After the CDC recommended everyone begin wearing protective face coverings, I went searching for some of my own. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find anything I liked. With time on my hands, I decided I’d just make my own. So, I got online, did some research, and came up with a few prototypes using materials I had at home. Eventually, I created a final design. Below, I’ll discuss the five most important factors I discovered during the process.
Choosing the right fabric for the mask was my top priority.
You can’t just go with anything, because many still carry residue from the pesticides used in the growing process and the toxic chemicals used to lock dye in the fabric. If you end up wearing material like this for hours at a time, you can rest assured you’ll be breathing in chemicals off-gassed from the fabric. Rather than using synthetic fabrics, I believe it’s best to use 100% organic fabric. Not only is it a healthier choice, but it is also non-toxic and hypoallergenic.
At first, I purchased GOTS certified organic fabric to create a prototype, but the yarns didn’t last very long. This is because – since the material is made without chemicals – there is nothing to prevent microorganisms from growing and breaking down the fabric. It only lasted a couple of washes before it couldn’t be reused and had to be thrown out due to odor and bacteria growth.
This told me that I needed to find an organic fabric with antimicrobial properties.
Eventually, I found an online fabric store who sold 100% organic fabric that was treated with SILVADUR™, a product that uses silver ions to inhibit the growth of bacteria on fabrics. I decided to go with their 100% organic cotton Twill material. Not only was it durable, but it kept its shape after washing and prevented microorganism growth. It was exactly what I was looking for!
Knit vs. Woven
Now, understand that, while using a T-shirt to make a face mask may be convenient, knit fabric is very stretchy and has larger holes that allow air to pass through. With woven fabric, the yarns are weaved much tighter and can better block out small particles in the air. Eventually, I discovered that using two layers of premium quality Twill does a great job of filtering air without creating too much bulk. Twill is also soft, feels nice against your face, and has moisture-wicking properties that prevent humidity from building up inside the mask.
After applying different types of straps to the mask, including twill tape, clear elastic, and fabric ties with sliders, it turned out that regular polyester braided elastic was the most comfortable (which is probably the reason why it’s sold out everywhere!). It also has excellent recovery and is makeup/dirt resistant. At first, I thought the option to adjust the strap length freely would make wearing the mask more convenient, but the knots ended up getting loose, and the sliders shifted during the day. When I adjusted it back to the right place, it became very easy to accidentally touch my face with my hands, which was exactly what I wanted to prevent by wearing the mask!
It was important that the straps had to be securely sewn into place in order for the mask not to move while I wore it. I also discovered that when the elastic was 1/4” too short or too long, it ended up either pulling my ears or falling off of them. Since we should not be sharing masks anyway, it makes sense to have them designed to fit only one person. You also want to consider the fit so that you can take it off in one motion, and wear it comfortably all day long without having to touch it. For these reasons, I included 1” of extra elastic inside every face mask, which can be taken out and re-stitched back into place if needed.
By now, most people have tried wearing one of those disposable pleated surgical masks. However, they’re so thin, it almost makes me wonder if it’s doing anything. On top of that, it’s so uncomfortable that I want to take it off after five minutes. The pleats create gaps at the sides, and there’s no space in front of the nose to prevent moisture buildup.
To solve those issues, I found the beak shape to be the best design to emulate with my masks. The facial contouring shape not only eliminates the gaps and provides good coverage, but it also leaves room to breathe and keeps you dry all day. I also felt the look of the mask mattered because I’d be wearing it when I was out, not at home. I felt is was important that I look clean, professional, and presentable. I’d also be wearing the mask in the office for long periods of time, so I wanted it to go with all of the different outfits and makeup I wear.
Now, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many sellers don’t show the inside of their face masks in their pictures. When you finish the edges of a one-layer face mask, the edges, stitches, and binding can often be scratchy against the face. It’s an extra sewing step to hide the seams and requires an extra layer of fabric of lining/ facing. For me, however, it’s crucial that the mask be as smooth as possible, without anything that causes friction and irritation due to my sensitive skin.
With face masks suddenly becoming a valuable commodity, the chore of maintaining our masks properly was added to our already overflowing to-do list. After a long and tiring day, it would be impossible to find the time to clean the same face mask every night. For that reason, I planned to have at least five masks for five days, and I’d wash them all together on the weekend to save time and energy.
Initially, I was concerned that if I was unable to care for the masks properly, I would end up having to spend more time and money to replace them. So, I designed my masks to be very easy to care for. This meant making sure they could withstand the hot water needed to sanitize them and the hot ironing required to bring it back to shape. I created all of my masks with white fabric, so I can bleach them without any worries (which is great for makeup stains). I also didn’t want any colors that would fade or bleed out over time. In general, I wanted the masks to last at least three months before they needed to be replaced.
This crisis has definitely taught us the importance of how and where our products are manufactured. For me, it’s become an important factor in my decision to purchase a number of things, and I know others share the same concerns. This is why I believe it’s important to be transparent about how things are made, including my masks.
I buy all new materials and fabric from Wazoodle Fabrics, a reliable retail and wholesale store in Pennsylvania that purchases its fabrics from mills in the US. I’m not using any leftover fabric either, because fabrics are prone to absorb odors, dust, and bacteria over time. This is especially important to me, because I once purchased fabric from a warehouse infested with cat dander, and the fabric ended up having to be thrown out.
Luckily, I haven’t had any issues buying from Wazoodle yet.
During production, I cut and sew the masks in a separate room (my office) and clean the surfaces of my workstation are on a regular basis. My home is also non-pet and non-smoking.
If you would like to try one of my masks, please visit my shop here.
Thank you for reading!