Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thoughts on Mass Mask-Making

I thought I would post a little follow up to yesterday's tutorial; when I sat down to sew yesterday I had made all of the elastic-loop masks but had only made my trial mask w/ ties; I had a stack of the tie masks to make  so I made the first one and photographed it step-by-step so I could get it up, since an out-of-town friend had requested pictures of the process.

Then I worked on the stack I had cut out.

I will say, straight up, that the elastic loop mask is a LOT faster to make than the bound mask.  I actually timed my pressing of the bindings and found that it took 6.25 minutes just to press the pair of ties needed for one mask.  Now, as I mentioned, if I could find my Clover Bias Tape Maker I could probably cut that in at least half, but that puppy has gone into hiding and I have not yet been able to unearth it (I don't make a lot of bindings...who KNOWS when I last used it).  So, six minutes of pressing the ties, plus my probably over-achiever pressing of the pleats in the bound version really added to the overall time it took to make them.   I just quickly eyeballed the pleats on the elastic-loop masks. I did have a couple that just did NOT want to fold; ended up applying the tailors clapper to more than one to beat them into submission, lol.  It worked...sort of. Then I had trouble getting one of the pre-bound masks to fold evenly; I folded and pressed it and it didn't work so I  unfolded and pressed it flat and refolded and pressed...about three times, I think , and could NOT get it to pleat at all was kind of a desperation move when I thought about using templates.  But that trick made such nice, even pleats that I used that on the rest...and that took a lot longer than eyeballing it would have done.  However, I didn't have to press-and-repeat on any masks that didn't work out.  It was one-and-done on each of them, even if it did take longer.  ( I'm thinking the ones that didn't cooperate...on both versions of the mask...probably had one element that was cut off  grain and was fighting the fold).  I don't know if the templates would have worked very well on the elastic loop version, though, due to the bulky seams.  But I didn't try...just plowed my way through the non-cooperative ones on that set because it didn't occur to me to try the templates.

I finished up the last of the ones I had cut all the fabric for with just barely enough time to run them through the washer and dryer (actually, I was about 10 minutes late getting them to church).  And I'm glad I did, because I discovered some things about the finished products that I wouldn't have known otherwise.

The first thing was that all the beautiful pleating just went away.  Oh, the ones that I'd used the templates on were still evenly pleated, which was good,  and they could be pulled taut so that the pleats kind of re-formed, but basically the pleats just looked like tucks.  They would have to have been pressed again to lie flat and, well, I was more than out of time.  I still think using the templates was worth doing, though, because they were even.  The ones I eyeballed...well, they might have been a little, um, not so even, lol.

But the big thing that surprised me was the difference in the pinchy bits.  I'd used twist ties for the pinchy bit in two of them, and pipe cleaners in the rest.  The pipe cleaners downright balled up in the laundry...the twist ties stayed flat.   And, the pipe cleaners held moisture and that area was still fairly damp when the rest of the mask was dry (and I was hovering over the dryer waiting to pull them out the moment they were dry).  But the biggest problem w/ the pipe cleaners is that the wire is sharp.  I'd trimmed the ends on several before sewing them down...they were bent ever-so-slightly and I was afraid they'd poke through the fabric.  But there were two of them that I pulled out of the dryer in which the wire end of the pipe cleaner had poked all the way through the fabric.  I got the wire nippers again and cut it off, but there was no pokey end at all on the twist ties.

So I have been converted to using twist ties going forward.

But, the thing that I was afraid of happening in the wash...the ties getting all tangled...didn't happen.  So that was a relief.  Course, I had a very small load of 23 masks; if I were washing 8 times that number that might have been a different story.

I meant to take a picture of the masks before I hauled them off to their destination, but, being as I was already late at that point, I forgot.  So I will post a picture of my sample mask, made from scraps left from a pair of shorts I made for The Artist the summer before he entered 6th grade.  So yeah, like, 20 years ago.  There was some real attic funk going on with that fabric, so that's why I had to wash everything, lol.  I couldn't make some poor volunteer inhale that 'cooked in a plastic bin in the hot attic for 20 years' smell.

If you just see it from your peripheral vision, it looks like a giant open mouth.  Not what I had intended.  But that's a terrific metaphor for my life, lol.

The Princess tells me that our local hospital will be requesting mask donations soon.  So I ordered some not-too-awfully expensive fabric to make masks to donate there.  Cutting masks from yardage is so much faster than cutting it out of scraps...and I can do it one task  per evening, in small batches.  There won't be a quick deadline for this one. I will probably stick with the bound and ties style because, again, there's no elastic to be had, and I seem to get along better with it, even if it does take longer.  I do want to make clear that neither mask is really superior to the other; they will both do the same job.  They each have pros and cons; so if you are looking to make a mask you may prefer something different than I use and that's ok.  Everyone does things differently and, y'know, it's like...some folks want to take the simplest route and get on the freeway, even if it may not be the shortest in miles, while others get the heebie jeebies to drive even a mile out of the way and so take the shorter state highway through the little towns.  They both get to the same place and they both enjoy their chosen journey so... you do you.

But I may just buy myself another bias tape thingy, since I pulled up the Amazon page to link and all.  Which will guarantee that the original one will show up within the week,lol.

EDITED 7/20/20 - I have found that the twist tie wires that I used, while fine at first, tend to break.  Going forward, I'm going to double them and see if that helps.  And discourage folks from folding them in half...

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Helping now....

The Princess told me that the local hospital has decided not to put out a call for volunteer-made facemasks at this time, so I kinda backed off of working on them.

Then we got a call from the Huntsville Dream Center, which is very closely associated with our church.  They will be using our church (which is, you'll recall, a repurposed high school building) to distribute breakfast and lunches to school kids, with the possibility of  adding hot meals for the community.  The work has been fast and furious to get the old cafeteria kitchen (which fed lunch to somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 kids back in the day) up and running to do that.

But, they have requested masks for the volunteers.

They did provide materials for the masks and I have farmed those out amongst the willing of the sewing group.  We were asked to specifically make THIS MASK, using 2 layers of quilting cotton and one layer of flannel inside, with the elastic loops for ears and adding a 6" pipe cleaner to make a pinchy bit for the bridge of the nose.  Now, there's nothing wrong with this mask, but in my playing around I had come up with a different method.

I was told that, if I were using HDC-provided materials, to use to the instructions as requested.  BUT...if I were using my own materials, then I could make them however I wanted.  The only thing was it had to be three layers thick, w/o any filter pocket.

Both versions start with 9x6 inch rectangles.  The real difference is that the mask in the linked video is turned out while the one I came up with has the edges bound and is held on with ties.  The mask in the video is sewn wrong sides together,with the elastic in between the layers, then the nose-pincher is couched to one of the long side seam allowances, then it's turned out through an opening (I left my opening in the long edge that didn't have the nose-pincher).  It's then pressed, pleated and topstitched to secure the pleating and close the opening that was left for turning.  It is relatively fast and pretty simple.

But here's what I had come up with in my earlier experimenting.

Start with the three  9x6 rectangles; you can research the layers if you want but tightly woven 100% cotton or a cotton/polyester blend is recommended; one study said 100% cotton t-shirt knit was fairly effective as a filter; if you have excess freebie promotional t's lying around (and who doesn't?) they could be cut up as well.

ALSO...from your remnants stash you probably have some actual yardage; rip 2" strips all the way across 45" fabric.  You'll need two of those strips for each mask.

The first thing to do when you get a batch cut and ready to make is to go to the ironing board and press all those strips in half lengthwise, then turn the torn edges in to meet in the middle and press again.  Then fold the whole thing in half and press it again.  Making the binding is probably the most time consuming part of the whole assembly process, but once you've got everything pressed it will go quickly.

Then, just to hold the layers together, do a quick zig zag around the outside of each stack of three rectangles.  Put the right sides out; you won't be turning this one.

It'll look like this at this point:

Now we'll pleat the masks.  You can just kind of eyeball three pleats...that's what many of the tutorials recommend.  But if you have, or can make, a small assortment of templates from manila file folders you'll have a leg up on the process.

 You can actually stack and pin the templates to make a little folding jig.

 I used the 3/8" line on the 1" template so that the pleat would be a little shorter and hopefully not get caught in the binding stitching. Same principle.
When you're done pleating it should look like this:

Now, open up the ends of two ties and pin them to the mask, securing the pleats.

 Trim off the excess  and fold the cut edge under on the  remaining tie and stitch that to secure it.  The other end is a selvedge and shouldn't ravel out. Stitch the binding along the fold line, then flip it around to the other side and edgestitch it down.  Now the pleats are secured.

Find the center of the long binding ties and the center of the mask. Pin the ties to the mask, matching those centers.  Stitch on the fold line of the binding, being careful not to catch the pleat folds.

Find the center of  your bendy bit (a 5 or 6" length of  pipe cleaner or twist tie), extend one of the seam allowances and, matching the centers, zig zag across the bendy bit for it's whole length.
After you've secured the bendy bit, flip the binding around to the other side of the mask and stitch the whole length of the tie.
(You can't tell from the pic, but I sewed that entire tie w/ no thread in the bobbin.  Oopsie.  Take two, lol)  Check to make sure you have caught all the edges, trim the threads are done!

Here's a comparison of the two mask styles I've made this weekend:

You can see that the bound mask is slightly larger than the turned-inside-out mask, because it didn't lose the width of the  seams.  To me, there are two benefits to using the bound/tied version....the first is that elastic is hard to find.  I used some 1/4" elastic I had stashed but I didn't want to exhaust my supply.  Also, I'm not sure how well the elastic will hold up under extreme washing's going to get soaked in hydrogen peroxide and washed/dried on HOT every single day until this is over.  The other benefit's a lot easier to pleat the thing if you don't have to deal with the bulky seam allowances on the short ends  Encasing the ends of the elastic meant the edges couldn't be bound; so it had to be turned-and-stitched.  The caveat to the version with the ties is that it takes a good bit more time...which would probably be less if I could find my Clover bias-tape-maker thingy instead of pressing each strip 4 times.

You can take your pick.  If I were making masks for the family, I'd probably use one of the versions that has a pocket for a filter...assuming I could still find furnace filters to cut up. But, as source after source has stated, anything is better than nothing if you use it correctly.'s the 'use it correctly' info I have found:

When it's worn, the front of the mask is contaminated.  I will say that again. THE FRONT OF THE MASK IS CONTAMINATED.  DO NOT TOUCH IT.  After wearing it, it should only be handled by the ties/ elastics and dropped straight into a disinfecting solution until it is washed/dried on hot water.  Then wash your hands.

The cotton mask is not considered a primary defense against infection.  It might help you remember to NOT touch your face and to maintain 6' separation, but it certainly will not stop any bad germs if someone coughs or even exhales straight into your face.   And if you touch it with your hands and then touch your face it will have done you no good at all.

So...there are my recommendations for a quick, sort-of-protective face mask.  If you want a serious face mask, HEREis a video on making one from a HEPA vacuum cleaner bag...but those are to be disposed of  after using, including the elastic.  And I'm wondering how long the bags are going to stay in stock, once people start cutting them up for masks.  HERE's a video for a mask w/ a pocket for a filter made from a HEPA furnace filter.  I would probably modify it a little bit to have ties instead of elastic.  In fact...that may be my next 'play around' with it mask style.  In case things really get bad in our area.

Stay safe, everyone!

Note: If you landed here looking for mask-making info, I have a follow-up post with a few more observations HERE

Saturday, March 21, 2020

I want to help but I am confused....

Hello, friends, it's been a minute.

I haven't done a lick of sewing since I made the velvet pants, which is atrocious, but things have been kinda busy.

I have purchased some patterns and fabric, lol, which is what you do when you can't seem to get to the sewing machines, right?  Of course, right.  Two pieces are en route to me even as I type.  I may actually get some sewing time...eventually.

But here's what has suddenly popped up in my social media world.  It appears that there are MULTIPLE medical communities asking the public to make face masks.  I started looking at links last night and wandered down that rabbit hole until a ridiculous hour in the AM.   Because,  I thought, here's a community service I could easily do, without risking bringing a bad germ home to My Sweet Babboo, who, for reasons unknown, is particularly susceptible to respiratory infections.

Unfortunately, the information out there is crazy divergent.  The patterns range from 'eyeball the pleats in this rectangle' (Deaconness Hospital Evansville, IN ) to 'Sew these six pieces together and leave a pocket for a .3 micron filter' (Unity Point Health, Cedar Rapids, IA  - Video Here) Fabric recommendations range from knits ( Peggy Sagers -- and she lined hers with leather?  Wouldn't that, like, be really hard to breathe through? Kinda messed with her credibility there...) to tightly woven Cotton (Deaconness and Unity Point both recommended cotton).  A friend shared a post from a Facebook Page (Sew Loved ) that organized a big mask-making event in the South Bend, IN area that emphasized that cotton was NOT acceptable and used surgical sheeting for their material.   Fit standards vary widely, too; most, but not all, include some kind of flexible insertion (Unity Point used Wikki Stix!  Bread ties and flattened paperclips are also recommended)  to snug the mask to the bridge of the nose.  Unity Point also recommeds using double-sided medical tape to secure the mask to the face, in addition to the elastic ear pieces (they used hair ties, which I thought was clever), but, well, I have a sensitivity to adhesives and could easily blister up my face if I tried that.  Then, here's another pleated version, which I liked better than the Deaconness one as it 1) allows for the insertion of a filter (it looked to me like the demonstrator just used folded up kleenex for a filter but I really couldn't tell) and 2) will allow for replacement of the elastic after the hot water breaks it down. 

One source...that I didn't mark...emphasized the necessity to handle the masks correctly.  They must be put on and removed by the ear straps/ties/whatever, and the front of the mask...the bit that actually covers the nose and mouth...should not be touched at any time.  They should go straight into a detergent solution (one source recommended 'spraying lightly with hydrogen peroxide') and washed with hot water and dried on high heat.

I checked with The Princess, who works in Marketing at our local hospital, and she said they were not looking for donations from the public yet, but it may be coming.  So I printed the patterns for Peggy's mask, the Olson Mask and will play around with a pleated mask , which is basically just a rectangle or two; depending on whether you're using the one or two piece version.  If my cotton fabric remnants that I have about are an acceptable fabric, well, this looks to be something I could actually do.

Anyone else looking at sewing masks?  What have you found out about design/fabrics?