Helping Others with Washable Cloth Masks

I’ve decided I could be helping others during this global Covid-19 pandemic by making protective, washable cloth masks. You might wonder what inspired me to do this.

During this pandemic, like the rest of the year, I should be writing. But both my husband and I have rheumatoid arthritis and are considered immune compromised and as such, are at higher risk of serious illness if we were to contract this virus. We’re self-isolating to reduce our risk. Because of this, I’m having trouble focusing on my work in progress, Water Magic, the sequel to Fire Magic, book 1 of my Three Moon Falls series.  The plan is to be productive while in self-isolation and since my mind it too fluttery to write, I decided to do something crafty and helpful.

When Covid-19 first made the news, big-time, back in January, my husband and I eagerly followed the news. We were going to be ready for this. We stocked up on a few extra groceries and sundry items. At that time, protective masks were already becoming scarce. We hit a dozen stores before we found, and purchased, enough N95 masks to get me through a pandemic and my monthly medical infusions. I didn’t want to be heading into the hospital every month without protection.

Before long, it became apparent that in Alberta, Canada, there was a shortage of masks. Friends who are nurses and doctors began to request reusable cloth masks. I had the skill; I had the materials and I had the drive to help my friends.

I’m an author, but before discovering my love of writing, I was an avid quilter and sewer.  I used to make 1890s style traditional western clothing and costumes. Now, those among you that are fabric aficionados know that fabric has a tendency to pile up. My sewing room/office is no exception. I have at least a dozen boxes of top-quality quilting cottons waiting for me to use them up. Here was something constructive I could do. I could turn that stockpile of fabric into masks.

A search online and resulted in endless mask patterns. I started with a pleated, rectangular version like the inexpensive surgical masks that used to be readily available in stores. It gaped badly at the sides. I went back to the internet and found more patterns. Some were just plain uncomfortable, too large or way too small to be useful. I found that masks that fit me did not fit my husband, or my other test subjects. I wanted a fairly universal pattern.

Eventually, I settled on a pattern from Tiana’s Closet. It works up quickly without too much difficulty. It was a good pattern, but I didn’t have any narrow round elastic for the ear loops, and the elastic I had was too large to fit easily around the ears. With ear loops failing, I turned to my friends in the medical field for advice on different methods to keep the mask in place. After some trial and error, we discovered that ties work great, as does a continuous loop of elastic at the back. I use four 12-inch lengths of ribbon in the tie version. The top tie is worn high on the head to keep it from sliding down. 

I use a 24-inch length of elastic, no thicker than ¼ inch, for the looped elastic version. I find this one particularly comfortable as I can pull the bottom portion of the elastic tight and loosen up the top. Double bonus in that if the elastic is too big for your head, a simple knot will shorten in. To accommodate this elastic, I double fold the ‘arms’ of the mask to create a channel for the elastic to run through.

As of today, I’ve made well over 100 masks. I’ve given them to family members, friends at high risk, nurses and doctors. I’ve sold about a dozen at a price that barely pays for my materials. I’m not in this for the money, I’m in it to do my part to help out.Cloth Face Masks image 2

Currently, in Alberta, our health care system has enough masks for those on the front lines in hospitals and for clinics and medical centers. I’ve been in contact with agencies for midwives to offer my help. Some are seeking masks for their staff and clients.

Where does this leave me? Busy sewing masks and happy to help out. I’m much more content now. Doing something positive and constructive has given me a sense of control over my life. I’ve even managed to put a few new words on the page. I’m even optimistic that my next book will release on schedule.

Until next time we chat, stay safe, and hug those close to you. Even if it’s just an air hug from a distance.

Katie