WHY DID I START MAKING HOMEMADE MASKS?
Back in early March of 2020 my brother, who is a physician. was extremely concerned about performing procedures at the hospital because they did not have enough PPEs for the staff during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. My father, who is also a physician, was doing consultations at his office and was unable to find masks to protect himself from exposure to the virus.
I quickly started doing research on what the best masks were and shifted my efforts over to trying to make a mask that would protect them the most.
SELECTING A PATTERN
I chose to make face masks based on the Olson Mask pattern, designed by medical professionals to be used when other surgical and N95 masks are not available. This pattern was quickly developed by clinicians from UnityPoint Health and is being shared across the globe in the fight against COVID-19. It followed and exceeded all the CDC recommendations.
The Olson mask pattern is not the fastest pattern to make masks with since it involves cutting 6 pieces with curves and hemming small pieces to make the filter pocket. Definitely more time consuming to make – time well spent since it is the one with the snuggest fit, best coverage, and one of the better looking ones that I found.
THE STRAP DISCOVERY
After making and using my first mask I realized the ear loops were not very effective. It was a bit loose and I had to lift it up a couple of times at the supermarket and there were small gaps. It definitely enphazised the need for a good fit because adjusting the mask or having gaps was not something I wanted to have in the back of my mind stressing me out.
A face cover/mask is one of the ways we can best protect ourselves from a potentially deadly virus there is currently no cure for. It should be extremely important to make something that will protect as much as possible.
Back to research alternatives other than elastic ear bands. I read that straps or ties were a good option. Materials were hard to find; I had to use what I had at home to make my own mask. For the straps I initially used spaghetti yarn left over from another project I’d finished. It worked well but I quickly ran out after making 4 masks. I had saved some old T-shirts for another project I hadn’t gotten to yet so I cut them to make T-shirt yarn.
I decided to crochet the yarn to make the ties were sturdier: this was the perfect solution. Crocheting the T-shirt yarn made the straps elastic and comfortable.
Finally! A snug fit with no slipping. The mask stays perfectly in place when you talk and move and it doesn’t get in the way. I could go out confidently.
CLOSING ALL GAPS AND ELIMINATING FOGGING
The next step was finding something to close the little gaps left on top of the mask near the nose bridge and to help prevent fogging if wearing with glasses. I could not find pipe cleaners which at the time were recommended everywhere. I had extra wire ties that I’d saved from all the computer cables I’ve gotten through decades so I used those. They worked OK for version 1.0 but I was aiming for something better. This is when I came across the stainless steel nose frame that is easy to form to the contours of anyone’s face and I am using it for version 3.0 of the mask. These wider laser cut stainless steel nose frames work way better than the cable tie I used in V 2.0 and makes the mask last longer through washes.
I hand stitch the nose frame inside each mask pocket so that it stays in place.
ADDING THE BEST POSSIBLE FILTER
The final part was the filter.
Was a filter necessary? CDC doesn’t say anything about filter use for homemade cloth masks yet hospitals are using filters in their cloth masks. I started hunting down info. on what they could be using and at the time they were testing all sorts of materials. By then, I was seeing all kinds of cheap masks being offered online and some people selling filters that were rated for dust but not viruses.
I wanted to make sure I could find the best available filter and started reading about particle size filtration, materials, breathability (which I also did to confirm using 100% cotton for my mask material) and the actual size of the virus so I could find something that was ok to breathe through and filter as much as possible.
After a week or two I found the best possible rated filter material available. The material is used for surgical masks, it is manufactured in the United States and it was currently in stock. The material uses a patent-pending nanofiber technology and is highly-efficient (up to 95%) on sub-micron particles, including bacteria and viruses.
I had finally found the best filter material to use for filters to protect family, friends, clients and myself.
The reason why I took a deep dive into making non-medical grade masks is because there is an enormous shortage of PPE and medical grade masks and those should go to the people fighting on the front line. Doctors, nurses, and medical staff who are knowingly directly exposed to the virus trying to save patient’s lives.
For the rest of us, I wanted to make a homemade non-medical mask with the best possible protection from COVID-19 I could find. I have made these for myself and my loved ones and that is the best I can do with what is available right now.
I also enjoy making aesthetically pleasing practical objects. This is a mask people will be happy and confident with because it gives as much protection as possible, it is thoughtfully made and carefully crafted to fit comfortably and stay in place, it’s not too hot and it doesn’t fog your glasses. With the right care, this mask can last for a long time so you purchase it once and can use for a long time.
Considering there might not be a vaccine for at least 18 months, it is highly likely that we will have to wear a mask in public for that time.