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During this pandemic, when the CDC finally issued the statement that we should ALL wear a mask, I started researching various patterns so that I could make them for Steph and I, friends, and anyone else that might want one. I've since joined a Facebook group that sews masks for medical groups and facilities, fire fighters, and more. I've also taken many to our local food bank for those that deliver food to others.
Here are some things I've learned during my weeks of sewing masks. Please add your tips in the comments!
You may be wondering what kind of machine I use. Well, this is actually a fairly new sewing machine. My last regularly used machine was an Elna. I also purchased a fancy, computerized machine which I absolutely disliked! When my Elna finally quit working, I went to a local sewing machine shop and asked for the simplest, non-computerized machine she had. I tried out this Janome Sewist 725S and really liked it. There was almost no learning curve to it so I was able to wind a bobbin, easily thread the machine and sew in just a few minutes. Just what I wanted! I do miss the feature of my old machine where the needle always returns to the up position, but to have that, I would have had to go higher end.
I tried a LOT of patterns! Some of the designs I really liked; others, not so much, but I did take away a little something from each that I tried. It was not all smooth sailing as I probably trashed three or four of the first ones I made. For every pattern I used, I tried to streamline the process and eliminate as much extra stitching as possible which brings me to the first thing I learned...
1. No Extra Stitches
2. Make it Secure
The easiest way to secure a mask to the face is with elastic, but at the time I was making masks this was hard to come by. I had very little elastic in my stash, but I had quite a bit of double fold bias tape which made great ties for TMH mask (link below to this mask). When I ran out of commercial bias tape I made my own.
To make my own binding strips, I cut or tore fabric to 2" wide. I'm using the larger bias tape maker on the right which make 1" bias tape. Note, this is not actual bias tape as I'm not cutting the strips on the bias. That's a whole other tutorial! But, to make the binding, I am using the bias tape maker tool. Watch the video to see how it is done. The secret to great bindings is to use an iron set on cotton using the steam setting. Bonus, you get a nice steam facial while you're working!
This is the TMH style mask that uses bias tape or home made bindings. To attach the binding, I fold the strip in half lengthwise, and press a crease in the middle, I mark the center side of the mask and then line up the crease with the center mark on the mask. I clip it all in place and then start stitching at one end of the binding to sew it together. When I get to where the binding reaches the mask, I backstitch to secure this stress point and do the same thing at the bottom of the mask and then continue stitching the binding to the end and repeat for the other side. Don't forget to put the nose wire in place BEFORE adding the bindings. (Ask me how I know this?)
In lieu of elastic or cloth binding strips, t-shirt fabric can be used. The fire fighters in Tallahassee requested this type of ear ties for their masks. Cutting t-shirt fabric creates a lot of lint. Be sure to use a microfiber cloth or Swiffer cloth to clean up your cutting surface immediately after cutting.
3. Fabric Matters
It's important to follow the CDC recommendations for fabric. They recommend high quality 100% cotton fabrics. I was fortunate to have lots of choices already on hand. That black and white fabric is my favorite. It's heavy 100% cotton and sews up beautifully. It's my favorite for making the Aplat origami mask which I think is the best fitting pattern I've found. Prewash and dry ALL the fabric before sewing. Don't use fabric softeners or dryer sheets. I like to put all my fabrics in the wash together with a couple of Shout Color Catchers. Those are magic! Those little sheets capture the dye from the fabric and keeps it from transferring to other fabrics in the load.
4. Pleats Please!
I found the whole pleat making process frustrating and hard! I wanted precision in my pleats and the instructions with most mask patterns did not show me how to do that. I found a tutorial showing how to press in the creases and then I used a seam gauge (ruler) to precisely get the pleats the depth I wanted. To keep the pleats in place, press them heavily with a steam iron and then put something heavy on them and let it cool. This sets the pleats so they don't come out! It's kind of like when you blast your hair with a hot hair dryer and then blast with a cool air to set the curl. Same concept. This takes a bit longer but it takes the look of your pleats to a professional level.
5. To Filter, or Not
Face masks can be made with an internal filter sewn into the mask or with a pocket to place a paper filter. The CDC has lots of recommendations on what to use inside the mask or what you can use as a removable filter. I've used flannel, muslin, and woven interfacing inside my masks. I'm also now making masks with a filter pocket. It took me a while to figure out a way to make a pocket but finally figured it out from what I learned from other patterns.
6. Machine Maintenance
Some sewing machine problems can be prevented with a little bit of cleaning. Sewing these masks produces a lot of lint which ends up clogging the bobbin area. It's a simple thing to take out the bobbin, remove the throat plate, and clean out the area with a brush and a little canned air. I like to do this after using up a full three bobbins.
7. Make it Wearable
8. Clean your Iron
Keeping the iron clean is another maintenance issue that we sometimes forget! I didn't realize the sole plate of my iron was dirty until I was pressing a light colored mask and realized I now had a dirty stain on the front from the iron. This is a simple fix with a commercial iron cleaner and paper towels. Simply put a glob on the paper towel and move the hot iron around. You'll see the paper towels get dirtier and dirtier. I would suggest doing this in a WELL VENTILATED area as it does create lots of smelly steam.
9. Mask Hygiene
Keep your mask clean, only handle it by the ear pieces, and don't touch the front or inside if your hands are not clean. Always wash your new mask before wearing if you didn't make it. I like to put my masks into a small mesh laundry bag for washing to keep the ties from getting tangled. I've found it best to take the masks out of the bag, reshape them, and lay them flat to dry on top of the dryer. *Please note: the CDC is recommending that masks be stored only in breathable containers, such as a paper bag.
10. Wear a Mask!
Please, we wear a mask for YOU. We ask that you do the same. Oh, and have some fun with mask making too! I made a mask for Steph to match Mac's bandana! Steph's mask is from the Ragmask.com pattern. It's super simple. It's one of the fastest and easiest to make and I think it has a really good fit. See the link at the bottom. I have made two alterations to this pattern which if you're interested, I'll share.
During this very unusual and unsettling period in history, I have found mask making to be a great distraction. It's something I can do without too much frustration and has given me purpose. It's been a great way to relieve stress and anxiety as well as to cope with grief.
Steph has a podcast, Discovering Our Scars. In the episode 32, they share what they've discovered during this time. The question, It took a pandemic to realized..."
My answer, I really like to sew!
How about you? What has the pandemic made your realize?
Links to Mask tutorials:
Please note: This is not a sponsored post.
FYI: We are not professionals, and we don't claim to be. This is what we found worked for our project. Yours may need a little different approach. Safety first!
FYI: Affiliate links are being used on this page. Purchasing via these links help support MDP!
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