Updated with photos and links to more patterns on 26 July 2020 – scroll down.
This blog post was written and published on 18 July 2020. Wearing face coverings everywhere outside the home became mandatory on 23 July 2020.
I’ve had quite a few friends ask me about making masks, so am putting together what I have discovered into this one blog post for easy reference. As many of you know, Melbourne is currently in it’s second lockdown period while we attempt to prevent further community spread of covid-19. This time around we’ve been asked to wear masks when we’re in public places where it might be difficult to keep a distance of 1.5m from other people. So those of us who know how to sew have been sewing.
The Victorian government have some mask guidelines. It is acknowledged that reusable masks are a help; they are scientifically shown to reduce the chance of transmitting the virus (mask wearing is more about protecting others than about protecting yourself). We’re not pretending that they’re going to be quite as effective as properly worn and used medical grade masks, but every little bit helps. There’s a good discussion about masks here and here on the Coronacast podcast.
Personally, I don’t like wearing these masks, for a plethora of reasons. But I will wear masks when out, and my whole family have been, because it’s our responsibility to work together as a community. We must do what’s needed for the common good at the moment – to state the obvious, it’s a pandemic!
As you would imagine, a plethora of patterns and tutorials are available for a variety of masks in a variety of styles. I’m not covering everything in this blog post. Google is your friend (other than google that leads you to conspiracy theories or articles that prefer to ignore science in favour of politics). It is clear to me that different people prefer different styles of masks – it’s quite individual and possibly depends on face shape and size. They also have different fastening preferences. You do you. There are three main types of reusable masks:
- Flat with some pleats (like a fabric version of a surgical mask)
- ‘Origami’ style
- Fitted/shaped (I think they’re technically called Olsen masks)
I’ll go through each type with links to patterns that I have tried.
Clare quite likes the flat with pleats style. This tutorial gives you an outline of how to sew them. I found that there was less bulk if I sewed separate casings on to each side rather than turned the sides in to form casings because of the bulk of the pleats.
Clare and I like masks where there is enough fabric to sit flat against our face and nose once we’ve put our glasses on the top of them. They’re loose enough at the sides so that we can breathe relatively easily (fabric masks are not meant to have a tight seal the whole way around; it’s a balance between fit against the face and comfort – which includes breathing, unsurprisingly).
The mask in the photo above didn’t work well for Clare – the elastic is too wide and pulls against her ears. You can see the pleats though. The next style that we tried was a fitted/shaped mask. We tried a few patterns. The Dhurata Davies pattern is very popular on Instagram. It has darts for the nose and the chin. But you can see in the photo below that this one fogged up my glasses straight away.
We had much more success with the Twig and Tale panel mask. This is Dan’s preferred style and pattern.
This one has a pocket in it to add a filter if you’re keen (we’re not adding them at this stage) and has a wire to shape around the nose bridge in the top. I used three plastic coated twist ties together for the wire – I found a heap of them in the bottom of a kitchen drawer. Different people use different types of wires to aid in shaping the mask to their nose bridge. I actually prefer my masks without the wire, but Dan likes it in his.
Other fitted/panel style masks that others have recommended include the Marfy mask, the Mimi G mask, and the Craft Passion mask. Many of these mask patterns have associated YouTube tutorials. The Ann Benson mask also looks interesting, but I haven’t tried it.
My preferred style of mask is the origami type of mask. Actually, the very first mask that I sewed was the Aplat mask!
I then moved on to the Summer Face Mask tutorial, which is on YouTube. This is one that I have used quite extensively.
A similar pattern is the 7 Pine Design origami face mask, and once again there are a plethora of YouTube tutorials for this style.
I also gave this contoured orgami-style variation from the Japanese Sewing Books blog a go, in foiled denim for a bit of farshun.
So, there are some patterns for you to consider. I also experimented a bit with fabrics throughout my mask sewing ‘journey’. I have ended up with a preference for three layers of fabric as a maxium. Maybe something like a twill or a denim or a medium weight quilting cotton for the outer, a lining type fabric or a lightweight knit for a middle layer (you can leave out the middle layer), and something soft and cotton for the inner lining layer (like flannelette or smooth cotton). I find that flannelette is good as it absorbs the moisture from my breath before it has the chance to fog up my glasses.
Then you need to consider how you want to keep the mask on your head. What works best seems to depend on your head size/shape, and your hairstyle! Elastic cord works well for Dan’s masks, but the girls and I prefer ‘t-shirt elastic’. These are strips cut from lengths of cotton/lycra knit about one inch wide, that you then pull and it rolls inwards. These work well for ties around the back of the head and for ear loops (the girls prefer ear loops).
I have my fingers crossed that I never have to sew another mask again. I intellectualised the process in order to make it bearable. There’s no way to deny that we’re in a pandemic when you’re using your favourite hobby to sew masks because of it. Anyway, I hope that this blog post proves useful to some readers. To finish off with a giggle, my family had a few seconds of mask-related fame on breakfast tv this week.
UPDATE: 26 July 2020
So, we’re now a few days into mandatory mask wearing, and Melbourne, I must say that I’m impressed! Almost everyone had a mask on at the supermarket on Thursday morning (I assume that those who didn’t have an exemption for medical reasons). Although it is still a bit confrontingt to me to see everyone in a mask, and it’s still a bit uncomfortable for me to wear one, I am sure that we’ll get used to it very quickly. Cutting transmission of covid-19 is so important; it’s worth the relatively minor inconvenience. And it’s been interesting to see all the different masks that people are wearing! This tweet pretty much sums it up 😉
This mask has become Clare’s favourite. It sits up nice and high across her nose and cheeks, so that her glasses hold it flat to her face and there’s no warm breath escaping out the top to fog them up. No nose wire. The pattern is by Iris Luckhaus. She has a number of variations of what she calls the Hybrid face mask. The first version can be found here: the ones that I have been sewing are called the Hybrid Nose2 mask, and can be found on this page. I like this one as it comes up higher on the nose rather than sitting on the tip of it – but like all masks, it really is each to their own. Iris writes very detailed posts about masks; she includes information on different mask types, ways to tie a mask, why her mask works well, and the instructions and patterns are excellent. They come in a number of sizes, and the customised hybrid masks include nose masks, chin masks, beard masks, and information on adapting the pattern for different width faces. That said, I am only making the one style – it seems to work on many people.
I’ve actually sewn thirty-four of these – who’s counting 😉 – to give to family and friends. I am roughly tracking how long it takes me to sew a fabric mask. Mine are three layered masks. I reckon that it takes between twenty and thirty minutes to sew a mask. When you factor in the cost of equipment and supplies, the skill of the sewer, their time, and the need to make a profit, I am not at all surprised that hand-made masks are selling for around $25 each.
As far as ties are concerned, it’s all about knit fabric ties for me! There is a tutorial on how to make there here if you’d like one, but it’s pretty simple – cut a strip of knit fabric (preferably one with a bit of spandex) about one inch wide, then stretch! The edges curl inwards. When giving masks to others I tend to leave the ties long, so that they can go around the back of the head and be adjusted to fit. If that’s not what people want they can simply cut the tie in half and turn it into ear loops (that’s how I do them for Clare and her school friends; the ear loops are their preference – I suspect so that they don’t interfere with their hair styles). I tie a simple knot that the recipient can easily adjust to their own preference and trim off any excess. And if they prefer a different type of tie, it’s easy to replace when the mask has casings rather than ties that are sewn in.
This mask pattern piqued my interest because I liked the use contrasting fabrics! I saw it on a tutorial by Marie of Stitch Odyssey on Instagram. She’s done an English language version of the original YouTube tutorial by Romilda Dias, which is in Portugese. I added an additional layer of fabric to the centre panel to make it three layers as per our health department recommendations (I use a synthetic lining fabric for it’s electrostatic and slightly water repellent qualities).
This one is certainly easy to sew, and it is satisfying to play with coordinating and contrasting fabrics. However, we still need to see how it goes for long-term wear. These are shirting cottons.
We have a few commercial surgical masks in the glove box of the car for those times when we forget one of our fabric ones (we also keep hand sanitiser in the car). I wore one briefly to collect some take-away food and my glasses fogged up within moments, and pretty much stayed that way! For anything other than very brief wear I’m definitely going to need a fabric mask.
Clare takes a zip-lock bag to school with her to put her used masks in. When we get home from being out we go straight to the laundry and pop our masks into a lingerie bag. The bag then gets tossed into the wash the following morning (I do at least one load of washing each day, so it’s nothing extra). I shake and smooth each mask into shape, then hang it on the ends of the clothes horse to dry over a heating vent. Once the weather warms up again I’ll line dry them. I do then give them an iron to keep the pleats in place and the mask as comfortable as possible for wear. You need a few masks per person so that you know you’ve always got a clean one.
I’d also like to draw your attention to another mask pattern, this one by Pattern Union which is designed for scuba type fabrics. It can be hand or machine sewn. I’m at peak mask making fatigue now, and am not going to try it, but I’d be interested in feedback from anyone who does. And now I’m very much looking forward to getting back to sewing FUN things.
UPDATE: 28 July 2020
Style Arc have released a free Olsen style mask pattern, available here. I haven’t tried it yet, but their drafting is generally excellent. It comes in four sizes, so should work for many people.