Saturday, April 04, 2020

COVID-19 Face Mask Making: What Works Best

As a lifelong volunteer, sewist, crafts person, and of course quilter--I joined in a crazy huge "Salem Health: Community Hospital and Clinics" surgical masking making community project as Salem Health hospital workers created kits using small sheets of polypropylene based medical grade paper-fabric to be given out to volunteers.

Volunteers were called upon the night before distribution by social media and eventually news outlets to drive to a local parking lot and pick up kits to make masks at home

Kits included sheets of hospital grade paper-fabric and instructions  to create pleated surgical masks with ties.

We were to make them in a few days then return them at designated locations to hospital staff volunteers.

It ended up as an enormous community volunteers response event!

Photos of what ended up being a mile of backed up traffic in 3 out of 4 directions. Police were called to organize and direct car after car of us crazy sewists, crafters, and quilters.

Volunteers ended up finishing 11,000 surgical masks for Salem Health over the following week turning them in at a local parking location just as they were picked up.

Fantastic community response and effort!

The enormous surgical and N95 respirator masks shortages across our country inspired many desperate medical workers and private companies as well as a huge DIY home sewing and crafting community to join in with a tremendous surge of community spirit.

As sewists (previously called sewers) began the huge movement that was to come, Facebook, Instagram, blogs and even twitter accounts began to share their first and often daily attempts to find a mask pattern from the crazy rush everyone had to suddenly create, --we all searched the Internet, social media and even watched Youtube videos.

Most of us started sewing without even noticing much except we could follow the directions!  Forget testing them, dozens were made as tests and still given away to anyone who'd take them!  For trying them on (someone else's mask?) or waiting for the science to catch up with the passion to help in any way that any of us could. We were rocking and on a roll!

Only one willing model testing buttons on a hat as a way to wear a mask without hurting the ears.

Worked really well. No complaints !

I read through patterns with errors and viewed masks that had issues. Great  big hearts and super willing and helpful  hands were all well intended but we all learned that some things worked better than others.

We listened to the news and  knowing that numbers were increasing and masks were limited (and/or disappearing from hospital visitor stands right in front of cancer patients coming in for their often daily chemo or radiation) increasing problems for those needing them first and most.

We all felt an even greater need to start making masks immediately and many of us did. It has been an amazing experience reading and seeing so many many, many people who had not even sewn in years and years suddenly sewing like crazy and everyone sharing their materials with not only friends and acquaintances but even online group members in their or nearby cities.  Mailing envelopes of elastic or extra sewing machine needles or dropping bags of fabric off at doorsteps!

Here are just a variety of masks that came across my feeds. I included screenshots of their posts so credit is given when it was known. It helps spark ideas of the creativity of crafters everywhere, something I love and celebrate!

Please share photos in comments below that I can add to my blog post. 💜 i would love to spread the love and give credit to so many sewing heros!

Photos courtesy of social media especially Facebook 💜 When I knew the maker I gave credit but all are wonderful! 💖


Most of us use the same fabric front and back. However, nurses are now beginning to request two different fabrics. One for the front one for the inside.

Hospital or nursing home care givers who wear a mask all day long need to be able to tell which side they had out (and therefore germ ridden even by their hands putting them on if they need to take their mask off to eat, drink or whatever during the day! And which side is still clean to go against their faces.

If you can using two different fabrics really helps them to know which side they wore outside and which touched their face each day.

We can't and mustn't feel badly about donating ones early on that are now known to be problematic. We all do the very best we can and when we learn things that are better we are then able to do better!

Here is a potential idea:  

A neckroll/headband for a nurse to put buttons above ears to attach the mask too as elastic often hurts!

IF it fits tightly enough is the issues. Hard to tell by just looking at this!



A win here, one piece that becomes both ties! Ties end up being more comfortable than elastic ear pieces as they pull and soon irritate ears and lack adjustability.

An example of how to make the center opening pocket for inserting an optional filter if you have available filter option. With other suggestions for the filters below elastic options.

No elastic?

So many other options wee shown from stretchy lace from the $ store on. I assume before isolation or at lunchtime of an essential job . If you have panty hose around use those. 

The big use of pony tail elastic rounds?  ONLY IF THEY ARE LARGE MEANING LONG AND NOT THICK!  Otherwise your ears won't be able to stand the pulling forward for very long. Any kind of elastic ends up hurting eventually. Any kind!!!  The best would be unseamed cuts of 1" to 1.5" of stretchy material of any kind even if you cut up old t shirts!

In fact in a real pinch, t-shirt fabric or cut up t-shirts make pretty good masks. The knit is fairly tight and after washing shrinks even closer together!!! 

So, no cotton...cut up an old shirt. No old shirts you only wear t-shirts? Cut up the t-shirt!!! Can't cut or sew? Pull it over head and fashion a face mask as a dire solutions in a pinch! 

Better than nothing! My own husband who has access to a number of mask choices mows our field while wearing a bandanna instead!  

Mask Liners for added protection:

To create a removable liner opening or "pocket" in your mask you need a have an openingin yourmask.

Either at the top or as above with a lapped envelope style in the back piece lining meaning it has to be cut an inch or 1.5" larger than the front for those two edges to be turned under, ironed and topstitched but only for the envelope style in center! 

If it's at the top of your mask the filter liner can't be put in and then out for washing or replacing! And the mask is easily reversible. 

If its in the back center you'll just have a but of a potential opening for viral access but with a liner inside still a nice barrier in there!

What to use for a filter?

The very best is any kind of polypropylene. Think of those paper-fabric hospital masks or the complimentary reusable shopping bags that don't quite feel like fabric but are washable as well as sturdy.

That paper-fabric is almost impervious to microscopic viral particles! Strange but awesome stuff!

Commercially available polypropylene  is under various names but one is "Olyfun".  Next to impossible to find now of course!

If you have bags made of this, you can sacrifice them for the good of this cause of course! Cut them up and use any bit that's big enough!

The best washable commercially available one that easiest to find is interfacing.  Any kind of soft interfacing (only not iron on or you will permanently be ironing it in!)

Second would be another piece of cotton.  Batik is highest rated cotton fabric for both mask and when also used as a filter because its thread count of weave being tighter, is more likely to keep tiny microscopic particles of the COV-ID 19 out! 

But any cotton, any piece of flannel would help. Also if you're using a bandanna and can sew or hand sew a liner in! 

A bandanna is better than nothing because it protects your sneezes and coughs from others. A mask when well made, fitted as snugly over nose and around cheeks on down is next most important for any mask of any kind. Hard for a bandanna to do this part but tie as tightly as you can to at least get a tight fit as it hand downward! 


Sorry, I many of us already did. I even previously suggested it then had to correct myself! 

Tests showed that you cannot safely breathe through them for other than a short period of time. Not to work in!

And strangely enough for a non-washable liner that is rated the very highest! 

Believe it or not a BLUE SHOP TOWEL. (the kind found in automotive and hardware Stores) is a highly rated particle pass through resistant liner.

There are a number of brands sold. The one sold at Costco (Scott) rated 3rd but its still quite effective. You just have to make it removable and include extra liners if you give it to anyone. And they're hard to find just like most paper products.

So soft non-woven interfacing for washable liners or these Blue Shop Towels that if you have a garage or shop just might be found in there as another highly rated product.  

Otherwise, another piece of tightly woven fabric. Note: batiks are better than regular cotton if you or can find  have scraps of that. Otherwise only a notch above regular cotton which is fine. 

Here is the bizarrely wonderful blue shop towel in action!

Because if you have these towels and you have a paperclip, two rubberbands and a stapler you can not only make a totally use-able mask but one that is pretty amazingly viable as far as how well it works. 


For any and all mask making: 

Comfort and wear-ability first and safety second. 

If you can't breathe then how well is should work or how well it fits won't matter because you'd be ripping it off in a hurry!

Adding an Opening for Inserted Liners:

COVID-19: How To Make Your Own Mask - American Survival Guide

My Favorite Patterns:

This one has most of my favorite features.

1. Can be used as a hospital workers mask cover mask.
Many nurses are reporting they wear two masks if they have them hoping to keep their inside N95 or surgical mask clean underneath a overing mask and this one is big enough to cover one.

2.  It uses a continuous tie system. More secure and well fitting and puts far less pressure on aching and tender ears after wearing a mask day after day much less week after week after week

Only thing i would change would be to add a full even potentially reversible lining with a filter pocket in the back center.
I love the nose fits so well for security and safety and fit.

This has the filter pocket, the shaped nose!

DIY Mask : How To Make a Mask with a Replaceable Filter (Free Pattern) Ver.1 - Sewing Therapy - YouTube (over N95)

A very nice Community Mask Making project!
Pdf download below

Face Masks for Covid-19 Relief

Includes the Blue Shop Paper Towel mask that actually works and can be made in minutes...if have the tough, slightly stretching blue towels from an automotive/hardware/big box store

Insrructables:  Nurses for Nurses Mask


And this one actually just repeats links to two of my favorites But has some printable pattern pieces. Mine did NOT print to size, however. Not even when using the pdf version as they said was better. You can still trace a pattern off your computer screen setting it to extra bright first. Then measure the pattern on screen to make sure the mask bottom measures 6". Tricky!

 And then how can you not love this?

The in a pinch no sew bandanna face mask/ face covering 

A bandanna or any other square cut from an old shirt or whatever and
2 rubber bands and a  couple of  tucks and folds. No sewing required!

DIY No Sew Face Mask Easy and Quick for Anyone - YouTube

The Last Minute What Can I Possibly
Wear? Mask: A Bra

My Friend Anonymous ore/

And i love others and you may too!

Calling all makers: Here's a 1-page PDF facemask pattern; Now go make some and help beat this thing

   I joined this group being in the Pacific N.W. 

Sewing Face Masks - Pacific North West

Check it out for ideas no matter where you're from!  It has great people with great big hearts and wonderful comments.

For a bit of nostalgic levity. All I captured a very quick extended by my Galaxy Note 9 screenshot ability as I watched my original blog post going from color to fading color to black and white to grey and white and then *poof* nothing but two paragraphs of text out of my many!
Five hours of tedious stroke by stroke typing on my cell phone.

I can't enlarge it enough to see what is there really,  but  decided it it needed to be memorialized.


Today I am using our one and only husband accounting one for our very small home based business in an attempt to replace my original  post that took me 5 solid hours to create on my only current blogging device.  

This was really challenging on its own. I can barely remember yesterday after coming back many hours after finishing and publishing my original blog post to read the first two comments. 

And just like thar, some super crazy glitch of some kind, son3 interfering something absolutely destroyed the entire crazy long blog post. I could nit believe my eyes as I watched it being eaten up bit by bit. All that hard hard work..gone! At first i just cried,  from exhaustion, from facing so many past, present and future challenges to come.

Then i just accepted it with stoic realism that all of life is temporary and now, especially now, our lives--any life is more valuable than a blog post.

After my usual 4 combined hours of sleep (waking 4 times within that!) I got up and started this blog post from scratch.

I'm grateful that I remembered and could locate as many links as I did. 

If it's worth doing in the first place I guess it's worth doing twice!

Hope you gained a few ideas, thought about things you'd like to try ir maybe be inspired to make a mask or more fir yourself and others!

Michele Bilyeu
Salem Oregon

Michele Bilyeu Creates With Heart and Hands as she shares her imaginative, magical, and healing journey from Alaska to Oregon. Creating, designing, sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting... from my heart and with my hands.