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Fabric Masks - should everyone be wearing one?

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Literally overnight the world has gone mad for fabric masks. This isn't a new concept, so why the mass mask phenomenon?! I spent my final school year in Tokyo, graduating in 1987, and back then it was common place for Japanese people to wear face masks when they were poorly. The mask isn't to prevent you "catching" a virus, it's all about you preventing spreading it to others. I remember seeing them for the first time thinking that it looked weird, but after a while it was just the norm.

With the announcement this week by Donald Trump that American's should wear masks on a voluntary basis, but stressing the word voluntary, "You do not have to do it," he said. "I don't think I'm going to be doing it." And he can't see "presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens" in the Oval Office while wearing one. By not leading by example, this sort of news is just going to panic and confuse everyone. Should you or Shouldn't you?

So, I've dug into this a little deeper, not into the science, as I'm no virologist, however, I do understand the basic concept that if you have a cold, cough or sneeze, you can prevent spreading it by covering your mouth. Therefore, if you are suffering then you should wear a mask. In fact this would be a brilliant idea for hay fever sufferers here in the UK.

I'm more interested in the fabric that they use.

Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, came up with the idea to study which fabrics would work best. In partnership with the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, he tested a variety of cloth materials to see which ones not only allowed for breathability, but also filtered small particles — such as viruses. The research from Wake Forest has not been submitted for publication and has not been peer-reviewed. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: NBC News, by Erika Edwards

The results showed that you should use fabrics that have the following properties:

- be 100% pre-washed cotton (don't use poly cotton)

- be at least "quilters weight" cotton about 180gsm* (don't use poplin or lawn cotton)

- have a thick or tight weave (make sure the light doesn't shine through)

- be able to machine wash at least 40C but preferably at 60C

- acts as a better filter if you add an additional fabric mesh or interfacing layer

*gsm is the weight of the fabric, a bit like when you buy printer paper, the higher the gsm weight the heavier the fabric. A lot of fabric shops don't show the gsm weight, so if you are concerned, just email them directly.

I've looked online and it seems everyone now is sewing up and selling face masks! All at different prices and different fabrics. If you do decide to buy your own, then make sure you're buying one that has the above fabrics as standard. I would expect you should pay around £3-5 for a fabric mask including postage.

The beauty about making you own is that you can use really fun fabric - my view has always been that if you've got to do something you may as well make it fun. These homemade masks are not suitable for NHS staff to wear in hospital, these are purely to help us public be a little bit better at covering our face.

In the USA there is a website encouraging you to make masks and donate to healthcare institutions. They are not necessarily for the healthcare workers, but for the people visiting the hospital, so that everyone in the hospital wears a mask. Frankly, I think that's a really good idea. We should all start wearing masks and gloves going into a hospital. If you're in the States, this is the website address: We Needs Masks. There are guidelines and instructions on how to make them.

In the UK there are a few pages being set up, the Masks_for_Maternity instagram page is set up for masks specifically for maternity hospitals. There is also a great facebook group called For the love of scrubs, and at 30K members and growing, it's a group that allows NHS trusts across the UK shout out for what it needs. The NHS do need help in making scrubs as their staff need so many sets of clothing. If you can offer your sewing services you will find templates for making the scrubs via the group.

I've searched a few of my favourite fabric sites and found some really fun fabric that would make really cool masks. Then, follow my simple "How to Guide" for making your own simple cotton mask and get sewing! If you are going wear these masks to go shopping, as I did, make sure you wash them on a hot wash as soon as you get home.

Encouraging kids to wear them might be tricky, so I've looked specifically for kids fabric patterns. This selection of 100% cotton is from Always Knitting & Sewing. They're all between £4.50-£5.60 per half metre and are 112cm wide. I really like the Miffy and the Dinosaurs one!

If you are looking for classic cotton designs, then Higgs & Higgs is a great place to start. Prices for a FQ are between £2.50-4.75.

And for those who are looking for themed fabric of some kind for specific work then I'd recommend you looking at Studio G - this is their Sketchbook range.

I must stress that these homemade masks in no way prevent you transmitting or contracting the COVID19 virus, however, when we wore ours at our local Sainsbury's we noticed that (1) I didn't touch my face at all, and (2) everyone gave me a wide berth. So why not wear them? In my view, any type of prevention for spreading this awful virus has to be positive.

Stay safe!

Emma x

ps If you do want more information about COVID19 I found this BBC article quite useful.

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