Long time, no post, huh?
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are finding they have more time on their hands (whether they want to or not, sadly).
Jake and I are fortunate to have more work than ever, but like everyone else, our lives have changed too.
One thing that I have purposefully made time for is finding a decent face mask. Over the past month, I’ve spent hours digging through the Facebook Marketplace, product listings on Etsy, and search results beyond page one on Google.
I bought six masks.
They all sucked.
I don’t blame the seamstresses. Right now, we need a lot of masks — not necessarily high-quality masks, and there’s a small pile of gold for anyone who can mass-produce them. They’re cheap by design, and many designers are afraid of the potential backlash that could come from selling a high-end mask. Profiting from humanity’s misfortune — despicable!
But I want a good mask, damn it. One that fits my face, doesn’t make my ears feel like they’re going to break off, and won’t disintegrate in the wash.
So I gave up trying to buy one and decided to make one.
Luly Yang’s Face Mask
I found Luly Yang’s face mask design while infinite-scrolling Google’s image search results in a 3:00 a.m. daze. It was the best I had found. I grew up in a family that sewed — something I didn’t fully recognize until I got to college and met kids from families who didn’t (when my dad got out of the Navy he started an upholstery business, so we had an industrial sewing machine in addition to your standard Singer).
Out of all seamstresses, I have the most respect for wedding designers. Their attention to detail makes Calvin Klein pieces look like a Monet painting. So I had high hopes, and they were validated, but before I go any further I want to call out the aspects of a face mask that matter the most to me, that way you can stop wasting your time reading this if you have different priorities or disagree.
Reusable (and washable).
Full level: I haven’t heavily researched the viability of reusable cloth masks related to communicable diseases. I’m moreso banking on two things:
- Face masks will eventually go mainstream as a fashion accessory.
- People who don’t wear masks will be societally shunned.
Some of this is already happening. The details may change in the future, but I think a minimum level of obligatory face covering will persist for years to come. Consequently, I want something reusable (washable!) and durable.
Any mask fits fine until you have to wear it for more than 15 minutes. I feel bad for essential workers who have to wear poor-fitting masks for hours every day, and the prospect of air travel in an uncomfortable mask sounds, well, painful.
No filter pocket.
I gave up on the filter pocket concept because it serves a different purpose (i.e. protecting yourself rather than protecting others). They make industrial-grade masks for that, and I’m no expert, so I figured it’s better to leave that to 3M.
No nose wire.
This was a big one since I wear glasses. I like the nose wire, but sewing them as an integral part of the mask limits their lifespan because metal eventually rusts. A removable nose wire pocket seems like the best solution, but after messing with the idea, I found that pushing the mask further up my face so the weight of my glasses would push the fabric down worked just as well.
You can follow the instructions on Luly Yang’s website, but I found them hard to follow in parts, and the image file sizes are so big that the page loads in fragments (Luly & team, hit me up if you want help with your digital marketing). I made some of my own modifications as well, so maybe read both and decide which you like better.
1. Print and cut.
Print Luly Yang’s mask pattern here (child’s size here). The original size seems to fit women well, and printing the pattern at 103% resulted in an ideal fit for me. I don’t have any great advice for determining the perfect fit other than trial and error. Scale the original pattern up or down in small increments and sew a few dummies.
The original design calls for three layers — an outer, middle, and inner — but I removed the middle layer and just went with 100% quilting cotton on both sides. Too many layers and it feels like you’re trying to breathe through a straw, which is the point, but not when air just ends up going around the sides anyway.
I used the same fabric designs on both the inner and outer layers, but you can change it up to suit your style.
2. Sew the front center seam.
Right sides together, sew the front center seam. Repeat for the inner and outer layers.
3. Top stitch the front center seam.
Pick a side for the seam allowance, then top stitch down the front center seam. Repeat for both the inner and outer layers.
4. Sew the top seams together.
This is where things start to get a little weird. You need to lay the inner and outer layers on top of each other so that, once the top and bottom stitches are complete, you can turn it inside-out (well, technically you turn it inside-in, because it already is inside-out). Take a second to make sure they’re facing the right way, then sew the top stitch.
5. Sew the bottom seams together.
You just did the top. Now do the bottom.
6. Turn the mask right-side out.
It’s starting to look like a mask now, right?
7. Top stitch the top and bottom seams.
Just like you did for the front center seam. You don’t have to, but it helps make the mask lay flat, and adds some polish to the appearance.
8. Iron and stitch the sides.
You don’t need to iron creases on the sides, but it will make your life a lot easier. I placed my first crease at one centimeter, and the second was two centimeters long, but honestly it doesn’t make a huge difference — the pattern shows 5/8″ for the second fold, so anything around there.
I tried a few different elastic options. The first, which Luly Yang recommends, is a hair tie. It works well but may need to be stretched out. It’s also worth noting that the hair ties must be sewn in when you sew the sides closed, so they’re not really replaceable without ripping out and restitching.
Next, I tried 1/8″ elastic. It was the most comfortable (behind the entire head instead of behind the ears) but definitely looks homemade.
My favorite solution by far has been these no-tie shoelaces by KIWI. It’s still comfortable, but feels more durable. You can put it on quickly and slip it down around your neck when not in use.
Here’s a final roundup of some of the materials I used in case you’d like to use them too.
- 1/8″ Elastic
- Goody Ouchless Ponytail Hair Elastics
- Keepsake Calico Cotton Fabric Spaced Floral on Black
- KIWI No Tie Shoelaces
- Premium Cotton Fabric Red & Black Rose Bouquet
- Riley Blake Buttermilk Basics Diamonds Black Fabric
- Timeless Treasures Skulls Damask Charcoal Fabric
If you like these masks but don’t have the time or resources to make one, Luly Yang sells men and women’s styles for (at the time of this writing) $45 – $55 each. After making several, that seems like a good deal. If you think that’s expensive, try making it yourself.