4 Mask Sewing Tutorials: more efficiency, less pain

It’s crazy out there -lots of competing information, mythinformation and just plain craziness -I’m not going to go there. Still, like many of you, I wondered what I could do to help so I started watching mask sewing videos. Very quickly, I realized that the videos are all the same -or rather, that makers had the same constraints. Now that was something I could do something about -I could have more of an impact by analyzing the biggest pain points of mask sewing at home and coming up with solutions that would be complementary to the sewing environments of volunteers doing all the work. So that’s what I did.

My analysis showed that the four pain points needing better solutions are:
Sewing ties and straps.
Cutting ties and straps.
Marking and sewing tucks (pleats).
Measuring elastic.

I then made four videos, and created patterns and documentation to support them. Before I drop those links, I wanted to let you know that I’ve also been testing, auditing, refining and grading face mask patterns. I’ve also created a DIY mask making manual. All of these items will be released and distributed free of charge.

An aside -I don’t want to become a point person for squabbles over mask making but I do have one tiny axe to grind, namely ties versus elastic. Ties are better because they’re easier to adjust and fit, and they’re more comfortable for long term wearing. Elastic bands and elastic ear loops are fine for disposable products but elastic breaks down quickly with heat and bleach -many masks are going to need repair before too long. Also, some elastics have latex and many people are allergic to it. I’m hoping that my solution for solving the time intensive problem of making ties will help you make the switch. Oh, and I think there is a better tie design -the image below takes even less time than the traditional sewn down strap design and it and uses less material. I was proud of myself for coming up with it and then over the next few days, saw that four or five other people had the same insight. Synchronicity! An added benefit of this design is that you can use strips of knit fabric, shoelaces, twill tape, ribbon -or anything else because the ties aren’t sewn to the mask itself and are interchangeable.

A better mask tieing design. Better fit, and less labor and cost.

Here are four videos in this series, it is best to view them in this order:
Video 1: Sewing Straps and Ties in seconds no ironing -or pinning! This includes how to sew straps and ties to masks (or anything) while sewing the strap itself. One step!

Video 2: Cutting Straps and Ties in one tenth the time. I show you how to sew ONE seam and adjust your overlock (serger) to make one long continuous strip, yards and yards long.

Video 3: Sew tucks & pleats FAST. No pins! No ironing! Three ways to sew tucks and pleats faster, better and more uniformly without pinning and ironing. Separately, here are the instructions and patterns to make the DIY tools.

Video 4: Measuring Elastic and Trims accurately and quickly. I’m almost embarrassed to include this but everyone (I showed it to) thinks it is very necessary in general but is timely for making face masks. Maybe until you made masks, you didn’t realize how much of a problem it is to cut elastic accurately and quickly. In this video I show you how to make a humble tool with 2 drinking straws that will solve all your problems.

And for what it’s worth, the information in these tutorials will be helpful well after this crisis has passed.

Stayed tuned, I’ve got more goodies coming. Oh, and before I forget, if you want to be notified of updates and errata to the patterns and documentation, fill out this google form. Your data won’t be used for any other purpose or shared with anyone.

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26 comments

  1. Mary says:

    Excellent! Never thought to tape the binder to the machine! I use a cardboard (thin packaging layer) for a jig with the cuts in the side, too. Saves so much marking time. And, the straw jig was great. Thanks for sharing.

  2. JustGail says:

    I think I agree with you on elastic, especially for non-medical use, but some places specifically request elastic ear loops. I thought I had some, but it was ancient – I gave it a stretch test and it had no recovery, just nasty crackly sound and crumbles. I tried to make one for DH at his request and the first attempt was WAY too small, and yes I did cut as the pattern directed. It’s no wonder there are so many reports of irritated sore ears!

    I have a binder foot for my home machine, it is faster than fold/press/stitch, but still fiddly having to constantly adjust and guide the fabric. I think the magic part I need to rig up is the squiggly loop that the industrial binder has to line up the fabric before the foldy bit.

    Thank you for posting these. Off to watch the rest of the videos….

  3. Lavender says:

    I’ll have to do more practice with my new binder foot. My first attempts were abysmal. I made halter style elastics through casings for my family, but the casings have been a real slow step. Id like to see how you are attaching those little loops at the corners. And if you are making a halter tie out of woven material, what would be a recommended length? Thanks for the videos and the pleating template, although I’ve gotten pretty fast at the pleating now.

    • Bummer, I was sure I’d put the tie length in somewhere but I guess not. 54″.

      Testing on my fit models (ranged from 4’11” to 6’6″ in height) showed the tie length was surprisingly uniform. My sense is that the length of the tie has less to do with the distance to span as it does with the need to manipulate the mask over the head without ties coming unthreaded through the loops -and enough tie to grasp and knot. I think the length could be finessed by sizes but it doesn’t seem worth the effort -except for maybe kids and I have no reliable reports on that yet.

      See these images for the tabs:
      https://fashion-incubator.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/sew_tab_ends.jpg
      HTH

      • Theresa in Tucson says:

        Kathleen, you can also use the standard way to make a continuous loop of bias tape (scads of tutorials on this) and use a serger to cut. I just typed “cutting bias strips with a serger” into my browser and a tutorial popped up. The poster was using an industrial serger with just a mark as a guide.

      • Vibrina says:

        So these tabs are sewn on the outside of the mask once you’ve got the whole thing bagged out?
        Thanks for the length info. I am trying to move from four independent ties sewn in the corners to one tie like this. I agree it would be faster and easier to put on.

      • Vibrina wrote: “So these tabs are sewn on the outside of the mask once you’ve got the whole thing bagged out?”

        Yes and no. They are sewn onto the outside after turning if using the horizontal style mask (in the pattern pack) which is pretty much all I use and what you see in the vids. If making the traditional style with the fold at the bottom rather than sides, you’d sew the loops on when joining the side seams.

        I’ve yet to post the tutorial for the horizontal surgical mask -I designed it that way because home sewing machines can’t handle a lot of bulk. Most of the masks require side seams and then the pleats fall on top of that -that’s a lot of layers. Using a pattern that folds along what would be side seams, is less bulk. Also, in folding in this way, one can create a filter opening offset to one side facing in rather than the center. Hopefully this isn’t clear as mud.

      • Vibrina says:

        Thanx

        Yes, I do understand making the pleated mask with seam down the side versus folds at the sides and an offset seam. I’ve seen one person do that style except they put the filter opening seam down the middle. I tried to find her video–some of her steps were needlessly fiddly to me.

        I am sewing the shaped masks with a seam down the middle–like the Fu mask style–actually it’s more or less this pattern: https://www.craftpassion.com/face-mask-sewing-pattern/ with my own tweaks

        I am using a flat hollow braid that is probably corset or shoe lacing for the ties–got a gross yardage roll for cheap–which means I don’t have manufacture ties. Like the earlier person commenting, I was considering a casing down the sides–but the tabs are easier and less material.

        I keep wondering how many masks are going to be tossed–even nice home made one–after we can breathe on each other again.

      • Also keep forgetting to mention, with respect to the ties -the very best thing to do is to use cordlocks for securing and adjusting. So much faster and could be a little easier for people who have issues manipulating ties. If using cordlocks, your tie lengths could be even shorter, maybe only 36″ long rather than 54″.

        Cordlocks may not work for a lot of people as it is something they’d have to buy and they’re trying to work from their stashes.

      • Vibrina says:

        I thought about using cordlocks–I didn’t know what to call them–when a friend mentioned using elastic instead of ties a couple of days ago.
        I have a few cordlocks. Yes, when I think about how much to put into these for the amount of time they will be used…

  4. Hi,

    I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your tips! I have made about 150 masks so far, and I was able to significantly speed up the process mid-way through after reading/watching your posts/videos.

    I had already been using a folder on my industrial Juki, but I had forgotten about making strips with the serger knives!

    Also the little loops on the sides instead of ties is super fast and makes the masks much more adjustable and allows use of other types of ties. (I pulled out the elastic waist cords out from a couple of old fleece jackets for my personal masks and used with them cord locks for a nice stretchy but snug fit. You can also add an elastic hair band to the loop and run the ties through those to give some
    “stretch” to the ties so they are more comfortable and easier to wear for a longer period of time.

    I have some additions to your methods that may speed them up some too, I am happy to share if you want to see video. Let me know and I can send a link.

  5. Alison Cummins says:

    I’m using ear elastics *and* paracord halter ties with cord locks.

    The ear elastics hold the mask on your face while you adjust the halter tie so you don’t have to touch it. They also help stop the mask from shifting from side to side. They don’t need to be super tight.

    Masks don’t need to be bleached, as far as I know. They can just go in the regular laundry or be soaked in soapy water, handwashed and hang dried. No?

    • Vibrina says:

      Yes, no bleach. The soap itself should get rid of any virus. A hot dryer is a double safe. Hanging dry should be fine.

      I am thinking about telling folks to put the cord behind their ears. i have a small face/head and it fit better that way on me. It also helps the mask to lie flat on the face rather than bunch up on the sides.

  6. Pingback: Justgail's Blog
  7. Julie Hansberry says:

    Also, most of my customers prefer elastic (I give them a choice) but do have a few requesting ties and I LOVE your option for those… I have a ton of twill tape here that I ordered… perfect! and like the softness better than stitched bias tape.

  8. Julie Hansberry says:

    Taping a binder to a machine! What a great idea!! I have a Janome 6700P and they want over $200 for that attachment (this machine doesn’t have standard screw holes in the bed). I have a binder for my coverstitch…going to test this out!!

  9. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Kathleen, I just got my folder/binder attachment in the mail today from Goldstar. It fits on my Berninas (830 and 930) and both of my old black Singers. I bought the size that makes 1/2″ dbl fold tape (starting width was 1 3/4″). I’m delighted.

  10. Vibrina says:

    A Native mask maker has been using Pony beads in the place of cord locks–they don’t lock per se, but they do provide enough fiction to keep the straps on snuggly. She used them on elastic ear loops, I have used them on shoelace straps that fasten on the back of the head.

    Pony beads are cheaps and readily available. I got 500 for less than $5. They don’t say the size but they fit 2 1/4″ shoelace straps very well.

  11. Giulia says:

    Instead of elastic I use strips of jersey. It washes, does not hurt the ear after prolonged used and every sewer has probably a lot of it somewhere in his/her stash :)

  12. Linda says:

    I came up with the same loop tying design and like it much better than the ear elastic. I use jersey knit that curls in on itself, it’s stretchy and comfortable. The one thing I did different was to attach a channel the entire length of the side of the mask. It’s kind of a pain to do. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to just sew in loops as you show, I’m going to try that next. I also appreciate your easy pleat method.

  13. Jasmin says:

    Kathleen,

    You posted a pop quiz in 2011 about an armscye bunching issue: under the T-shirt armpit up towards the shoulder. I didn’t see a response and I’m having that issue right now. Does the shoulder slope need to be more sloped?

    Thanks,
    Jasmin

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