Masks in the Making

Dear Reader,

Although the initial shock and panic that the coronavirus pandemic has brought is well behind us, social distancing and other policies are chugging along full speed ahead. The Massachusetts governor ordered everyone over the age of 2 to wear face masks in all public spaces (including outdoors) if they are unable to maintain a distance of six feet. Doubling down on this policy, some areas around Boston enacted legislation mandating that everyone over the age of 2 cover their faces in all public spaces regardless (i.e. even if maintaining a distance of six feet is possible). While law enforcement has been instructed to focus on educating citizens rather than fining them for non-compliance, a penalty of $300 may be enforced for violations. So, in compliance of this new legislation, I have taken the time to sew some cloth masks. While picking materials seemed like fun and games in the beginning, I assure you that this was a long and surprisingly difficult process.

To make the masks I followed this website for instructions.

The first challenge with making these masks was finding the right materials. The coronavirus is spread through droplets, so masks must be thick enough to block the moisture, but also thin enough to be breathable. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommends 100% cotton masks. Other sources recommend a wide range of materials including silk, linens, pillowcases, and even vacuum cleaner bags. Some of these materials are much less effective than others, so for fabrics like silk, it is advisable to make a double-layer mask.

For the masks, I used old clothing and an ironing board cover—some 100% cotton, others a rayon/cotton blend—to make a two-layer mask with a pocket to insert a filter (like a paper towel). The lining of the masks was made from a soft lining of an old dress that I had. For the mask straps, I was luckily able to use the string that held together the cloth on the ironing board as the straps for the mask.

Sewing everything by hand makes for a time-consuming process. The instructions suggested that making the mask would take about 30 minutes with a sewing machine…this is not an accurate estimate for a hand-sewn product. I spent too many daylight hours looking up instructions, ripping seams, and threading needles. The mask that I attempted was rather complex, but there are other variants out there based on the simpler surgical mask design.

Hard, meaningful work is a labor of love. I’m not a fan of sewing, but it did feel good to see a few scraps of fabric turn into a useable product. Learning that masks are mandatory in any public space (even within the apartment buildings that we consider a part of our homes) can stir difficult emotions. Even though I strongly support measures intended to slow the spread of infection and protect ourselves, essential workers, and the fragile healthcare system, adapting to the changes is still hard. Regardless, I’m sure we all know that while our personal comfort is important, compliance with social distancing is a priority.

Even if you don’t sew, embracing mask-making as a small challenge can be an easy way to help you cope with the new pandemic-era realities. While I know that I will not enjoy wearing a mask (especially in the hot summer months), I hold a small amount of pride in the fact that the mask that I wear on my face is my own unique creation. So, when it comes to masks, get creative and make them your own. Let’s turn lemons into lemonade!

I wish you health and happiness on your journey!



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