The CDC is now advising that everyone wear a cloth face covering in public. With so many resources on fabric masks available now, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. Whether you are looking to purchase a ready made mask or make your own, here is a round up of my favorite resources.
I have been doing A LOT of reading about fabric face masks and have made & donated about 100 masks so far. What follows is solely my opinion based on what I have read & learned through trial & error.
Disclaimer ... Fabric face masks are in no way a substitute for medical grade masks and if worn for long periods of time studies have show that moisture can get trapped in the fabric mask and create a moist environment that bacteria & viruses love. So, NO fabric face masks are not the ideal solution for our front line doctors, nurses and health care professionals fighting the coronovirus, but they may help slow the spread of the disease among the general public. So, in my opinion, get yourself a fabric face mask for your grocery store runs or pharmacy pick ups and leave the medical grade equipment for the professionals.
Which pattern do I use?
There are hundreds of fabric face masks tutorials & patterns out there, with more being uploaded every single day. I have tried out about 5-8 different patterns (links provided below to my favorites), but the one that I have landed on as my favorite is the CraftPassion mask. The pattern is very versatile with options for elastic or ties, an optional wire nose insert and several different sizes. It is comfortable to wear and provides great face coverage.
What is the Best Fabric to use for cloth face masks?
100% tight-weave cotton is your best bet in terms of breathability, comfort and protection. You can use high quality quilting cotton, bed sheets, old t-shirts, flannel pajamas & dress shirts. Take a look around your house/closet and you will probably be able to find something that will work.
**PRO TIP: Use 2 different fabric prints for the two layers in order to make it easy to distinguish the INSIDE of your mask versus the OUTSIDE because you never want to accidentally put the Outside of the mask on your skin after it has been worn.
How many layers should a mask have?
Remember, you have to be able to breath comfortably through the mask, so most folks are recommending 2 layers of good quality cotton fabric plus a filter layer. All of the different patterns that I have chosen to make include a pocket for a disposable filter layer that you can throw away after each use.
Some patterns include 3-4 layers. If you choose a ready made mask or pattern with that many layers be sure to try it out for 15-30 minutes at home to make sure you can breath comfortably in it.
What can you use as a disposable filter?
According to a couple different studies (see the section at the end for more reading if you're up for it), your best bet for a household filter is a cut up vacuum bag with a hepa filter. I have not owned a vacuum with a filter bag in over a decade, so this was not something I had laying around the house. Your next best bet is the Blue Shop Paper Towels. These have become hard to find recently, so don't worry if you can't find those. You can also use ordinary paper towels, tissues, coffee filters or even tissue paper.
Which is better - Ties or Elastic?
This has become the great debate of the day! If you try to shop for elastic right now you will likely find that it is VERY hard to find or way over priced. (Some folks are using hairbands cut in half instead.) Personally, I have made only tie-on masks for a few reasons. First of all, I did not have any elastic on hand. Secondly, I have read that ties will hold up better in the long run to being washed/dried on high heat over and over again, whereas elastic will start to degrade. Ties will also fit a wider range of head sizes. From personal experience, I find the tie on kind much more comfortable to wear than the elastic. Even when I doubled the recommended length, I found the elastic uncomfortable on my ears, but that could be a personal preference thing.
If you want to do ties, you have a lots of options. You can make your own bias tape (if that's your thing). If you're like me and making bias tape makes you crazy, you can use cotton twill tape, cotton ribbon, shoe laces or (my personal favorite) t-shirt strips or t-shirt yarn. (Learn how to make your own t-shirt yarn here. )
Buy A Ready-Made Mask
Mask by Pretty Clever Words
With craft shows, classes and workshops cancelled, many makers find themselves without their regular income during this difficult time. Many are using their skills to create fabric face masks for purchase. If you are able to purchase your own mask, please help support a maker in your area! Here are a few that are selling masks for a fair price. Feel free to message any of them with special fabric requests as they would all be happy to work with you.
No Sew Face Masks
Don't sew but still want to make your own mask? No problem. Lots of ingenious folks have come up with patterns and ideas for no sew masks.
- CDC No-Sew Mask with a T-shirt & Rubber Bands
- Epidemiologist Designed No-Sew Mask
- Terry Fojas's Wire & Shop Towel Mask
- hundreds more on Youtube
Beginner Friendly Sewing Patterns
Just getting started sewing? There are several great beginner friendly mask sewing patterns and tutorials available. Here are a few to check out:
- The Deaconess Pattern(includes a video tutorial as well)
- Sewing Seeds of Love 5-Line Pleated Mask (video tutorial)
- Maker's Habitat Mask
Need help making pleats? Here are a few cool tips and tricks to speed up the process.
Adventurous Beginner/ Intermediate Sewing Patterns
Done some sewing and ready to tackle cut pattern pieces and darts? Here are a few great patterns that are more form fitting to the face.
- Craft Passion Mask (This is my personal favorite)
- The Olson Mask (Here is a step by step tutorial for making this mask)
- AB Nurse Pattern (designed to go over N95 masks to help them last longer)
I've got a mask! Now what?
Once you have your fabric mask, it is important to follow some guidelines on how to properly use & care for it. Thanks to Operation Covid Masks for the great info graphic!
Ideas for Donating Masks
If you would like to make some masks to donate, there are a ton of places asking for help right now. My first suggestion would be to act locally. I am keeping a box of masks on my porch for delivery folks. Through this action, my mailman asked me to make 50 masks for local postal workers. Another friend of mine is posting her masks on NextDoor for neighbors. Drop a bag of them for the cashiers on your next grocery store run....
Here is the PDF file of the stickers I am using for the bags (I print on 2"x4" stickers, but you can also print on regular paper and cut them out and insert them into the bags)
Here are a few resources to help connect you with national groups seeking donations:
- The Deaconess Hospital Group is coordinating donation requests
- Facemask Warriors
- The Free Mask Project
Want to learn more about fabric face masks? Here are some good articles and studies to check out
- University of Cambridge Study on Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks
- What are the Best Materials for Homemade Masks blog by SmartAir Filters
- Best Materials for Filter Layer by Dr. K Kwong (HK Mask)
- Blue Shop Towels can Filter Particles 2-3x better than Cotton
- What is the Best Material for Masks? from the NY Times