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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Marrs

Time to Get Serious About Face Masks!

The current Covid 19 spikes and outbreaks coupled with my husband’s and my eventual return to work in a classroom full of students required me to rethink my fabric mask makings. I needed to sew a more comfortable and more effective face covering than the single-layer masks we had been using to do simple 1 – 2 hour errands around town. My research led me to the World Health Organization/WHO article Advice on the use of masks in the context of COIV-19. It is an excellent read, and pages 9 and 10 explain that the ideal combination for a fabric mask is a three-layered model: an innermost layer and an outermost layer of tightly-woven cotton or polyester blend fabric, and a middle hydrophobic layer of synthetic non-woven material such as polyproplylene (interfacing material).

I had been making pleated masks, but now wanted to try some fitted masks for a more comfortable snug fit. There are many online fitted mask patterns to choose from, but in the end I went with the Burda Style Face Mask #1 free pdf pattern. Take care to print this out to scale. The first time I printed the pattern it was too small, and I had to reprint it with the proper printer settings. Next, I cut and sewed a muslin mockup in my size, made my fitting adjustments, and then applied these to the paper pattern before using this on my actual mask fabric.

Since I am an avid environmentalist and teach both Marine Ecology and AP Environmental Science, I definitely wanted my face mask designs to be relevant and convey a message. As a fabric designer, I have created several fabric collections that focus on endangered species, so I selected a few of my own fabric motifs that advocate for the protection of endangered animals like the Vaquita porpoise, sea turtles, and polar bears.

My next priority was that I did not want to be replacing mask filters every single day! Very inconvenient and very costly! I wanted a polyproplylene material that was not disposable, but one that could be washed and dried while inside the mask, and last for a couple of weeks before having to be replaced.

The answer came in the form of Pellon 915 Cambric—a lightweight 100% polypropylene nonwoven cloth, available at Joann Fabrics. Though used as an upholstery dust cover fabric, it is a perfect selection for a mask filter material that’s effective at warding off micro particulates (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1 Figure 2

The other requirement for me to wear a face mask all day long is COMFORT! I had to have one that was adjustable and did not hurt my ears after one hour. As I am really uncomfortable with anything that attaches at the back of my head, a mask that fastened in this way was not a viable choice for me--I needed adjustable ear loops.

After researching several options, I came up with my own version, using 1/8” round elastic cord and pony beads. I went for the simple method of pushing the elastic cord through the mask side casing, pulling both cord ends through a pony bead, and then tying the cord ends in a tight knot (Figures 3 and 4). The YouTube video How to Make Adjustable Elastic Ear Loops shows you the best way to pull the elastic ends through a small pony bead opening, and also gives you an alternate method of creating an adjustable ear attachment without knotted cords.

Figure 3

Figure 4

The final test was—would the masks with the pellon filters withstand a regular machine wash and dryer setting? So, I put four of my new masks in a lingerie laundry bag, and threw this in a regular load of wash on a normal cycle. Then, after “uncrumpling” and flattening out the washed masks in the bag, I put it in the dryer with the rest of my clothes, and ran it on the regular hot setting. All four masks came out of the dryer in perfect condition, with the pellon filters in place and the masks practically wrinkle free.

Who knows what the future months will bring with the Covid 19 pandemic, but at least we have an assortment of comfortable and effective face masks to carry us though. In the meantime, think of all the fun and stylish masks that you can make, and . . .

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