If You Want to Help Sew Masks

Me binding straps onto a big pile of face masks.

Just a few weeks ago (it feels like months or years, probably you can relate), I saw one person helping another fix a car in the grocery store parking lot. “Now that’s a useful skill,” I thought, “How often does a textile-related emergency come up that I could help with?” Well, here we are—in a way I certainly never thought possible.

If you have been wondering about sewing masks to help with the shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, here is what I know, and some resources. I’ve been working with a wonderful new nonprofit in my hometown, Threaded Together, to make these.

There’s a bounty of confusing information and patterns out there, and also confusion about how well fabric masks actually work. The bottom line for me on this is that healthcare and emergency workers are actively asking us for them, therefore they are needed. As I understand it, many homemade masks are being used as an outer layer of protection over another mask, and in non-critical-virus situations, to help preserve the supply of N95 masks. And as a last resort.

The material we’re making them from is a wrapping that hospitals use to cover surgical instruments. Most medical centers should have some. There is at least some evidence that it is really good at blocking particles, which is great news. (It’s also important to keep in mind that part of what makes the actual N95 masks so effective is that they are carefully fitted to provide an airtight seal around the face, which ours are not.)

We at Threaded Together (mostly Tina) have come up with a way to make these that is quick and hopefully easy to understand. Ours are based on a pattern put out by Providence, and a surgical mask from our local hospital. We are using two rectangles of fabric 9 x7” each, two strips for ties 36” long by 1” wide, and two pieces of pipe cleaner 4” long, twisted together, for the wire above the nose. There is a short video of Tina showing how to make one on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

We’ve also been making a single-layer style with elastic around the ears. You may have noticed that elastic is nearly impossible to find at the moment, but some folks are getting creative using hair ties, and our friend Darcy thought of using knit fabric (like a T-shirt) for ties, which still has some stretch.

If you are looking for people to who can sew masks, or to coordinate with other sewists, Days for Girls has been stepping up for this project in a big way, and they have chapters around the country.

Frankly, sharing these efforts with family and friends who are medical professionals scares the living daylights out of me. How have we come to this point that I have help to offer them?! And also, being able to do something helpful feels amazingly better. I’m so thankful to all in our community who have offered their time, materials, and equipment, who have bought us lunch, made us playlists, or just waved at us through the window.

I seem to be hovering somewhere between brokenhearted and uplifted, as I guess are many of us these days. May you and yours be well and healthy, and kind to each other.

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