Non-Medical Face Masks: Construction Alternatives
As the need and requests for face masks increase, the availability of materials to make them decreases!
In this blog post, we're going to suggest some alternatives and replacements for all the basic face mask materials.
The most important part of the face mask is the actual face mask itself.
How it's held onto your head (by ties or elastic), whether it's two layers or three (with an additional layer of interfacing or other filter material), and even what design used (pleated rectangle or shaped to the face), is less important than the fabric used to make the mask part of the face mask!
Quilting cotton is by far the best choice! Fortunately, there's still plenty of quilting cotton available!
But, if you can't find, don't want to wait for, can't afford, or want to recycle rather than using new quilting cotton, there are alternatives! Perfectly acceptable and safe face masks can be made from:
- Old bedsheets and pillowcases, or
- Men's or women's cotton or cotton blend shirts
As long as the fabric has a fine and tight weave, it'll make a good face mask!
Demand for 1/4 inch elastic had increased - literally - a hundredfold. We can't keep it in stock!
Fortunately, we've heard from experienced mask makers and wearers that 1/4 inch elastic isn't actually the best choice for face masks! There are several reasons why:
- Elastic will not maintain its stretchiness and recovery through frequent hot water washes and dryings.
- Even 1/4 inch elastic is uncomfortable if the user wears glasses.
- Elastic tends to slip if used in face masks that fasten around the head.
Happily, there are several, better, alternatives!
The standard pleated rectangle face mask design that commonly loops around the ears can be easily adapted to use ties in an "around the head" design by either tying (longer) straps across the back of the head, or by tying the straps diagonally across the back of the head.
Similarly, shaped face masks that commonly use closed elastic straps across the back of the head (so that the facemask is pulled down over the head) can also be adapted to use ties that tie straight or diagonally around the back of the head.
For each of these designs, the ties can be sewn to the corners of the facemask, or passed through a channel on each side of the facemask for a tighter fit.
There are several patterns and resources for face mask patterns in the blog post: Non-Medical Face Masks: Advice and Resources.
TiesAlternative ties can be made of:
- 1 inch twill tape or stable ribbon,
- 1/2" bias tape (either purchased or homemade), or
- 1 1/2" strips of knit fabric. This knit fabric can be cut lengthwise from the body of a old t-shirt, or cut from an length of a fairly lightweight knit fabric.
On the pro-side, interfacing adds a bit more structure to the shaped face mask designs, and may add to comfort or "non-fogginess" of a face mask.
On the other hand, interfacing does not add a medically significant amount of additional filtering to the face mask beyond the two layers of quilting cotton, and adds an additional step or two to the construction process.
On the whole, it doesn't seem worth the extra expense or construction time.
In order to keep the facemask tight to your face (so that you don't fog your glasses with every breath!), some kind of nose shaping is required. Nose shaping is usually done by adding a small one-ended channel (a little pocket made of bias tape) across the top of the mask and slipping an aluminum nose shaping strip into it.
Not everyone (well, actually very few people) has access to medical grade aluminium nose shaping strips. Fortunately again, there are some great alternatives! These all work well in face masks:
- Wire wrapped ribbon
- Pipe cleaners, and
- Straightened paper clips
Our great friend and brilliant designer Paddye Mann has written a web article about face masks and the best materials, patterns, and materials to make them.
Our own blog post about face masks provides another place to start your face mask journey.
Colette Patterns has a great tutorial on making bias tape. 100 inches of bias tape from a 10" square - it's amazing!
Please let us know what alternatives and resources you've found!