Bringing Gunma together, one cabbage at a time.

Making Your Own Masks

“Do you want to buy some masks? It’s ¥5000 for a box,” the teacher said as they held the clipboard out to me with a smile. Er, no thanks. That’s ¥5000 I don’t have, and besides, let’s leave the medical grade supplies for the people who need them. Making my own mask seemed like the logical — and environmentally friendly — solution. It also meant I could get out of the absolutely-not-adhering-to-the-three-C’s staff room for a while. Hooray!

First, let’s take a moment to address the micron-sized elephant in the room: can a homemade mask provide adequate levels of protection against COVID-19 compared to a surgical one? Well, the answer is “eeehhh, kinda not really.” But hey, a 50% less chance of getting sick, or unknowingly making people around me sick, was better than nothing! 

I wanted something that would last a long time and not look as if I had the mumps, so I ended up going with 100% cotton. This was the material that had the most breathability while still retaining an adequate filtration rate, but you can use anything as long as it isn’t too thin (hold it up to the light — the less you can see through it, the better!).

 If you’ve never used a sewing machine before, don’t fret. It’s likely that your school has simple student machines. And if not, the only difference is that you’ll have a foot pedal instead of a button. Try An Introduction to a Mechanical Sewing Machine for a basic idea of how to set up your machine.

Let’s get started!

1. What You’ll Need

  • ➭ Outer layer material (24cm x 19cm / 9.45’’ x 7.48’’)
  • ➭ Inner layer material x 2 (18cm x 13cm / 3.14’’ x 5.11’’)
  • ➭ Thread
  • ➭ Elastic (30-35cm)
  • ➭ Iron and ironing board
  • ➭ Pins or clasps 
  • ➭ Safety pin
  • ➭ Filter (optional — you can use a coffee filter as a good substitute)

2. I am Ironman

I can’t stress the importance of this step enough! You want a nice clean end product? IRON EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME. When I say iron, you say “maaaaan Kei, again? Really?” And then I’ll say “yes, again. Did I stutter?”

3. Mr. LaForge, Engage!

Finally! The actual tutorial! Wow, I hear you say, I didn’t think we’d ever get here. Me either, intrepid reader. Me either. But maybe it’s more about the journey than the result. And oh, what a journey it’s been!

For reference, the patterned material is the one that faces out, and the solid-color material is for the inside. 

Start off with the patterned material. With the pattern facing down, fold a seam on the longer side, about 0.5cm thick. Do the same on the opposite edge. NOW IRON THEM DOWN. Nice! You can leave the iron on for later. You’ll be coming back here a bit.

Slowly approach your machine and, if needed, make gentle cooing noises to calm it. 

Important: Do Not Put Your Fingers Under The Pointy Bit At Any Time.
This hurts and is not recommended. 

Sew down the two hems you just made, one at a time. Start slow, and after you’ve made a couple of stitches, hold down the reverse button to go back over them, and do the same when you reach the other end. This stops your thread from going on an unexpected holiday. Remember to do this every time!

Next, repeat the same process on the inner layer squares along one side only. You should now have one long hemmed edge, and one long raw edge. 

Flip the patterned piece over. With the right sides of your fabric facing each other, line up the raw edge of the small piece with the outer material, and sew them together. Repeat for the other side. 

Now flip the small piece over the top of the big piece so the seam is inside. Oh, what time is it? Ironing time?! Sure is! Clean and crisp, baby. Your patterned piece should be face down again now.

Here’s the hardest part. It’s time for pleats! Making sure you’re collecting both layers at once, pinch and fold so that from the side your material makes an S (or Z) shape. 

Repeat this on the other side, and pin them in place. It’s ironing time again! The more the pleats can hold their own shape, the easier the next step will be for you, so press harder than Phoenix Wright in a court of law. Repeat this step, tucking back towards the center each time. You should end up with 5 pleats like this:

Sew down each side of the inner material, making sure not to catch the foot of the machine in your pleats. When you do inevitably do this, you might need to check that your pleats are still even on both sides. Tip: use the dial on the side to lower the needle– you can now lift the foot without disrupting your stitch to reposition! This is also how you turn corners. Just make sure to put the foot back down again before continuing to sew, or you’re in for a bad time. Next, fold the edges in twice and sew it down to create a tunnel for the elastic.

Have you been wondering what that safety pin was for? Well now is Mr. Pin’s time to shine! Hook your elastic onto the pin and feed it through the space you just made. Once you’re done, tie a knot and give it a test fit. Adjust as needed.

If you opted for the filter, you can now place this in the pocket created by the inner layer.

Oh hey, you’re done — nope, it’s a lie. You know what’s next, right? Yeah, you do. 

Turn off your iron.

Editor’s Note:

Making a mask for yourself is a great idea to combat supply shortages and conserve resources for the people who need it most. If you get the hang of it, you may also want to consider making masks for others as a part of AJET’s Mask Sew-A-Thon! GAJET is working with this initiative to donate masks to Komochiyama Foster Home in Shibukawa as part of our I Can Japan fundraiser.
Now that you’ve learned from Master Kei, get your materials ready and email Linka at [email protected] if you’re interested in donating a homemade mask!

Noooo, not that kind of mask!

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