My First Face Mask

8th July 2020

Me wearing a cloth face mask. The fabric is light blue with atomic particles and test tube illustrations.

I recently made a couple of cloth face masks for myself and for Dave. I used this pattern from Craft Passion because it comes in different sizes and has some optional features. You can add a little pocket for a wire to shape the mask to your nose (handy for people who wear glasses) or make it so there's room to slip in a filter between the two layers of fabric. It's reusable and washable if you remove the wire and throw away any filter material.

In South-East Asia it's much more common to wear a mask in public. I don't know yet how long this has been the case, or which countries do it more regularly. But I remember seeing people wearing them on the news as long ago as during the SARS epidemic, and friends tell me they're pretty common in cold and flu season too. Some of my favourite sites while I was researching patterns were from Asian folks: check out HK Masks for a step-by-step video and Zhijun Wang's Maskology if you have a lot of reusable shopping bags or want a more fashion-forward style.

Dave wearing a cloth face mask. The fabric is light green with lab equipment illustrations.

Of course, some masks are better than others. If you're a health professional, you need a medical-grade mask like an N-95. If you're immuno-compromised you should get advice from your doctor. But the rest of us can get by with a cloth mask.

If you're buying one, look for a filter pocket and a wire to shape it over your nose. The more closely it fits your face, the better. Standard cotton is good for the main mask, and there's a bunch of things you can use for filters. Elastic loops for over the ears are easy to make but according to Joanne from Craft Passion they'll make your ears sore after about an hour. I used fabric tape instead, following her shoelace method, but she has an alternative way of doing the elastic as well if that's what you've got to work with (see the "How To Wear" section after the pattern).

Of course, if you've got close-fitting fabric plus a filter over your nose and mouth, it'll be harder to breathe. This is kind of the point, to stop your breath going everywhere. I found it takes a bit of getting used to.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic there was a lot of conflicting information about whether or not you should wear a mask. The short version is that although masks don't do much to prevent you from catching a virus, they prevent you from spreading one. Given that a lot of people seem to be asymptomatic, I think we need to act as though we're contagious even if we don't think we've got it. You can read up some more on the science behind this at Masks 4 All (their FAQ is pretty good too). For me it's one of those "every little bit helps" things. It also shows that you care about your impact on your community, so that's nice too. I think it's time the rest of the world learned from Asia's experience and made wearing masks a common thing everywhere.