With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommended use of cloth face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19, we reached out to three textile artists we've worked with at BRIC to see if they have any tips and tricks for making your own mask at home. Mimi Bai (Death Becomes Her), Padma Rajendran (Move Me With You, 2020) and Muriel Stockdale (E Pluribus - Out of Many, 2019) have shared some preferred patterns, tips for people who are new to working with fabric, and guidelines on what you can use that's already in your home to help you better protect yourself and those around you.
Please note that the CDC recommends maintaining six feet of distance from those outside your immediate household even while wearing a cloth face covering. These masks are also not medical grade face masks — which are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders — and are tools to help slow the spread of the virus. Please visit the CDC's webpage for more information on how to protect yourself.
BRIC: What do you need at home to make a personal cloth face covering?
Mimi Bai: For the first batch of masks I made, I used a sewing machine, cotton fabric, a t-shirt, thread, pins, twist ties, and an iron. I used the t-shirt to make fabric ties because I didn't have any ribbon or elastic. Also, I wanted to make masks that tied behind the head instead of hooking over the ears. I scrounged up a bunch of twist ties and those plastic and metal ties from coffee bags to use as nose bridge wire.
The only other tool you might need access to is a washer and dryer if you buy new fabric. Admittedly, this can be a little tricky during quarantine if, like me, your laundromat is closed most of the week. You want to wash the new fabric and dry on high in order to make sure any shrinking happens before you start making the masks. Also, if you're making masks for others, it's important to remind the people who receive your masks to wash and dry them before use, if possible.
Padma Rajendran: Cotton fabric, sewing machine (ideal), fusible interfacing, elastic or cloth ties. You can also use a non-threadbare t-shirt.
Muriel Stockdale: Ideally a sewing machine, but it can be hand sewn. A good pattern, thread, needles, pins, and cotton (a shirt to cut up, scarf, handkerchief, or the like). You can make ties for it or use elastic to keep it on. My sister hand sewed masks out of a bed skirt and used ponytail ties to catch over the ears.
BRIC: Do you have any patterns you prefer?
MB: I made the second mask from this video for my first batch of masks. They have a wire nose bridge, pocket for a filter, and a fabric tie that loops around the neck and ties behind the head. I like the fit and it holds up well to washing but they are relatively time- and labor-intensive. There are masks that require fewer steps that I might try when I make a second batch, such as the Deaconess. Also, artist Jennie Madew has put together some great resources for mask making.
PR: Joann's has online directions and downloadable patterns:
Butcher's Sew Shop also has a printable pattern and video tutorial.
MS: I chose a pattern designed by Dr Chen Xiaoting, a Taiwanese anaesthesiologist, because it has a pocket for additional filtration. You can find it here. I've also used the New York Times pattern and adapted it for the pocket to try to increase the relative protection of the fabric (cotton is about 50% the protection quality of N-95 respirators, silk is much less), guessing that with a folded tissue or paper towel or cut piece of vacuum cleaner filter the protection would be better. I also place a short piece of armature wire over the nose bridge because my glasses fog up without. So all my masks have that.
BRIC: Do you have any tips or tricks to make sewing easier for beginners?
MB: If you are planning to make a number of masks, I would break down the tasks into steps and complete each step for all the masks before moving on. For example: cut all the fabric at once, pin everything together at once, sew each step at once, etc. It helps you get into a groove if you can focus on one task or movement at a time. If it is your first time making a pattern, you may want to complete one mask all the way through so you have a sense of how the mask comes together and you can troubleshoot any issues. After that, I would do each step in batches.
PR: Don't worry about it looking perfect. It's more important that your face mask functions so it's close to your face without gaps. There are many more how-to videos available now, and if you have extra fabric and sewing supplies perhaps you can make a few so you have them on hand or to give out to other people! This is the time to try things out, and the more you make, the better and more efficient your sewing will be!
MS: This blog covers one of the simplest patterns for newbies to tackle, here.
BRIC: Do you know any non-sewing methods?
PR: Yes, you can make one with two hair ties, by folding a scarf up, or cutting up a tshirt (no elastics required). You can find a tutorial on a cloth square held with hair ties on the CDC website.
MS: You can use a bandana or scarf, and here is a no sew option.
BRIC: If someone would want to donate (either masks, gowns, or supplies), do you have any suggestions on best places to donate to and how to keep the items as sterile and safe as possible?
MB: I would start with people you live with, and move outward from there to neighbors and people in your community. Mutual aid groups are a good place to start as well; you can find out if other folks are making masks, donating materials, and/or looking for masks. I found the group Sewn Masks For NYC Frontline Workers from my local mutual aid group, Flatbush United.
PR: In the early days some hospitals were accepting donations on site, but that has changed. There are a few options for donations. The Mask Crusaders' directory of available masks and supplies is now online
PPE also has a drop-off site for a pick-up from a point person or medical student.
MS: I would suggest making masks for friends, family, and your local service providers — your mail person, UPS guy, coffee shop, etc. — those who are working and don’t have time to make one themselves. The needs of the hospitals are more stringent than a home sewn mask can provide.
I don’t know for sure on sterilization but I am thinking that the heat of a steam iron sterilizes the fabric. Hot wash with soap will work too. I don’t like the idea of spraying cleaners or spreading purel on the fabric because someone has to breathe through it. The beauty is with a filter pocket you can replace the tissue regularly. And with a fabric mask you can wash it regularly.
Watch Muriel Stockdale's tutorial on how to make a disposable paper mask:
ABOUT MIMI BAI
Mimi Bai was born in Xi’an, China and is based in Brooklyn, NY. Her practice encompasses objects, drawing, printmaking, and installation. She has presented work at Artists Space, A.I.R. Gallery, BRIC, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Bai has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, BRICworkspace, Sculpture Space, and the Museum of Arts and Design’s Artist Studios Program. She is a recipient of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant. Bai attended the Whitney Independent Study Program as an artist and is a graduate of Alfred University (MFA, Sculpture) and Wesleyan University (BA, Sociology).
ABOUT PADMA RAJENDRAN
Padma Rajendran was born in Klang, Malaysia. She has been included in group shows at Crystal Flowers Art Salon, Field Projects, both NY; September Gallery, Hudson, NY; High Tide Gallery, PA; Unpaved Gallery, Yucca Valley, CA; and Beers Contemporary, London, England. She has had a solo exhibition at Ortega y Gasset Projects, Brooklyn. She has completed residencies at Ortega y Gasset Projects, the Studios at Mass MoCA, Women’s Studio Workshop, Ox-Bow, and the Lower East Side Printshop. Her work has been featured in New American Paintings, Maake Magazine, Art Maze Magazine, and Chronogram Magazine.
ABOUT MURIEL STOCKDALE
Born in England and currently based in Brooklyn, Muriel Stockdale is a visual artist and writer with a history in theater and costume design. She pulls from her broad professional interests as well as her experience as an immigrant to speak to her artistic practice. Since 2003 Stockdale has continually created additions to her culturally celebrative art series of US flags; the diverse people who coexist in the United States inspire the project, which is entitled E Pluribus. A selection of these flags is permanently installed and on view in the lobby of 315 Hudson Street, NY, and a monumental flag is on view at The Parish Place, NY. They have also been exhibited at 485 Madison Avenue, NY; ARC Fine Art, Fairfield, CT; Charlotte’s Place, a Trinity Church Community Center, NY; and Charles B. Wang Center at SUNY Stony Brook, NY. Stockdale holds a BS from the University of Vermont and an MFA from New York University.