Making Reusable Facemasks

August 26, 2020


In Victoria the wearing of facemasks has become mandatory. So when my daughter, who lives in Melbourne, said “mum, can you please make us some reusable facemasks” my immediate response, as it was when she asked me to make her wedding dress, “of course darling”.

Although I was up for the challenge like making her wedding dress remotely from Brisbane (OMG), this time it wasn’t half as bad. In today’s world I have online support tools such as Google, YouTube and Pinterest and this project a wee bit smaller. Thank heavens things have changed.

Yet even with a smaller task, I soon discovered there is no one way of making a facemask. The deeper I dug, the more the variables. 

To begin with I wanted to ensure my family are well protected with the homemade reusable fabric facemasks and I needed to find out the best way to achieve this.

My first port of call was the Victorian Government website and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for their recommendations. That’s when I finally decided on a minimum of three layers of fabric, of different materials for each layer. The filtering process to protect your breathing relies on the fabric weave, type and thread count. 

The next consideration was the style/shape of masks. I tried a few patterns from various sources then sent them to my daughter and grandsons for feedback. Whatever style they chose, I decided to always include three layers of fabric and purchased three separate baskets, labelled, to avoid confusion.

My final design ended up as the duckbill shape, although I began with the rectangular three pleated style. Duckbill seems to be more popular, good for breathing and less bulky. From there, I modified a free online pattern and improved the style and shape whilst retaining the necessary face coverage.  

Also optioned for a spaced area at the side ends of most masks I made to enable adjustment or replacement of the elastic straps that hook around the ears. I make two duckbill styles suitable for men, women and a smaller version for children. 

Sourcing elastic wasn’t so easy due to the demand for a thinner elastic that was comfortable. It seems most people preferred elastic around the ears, not too wide, rather than straps around the head or neck.

My biggest challenge has been finding black elastic. It has been like buying toilet paper during lockdown. Panic buying has emptied the shelves. However, I managed to find the thinner black and white elastic, between 3mm and 6mm, at a family fabric store near Brisbane and that was purely by word of mouth. 

The large popular stores such as Spotlight and Lincraft have now sold out of this particular elastic as have the smaller fabric shops around town. It has been interesting to say the least and my eyes habitually scan the shelves of diverse retailers when I am out and about. I placed an online order that has since arrived.

My facemask requests have progressed from family needs to orders for friends in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I charge a small price to cover my material and postage costs which helps to buy cool looking patterns for my stash. For example, I was lucky to find the last few metres of a Frida Kahlo print at Spotlight. My cousin in Melbourne loves her work so you can imagine my excitement at this discovery! 

For the inner layer that touches your face I use 100% quilters cotton with a high thread count.  Although, batik, silk and bamboo are a wonderful alternative. They all have a tight weave, are soft and light for breathing but the fabrics are more expensive to buy. For the middle and outer layer, I use material combinations to include polypropylene, polyester, viscose, some jerseys, as much as possible to increase the moister resistance on the outer layer.   

I place each completed mask in a plastic sandwich type bag with a seal for after-use and include instructions on how to apply and remove them, as well as washing and drying recommendations.

The pandemic has taken many of us on new paths. Who would have thought making facemasks would be one of them and wearing them has become the latest fashion statement!  

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