to fold in. Refer to video for more details if needed.
Back stitch at the corners of the mask when attaching the binding.
Your mask is complete and ready for you to add a channel on top for a removable wire.

Happy Sewing & don’t forget to take time off from mask making to take care of yourself too!

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