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On Friday, President Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends people in the United States wear face coverings in public to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The additional public health measure is not a substitute for social distancing but is mainly to prevent those who have the virus — and might not know it — from spreading it to others.
The Washington Post talked to Grace Jun, assistant professor of fashion at Parsons School of Design and chief executive of Open Style Lab, who wrote this pattern after consulting with the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the NYU Langone Medical Center. “Accessible design,” Jun said, “is better design.”
This pattern is designed to be sewn with a machine, but it can be hand-sewn, too.
- Fabric scissors or a rotary cutter
- Ruler or ruler tape
- Pins or clips
- Sewing machine
- Thread (polyester works well for extra strength)
- Iron or heavy books
- Optional: safety pin
- Two pieces of 12-inch-long and 7.25-inch-wide 100 percent cotton fabric (tight-weave cotton or quilting cotton). If possible, use two different colors to indicate the mask’s inside and outside.
- One piece of 12-inch-long and 7.25-inch-wide interfacing or lightweight, breathable, stiff fabric.
- Fourteen inches of 1/8-inch flat elastic, stretch yarn or additional fabric for ties.
Cut your pieces and mark stitch lines
Cut three fabric rectangles 12 inches long and 7.5 inches wide:
- Two cotton fabric pieces
- One interface piece
Stack the fabric: The top layer should be a thicker/quilting cotton (red in the pictures above), the middle layer should be the interface piece, and the last layer underneath should be a softer cotton (white in the pictures above).
Trace all of the pattern lines on the top layer of fabric. Cut along the solid line through all three layers so you have three pieces of equal size.
Cut two pieces of elastic, each at least seven inches or longer to allow for an adjustable fit.
Stitch the darts
Fold your fabric stack in half with the top layer on inside (red in the pictures) so you are stitching your triangular darts on the white/inside layer. Clip or pin together.
Stitch one 1/2-inch dart on what will become the top of your mask — for your nose. Stitch another 3/4-inch dart on the other side for the chin. Note that these can be adjusted to be smaller or larger to fit the wearer.
You can cut the darts open or press them flat.
Stitch the zigzag curved lines
Sew along the curved dotted stitch lines with a zigzag stitch.
Stitch the top and bottom outside edges of the mask
Fold the top and bottom edges (long sides) of the mask toward the inside along the marked seam allowance and press and pin or clip. Stitch on top of the fold to close. (This will leave a raw edge. You can finish your edges before sewing to finish if desired.)
Stitch the zigzag horizontal lines
Sew along the horizontal dotted stitch lines with a zigzag stitch.
Attach elastic straps to mask
Fold the edges of your fabric tabs over 1/2 an inch or more and stitch 1/4 an inch from the edge to create a tunnel for the elastic. Feed the elastic through the tunnel (a safety pin attached to one end will help with threading). Try on for size, and adjust the length as needed. Stitch or tie the ends of the elastic together.
In making this pattern, Jun used a tightly woven quilting cotton fabric or a cotton fabric with a high thread count. A 2013 study published in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness found that well-fitting, homemade masks made of cotton T-shirts provide some protection from droplet transmission, the method by which the coronavirus is spread.
Jun has also designed a companion mask made of vinyl, which would make it easy to wipe down and disinfect. The see-through vinyl would also leave one’s mouth visible when communicating with someone who’s hearing impaired.
— Phoebe Connelly, Joanne Lee and Suzette Moyer
Grace Jun explains how she created her mask pattern
In New York City a couple weeks ago, at the epicenter of this country’s coronavirus crisis, Grace Jun received an urgent phone call from a friend who needed a face mask. The conversation was not just a case of one friend venting to another. Jun specializes in adaptive design — creating products that can be used by people with a range of disabilities. And her buddy, Christina Mallon-Michalove, has a motor neuron disease that not only compromises her breathing but also has paralyzed her arms and shoulders.
After sending her one of the last disposable masks she had, Jun got to work on something reusable.
She designed a face covering — one that can be stitched up at home, one that aims to offer a better fit for a wider range of faces than the standard pleated variety. Jun’s mask isn’t medical-grade and it doesn’t replace the rules about social distancing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But now that the White House has issued guidance urging people to wear face coverings in public, Jun offers what she hopes is a more inclusive, do-it-yourself option — one that she advises could be stitched from washable fabric, or even a clear shower curtain, which would make it easy to wipe down and disinfect. The see-through vinyl would also leave one’s mouth visible when communicating with someone who’s hearing impaired.
Jun’s pattern, which is larger than the standard, is distinguished by its simple, vertical pleats. They run alongside the bridge of the nose and the chin, and are intended to make it easier to customize the fit. There’s also distinctive curved stitching at the top and bottom that Jun says would allow the mask to follow the jawline without compromising breathability. The mask can be secured to the head using cloth ties or elastic hair bands.
“Even if you don’t have a sewing machine, I think anyone could make it,” Jun says. “If you can’t sew, you could use staples or safety pins.”
There are countless iterations of face coverings to be had online: plain cotton, floral prints, even sequined ones — which may be a bigger dose of fashion than one really wants from something that is hopefully very, very temporary. There are myriad YouTube tutorials on how to make them.
Jun’s consideration of how a mask interferes with lip-reading is a natural extension of her day job. As an assistant professor at Parsons School of Design, she teaches a course in clothing construction that asks students to incorporate the needs of consumers who use wheelchairs, some of whom have limited use of their arms or who don’t have a great deal of manual dexterity. Jun is also the chief executive of Open Style Lab, an incubator for accessible and fashionable clothing designs, wearable technology and other universally usable products. Mallon-Michalove is on the board of the nonprofit, which was established in 2014.
What’s the future of adaptive design? That’s the question that Open Style Lab poses. “There really isn’t a tangible example unless you make it,” Jun says. This health crisis has magnified a host of financial, racial and social disparities. Jun didn’t want the needs of disabled people to go wholly unacknowledged.
“If you look at these types of things, the disabled community is the most ignored. And that includes aging,” Jun says. “We’re all going to face the disability of aging.”
A mask doesn’t have to be another hurdle.
— Robin Givhan