Sewing & Donating Homemade Face Masks

Homemade Face Masks for Hospital Donation

This week, I’ve redirected my extracurricular efforts towards sewing face masks at home. More and more hospitals and health facilities have opted in to accept donations of homemade face masks alongside commercially produced PPE. Not because they are a substitute for N95 or real surgical masks – they are not! – but because they are better than nothing when (and it sounds like it will be when, not if) PPE runs out.

It has been inspiring to see seamstresses at Elizabeth Suzann and State the Label take initiative in contributing to these efforts, along with many others per the NYTimes. After reading this LAist article and seeing many local hospitals listed in this UC Berkeley student-built list, I decided to do the same. If you’re interested, here are some resources to help out!

What you need:

  • A sewing machine:
    • It’s been very difficult to find any locally, with non-essential businesses closed and JoAnns and Michaels completely sold out online of entry-level machines.
    • However, Amazon does still have plenty in stock (with a reasonable Prime shipping date). I have this Singer machine which has worked well in sewing the thick pleats required in some mask designs.
  • Elastic:
    • Another hot commodity that is sold out at both online craft stores and on Amazon (they’re “in stock”, but they don’t ship until May).
    • Etsy has been a good source of “alternative” elastics that can still function perfectly, such as these ribbon elastics typically used for hair ties
  • Alternative to Elastic:
    • If you can’t find elastic, an alternative is to make a face mask with two ties that tie around the back of the head (example farther down below)
    • I’ve done this with 1″ (25mm) bias tape, which I made from scrap fabric with this bias tape maker
    • A time-saving alternative (I don’t know about you, but it takes me forever to make bias tape) is chunky t-shirt yarn, as long as it’s made mostly of cotton
  • Thread:
    • Obviously thread, which seems to be in healthy varied supply on Amazon. If you can’t find it online, you might be able to find some at your local Walgreens / CVS / Rite Aid.
  • 100% Cotton Fabric:
    • This is key – most places will only take 100% cotton masks. I used fabric quarters (18″ x 22″) that I already had from JoAnn, like these. They’re currently having a sale on quilting fabric (100% cotton) for $4.99/yd that you can order online and pick up curbside.
    • NOTE: wash and dry (on hot) the fabric before sewing masks, to pre-shrink the material – otherwise, they may not fit.

Mask Sewing Patterns:

There are many mask patterns out there – before you commit to any one, check the place you plan to donate to and see if they have a preference. Most healthcare facilities will list whether they are accepting homemade masks and their preference on their website. Kaiser Permanente, for example, lists a surgical mask design on their site.

  • Deaconess Health Surgical Mask Pattern
    • Tutorial & pattern: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tBg0Os5FWQ
    • Potential modification: instead of ear loops, sew four longer straps (at least 18″) to be tied behind the head (more comfortable for all-day wear)
    • Second potential modification: for my second set of personal masks, I used two homemade 1″ x 36″ bias tape sewed across the pleated sides to be tied behind head. I also created a 3″ opening across the top seam of the mask so that a filter could be inserted in the middle (see below)

As a colleague of mind said – this is the perfect volunteer activity while also being “shelter-in-place” / “social distancing” friendly!

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