Cloth Masks

[Quick note: If you want links to patterns, scroll to the end of this post.]

I have access to a sewing machine, and therefore I’ve used my studio space to make nothing but cloth masks since mid-March 2020. (Many thanks to my mom, whose expertise makes this easier and whose company makes it enjoyable.)

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The studio setting makes me think of this as an artistic endeavor. As I work, I wonder if I’ve ever before put so much effort into creating things whose ideal future is to be superfluous because the need disappeared or a superior product became available. I also spend a reasonable chunk of time being indignant about how heteronormative gender stuff factors into who will wear which colors and patterns, but nobody who’s seen my artwork will be surprised by that.

I wish I’d been methodical about documenting every variation I attempted. Most of what I’ve made were in the pleated surgical style, because that’s what the local medical center requested. Working with them has been helpful, because they can provide elastic (which otherwise I can’t seem to source). I made some for friends and family, of course, but after a certain point it seems sensible to direct output towards those who most want cloth masks. The local medical center has met their quota for masks to give folks waiting for help or being discharged, and has moved on to acting as a distribution center for any community member who asks for masks.

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Unsurprisingly, I found ways to be a nerd about this. I’ve been eagerly following C. Z. Edwards’s posts (on twitter and blog) about the merits and handling of various materials. (Probably the most notable is the reminder that vacuum bags are excellent filtration methods whose function depends on not being punctured by things like sewing needles.)

I tried out a lot of mask variations. (Lots of trial and error. Utterly destroyed an electric iron.) The masks I wear during my fortnightly grocery run are in the surgical style with a nose bridge (aka a paperclip sewn into the mask) and T-shirt ties to go over my ears. (You can make T-shirt yarn by cutting a 1 inch strip of a T-shirt and tugging on it lengthwise to cause it to curl up on itself. I assume it will fray eventually, but for now it acts like elastic and is far more readily available.)

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Some of the patterns I looked at in the last month include: