I have been a little worried about my friends and family members in the health care profession lately.
With the onset of COVID 19 in my state – we are now at over 500 with one of my nieces working in one of the “hotspot” areas in South Georgia. Since I have absolutely no background in health care, and basically my only skills are crafting, snarky comebacks, and baking brownies, I thought I would take inventory and see what I could do to be helpful to them. I ruled out brownies, labored over the snarky comebacks, and finally settled on sewing. Specifically surgical masks.
Since the supplies of N95 surgical masks seem to be sitting in the home bathrooms of every hoarder in America right now rather than being in the hands of health care workers (yes, the snarky comebacks and comments will be employed in a commentary on our society during a panic later – but I digress…) who actually need these to prevent their own infection, I decided to do what I could to at least mitigate exposure. So what does a nerd do when she wants to find the answers to something? Research – yep – believe it or not, there are studies done on the effectiveness of certain materials (mostly household) compared to the effectiveness of the N95 masks that will keep nurses and doctors healthy. You can read that here. A surgeon friend is using an HVAC filter at a MERV rating of 13 or higher, but more on that below. I think I may switch to those.
So, after gathering a few materials and examining some google photos of what a surgical mask needed to look like, I started pinning together a prototype. I selected a number of brightly colored fabrics so that they would be less intimidating if someone worked with children or the elderly. Select any pattern or type you would like.
Basically, you will need 8X8 100% cotton fabric squares, basic sewing materials (thread, scissors, tape measure, pins), and 6 inch lengths of elastic or 14 inch lengths of sturdy chord (I used 48 inch shoe laces that I cut in half).
After you have hemmed a 1/8th inch hem around the entire square, you can take four simple folds in the material, pinning as you go.
Sew the folded edges (what will become the sides of the mask) again in a straight seam, tucking the elastic ends or laces between the top and bottom folds as you sew. I also sewed them individually, but it was much more time efficient to tuck them into the folds (also provided a more even result in terms of spacing and fit) as I sewed the sides of the mask together.
That’s it – nothing more. Now, the study linked above noted that fabric alone was not a great barrier against the bacteria and viruses that we were trying to keep out, so I cut a filter from a vacuum cleaner bag and laid it into the mask. You can sew a quick pocket into the back of the mask if you like, or just lay the filter in.
Masks are able to be laundered and filters changed as needed. It bears mentioning again that I am NOT a health care provider, NOR am I 100% confident that these masks are surgery ready. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that in this country. N95s are much more effective and are the best choice when trying to keep others from being exposed if you have a contagious disease. However, 85% as effective is better than reusing a mask indefinitely or having no personal protective equipment at all. I am not making these for myself, so no seeing me at the grocery store wearing them, but I did make several to send to family and friends that had asked for help.
If you would like to add a pocket to the back for easy insertion of filters, simply sew a backing on the hemmed mask using an 8X4 rectangle. Hem and sew to the back of the mask.
Pin and finish of the mask as you would the original style with just a front and you are done!
One of my doctor friends spent her Saturday disassembling a HVAC air conditioner filter so that she could have the fabric from the inside of the filter to use if she has to resort to homemade masks – she’s having her sister make hers. I am astounded that our health professionals are reduced to risking their own health to treat ours.
So, what can you do? Reach out to your friends and family that are doctors and nurses and see if they need help. If they do, sew them masks and do everything you can to help them fight this battle. Secondly – and I can’t stress this enough – STAY HOME!!! The most helpful thing you can do for them is to keep yourself healthy and ensure that you are not one of the patients that they have to care for. Reduce your outings for supplies to once a week, stay 6 feet away from others, and wash your hands frequently.
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