DIY Face Masks – Do They Work and Should You Make Them?

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Update: May 4, 2020 – As the benefits of face masks become clearer, find out how you can have fun with handmade face masks.

Note: Past updates to this post are noted toward the bottom right before the tutorials.

If you’ve been reading and hearing about the face mask shortages and want to know if DIY face masks are a possible solution to the problem, this post is for you.

Disclaimer: I’m by no means an expert in face masks. What I am is a concerned citizen of the United States who wants to use her skills to help during this unprecedented situation we find ourselves but is overwhelmed with all the available information. I’m just trying to do my best to assimilate the information, make sense of it, and form a plan of action. This post explains my opinion and how I arrived at it.

The Start

The first time I heard about a request for the general public to make face masks was March 19 when my husband and I were watching the news.

The next morning, I had a text from my sister-in-law. She sent me a link to an online article from Courier and Press that was related to the news story I had heard the night before.

Linked in the article was the Deaconess Facebook page. On their page, it said (paraphrased) they had been overwhelmed by the support and kindness from their community and believed they had enough masks being produced to meet their needs. They then encouraged readers to reach out to local hospitals to see if they have a similar need.

How amazing! Within a day, their needs had been met.

An Overwhelming Response

In the last 2 days, I’ve seen an outpouring of people in Facebook sewing communities wanting to help with the face mask shortage.

Videos and tutorials had been produced and shared showing different ways to make face masks. Comments were shared to problem solve when suggested supplies couldn’t be found.

While I silently cheered all the wonderful people jumping in to make face masks and fill a need, a tiny voice in my head reminded me of all the conflicting information I had heard, too. Like:

  • Fabric facemasks don’t keep people from getting the virus.
  • Certain specifications need to be followed or the handmade face masks can’t be used.
  • Not all communities/hospitals need them. They’ll just be thrown away.

Then I read on Joann Loves Sewists FB page that some Joann stores would be offering grab and go bags with fabric, supplies, and directions at no cost so sewists could make face masks at home and return them to the store. 

Thrilled, I called my local Joann store. They were one of the stores handing out the bags.

When I picked up a grab and go bag, I asked how and to who the masks were going to be distributed. The Joann employee didn’t know. 

This unsettled me a bit.

I’ve been in situations before where well-meaning people jumped in to fill a need before a plan of action was put in place for distribution. Items would be delivered to drop off locations but either:

  • there was no system at drop off locations to get donations where they needed to go because those particular communities weren’t experiencing the shortage, or
  • the items didn’t meet specific criteria stated in industry policies and procedures.

As a result, the items were unable to be used and in many cases, thrown away.

Based on the Courier and Press article mentioned above,

“This [handmade face masks] does follow CDC protocols that you can find on their website that if all other supplies are not available, that handmade masks that meet certain criteria are acceptable,” Deaconess spokeswoman Becca Scott said.

Basically, DIY face masks were a last resort.

When I got home, I searched for an answer to how Joann was going to distribute the completed facemasks.

I read some of the comments on the original thread where I read about the grab and go bags.

What I found was all kinds of conflicting information in the comments:

  • About the types of face masks and how they needed to have filters. (The directions in the bag I got doesn’t have a pocket for a filter.)
  • Many people expressed how they had heard medical professionals wouldn’t be able to use them and they would be thrown away.
  • Others said they had family members in the medical profession and that they WERE asking for the masks and the ones they were making would work.

Fortunately, I came across the Joann press release explaining what they were doing to help meet the need for protecting health care workers.

While I applauded Joann for their effort and generous donation of fabric and supplies, it was still unclear to me if and how all the DIY face masks would get to where they were needed.

Supplies from Joann to make face masks
The generously donated supplies from Joann. (I cut the fabric and made a couple of practice masks before starting an “assembly line”.)

An Answer

More confused, I continued to do research for any type of clarification that DIY face masks weren’t going to be a waste of time and supplies. That there really was a plan to get them distributed to where they were needed and could be used.

Then I see it.

An article in The Charlotte Observer, titled NC textile mill ‘heeds call of nation,’ gears up to make 10 million face masks per week.

Quotes from the article:

Parkdale Mills Inc., one of the country’s largest yarn spinners, is working with companies like Hanesbrand, Fruit of the Loom, and six others to build a manufacturing supply chain for the masks, the National Council of Textile Organizations said in a press release.

Production is expected to begin on Monday, the NCTO said, with deliveries starting in the middle of the week. Once at full capacity (in about four to five weeks) the coalition expects to produce up to 10 million face masks per week.

It brought tears to my eyes.

No, really.

I didn’t realize how stressed all the conflicting information had made me. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders because it seemed as if the larger problem of manufacturing and distribution of supplies was being addressed.

Then I found another article on Forbes.com about Project N95 and the U.S. Digital Response Team.

Quotes from the article:

“In response to the overwhelming shortage of N95 respirators and surgical masks, the National COVID-19 Medical Equipment Clearinghouse, aka Project N95, is launching to serve the many hospitals and healthcare systems, including nursing homes, and other care facilities, in need of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The clearinghouse is coming from another new organization, the U.S. Digital Response Team, made up of former government chief technology officers, academic leaders, and technology corporate executives. Their mission is to coordinate with manufacturers who have the capacity and can produce PPE gear and distribute it.

Hopefully, the big players mentioned in these 2 articles are communicating with each other and the necessary supplies will be delivered to the facilities that need them.

I breathed a sigh of relief and stopped stressing over how Joann was going to handle the distribution of the DIY face masks.

On a large scale, the solution to the shortage of face masks for health care professionals was being addressed so the necessary supplies could be produced and delivered where they were needed.

What About DIY Face Masks?

So what does this mean for the hundreds, possibly thousands of home sewists who are ready and willing to make face masks?

Do DIY face masks work and should we keep making them?

To help answer these questions, I reached out to a friend in my quilt group who is a retired nurse and has a compromised immune system due to some ongoing health issues. I wanted to get her opinion on handmade masks.

She told me in addition to health care workers, anyone who is immune-compromised, like chemo or lupus patients, and people who suffer from asthma could benefit from face masks.

A young man in a store wearing a face mask.

Then I read an opinion piece from The Boston Globe.

What stood out to me was how face masks can help all people.

Quotes from the article:

Masks are the best way to enforce the “do not touch your face” mantra we are hearing about for COVID-19.

Unfortunately, we humans are relatively unique among mammals in that we continuously touch our eyes, noses, and mouths for seemingly no reason every 2.5 minutes. This behavior is hard-wired and starts in utero. Let’s get real — we’re not going to be able to instantly stop doing something we’ve been doing our whole lives.

So what’s the answer? Cover your face with a mask. This will deny you access to your own face and make you conscious of how often you are tempted to touch your nose and mouth. A nonmedical mask will not protect you from a direct cough or sneeze from an infected person, but if you’re practicing good social distancing, any type of face covering is great protection from your biggest threat: your own hands.”

What We Can Do

If you’ve been confused and struggling with whether or not to make face masks, I hope the information I’ve shared helps clarify your course of action.

While we might not be needed to fill nationwide shortages for health care professionals, we can help family, friends, and local community members from touching their faces.

Consider contacting your local government and hospital systems to find out what’s going on in your community in regard to their needs for handmade face masks. This will help you plan accordingly and know the masks you make are needed and will be used.

Offer your sewing skills to make face masks for friends and family, especially those who work in a health care profession. Find out if they want/need them before you make them.

Think about the places you use in your community.

You can contact assisted living, long term care, chemo centers, asthma clinics, local restaurants, grocery stores, and any other businesses that are still able to offer services to the public. Could they use face masks?

In my opinion, it is best to keep your efforts local where you know exactly what the need is.

As for me, I made the face masks from the supplies generously donated by Joann and returned them to my local store. I’m optimistic a system is in place for them to actually be used.

Hand made face masks.
The 18 face masks I made with supplies generously donated by Joann.

Instead of getting another grab and go bag, I’ve started asking family members who live near me if they would like face masks.

So far, my brother-in-law took me up on my offer and I made a couple of sets for him and his wife.

Hand made face masks with ties and elastic

I reached out to my local Councilman in San Antonio and his office replied,

“Currently, Metro health is not accepting hand made masks.  If you would like to donate to a hospital,  you should first contact that hospital if they are in need and if they accept handmade masks.

If they are not able to be used by healthcare professionals, they would still be a great option for the general public.”

His reply confirmed my decision that using our sewing abilities to help those who tell us they need or want it is the way to go.

Updates

UPDATE April 2, 2020: An article published in The Washington Post suggests experts can’t agree on the best handmade face mask either. Sindya Bhanoo wrote a very comprehensive piece on many different mask variations. You can read it HERE.

UPDATE March 28, 2020: I just finished a marathon of mask making with my husband’s help. I made 35 masks yesterday for family, friends, and friends of friends. None are medical professionals but the most recent recommendation is for the general public to wear masks.

UPDATE on March 24: When I looked for the specific details on CDC’s website about handmade masks, I was unable to find the blurb I read two days ago to confirm what was linked in the text CDC protocols from the Courier and Press news story mentioned at the start of this post. It was a line that basically said handmade face masks are a last resort.

I’m not sure if the policy was updated or I just couldn’t find that line. Either way, I feel good about my decision to use my sewing skills to provide masks for people I know who want and will use them.

When I checked the Joann FB page today, there were several encouraging posts from people making face masks with certain individuals in mind. This just reinforced that our greatest impact is felt within our local communities.

DIY Face Mask Tutorials

If you have a Cricut, check out this tutorial from Jennifer Maker.

Her mask has a removable filter pocket so you can change the filter and wash the face mask. It has ties instead of elastic to secure it to your face.

No Cricut? No problem.

In Jennifer Maker’s tutorial linked above, she does have a PDF pattern to print and cut out with scissors or a rotary cutter.

Another option is from Missouri Star Quilt Company. They have an easy to follow video to DIY a face mask with elastic.

Let’s Connect

My main goals are to support, empower, and inspire you to discover the joy of sewing.

Need help or have questions on this project, pattern, or tutorial? Send me an email at nicki@theruffledpurse.com and we can work together to get it figured out!

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4 Comments

    1. Thanks, Nicole. It felt good to write it. All the info I was reading, plus my own past experiences, had me conflicted. I hope it encourages others to find out about the needs in their own communities for face masks.

    1. Tracy, thanks for sharing this article! I got a warm fuzzy feeling while reading it because those that are making the masks know exactly where they are going and that they will be used.

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