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Are You Sewing Face Masks for Healthcare Workers?

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smcfarland | Posted in Techniques on

I started this thread for everyone to share information. I know many sewers are looking for tutorials, fabric specifications, and donation instructions for face masks to help protect healthcare professionals as they care for Covid-19 patients. 
Please be aware that fabric face masks do not protect against the virus. I wanted to be very careful before I shared any information, but I have heard from a number of reputable sources that fabric face masks can hinder droplets, and are better than nothing in this crisis. If medical organizations are actively seeking masks, we can sew and provide them as a community.
The first place I’ll suggest to go for information is WeNeedMasks.org . It is a website created by Janice Blasko of the Sewing and Craft Alliance and the American Sewing Guild. It explains efficacy of fabric face masks, offers a tutorial to make them, and connects health organizations seeking mask donations to the sewers able to create them. 
Where are you finding trustworthy information and tips about making fabric face masks? Are you having difficulty sourcing materials? Do you have photos of your face masks to share?

Replies

  1. Taunton_Web | | #1

    What fabric would be good for sewing face masks is my question - doesn't it have to be special? Can you use things just found around the house?

    1. Susan68 | | #3

      Tight woven quilting cottons seems to be the standard direction. I want to know if a silk liner is a good or bad idea.

      1. CarolFresia | | #4

        Hi, Susan68,
        Check this link, where there's a graph showing the relative protection offered by a variety of materials. Silk is at the bottom of the list, so it's probably not your best choice. If you prefer silk for comfort against the skin, you could add a silk inner layer over the two layers of other, more protective, materials.

        https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/best-materials-make-diy-face-mask-virus/

        Carol J. Fresia, Threads Senior Technical Editor

        1. Susan68 | | #5

          Many Thanks. It is really difficult to sift through accurate info and inaccurate info. One study spoke to using ties (cravats) when faced with Sarin Gas. Garh! I want to be helpful but I don't want to waste my time with junky, or worse, ineffective, patterns and materials.

          Any thoughts on what the dish towels were made of in this study? Or the weave? Linen? Cotton? Even weave? Waffle weave? Garh!

      2. user-7669417 | | #22

        being a nurse i would say no silk. i am using old white sheets with a high thread count. 2 layers on inside with quilt cotton on outside.

      3. user-4959166 | | #40

        Bad idea,silk is not a breathable material

  2. User avater
    mayo1 | | #2

    To all - I am a physician and sewer who is trying to take the lead locally re providing masks for our local medical community here in Canada. I have been reviewing any and all available research on the most effective designs and materials for making these masks. I am happy to post what I have found and would appreciate any further information that anyone else can identify.

    A few key points -

    To be effective masks must fit well, block extremely small particles - > 1 micron, and be relatively easy to breath through. Being waterproof would be nice - but most of these fabrics are not easy to breath through.

    We are looking at 3 different uses for our masks, which will likely have different designs and materials.
    Masks for patients to wear to try to contain respiratory droplets
    Washable covers for N95 or surgical masks which can be changed between patients to decrease surface contamination and prolong wearing time for N95s
    Masks for front line health workers to wear in low risk situations or when no other option is available.

    Some key points to consider -
    Reusable masks must stand up to sterilization techniques - high temps/bleach solutions etc - therefore regular elastic for straps/ties is useless, as is most stretch fabric although this gives better fit.
    Centre front seams as seen on some patterns provide a major opening for viral particles to enter - not a good idea right in front of the mouth and nose
    The more densely woven the fabric, the better it is at blocking smaller particles, as is multiple layers of fabric. However, denser fabric harder to breath through.
    Tightly woven cotton - pleated and or with multiple layers likely the best option if planning to be reusable. We are thinking that our patient specific masks will be give to the patient to take home - and can be washed by them along with other "contaminated" household items, therefore, does not need to be as robust as those used by healthcare workers.

    What I am trying to find out at the moment is if anyone knows the properties of non-woven fusible interfacing particularly to block smaller particles as I am wondering if adding in 1-2 layers of moderate weight fusible might help to further block some particle transmission without adding further weight of extra fabric layers. I have not tested to see how this affects breathability through the fabric - but this is something I can check. - aside - everyone should probably make a test mask and try wearing it for an hour or so just to make sure they are comfortable breathing through it as well.

    I would greatly appreciate any information or data that anyone has or is able to get on this issue - as well as any data on transmission of micro particles for other types of fabric. A couple of studies I reviewed recommended using between 1 - 8 layers of heavy weight t-shirt fabric - although not sure how much added benefit the 4-8 layers provide.

    Will update this discussion with results of further research when available if others are interested.

    1. user-7449007 | | #6

      Hi. A sewist in Canada. I volunteered with some groups to assist by sewing with no uptake so far. Would be happy to help.
      I know PHAC has 80M units coming Incessantly, Canada Goose and a few other sportwear companies have retooled for face visors with some already for HC approval. ACanadian construction equipment company is working on ventilators. This should help somewhat.

      I think the idea of using the home made mask for patients going back home is great.

      Again, a sewist here willing and able to help.

      1. charlieriley819 | | #14

        I personally can't breathe well through fusible interfacings of any kind. I have moderate-to-severe asthma. If I can't breathe easily through it, I'll panic, and won't wear it, which is defeating the purpose. That's obviously anecdotal, not data, of course, but this might affect other asthma patients and those with COPD.

    2. user-7455951 | | #17

      I gave up on the idea of perfecting a mask that could be donated to hospital workers. Our local hospital is a member of a large system that categorically won't use them. If donated, they store them in case they are in dire need. However, there are so many applications. Providing to patients as they go home is one, homeless people, hospice workers, nursing home workers, friends and family.

      I make a casing and insert a 3/8" flat wire that fits nicely around the nose area. Also, I found some non-woven, sew-in interfacing from Overstock.com. Each mask has a cotton front and back fabric and the interfacing. I think it works well and is breathable. I chose not to use fusible interfacing because the adhesive would be irritating. I had some muslin which I am using for the back fabric. It is a bit slippery which is annoying. However, I like using up my stash of remnants so I sew carefully.

    3. User avater
      Deefeatherock | | #18

      I reviewed the study as well. They were too vague with the quick study .the Dish towels from what I could decipher were the Waffle Weave cotton type. I remember back in the 1960s we would get a bolt of 100% "linen dish towel fabric" and bolts of Muslin of various weights. My Dad was an EMT/Paramedic and Served as A Medic During the Korean War. We had Community Emergency Training Day. So my Dad taught how to make triangular bandages, roll bandages Face Masks. So I've been working on Medical Masks for my Family and friends who are In the Trenches of NYC they asked me to make PPEs for them. So they have given me the honor of Making the Customized Requests for PPE. I will post the updates. . . .

    4. User avater
      Deefeatherock | | #19

      See my comments below. We are thinking alike I'm looking into a cotton that has a Teflon finish to prevent staining it it a light wt upholstry fabric.

  3. User avater
    smcfarland | | #7

    We heard yesterday, Monday, March 30, from LetsSew.com that they have elastic for face masks in stock.
    They are still shipping and selling elastic for face masks through their web site and expect more to come in this week and next. They are selling the elastic without an upcharge to make it available to the sewing community.

  4. user-2044997 | | #8

    I tried 2 patterns. The pleated ones using bound edges require a LOT more time. The best pattern I have seen comes from here:
    http://www.fabricpatch.net/face-masks-for-covid-19-relief.htm
    There are videos at that link plus a pdf pattern you can print to use.
    Advantages of this pattern: fitted at nose by sewing in a bendable wire, no bound edges.
    She recommends OlyFun nonwoven as the liner.
    Narrow grosgrain or twill tape used as ties saves sewing time too.
    photo attached showing non-preferred pleated mask and preferred shaped mask in 2 sizes

    1. User avater
      mayo1 | | #10

      FYI - there is a reason for those pleated patterns - and why the commercially produced surgical masks are designed the way they are. The best blocking filter material in the world will be far less effective it it has seams down the middle of it - these holes are far larger than anything in you material - same goes for pin holes. Think about sewing waterproof garments and apply similar principles - pin only in seam allowances or use clips, masking/painters tape etc. I have altered my pleated pattern to be constructed from a single piece of material, that uses serger-finished edges before it is pleated, folded and finished. This provides more surface area to entrap particles while still being able to breath through the mask. Please, please what ever materials you are using - try wearing one of your masks while you sew the next one. If you find it hard to breath through - so will everyone else.

      1. user-2044997 | | #13

        Please share your pleated pattern when you are able to do so. I see your point about the seam being a hole. It was the binding I disliked in the pleated pattern I tried. Thanks!

      2. user-5073078 | | #36

        Hello,
        Here is a video about using interfacing and why this works for masks. You may have to wade through a bit before you get there. She is saying that the coronavirus particle is .1 micron. Cotton makes the mask breathable and interfacing (nonwoven) keeps the coronavirus particle from passing through. There is still the issues with the hole in the masks from sewing though. However the masks can be used for a cover for the N95 if nothing else. https://www.youtube.com/watch?
        Let me know what you think. v=v8HNYKvlaN8&list=PL8ogtz_4Y8NJEHG5FbyWl1zA8m9NXZHwW

    2. user-7551409 | | #20

      I made one using that pattern but the needle holes up the front would let a lot of particles in. I stopped making them.

  5. JanieG | | #9

    BSewInn in Tulsa,OK has info on lining that is 74% more effective.

    1. User avater
      JenSSews | | #11

      Can you please pass along the lining information? What material are they recommending?

  6. user-7575792 | | #12

    Hi All,

    I've been sewing masks here in Philadelphia, PA. They have a website that they continually update with research as they get it. Here's the link: https://www.sewfacemasksphilly.com/ Hope this helps!! Keep sewing!!

  7. 141Load | | #15

    Sorry All;

    Check out FOR A NURSE BY A NURSE on Instructables, these fit over the N95 to lengthen life.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MSyjcbr90E for her tutorials.

    Thanks again!

    1. user-7669417 | | #23

      that's what i did. knowing i would not have the available fabric for a super mask my goal was to increase the life of the N-95 mask my son is using. my masks can be disinfected and re-used.

  8. 141Load | | #16

    Hello again:

    I think my first post disappeared:) Check out Wazoodle.com , and their Blog for Face Mask fabrics; hospitals around the country have been ordering from them. I use their fabrics for my daughters with severe auto immune diseases (MAST cell). Also I found Filti.com from an instructional video. They have a nano-tech 3 ply fabric. Sell to those who are making face masks. Have a wonderful day!

  9. user-7669417 | | #21

    my son is a lab tech at local hospital. said he had been using his N-95 mask x 1 week. i found a duck bill pattern (made it larger for my 6'5' son) and he liked how it fit. i am now making more masks for other lab techs. this pattern was modified d/t the gaps that occur. i used double fold elastic to bottom for a snug fit and no elastic around ears!...it hurts after awhile. i used 1/4 to 3/8" elastic around neck and head. 3 layers- 2 inner layers from old sheets and a colorful layer on outside.

  10. k_lo | | #24

    I've just started sewing masks to help in this fight against the pandemic. I'd like to share this website that I found very helpful and that answered questions about best fabrics to filter particles. This is the most scientific approach I've seen to date. The recommendation? Specific brands of blue shop towels!
    https://www.businessinsider.com/homemade-mask-using-hydro-knit-shop-towel-filters-better-2020-4

    1. KristinP5 | | #25

      My husband says to be careful with those blue towels - some of them contain reagents for detecting acids and would be harmful to wear.

  11. user-7558248 | | #26

    I am making masks for friends who want to wear them when they go out or who are immunocompromised. I tried the shaped fitted mask which has a nice look but needs to be sized SMLXL. I wanted a mask the anyone could pickup and wear and that was washable. The pleated mask fit the bill, the pleats can be opened to the desired size. And the ties are adjustable to any head. The first one were done on my sewing machine 3 layers 2 fabric one Non woven interfacing. They had too many steps and were very bulky to pleat. I realized I could use my server. Cut all pieces 9 x 8. Fabric wrong sides together with interfacing sandwiched. Serve along the top and bottom 9” edges, make pleats, serge the sides to hold down the pleats, makes ties from the 44” width of fabric with selvedges, use # 25 tape maker or #18. Center 44” strip, stitch from center to ends backstich leave selvedge Done.

  12. user-2044997 | | #27

    There is a very interesting youtube video here
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZBbkn-g-vE

    Her "winner" pattern is here:

    https://anest.ufl.edu/clinical-divisions/mask-alternative/

    This mask was designed by MDs at the U of Florida and was the only pattern that passed a fit test done by the MD "Sewstine" in the first video. It was designed for use by medical personnel using a material available in hospitals, a fabric used for sterilizing instruments. The edges are not finished as this does not ravel. However, it looks like an interesting pattern that perhaps can be adapted to other materials perhaps using a serged outer edge.

  13. jxa213 | | #28

    Has anyone tried gathering the surgical style masks instead of pleating? Wouldn't that be easier/faster to do?

    1. k_lo | | #29

      The nice thing about pleating is you get to. adjust the size of the mask to fit from your nose to under the chin. If gathering on the sides would allow the wearer to adjust the size and have it hold at the needed (unique) size. it should work well.

  14. user-2044997 | | #30

    SUAY MASK PATTERN NOW ONLINE FREE

    https://suayla.com/pages/suay-community-mask-coalition

    You can download a pdf of the pattern. The pdf includes filtration data for several choices of materials. I am going to try this one.

  15. PetraQ | | #31

    I've actually written a post on this topic based on my country's experience with sewing face masks for hospitals for over a month now: https://www.creativemom.cz/before-you-sew-a-face-masks-for-frontliners/

  16. Brindale | | #32

    This is an insightful thread, I' m planning to sew masks too. I gained new ideas from this thread.

  17. user-7674192 | | #33

    Made over 350 masks from landscaping fabric .Donated all to volunteer firehouse people.

  18. nobodyhasthisname | | #34

    I'm using the pattern suggested by Fabric Patch as well - but have been using 4 layers of cotton to provide more protection. I have not tried the Pellon #930 interface she suggests in between t2 layers of cotton as it just arrived today. I'm wondering if the extra layers of cotton in the center seam will make up for the center seam potentially allowing virus to enter? (somebody mentioned that in this string) So far, I've been sharing with friends, family, my doc's office. http://www.fabricpatch.net/face-masks-for-covid-19-relief.htm

  19. Poppymom | | #35

    Hi,
    I have been making masks and donating to essential workers and friends. I used quilted cotton with two different prints(front and back). I started using a light wick which kept the face dry from moisture and also the Pellon interface which both liners are easy to breathe. I have been using 1/8 elastic but now hard to find.
    Everyone loves the masks due to the fact l am using bright colorful prints.
    I also didn't forget the furry friends community. I have so many ready to finish and hope elastic order comes through so l can donate more masks to anyone who needs them.

  20. user-6610318 | | #37

    I have made 210 masks from the stash I had at home. I use the Strip go cutter because it allows me to cut up to 6 layers at once with only one pass, that is equal to about 8 masks cut at once.
    They are easy to make but remember to slow down your sewing machine when you get to the thicker corners, I broke two needles before I realized what worked. Men have longer faces so the standard 10 inches works best for them.
    Thank you and happy sewing.... There will be no more complaints as to why we have a stach of fabric in the closet of the house :)

  21. TBIRedrover | | #38

    After considerable research into the best materials and searching through innumerable patterns I have been making fabric masks for myself, friends, Neighbors and essential workers for use out in public.
    Was quite relieved to find I had a choice of excellent Fabrics and quantity of materials on hand just waiting for a good use.

    It took some time to locate a pattern that could incorporate all the key points necessary to approximate or better than a surgical mask - which I have no access to and having used them in the past in the medical field absolutely abhor.

    Requirements were no leaky Center seam, low maintenance both laundering and needing no further adjustment with head movement once in place, not interfere with vision or glasses, fit close to face with no gaps, comfortable enough forget wearing it even in tropical heat, as much of a challenge for pesky virus molecules to get in or out and still breathable through and heck, why not look good too.

    Fabrics I'm using are high quality cotton with a smooth finish typically chosen for functional quilts, very dense twill and brushed flannel along with some boring remarkably light tight-woven fabrics I've used to interline garments. (Have held every scrap and length of cotton I have to my tropical midday Sun LOL, more than once.) Additional filtration with non woven fusible and non-fusible interfacing (so stiff and thick it's like cardboard) in the pocket, loops are 1/32 inch elastic cord. Nose crimp is 18 gauge aluminum wire on lightweight masks and a coated 10 gauge wire (garden twist tie) on those with twill both stitched down on the seam allowance. To improve conforming to face without the aggravating tension behind ears stitching a small section of 1/4 invisible (very thin and lightweight) elastic from nose wire across cheek.
    Fusible interfacing weight is selected for how tight a weave the front and the lining are and to give substance to some very lightweight Fabrics yet impenetrable when looking through directly at bright Sun. The flannel is to absorb and contain moisture at the source. I Trace patterns on fabric with chalk, interfacing with a gel pen (and weigh them down with my diving weights LOL.)

    Many more steps than the one-size-fits-all anyone can do and I seriously doubt anyone I give them to appreciates my skills as a seamstress but once I broke down and got started (mandatory in public) have been having fun creating sophisticated finely crafted utilitarian little fashion accessories for The New Normal.
    Aloha

  22. ataraxy | | #39

    I’m surprised that the mask posted by
    user-2044997, comment #27, hasn’t had more interest. That comment notes that this mask has passed a fit test which means that it’s been tested in a medical setting by nurses with the same testing that’s done to make sure medical masks are blocking the way they are intended. The testing, done by Sewstine, is explained in the video linked above.

    I’ve made our family’s masks using that pattern. Very comfortable. For my six-year-old I replaced the ties with fold-over-elastic crossed in back of the head. I chose FOE for its soft, flat nature which is comfortable for a child. I used cotton quilting fabric for the outside and lining, but am switching to flannel lining based on studies (some of which are linked above).

    The adults’ masks have fabric ties. These masks are quite comfortable. They rise and fall as you exhale and inhale and while it’s not fun to wear any mask for a long time, these make it bearable for long walks, etc.

    I altered the pattern to use regular turned, pressed, topstitched seams along the entire outside.

    1. CMsews | | #42

      I am using that pattern, with some adjustments.

  23. CMsews | | #41

    The mask in this video (same one linked in comment #27) fits the best of all masks I've found. Most others leave a gap on the cheeks.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZBbkn-g-vE
    (If you're nervous about clicking links, on YouTube, search "I sewed and fit tested four different face masks" on "Sewstine" channel.
    On that video, she has template you can download and print in the 'show more' of the video. University of Florida’s Mask Page - with the pattern
    PDF of the pattern
    https://anest.ufl.edu/wordpress/files/2020/03/PROTOTYPE-2-TUTORIAL.pdf
    I glued it onto a piece of cardboard

    I use 2 layer's of quilter's cotton with a fusible interfacing to give it enough body to hold the shape. I used twill tape for the straps. Elastic is easier to put on and off, but harder to fit and more likely to slide off people with straight/shiny hair.

    What I have discovered is that in the first few weeks of quarantine, I could use whatever scraps I had and people were ok with that. Now people want a more attractive masks. So for the outer layer, I use a light fusible interfacing on a bandana fabric, which seems universally popular with men and young people, but is pretty useless as a filter (and without the interfacing, the fabric is so light I find it a pain to work with). I use flannel for a second layer when I'm using the bandana fabric.
    I agree with the comments that having the centre stitched seems to defeat the purpose of having used a filtering layer. I bought Steam-a-Seam 2 1/4" double sided fusible tape to seal the centre seam, then sewed "behind" it near the fabric edge just as reinforcement, but there's no strain on the seam, so it's probably not necessary.

    I sew the straps onto one of the layers, then I 'glue' the wire into place with a 'patch' of fabric with double sided fusible web. I happen to have bonsai wire in the house because it's my son's hobby. It holds and is very comfortable. Then I attach that layer to the second layer, with the ends of the straps and the wire on the inside. I stitch the 2 layers together, then sew the darts.

    For the darts, for a large face, I stitch along the lines on the pattern that are meant to be the cutting lines for the standard pattern. That worked really well for my husband's giant head. For my niece's small face, I stitched the darts a little bigger than the pattern.

    You can see in the photo that I can out the darts and the places where the straps attach. That makes it easy to mark those spots on the fabric.
    NOTE: she sews it with the seam on the outside. Everyone hates that look. It looks really "snout-like". I turn it so the seam is inside. It doesn't come near your face, so it doesn't scratch or irritate.

    I altered her template as well. The outer dimensions still fit really well, but people objected to the "snout" look of the mask. I altered the template (see attached and compare to her template) to bring the centre closer to the face.

  24. Idrivetractors | | #43

    Mine are similar to #27. They take extra time but they fit. Our hospital put out video of what they wanted and the modifications (nose wire, ties). I spent a lot of time making sure there would be no pokies from the nose wire ends. Feedback was the elastic was hard to size and uncomfortable for wearing longer; not to mention unavailable. I used high quality quilting cotton, batiks, and for inside I bought 300 count 100% cotton flat sheets. Way more square inches of fabric from the sheets and inexpensive. If you buy the same size sheets as your own bed if you have any untouched left over they are useable.

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