Mask Making

Wear them for me, please

New research shows that wearing masks makes a difference. But we all have to do it!

According to the BBC’s Science Focus Magazine:

The widespread use of face masks keeps the coronavirus reproduction number below 1.0, and prevents further waves when combined with lockdowns, new research suggests. A modeling study from the universities of Cambridge and Greenwich indicates that lockdowns alone will not stop the resurgence of COVID-19. Researchers say even homemade masks with limited effectiveness can dramatically reduce transmission rates if worn by enough people, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

Leo's homemade mask I have a blast making my own masks. It makes me feel like I’m doing something to help the fight against Covid-19. I even bought a sewing machine (the inexpensive Bernina Bernette b35, now sold out everywhere!) With a little practice you can make a mask like mine.

It’s taken me a while to perfect this mask, but it’s become my favorite because

  1. it’s relatively easy to make
  2. it’s convenient to wear and take off
  3. the fit is snug and almost airtight
  4. it’s effective
  5. most importantly, it’s comfortable!

I started with this video then made some improvements:

One of the nicest features of this mask is how you tie it. There’s one length of cord that goes around your neck and ties at the top of the head.1 It’s effectively a drawstring which helps fit the mask snugly as you tie it. The neck loop is handy because you can take off the mask but leave it hanging around your neck for quick donning.2

I’ve made some changes to the mask that make it more comfortable and, I believe, more effective.

First the materials. In the video the designer recommends two cotton layers with a filter pocket. I tried this using high-thread-count cotton for the outer layer 3 and old t-shirts for the inner layer. The t-shirts are soft and comfortable but the pouch opening hits right at the mouth and kind of bothers me. And adding a filter layer (I tried vacuum cleaner bags and paper towels) really reduces breathability. This is key; if it’s not easy to breathe in a mask you won’t wear it.

After reading about research from the American Chemical Society about the effectiveness of various materials for mask making:

One layer of a tightly woven cotton sheet combined with two layers of polyester-spandex chiffon – a sheer fabric often used in evening gowns – filtered out the most aerosol particles (80-99%, depending on particle size), with performance close to that of an N95 mask material. Substituting the chiffon with natural silk or flannel, or simply using a cotton quilt with cotton-polyester batting, produced similar results.

I decided to eliminate the superfluous filter pouch and replace the t-shirt cotton with silk charmeuse. It feels better, it’s simpler to sew, and the breathe-ability is excellent. Come winter, and yes I expect us to still be wearing masks this winter, I’ll replace the silk with flannel. I’ve ordered some chiffon to experiment with, too. I’m going to try using it as a middle layer between the cotton and silk.

peel and stick tin tiesTo help seal the nose area I use peel and stick tin ties, the kind used to close up coffee bags at the grocery store. I experimented with these by ripping them off all our coffee bags, but it turns out you can buy them by the hundred on Amazon, so no more open coffee bags at the Laporte house.

Sealing the nose well is important for mask effectiveness and to keep my glasses from fogging up. If I’m not wearing glasses I’m wearing protective lab goggles. Keeping the mouth, nose, and eyes protected from aerosolized virus particles is the goal here.

To soften the edges of the mask and block leaks around the outside, I have started folding all four edges in over a narrow strip of cotton quilt batting.

Two of my most recent designs

The batting adds some structure and softness to the edges and, as I learned when I used it as a layer in one of my masks, blocks air nicely. The mask on the left is for my mom. At 87-years-old she finds it hard to tie the string behind her head so I replaced it with elastic.

These masks are light, comfortable, and breathable. I don’t have any evidence that they’re more effective than any other mask, but I like to think so.

Want to make your own masks? Here’s my shopping list:

Make ‘em, wear ‘em and remember, I wear a mask to protect you; you wear a mask to protect me. ❤️

UPDATE: Further evidence that masks really do work. Two stylists at a Springfield, Missouri Great Clips continued to cut hair while they had coronavirus but they infected no one. From CNN:

The clients and the stylists all wore face coverings, and the salon had set up other measures such as social distancing of chairs and staggered appointments, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department said this week.

Two Missouri hairstylists potentially exposed 140 clients to coronavirus

Of the 140 clients and seven co-workers potentially exposed, 46 took tests that came back negative. All the others were quarantined for the duration of the coronavirus incubation period. The 14-day incubation period has now passed with no coronavirus cases linked to the salon beyond the two stylists, county health officials said.

Either masks, hand washing, and social distancing work or, as one former tech journalist of my acquaintance says, the virus is a mere chimera. Considering 120,000 people have died of the “chimera” in three months, I’m going with the masks.

  1. I use a 60 inch length of soft cotton clothesline rope. You can also use paracord or this really cool Bohemia ethnic thread a listener recommended. ↩︎

  2. This freaks out some people because they figure the outer part of the mask might be covered with covid. But if it is, then so is my shirt, hair, etc. The trick is to keep the virus from your mouth, nose, and eyes. So wash your hands after you touch the mask. And if you’re that worried strip down when you get home and hop in the shower! These masks are not used the same way masks would be worn in a hospital. In a medical setting the mask is designed to protect the medical worker from an infected patient. We wear our masks to protect others from us. They also help keep us from touching our face when out and about. ↩︎

  3. I use quilting fabric from Sewing Arts in Santa Monica. A fat-quarter bundle can make 40 masks and costs as little as $50. The patterns are really nice, too. ↩︎