Sunday, April 19, 2020

'A time to rend, a time to sew...'

To everything there is a season -- and in this season of coronavirus, many of us are busy sewing face masks.

I'm selling my "fashion mask" pictured above -- using cotton that's hand-dyed with indigo using shibori-resist techniques -- on my Etsy page, with all proceeds going to benefit Feeding America, a national organization that works with food banks, food pantries and meal programs all across the country. (You can check them out at

The main reasons I've heard for distributing home-made masks is 1) to protect those who need them, such as first responders, hospital workers and essential-service employees and 2) in order to save the N95 masks for those on the front lines, such as doctors and nurses in the emergency rooms and ICUs, where they are needed most. Also, here in New York State, Governor Cuomo has mandated that everyone wear one, starting now (effective April 17).

I first learned about the idea from the folks at Sew Creative, a sewing shop in nearby Fairport, NY. Lisa Swisher and her army of volunteers have, last count, sewn some 10,000 masks for the Rochester community, including the Rochester Police Force. She has bins outside the shop where you can leave your pre-cut fabric and/or your hand-made masks.

For a news story on Lisa and her effort, click here. And I've started a Facebook fundraiser to help the shop out with their purchases: To donate, click here.

Finally, here's the link to mask-making instructions:

These masks aren't as easy to make as one might think. You want a mask that fits securely, that can be washed, that has a good filter and that won't fall apart. And then there is the overriding responsibility of doing the best job possible, including the placing of the filter so it goes over the nose and the mouth.

Lisa bought some MERV-13 furnace-filter material, which is supposed to work well to filter out the micro-droplets that COVID-19 is known for. It goes in here, through an opening at the top in the back of the mask.

But I don't have access to that material and I wasn't quite sure how to put it inside the mask. (Lisa does this in her shop rather than have her volunteers do it and, since no one goes inside the shop these days, I have no idea how she does it.) So I did some research and learned that nonwoven polypropylene is the fabric that's used for the really top-quality hospital-mask filters. Turns out, this is the same material you will find in recycled grocery bags and tote bags, although it's a different weave.

So there is some research to back this up, and some websites are recommending it. Here's a link to some great information on what's been scientifically tested and found to work:

I cut up some tote bags and devised my own filters to insert into my masks, cutting each one to a 4" x 4" shape.

And guess what? They seem to work and they are washable. In fact, I boiled my masks for two minutes -- indigo-dyed cotton, elastic, filter and all -- and they held up! Which means they can be sanitized over and over.

Just let me know if you want more information And above all, stay home and stay healthy. Thanks for reading.

Update on April 20: One day after I posted this, my masks sold out on Etsy! Thanks to all!

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