Homemade face masks: To wear or not to wear, that is the question?!

Well, let me cut it short: to wear a face mask is the correct answer to the question.

There has been so many articles on the pros and cons. Most of the ones that say it is useless, are older. Things just change very quickly on the topic. Although, I must say I feel a bit weird that the World Health Organisation hasn’t really updated their materials following the surge of homemade masks (at the time of writing this obviously).

However, generally most news outlets will now promote homemade masks and provide templates of sorts.

And now some countries have made face protections mandatory… Things are changing fast.

Obviously, a mask made of fabric isn’t as protective as a N95 respirator, but it is better than nothing.

I’m not a doctor nor a scientist, but here are my recommendations, based on the multiple articles, studies & tutorials I’ve read, as well as the test I made.

Homemade face mask - sewing on a vintage sewing machine

How to choose the right face mask template

Let me start by saying that you should sew your masks. I know there are recommendations out there for no sew masks but we are in this for the long haul, so sew them! You most likely won’t regret the time spent on this. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can hand-sew them. And if you don’t know how to hand-sew, it’s time to learn! You can watch Bernadette Banner delicious video on hand stitching, to start your journey!

Ok, so let’s see what face masks look like and the pros and cons.

The pleated face mask

The pleated face mask looks easy to sew. I found it hard. And more difficult to fit.

I tried folding all the fabric on the side to not have to had an extra piece on each side, to create the gutter for the elastic, that did not work well with my machine. I’ve seen tutorials where it does work, so do try it especially if you have a fancy sewing machine.

Pleaded face mask
Pleated face mask was hard to stitch for my machine. This version is with an additional piece of fabric to create the gutter and finish the side. Still a lot of layers to sew.

Based on my tests, a larger pleated face mask works best with tights that go around the head. if you put elastics to go around your ears, the bulk of the fabric created by the side pleating will have a hard time staying tight and will create a gap.

Putting the elastic - face mask sewing process
Inserting the elastic was not easy on the pleated mask. Even with a safety pin like shown here with a different mask.

You will have to play with sizes, width and heights to find what fits best to your face.

If you try this one, do use one that includes a pocket. The issue I have with the pleated masks with pockets, is that the pocket adds sewing line in the breathing area, on most of them at least. I don’t think that’s the best option. More on this below.

The no pleat face mask

Simple and easy to sew, it may be hard to find the perfect size that will fit you. No pocket to add filtration is not ideal. You can probably add a pocket though!

The no pleat face mask is generally smaller in size. Which is good if you have limited quantity of fabric! But it doesn’t cover your face so well either. You got to find the balance.

The fitted/ contoured face mask

So as you can guess, that’s the one I found the best so far.

I first sew one that was recommended by a medical team. After reconsideration, I saw that others didn’t like the stitches running in the middle. And that made total sense actually. Stiches are little holes and there is no good reason to add a line of holes in the middle of your face!

So I used this pattern.

The major difference is that this one has no (or almost no stitches) in the breathing area. The fabric for the 2 parts are cut in the fold.

The one thing I did differently is that I sewed the nose wire in the seam. I did a slightly wider seam in the nose area, and used it to add the little pocket for the wire. It works fine to me and is much easier!

Face mask nose wire - sewing a face mask on a vintage sewing machine
nose wire with pocket in the seam

This pattern allows me to make it slightly tighter for me and my small nose and very easily, slightly bigger for my partner and his big nose!

The contoured masks feels better on the face. The fabric being cut in a curved shape, it fits better around the eyes, especially if you are wearing glasses.

Find what works best for you!

The most important thing is to find what works for you based on your sewing experience, your talent and your supplies.

For example, I do have a zigzagger now, but it’s not as easy to use as the modern ones. It’s not a function of my machine where I can just press a button and be on my merry way to wonderful zigzags! I have to set ip up… it’s a whole process.

So, for mask making, I didn’t want to have to use it and therefore patterns that required zigzags were out.

My machine doesn’t even do back stitches! It wasn’t yet a thing in the 1920’s apparently. Back stitching means turning the fabric around for me!

Reverse stitching on a vintage sewing machine
back stitching means turning the fabric around on a 1923 Singer!

Just examples of my own limitations! So again, just do with what you have!

If you don’t have elastic, you can use fisherman knots, it still works, although it takes a bit more time to put your mask on.

As for the nose wire, I use a little wire I have. I double it and twist it to ensure the ends do not poke through the fabric. A lot of people use freezing bag ties, again use what you have!

How to choose the right fabric

That is a terribly good question!

The jury is still out on this and in different countries, you will find different recommendations.

Cotton with a high thread count seems to work best. It is easier to sew anyway!

There seems to be a common agreement that silk isn’t ideal. Wool isn’t either. Linen isn’t bad if the thread isn’t loose which is unfortunately often the case.

I personally have resisted using some on the jersey fabric I have as it has some synthetic fibers in it. But some people use fleece as a filter.

I’m still confused on the topic too!

The best fabric is probably the one you already have. As mentioned before I used some of my partner’s old cotton shirts for the lining. I found some other cotton pieces here and there and once done with those, if necessary, I will sacrifice a bed sheet!

Face mask with no stitches in the breathing area
One sleeve = one mask! or 2 inside layers.

Some additional recommendations

You need to strike a balance between breathability and filtration! So don’t just pile up fabrics on top of fabrics!

Avoid pinning all over the mask! You will create little holes and maybe pull threads unnecessarily. Use clips instead.

Fit your design to your face. I use the same model for my partner and I but adapt it to fit our different nose & head sizes.

Be creative with you you have.

This isn’t a fashion contest but at the same time, you’ll probably be wearing those masks often in the future. So do try your best to make them strong, durable and pretty!!

By “pretty”, by no mean do I recommend you to sew beads and stuff on them. Avoid sewing anything in the breathing area. I’ve already seen some masks with embroideries on them. That is probably a bad idea. Except if you have a filtration system and your top layer of fabric is just for decoration. My guess is that it is not the case, so don’t do embroidery on your mask!

Don’t glue stuff on them either. You really don’t want to be breathing the glue!

As for filtration, some people use another layer of fabric, paper towels etc… Just be careful your filter are not full of harmful chemicals. And breather through your mask at home before going out!

Spoiler alert: coffee filters, or vacuum cleaner bags are very difficult to breath through! Avoid these…

Sewing a face mask - Vintage Singer sewing machine
Making it strong where it is needed to ensure durability. But as you can tell, it’s not a masterpiece!

I will add a few drops of essential oils on my mask next time I have to go out. Maybe calming lavender or some fresh mint, not sure!

How to use a homemade face mask

  • Don’t feel safe. A face mask is just an additional barrier. It is not a safe proof protection. Keep your distance.
  • Don’t touch! No touching your face, your mask while wearing it…
  • Handle with care. Especially when removing. Use the ear loops to remove and wash your hands thoroughly after. Wash your hands before as well!
  • Single use. Use your mask only once. Wash it after use.
  • For a limited time. Some say 4 hours at most. You shouldn’t be needing it for 4 hours anyway. Go home. Stay home!

Don’t be scare by the task. I was a bit to start with and I’ll admit it took me a while (like 1 hour and a half!) to sew my first mask. Then it got much easier and quicker, like 45minutes or maybe less. By no mean am I at the point where I can sew 10 or more masks per hours, like some sewing masters / geniuses out there. And it’s ok!

*****

Stay safe, stay healthy and keep your distance!

Homemade face mask - sewing on a vintage sewing machine
Sewing a face mask on a vintage Singer sewing machine

*****

When I started my no buy year challenge and decided to sew my own clothes, a part of me was hoping to do grant things!

Here is how I feel now! 😉

What it's realy like to own a vintage sewing machine

2 thoughts on “Homemade face masks: To wear or not to wear, that is the question?!

    • Hi, thanks for your comment.
      However, I’m not sure what you are trying to say here? Are implying that this virus isn’t that bad? if it’s the case, I will beg to differ. 1% death rate is a much higher rate than the rate for the normal flu, 10 times higher actually. And let’s do more math… 7.8 Billion people on Earth x 1% = 78 Million people potentially dying a horrible death (suffocating being apparently particularly horrible).

      Most people do wear their seatbelt to limit their chances of dying in a car crash, a lot are wearing helmets when cycling or else, we step back from the platform when a train approaches… we avoid putting our hands where they can get crushed, burnt or else… we wear gloves when trimming roses… indeed we wear masks when painting or handling toxic substance… every single day we take small & big precautions to avoid getting injured or sick, consciously and unconsciously.

      Now, wearing a face mask is going to become one of those precautions, to protect ourselves and protect others.

      Stay safe & show your compassion for others by wearing a mask!

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