How to make a face mask

Photo Credit: Sarah Maker

In the world’s current climate, the sewing community have been keen to get involved with making masks, scrubs or anything that can help with the COVID-19 pandemic. Government officials recommend that surgical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders. However, cloth face coverings can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure to slow the spread of the virus. 

According to the CDC, fabric masks are a crisis response option. As health care providers and first-line responders are running out of supplies, some hospitals and clinics across the country have requested homemade surgical masks to help. So, if you have sewing abilities, you can use your time and skills for the greater good by sewing fabric face masks and donating them to your local hospitals or establishments in need of PPE. 

What is the best fabric for a face mask?

If you are looking to create face masks to donate, they should be made from high quality, 

tightly woven cotton material. Rather than purchasing new cotton fabric, if you have old clothing or bedding items at home that are in good condition, you can use these instead. Things like bed sheets, curtains, and woven shirts are very good mask materials if they are made entirely out of cotton and can be washed at 40 degrees at least.

When making fabric face masks, you should completely avoid any knit materials - such as jersey fabric - because they create holes when they stretch and could allow the small particles to get through. If you are worried about the cotton material not providing enough protection, you can use up to three layers of cotton, which adds a small increase of effectiveness in terms of germ filtration. 

If you are unsure on where to start on how to make a facemask, there are a number of different free patterns available for you use, as well as patterns for fabric headbands with buttons to attach the face masks to - these are perfect if you have to wear multiple in a day and the elastic causes irritation behind the ears. The CDC website also has various patterns which you can use. No matter which design you decide you use, make sure the mask fits well, covering your nose and chin.

Do you need to add a filter to your face mask? 

If you would like to add a filter to your masks, there are a number of different materials you can potentially use - including coffee filters and reusable shopping bags. However, including a filter is not essential and can actually make the mask harder to wear, and breathing much more difficult for the user. Not all of these filters are effective, and not all of them are safe.

We recommend using two layers of cotton fabric, which has shown to be 74% effective at filtering the air. It is important to understand that the fit of the mask is more important to its effectiveness than including a filter. You need to ensure the user is able to breathe comfortably through the material for several minutes, or it won’t make a very good mask, no matter how effective it is in terms of filtering.

What else should you know about fabric facemasks? 

  • Fabric face masks do not replace CDC approved face masks

  • As we have briefly touched upon, homemade face masks are technically not hospital-approved, which means not all healthcare establishments will accept them as donations. However, the entire healthcare sector is suffering from huge shortages, and many hospitals are in desperate need of face masks for medical care professionals. 

    Therefore, be sure to check with local hospitals in your area to see if they can use your homemade masks and if the design is suitable. Your donations could potentially make a huge difference to someone’s life - but it is essential to check these drop-off/pick-up procedures before you begin to sew. There are many Facebook Groups such as For the Love of Scrubs – Our NHS Needs You which can connect you with the coordinators for all homemade PPE, masks included.

  • It's not just hospitals that need face masks

  • Although hospitals desperately require PPE, healthcare workers in other facilities like nursing homes are also dealing with mask shortages while working with COVID-19 patients. Workers in non-healthcare roles, such as firefighters and supermarket workers have also said they would accept homemade versions. 

  • Healthcare policies are constantly changing

  • It is important to remember that this pandemic is a rapidly changing situation, and disease control and prevention organisations are continuing to update policies and guidelines when it comes to PPE and the social distancing procedures in place. Therefore, here at Fabrics Galore, we encourage our readers to stay informed on news and recommendations from their own communities before making facemasks - just to ensure you are adhering to advice from the CDC, WHO, and your local governing bodies. 

    In summary, a face mask should meet these requirements, as recommended by the CDC:

    • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
    • Be secured with ties or ear loops
    • Include multiple layers of fabric
    • Allow for breathing without restriction
    • Can be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to the shape

    How can Fabrics Galore help you?

    If you are looking for cotton fabrics to purchase for homemade fabric face masks, Fabrics Galore have a wide variety of options available to you. We understand it can be quite overwhelming trying to decide which fabric is right for this particular purpose, so please feel free to get in touch with a member of our team if you have any questions. 

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