Making your own fabric Face Masks at home
By Vicky Twomey-Lee in Dublin May 17, 2020, 12:16 a.m.
I've been meaning to write this article for awhile since I started my journey learning how to sew and make a fabric face mask. I saw that the Irish government has recommended people to wear face masks (finally). RTÉ even has a video "Make and Do - How to make a face covering at home"
My journey into the sewing world...
As a person who's always envious of people being able to sew and make their own clothes, whereas I can just about sew and keep my buttons from falling off, with the current lockdown, it was an opportunity to learn how to use a sewing machine. I've bought small and cheapo sewing machines in the long distant past and had mixed success and preferring to hand-stitching (which takes forever for me 😓). So me and my other half decided to go and get a good sewing machine, basic but a good one. We opted for a swiss model called Bernette b35 as opposed to the more well known Singer ones out there.
Fun fact, my mom has a really old foot controlled Singer and she's a trained seamstress).
You can find the details of the model we got via the official Bernette's website
For me, this is back to the beginning on how to even prepare the sewing machine, the threading, bobbins, take apart bits and put it back again when thread gets stuck. What all those numbers mean! And this is the basic model!
As I do have a project in mind, make your own fabric face masks, and I was inspired by HKMask, they have free templates of various sizes. It's the first one I really looked at back in February when it COVID-19 was getting serious in Far East. They have great instructions and a Youtube video (English subtitles). If you are based in Hong Kong, you can buy the packs from them and make them yourself. They have a handy guide of tests from various materials and how effective they are. Bear in mind, these masks are to protect those around you, not yourself from COVID-19.
I decided to see what I have in the house when looking for materials to make my fabric face masks:-
- Clear out my wardrobe, it's spring cleaning anyway. Found t-shirts and shirts I don't want anymore. It's either charity or upcycle them to face masks. I was looking for 100% cotton, t-shirts are a popular choice from what I read.
- Handily enough, I had a role of those garden wire twisties in the shed
- Elastic bands from old clothes (note: they'll fray and wear away fast)
- Dug out my old sewing kits I've acquired over the years, the ones from IKEA are not bad. They don't seem to stock them anymore when I checked online. (You can see the various kits via this search if you are curious)
I decided not to go near the scary sewing machine, and decided to handstitched the face mask initially so I know what I'm getting myself into and understand the pattern. I may have watched the Youtube video a million times, but I need to just do it.
- white cotton t-shirt (lining)
- shirt for the front
- old elastic from clothes
- garden wire twisties
And here's a pick of the end result of my first attempt. Took my a long time to hand stitch it all, but it came together, not bad for first try!
First time using the new sewing machine
Ok, I didn't realise how threads get stuck so often and spent my time figuring out the mechanical elements of the sewing machine. Youtube and manual to the rescue. Plus, I wasted so much thread! And I running out of thread in the bobbin really is annoying but gets me into practice on getting a bobbin ready and threading it all again. I have yet to master (still learning btw) on controlling the speed of the needle with the foot pedal. I just keep telling myself it's like driving a car. 😆
Anyway, here's my 1st attempt making the mask with the sewing machine. Not a bad effort. I didn't even practice and I even showed my mom and she said it was a good effort, especially if I'm not trained to use a sewing machine. Yass! 💪
The materials I used was similar to the first mask I hand-stitched.
The following is a 3rd mask I made entirely of old conference t-shirts.
- White t-shirt for lining in back
- Black was a t-shirt from one of the PyCons we attended in the past
Getting better but not necessarily a whole lot faster
I was getting bogged down about the stitches getting stuck, things bunching up, etc. Until I watched this video (I did watch a lot of various make your fabric face mask videos) and this 10 year old did all the sewing. 😮
If she can do it, I should be able to as well! The next day and therein after, I was pretty determined. 💪
Subsequent face masks were made over the following weeks and I was getting gradually better, it takes me around an hour to make one, I was hoping to get one made in 30 minutes, but I realised the pinning and getting it prepped takes the most time. It wasn't the sewing itself, I've managed to control it at a steady pace (slow but steady as she goes).
I've started to use fancier materials.
And I ordered even fancier materials from The Fabric Counter, some proper elastic and even a rotary cutter (because I was curious as everyone was raving about them, the rotary cutters are the bees knees btw). 😊
And here's the various progressions of making my own fabric face masks:
I still don't have the courage of making them and donating them (I'm pretty slow), but there is a community of volunteers who are open to all to help them out making fabric face masks (they use one design and are pretty organised) and distribute to frontline healthcare workers or any groups that need them. They are called Masks 4 All Ireland - Sewists Against Covid-19. The group maintainer has this handy post on the group including a video, requests if you are looking for masks, what you can do if you are a sewit - https://www.facebook.com/groups/817809175296033/permalink/825833651160252/
My awesome friend, Andrea, shared this tweet from the Rubber Bandits looking for tips on how to make no-sew fabric face masks.
Does anyone have a link to a twitter video with simple instructions on how to make cotton face masks from old t shirts?— The Blindboy Podcast (@Rubberbandits) April 30, 2020
There's also other ideas like these from Sustainable Fashion Dublin on Instagram
I also came across this video of someone who made a facemask and used flexible panel, check it out, it's really cool!
Thanks for your time reading this, I hope this helps and if I can make one, you can do if you are a novice at sewing and terrified of using one. Stay safe and take care. Let's do our part, no matter how small, and get through this together. 😷🧼🌈💟