(Beth Jones styling up a mask.)
Who knew we would be talking about face masks in 2020? Maybe Lady Gaga was ahead of her time. The CDC now encourages people to wear face masks in public, and some states have made it mandatory. While this may feel like an apocalyptic shift, it’s encouraging to remember that everyday face masks were accepted and normal in many other cultures before the coronavirus hit.
According to the latest studies, the most effective and breathable material for non-medical face masks is 100 percent cotton. Cotton T-shirts, bed sheets, and denim have all performed well in tests as long as there are at least two layers (but four are better for thinner cottons). Synthetics, bandannas, and wool have not successfully filtered particles. Keep this in mind when creating your own mask or shopping online, as there are several purveyors of pretty masks whose product descriptions don’t clearly adhere to safety guidelines.
If you need a quick fix, there are several makeshift mask tutorials online. However, this pandemic is likely to stick around for a while, and the hardest-hit states are requiring masks in public when around others. Living somewhere that necessitates the use of a mask multiple times a week means that it would probably be easier to invest in one or two real ones that will filter particles and be easy to wash, dry, and reuse.
The internet is full of patterns from seamstresses and even the CDC that you can print to make your own masks at home. Most patterns fall into the category of the close-to-the-face ninja-esque masks, or pleated surgeon-like masks. They both seem to be equally safe, and can be made with elastic rings for the ears or fabric ties to go around the head.
The fabric you choose to use will probably depend on what you have at hand or what is safest for you to acquire. Stay away from bandannas, wools, polyester, or other synthetics because they have not tested well. Look for tees, pillowcases, and denim. Many people have a few charity run or college shirts lying around that can easily be turned into masks—yay for upcycling! Or, if you’ve got an old pair of jeans in the back of your drawers, you could cut them up to make masks and a pair of cut-offs! If you can’t find anything suitable at home, try ordering some fabric online from Jo-Ann’s, Michael’s, or better yet, your local fabric shop.
You can also upgrade your mask with wires and filters, if you want. Some patterns include a fold at the top so that you can slip in a pipe cleaner or other thin wire that allows you to shape the mask around the nose. When masks began to go mainstream, some people were recommending masks with pockets for coffee filters, which filter out many more particles than cotton. But tests have shown coffee filters to be less breathable. However, paper towels add filtration and are easier to breathe through, so you could add a pocket to the inside of your mask and slip in a paper towel for when you go outside.
Verily contributors have written about finding the joy in surrounding yourself with pretty things. Since we may be wearing masks fairly often, why not make them fun and decorative, as well? Maybe you’ve found some lovely floral, checked, or animal print fabrics that are polyester—no worries! Just make sure that you have the requisite two to four layers of 100 percent cotton fabric as the base, and then you can add a layer of any type of fabric on the outside. Some people have already gotten very creative with their masks, adding ruffles and silk flowers. You could also add embellishments like cheerful iron-on patches or elegant embroidery.
If you’d rather buy masks, there are multiple sources online. Support small business by buying off Etsy, or stimulate the economy by buying from ethical brands like Reformation. Of course, Amazon and others are also offering a selection of masks. Double check that the fabric clearly adheres to CDC guidelines to make sure that the mask will do its job. While you’re at it, consider donating some masks to medical workers as well!