Mask fabric 101

fabric for masks

All of us know about the necessity of the day – why we should be careful, why we should wear masks while outdoors. But still many hesitate when going out to don that mask, unless absolutely necessary. Why? Some find that they cannot breathe inside their mask, some are skeptical about their mask fabric preventing the virus from attacking, some feel claustrophobic inside the thick layers of the mask. Then some others have preconceived notions of the effectiveness of any kind of protection and may feel an inevitability about the whole thing.

There is no solution to the last dilemma, you cannot convince some people beyond a point (who use masks only as a means of getting into a shop, or train) But for all others, there are solutions.

There is no doubt that fabric masks are saving lives. They are also saving the earth from being a gigantic plastic garbage dump of disposable masks. Here are some pointers on the fabric and other materials for making one.

masks

Related posts : How to sew a fabric face mask ; How to fold a cloth into a mask ; 10 different types of virus protection masks

Main Fabric for the masks 

The number one criterion for choosing the best fabric for making your own masks is that it will filter out small microorganisms both to the outside and to the inside. But compromising breathability is also dangerous as after some time people will have enough of trying to breathe through several layers of unbreathable fabrics and may abandon wearing the mask altogether.

The best bet is to use a tightly woven premium cotton (more than 180 thread count) and that too more than 2 layers. You can use thin 100%  cotton layers with Microfiber fabric or flannel inside. If you are using a cotton-polyester blend you need at least 3 layers for it to be effective but poly-cotton fabrics are not as breathable as cotton. If you can buy fabric with antimicrobial properties that is best.

This article says that using cotton and silk as layers or cotton and chiffon works better in filtering out droplets. 

Some of the N95 masks on the market have upto 6 layers, likewise you can add layers of fabric to your mask to increase its protection.

For the layer that touches your skin, you can choose a fabric with moisture-wicking (take water away) properties like bamboo fabric, silk. Cotton, though it absorbs moisture, can retain moisture and this may cause discomfort but this is relevant only if you already have cold, cough, etc and the mask will get wet. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester have moisture wicking but you may question their breathablity.

Whatever you use, prewash the fabric before making masks.

Decorations on your mask ?

For my husband’s birthday this week I managed to buy a shirt for him secretly, sanitize it, hide it and then when I presented it to him, he tells me “But this is not what I want”. Well, talk about ungrateful. Then he showed me the photograph of a shirt with a matching mask in an online shop. It drew a laugh from me and though it was said as a joke, I understood his viewpoint. We have to wear masks, so might as well wear it with some semblance of style, other than the same old black ones.

What I would do is make it in a neutral colored checkered fabric. Checkered patterns are always classy. Learn the names of different check patterns here.

mask fabric styles

I am going by the many many checkered shirts he already owns. But it may be too matchy-matchy with similar shirts.

mask fabric styles

A denim one is always in demand.

fabric for masks

You can even use embroidered jeans scraps to make a mask. Or maybe not.

mask fabrics

Most kids need to be insisted on wearing masks. Appealing fabric patterns can make masks more enticing to them. Or You can make it interesting by embroidering funny faces.

I have seen masks with some really weird looks. If you are into bling you can try some simple bead work along the edge as in this post.

mask fabrics

And end up with a mask like this.

mask fabric styles

Do not feel offended if this is not your cup of tea, I mean mask. Live and let other people wear the mask they like. 

Filters for the masks 

Usually, people who make masks add filter inside the mask through a  pocket opening accessible from the inside of the mask. This filter is disposable and is removed before washing. For the inside layer /filter, polypropylene (the kind of material used to make reusable grocery bags), and Nonwoven interfacing are used.

It is an extra protecting layer but the problem is that you may feel constricted inside, some of the filters used. It is not the most comfortable thing to wear for a long time. But if you are going out for a short detour, then by all means wear the mask with a filter in between its layers.

Fastening – Ties / elastic bands.

Sewing elastic ear bands are convenient. But they prove to be a disaster after a few washes. The elastic will stretch out of size soon enough. Or your ears will end up like that of the elf. You can instead use fabric ties, bias tape or twill tape, or even ribbons. Here is a post on the different types of tapes. If you are using elastic you can buy rope elastic or 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch elastic.

Though homemade masks are not enough as protection for health care workers working in intensive care units and those who are directly in touch with virus-infected patients, the DIY Fabric Mask has proven itself again and again as a piece of equipment for the common man’s fight against the common enemy (along with all other precautions). The right kind of mask serves a community rather than an individual.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is based on my reading and interpretation of many articles available online. Please refer authentic websites on the subject for more detailed information like the CDC website : How to use a mask ; Evaluation of filteration process of different cloth mask materials

References and good reading: More on Mask fabrics at nbcnews.com;  https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0016018

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