Introduction: Make Many Fabric Masks at Home
Millions of masks are needed right now, and so many folks are sewing them at home, for themselves, their families, and for healthcare workers facing PPE shortages. I lost count of how many masks I've made so far! The pattern I'm using is the A. B. Mask from right here on Instructables. The tutorial is great but shows you how to make one mask at a time. We can improve our "mini-factories" efficiency by creating many mask parts at once. What follows here are my tips and suggestions for batching out large quantities of face masks.
Where are my masks going? To New York City frontline healthcare workers through NYC Makes PPE, and to members of my local community (via NextDoor, my foyer, and the bus stop bench outside my door).
- cotton fabric
- ironing board
- sewing machine
- rotary cutter
Step 1: Batch Cutting
To create a reusable pattern that's compatible with a rotary cutter, I glued my paper pattern to a piece of compressed chipboard and cut it out with a utility knife. Printable (US letter size) template is attached to this step.
Be very careful when using a rotary cutter! The force that needs to be applied to make precise cuts makes this sharp tool ultra dangerous. Never cut towards your fingers or other body parts. the tool or template could always slip, and if it does, you want your fingers out of the way. Hold the ruler or template very firmly to the table while cutting. Don't use this tool while distracted or tired.
To maximize my available fabric, I cut as many main mask pieces as possible, then use the remaining fabric to cut strips for the binding and straps. Some fabrics are better off being used only for bindings and straps, which can make up the difference in panel-to-strap ratio. Note that I'm making the strips on the straight grain, not actually on the bias (but "straight-grain tape" doesn't have the same ring to it).
Step 2: Batch Ironing Pleats
One of the main things that slows down one-at-a-time mask making is the cooling time required in between each of the pleat's folds. The fabric is too hot to touch for many seconds after pressing. But if you fill up your ironing board with mask pieces and press one fold on each, the first one will be cool by the time you finish the last.
Step 3: Batch Stitching Pleats
After ironing, I like to pin the pleats to hold them in place during sewing. I'm not sure this is the fastest way, so let me know if you can think of something better!
Once pinned, I stitch down the side of one piece to secure the pleats, then add one mask after another to chain them together (and waste less thread). Once one side is finished, turn the chain around and stitch the other sides in the same way, resulting in a chain of pleated mask panels. Cut the threads in between each mask to separate them.
Step 4: Miles of Bias Tape
Rather than cutting strips for your straps and side bindings, and attaching them per-mask, it's much faster to make a long strip of bias tape, and then cut it to size.
To create one long strip of fabric, overlap the two strip ends (with right sides together) at a 90 degree angle. Then stitch across the overlapping square at a 45 degree angle. this results in one continuous strip with a seam that runs at an angle, so it doesn't bulk up the thickness too much in any one place.
I use a 3D printed jig to help fold in the edges of the 1.5 inch strip. I used my long ironing board and two big bags to keep the tape off the floor.
Step 5: Cutting Straps
Once I've got a giant strip of bias tape, I then cut it down to strap-size. The leftover end pieces that are too short to be straps can be used for the side bindings.
Step 6: Side Bindings
Rather than cutting side bindings for each mask, I like to stitch the side bindings of many masks in a row. I don't bother pinning these since the seam is so straight, and it's pretty easy to add one mask after another along the same piece of binding strip. Afterwards, cut them apart and repeat on the other sides.
Step 7: Darts
I like to stitch the darts without breaking the thread, then cut them apart and cut out the extra thread.
Step 8: Straps and Finishing
To make it faster to attach the straps/outer bindings, I like to lay the straps out flat on the ironing board and mark the center point. Then I can align the center of the mask to the center of the strap without folding each one individually. I pin the center, and each side, flip it over, and pin on the second strap (which I prefer in a different color to make it easy to tell the mask top from bottom).
Then I topstitch mask after mask without breaking the thread, and cut them apart afterwards. I then wash them in hot water and dry them on high before bagging them (and letting them sit for 72 hours) and donating them to NYC Makes PPE.
Don't forget to clean out the lint and oil your machine after every few bobbins.