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COVID-19 Face Masks

Not Social Distancing
Not Social Distancing!

NOTE: There are some updates to this post below.
(Sunday, April 5, 2020)

Our Inland Empire region of California hit print yesterday (New York Times), when speaking about the many quilters and sewists who are making facemasks:

“Sewers, we’ve always stepped up and done this thing,” said Denise Voss, the head of the Inland Empire chapter of the American Sewing Guild. “We’re made for this time. We’re happy to stay home and sew. And we all have stashes of fabric.” Her group, with about 130 members in Southern California, is making hundreds of face masks at the request of the Riverside University Health System Medical Center.” (New York Times)

Today I’m here to pass on information about face masks.  I mentioned I was going to use the mask pattern from Dora of Orange Dot Quilts, as I think it seals up higher on the cheeks and nose. I see so many mask posts on Instagram, that I’ve started a Favorites tab for them.  I’m most drawn to the stories of people who are making them, as I’m sure you are too.

Tamara, who commented on my last post, alerted me to JoAnn Fabrics’ kits for making face masks, also detailed in the publication Business Wire.  An examination about whether or not we should even be sewing face masks came across my feed; The Craft Industry Alliance article says proceed, but with caution, making sure you have a place to send/bring your facemasks in this time of social distancing.

Face Masks France
Even sewists in France are being asked to help.

Our efforts as sewists across the nation were also covered in a couple of national news outlets:

Face Masks NYTimes.png

The New York Times covered it from a more human interest viewpoint, telling the story of an army of sewists, from nearly-out-of-work costumers to those who have chosen to set aside their regular work to make masks:

“But the D.I.Y. pieces — generally stitched together with a few layers of cotton, elastic straps and, on ambitious designs, a flexible bridge over the nose — offer at least some protection. “Better than nothing” has become a popular phrase in the tight-knit sewing community. Some doctors are wearing the homemade fabrics over surgical or N95 masks, trying to prolong the coveted masks’ limited life spans. Other masks are being handed out at health clinics and nursing homes.

“It frees up the surgical masks for the people who are the highest risk,” said Dr. Nicole Seminara, a doctor at NYU Langone Health who is volunteering in the coronavirus ward. Dr. Seminara started a social media campaign, Masks4Medicine, to solicit homemade masks from the public.

“Are they effective like an N95? No,” she said. “We’re not claiming they are. If we had all the N95s in the world, it would be wonderful. But there’s a shortage right now.”

Face Masks
Source: New York Times

The Huffington Post covered Face Masks For Personal Use, and Face Masks For Medical Use, listing sources and quoting experts.

Generally it seems to be that we can make masks for those who don’t have direct contact with patients, perhaps front office workers who still could use the masks — thereby saving the short-in-supply N95 masks for critical care use.

One last thing: please write to your senator/congressman as well, telling them how you feel about the fact that we are tasked with providing masks for critical care usage.  While we all are happy to do our part — as we have generous hearts — I’m sure we’d prefer that our nurses and doctors on the front line are well-protected as our nation struggles through this horrifying disease.


  • Some hospitals are not collecting masks, some are.  Should we be sewing them?
  • Deaconess Hospital list of Where to Donate Face Masks  Use the filter for your state, and scroll down.  It’s not always apparent to me that they are wanting home made masks, as some list N95s as their request.
  • Liz wrote in with these tips: “Using a modified Deaconess pattern, starting with two 7×10.5″ instead of 6×9, and stitching seam binding across the top and bottom of the mask (40″ piece for top, 36″ for bottom). Also very important to make an OBVIOUS FRONT and BACK side to the mask, by using two different fabrics or the reverse side of the main print on the back/inside portion.”  I think her caution to make an obvious front and back side, if you are using the Deaconess pattern, is a great idea.  If you are using the Orange Dot Quilts pattern, the shape of it denotes a front and back already.
  • PBS broadcast a segment about all the mask makers. (new!)
Face Mask Vermeer
One of many COVID-19 memes on Instagram

Below is a little graphic I found while browsing IG.  I have no source on it, but it looks believable and makes me feel better about our efforts.  While it does say that fabric masks do not filter viruses, they may offer some protection against the droplets that carry the viruses (according to other sources).

face masks filtration.png

I saw one video where the maker cut up a HEPA filter to use in the mask.  I have no info on that one!  I’ve also seen people suggest lining them with coffee filters, nonwoven interfacing and used dryer sheets.  That last one sounds pretty dubious, however I do like this one:

Face Mask Antivirus.jpeg

Kidding!  But looking at all the humorous memes has helped my mood a lot (my daughter posts a ton of them), as did all your very kind letters from the last post.  I still seem to be distracted a lot, and my mood goes up and down too much, but in hearing from other friends I realize I am not alone.  Finally, my sympathies go out to those who all of a sudden have children home.  Here’s a meme for you:

covid19 working from home.jpeg

Carry on, quilters.  You are awesome!


15 thoughts on “COVID-19 Face Masks

  1. Thanks for the excellent explanation and background to the face mask making frenzy. While you are helping others you are helping yourself too, you know! I’m not sure why we, here in Australia, haven’t been called to help but I’m ready! Take care Elizabeth.

  2. I have made and sent masks to the urgent care clinic in Oregon where my daughter is a PA. They see many cases and are fast running out of N95 masks. To extend the life of the mask, they will wear the homemade one over the N95 and wash it before their next shift. I am happy to do my part, taking time from my longarm business to help local nursing homes and hospitals.

  3. It’s amazing, all the mask making! I’ve gotten conflicting answers when I’ve asked friends/family who are nurses whether donations would be welcomed, helpful. It really does seem to depend on the area. Here in Japan there’s a similar movement, but not for donation – more for making for ourselves. Fabric stores are handing out free patterns for the masks. And interestingly the common wisdom here is to use double gauze fabric, for breathability.

  4. Our LQS is open each day for several hours to collect masks. Like you, I’ve been sewing them too. One addition I would like to add to your post is that they prefer the cotton ties as the elastic apparently does not hold up when the masks are sterilized in the autoclaves.

  5. Thank you Elizabeth! I have grown weary of the arguments over whether the masks are effective or not. And JoAnns has bins where you can put the masks for donation. Curbside drop off if you prefer. Thank you for the humor too. It’s so good to laugh! 🙂

  6. In Canada we are not as short of the N95 masks but have been encouraged to make the masks for firefighters, store clerks, gas station attendants and personal use. To date I’ve made 127. All but two have been distributed. It helps with the emotional highs and lows to have simple projects that can be assembly line produced. My sewing table is 4’ from the tv and DH was flipping between Canadian and American news for up to 10 hours a day. He finally realized his elevated blood pressure was from the constant flow of horrid news so has instead switched to car shows, golf and even movies! My energy seems to be stabilizing and my emotions are more in check now. We sewists will do what we can to help and if the extra step of making the ties does extend the wearability for another few days of use then all is good. Take care Elizabeth. Stay home and stay well. 😷 Carol

  7. There’s this, citing a Cambridge study on materials for DIY masks:
    I combined preshrunk cotton on the outside, lined with preshrunk cotton knit on the inside, encased a wire over the bridge of the nose. But when wearing it to the store, my glasses fogged up and I couldn’t see – helping me realize that the hot air coming out was also air coming in with each inhalation – and still kept my distance from others. The other thing I noticed is that I was constantly reaching up to my face to try to pinch the wire tighter to stop the fogging – touching my face and mask more than I would have otherwise. I remember seeing a picture of a policeman on a horse during the “Spanish Flu” epidemic, wearing a cloth mask and thinking – “well, a lot of good that was doing him” (based on the idea that we know so much better now!). My great aunt died in that one at the age of 27 and pregnant. Yes, I’ll wear my fabric mask but apply a piece of tape over the bridge of my nose to keep from constantly fiddling with it, remove it promptly and drop it in the washer and wash my hands (for a full 20 seconds!) because it is “better than nothing”. And – as making more, will switch to the cotton ties!
    Bless you all for your sewing efforts and stay well.

  8. During this unprecedented time, it’s fantastic that so many sewists are turning to their machines to help. I couldn’t help but notice that “Sewers step up… ” Like you, I prefer the term “sewist” though spellcheck keeps turning it into “sexist!” The funnies going around are so good to help put a smile on a face, even if just for a little bit. We’re all going through a wide range of emotions, and I’m sure we’ll each come through this behaving a bit differently than we once did. Take care of yourself. Be well!

  9. Thanks to all who are making masks! Yes, they are NOT replacements for N95s but they are being widely used. I have cut fabric and seam binding to make a lot of masks. Sewing some myself, but making lots of kits for friends who have sewing machines at home. Using a modified Deaconess pattern, starting with two 7×10.5″ instead of 6×9, and stitching seam binding across the top and bottom of the mask (40″ piece for top, 36″ for bottom). Also very important to make an OBVIOUS FRONT and BACK side to the mask, by using two different fabrics or the reverse side of the main print on the back/inside portion. Some of the masks my group is making went to a hotel where cleaning staff will be cleaning rooms of quarantined first responders. Today a woman posted that she was organizing a team of school staffers to hand out homework packets and requested masks for the staff members. If we keep sewing, I think we’ll keep finding people who want to use the masks. While we’re at it, we should make some for ourselves and friends/neighbors. I’m not going out shopping any longer and don’t need to leave the house, but I’ll still make myself a mask in case I must.

  10. Really enjoyed this post. I ended up making myself a mask for no other reason than to keep myself from touching my own face when I grocery shop.

  11. Thanks for all the information. Unfortunately, the options get more complicated every day. I am still using the pattern recommended by the nursing home that asked for the masks in my area.

  12. It has been a crazy, crazy week. I made a mask tutorial over a year ago (two years ago?), anyway, I am a little behind in trying to answer questions, so I am taking a breather this weekend to just walk away from masks. Monday will get here fast enough. Until then I am going to sip coffee, read a book, and put a few pieces of fabric through the machine.

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