Making face masks was a personal priority. Wheels had medical procedures, including an artificial heart valve placement, in the last three months that put him in the high risk category. He had started cardiac rehab and was doing well. Then came a city wide stay home and I was drafted as chief rehab watcher/reporter using you tube videos and printed instructions from the real rehab therapist. And then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear cloth face coverings after we all heard much public waffling about their effectiveness. That definitely drove home the point that we needed more protection when it was necessary to go out. Other members in the family needed masks as well, so I set out to find the best face mask for high risk protection — and one that was quick and easy to make. It had to have multiple layers of cotton fabric, a nose clip for comfort and a more effective tighter fit, a method for using a disposable filter, ties to fit different sizes and not interfere with glasses or other equipment. Here’s the version I created. Plus some options, because I did try different methods of accomplishing what is needed.
Making the base of the mask
1. Select cotton fabric. Measure and cut rectangle 9 x 20 inches to make a medium mask. See options for other sizes.
2. Measure seven inches from one end and fold over. This creates a double layer, 9 inches by 7 inches. Pin in place
3. Hem the 9 inch edge of the single layer of fabric by turning over 1/4 inch. Turn another 1/4 inch so the raw edge is completely enclosed.
4. Stitch hem. Then fold over the double layer. The stitched edge will be approximately one inch from the top of the mask.
Creating a Nose Clip
1. I discovered this by accident after trying several different options unsuccessfully. I returned a plain 18 gauge wire — which was way too stiff- to the cupboard and found this 18 gauge electrical wire staring me in the face from the shelf below. It works perfectly because it is flexible so it can be pushed around the contours of the nose, is strong enough to stay, and has a vinyl coating for comfort. I chose to make nose clips removable, but this will survive several laundry sessions nicely. Removable ones can also be used in multiple masks.
2. Cut a piece 3 1/2 to 4 inches long.
3. To bend and crimp the end: Gently tug on the vinyl coating to stretch it just slightly beyond the wire itself. Bend the end over a quarter of an inch or less and mash tightly to the end of the wire. Repeat for the other end.
Sewing the nose clip casing
Using a nose clip of some sort makes the mask more effective because it holds the mask against the skin. It also helps alleviate the foggy glass syndrome caused by warm breath rising to hit cold eyeglasses! The folded casing shown on the mask above, does not require extra material. It gives an optional fit to the mask. The unstitched fabric on the ends can be folded up or down. Up gives a bit more coverage for fitting around the cheeks if needed. Folded inward it creates an extra barrier around the edge of the mask.
- Find and mark center of top edge of mask. Fold fabric over about 1/2 inch. Insert pins at 1 1/2 inch mark on both sides of center pin.
- Sew 3 inch long casing, making sure to backstitch at both the beginning and end to firmly anchor the casing. Insert nose clip made from directions above. Option: Stitch down from top across the casing to hold nose clip in place if you wish to leave it in place for laundering.
Adding pleats to the mask
Lay folded mask flat with nose clip casing at top. (Yes, this is different from the one shown above. I’ll tell you about this type of casing in the section on Options.) This method of creating pleats may seem a bit ‘”picky”, but once you master it, things do go easily and quickly.
Measure up from the bottom of the mask. Use two colors of pins — color doesn’t matter, consistency does. In this case, I used red pins to mark the measurements. The measurements are: 5 inches from bottom of mask, 3 1/2 inches from bottom of mask, 2 inches from bottom of mask. You can see how working on a mat with a one inch grid is very helpful! When those pins are placed on both sides, take pins of a different color and place them exactly one inch DOWN from the first pins.
Match the first pin (red) to the second pin (yellow) and pin pleat in place. Pleats will likely fold down ward. But if the don’t, don’t stress over it. Just make sure they all fold the same direction.
Stitch pleats in place. Trim excess fabric away so seam allowance is even and about 1/8 – 1/4 inch wide.
Adding Ties and Finishing the Mask
Cut two pieces of 1 in wide bias tape for ties. Each should be 40-48 inches long, depending on size of person using it. If you don’t know, 42 inches is a good choice. Place mask at midpoint of length of bias tape. Pin bias tape firmly against edge of mask, checking to make sure the mask fits in the center of the folded tape. Fold the rest of the tape in half lengthwise, pinning at 2-3 inch intervals. Stitch from one end of the tape to the other, carefully stitching mask in place at the center of each tie. All ties should be sewn the full length of the mask.
All masks should be washed after each wearing. When removing the mask, handle it only by the ties. Wash hands thoroughly afterwards. I keep an old pillowcase in the laundry room to collect the masks. Just toss the pillowcase in the washer and run on hot water cycle. Keep the masks in the pillowcase while drying as well. This keeps the ties from tangling.
Full disclosure: When I first researched this topic many websites recommended a third layer and then a filter. I’ve also seen information linked to the effectiveness of Scott Original Shop Towels as a filter, though more research is being done. I’m going with that information because it certainly can’t hurt for high risk needs. Filters are made from a single sheet of Scott Original Shop Towels. Fold one towel in half and cut. Fold the halves into thirds and cut. Slip one piece into the pocket on the back of the mask. Discard after one use.
When finished the side of the mask will measure about 3 1/2 inches. I knew the people for whom I made the masks so I fitted the width to their faces. Bytes and Wheels had half an inch added to the width of theirs so they are 9 1/2 inches. For the women on my list, I kept the 9 inch width. For an 8 year old princess, the width was 8 inches. (Children under 2 should not wear a mask!) It’s easy to vary the size so the mask fits well. Masks should curve over the cheeks, ending before the ear.
Fabric: Tightly woven 100% cotton works best for more complete protection. Hold the fabric up to the light. If you can see through it, add layers until you cannot or find another, heavier piece. Knit t-shirt fabric also works well, but use the same criteria. You should not be able to see through it. Pillowcases, sheets, even (non-terry cloth) tea towels will work. Again you should not be able to see light through them. And test to make sure you can breathe through the layers.
Ties: The easiest ties to make are the ones shown above, because the bias tape also finishes the edges of the mask as they are sewn. Twill tape (1 inch wide) has finished edges so only needs to be folded in half before using. Grosgrain ribbon works well, but you will need to bind the edges of the mask itself with bias tape or something similar. If the ribbon frays, light a match and just barely touch the end to the flame. The ribbon will melt enough to stop raveling. Grosgrain ridges will help hold the tie in place around the head. Satin ribbon is not a good choice, because it is slippery. You can make your own bias tape, following the directions that came with your sewing machine’s bias tape foot. OR fabric strips cut on grain, 1 inch wide and as long as you want, can also be made into ties as shown below:
Fold cut fabric in the middle and press. Fold one edge to meet crease in middle. Press. Fold the other edge to the middle and press again. Some fabrics will work well with finger pressing, others will need a medium iron. Use as you would bias tape.
To make ties from t-shirts: Cut strips 1 1/2 inches wide from neckband to hem of t-shirt. Firmly grasp each end of strip and pull hard. The fabric will roll both edges inward. Stitch pieces together on the narrow end to create the length of tie needed. Then zigzag down the middle of the tie, catching both edges of the roll with the stitches. Grasp fabric firmly behind the needle and pull slightly on the fabric as it comes through the feed dog. Pull towards you, firmly and evenly, on the fabric as it feeds into the needle. The tension on the fabric from being pulled very firmly both directions will ensure a snug tie.
Nose Clip Casing
The first masks I made had an applied nose wire casing. Using 1 inch wide twill tape or bias tape, cut a piece 3 1/2 to 4 inches long. Fold over and stitch one end for inserting and removing wire. Fold the other raw edge under and stitch around the other three edges. They worked, but I wanted simple, easy and secure. If the applied nose wire casing fits you better, go for it! The mask should fit snugly around the nose to be effective. The nose clip allows for fit without smushing the nose.
A Fitted Style
Bytes finds this mask to be very comfortable. It is snug so it makes an effective mask. But it also has enough room for his short goatee. Helps that it is made from a favorite old — and soft — t shirt! Pretty Handy Girl has excellent directions here. I added 1 inch to the bottom of her large pattern so that it would fit Bytes face better. He is also unique in that he doesn’t want the ties above his ears — just ties it tightly.
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