A little backstory…
When we started out on the mask making journey all we really knew was that we wanted to help people and contribute our skills to a worthy cause. It’s also definitely a family trait to find “projects” to deal with stress. The first thing that we did after deciding that we were going to make, sell, and donate masks was a lot of research.
When we started back in March, the concept of making masks was pretty new both to us and across the country. Some hospitals were taking them as donations, some did not want them. The CDC was just starting to make guidelines about masks and their use related to the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus. Some state and local governments were starting to float the idea of masks in public.
Interestingly enough, there are actually very few peer-reviewed studies on the use of cloth masks in medical applications. Couple that with the fact that many western countries are just not “mask wearing societies” (compared to countries like Japan and China), there was not a lot of “official” information.
We were able to get some information from some of our friends and family who are medical professionals, and we took as much research as was freely available to try to come up with the best product that we could. We wanted to make sure that we were using materials and techniques to deliver an effective product that we could be proud of, would be durable through many washes, and our customers would feel confident wearing. The basics of that research are: two layers of cotton and no one size fits all.
The initial patterns…
By the time we took our first order back in the middle of March, we had landed on two freely available patterns that had surfaced on the internet. The first, is a rectangular mask with pleats that looks much like a surgical mask. The second was a round, or contoured shape. The rectangular style mask is easy to cut and sew, but the pleating takes a lot of time to get it right and looking nice. The contoured mask uses a bit more fabric, and has some extra seaming. In terms of time from cut to complete, they are about the same to build.
To be perfectly clear, both mask styles meet the recommendations of organizations like the CDC, state and local governments, as well as our medical professional friends. While the shape of the mask affects, the most important thing is that the mask sits close to your face, especially around the nose, cheeks, and chin.
We made our first wave of masks using both patterns. Some of our customers got pleated, masks, some got contoured masks. The only determining factor on what was shipped was who made it, Ruth or Stephanie.
As we worked our way through the first 500+ masks, we started to think of ways to improve the product. Additionally, we were wearing masks regularly as well as our families and getting feedback. Both styles have pros and cons. We also started to gain interest for larger orders from organizations where we felt like delivering a product that could showcase some of the fabrics more was important. We also just like to find ways to make projects like this our own.
Having not really made the pattern that Stephanie was using, Ruth decided to make a couple just to try it out. Partially this was a fit test and to see how it felt to build. With a couple builds of women’s sizes for her and a couple men’s for Alex, she started to look at what could be done to improve the fit, make the masks more comfortable to wear, and, if possible, easier to assemble.
After a handful of tweaks and redlines, we landed on a pattern that we feel ticks all the boxes. At first glance, it appears very similar to the contoured pattern we has previously used, but we made some adjustments that we feel kick it up a notch.
Let’s be honest, no matter what the government says, it is highly likely that we will be living in a pandemic world for a while. It seems that many states will likely be requiring mask use for a good long time. We want to ensure that all of our customers have a comfortable and useful mask for these times. That is why we take the time (and materials) to prototype, test, and evolve our product.
We stand by all the products we have produced to date and we will continue to stand by them in the future. While new orders will go out with updated patterns, this does not mean that any of our previous customers received an inferior product. To that end, if you are having fit issues, or other problems with existing product, please reach out to us, we can help with fit and will do what we can to make it right.
Stay safe, stay healthy!
The image above shows the evolution of our mask making patterns. (click the photo to embiggen)
Rectangle Mk.1 – This was the first attempt at the rectangular pleated mask. It has the nose wire sewn into the top of the mask. Not being able to remove the wire makes them a bit more delicate to wash.
Rectangle Mk.2 – This was the production rectangular pleated mask. We added the bias tape to hold the nose wire. This also makes the nose wire removable for washing
Contoured Masks – We went through many iterations of this style mask. You can see in the photo that shape around the nose and chin has evolved.
N95 Cover (not pictured) – We have a pattern for an N95 protective cover that was designed by a nurse. We used it to help adjust our pattern’s fit. We also have learned that our adult sized contoured masks fits nicely over an N95 as well.
New Pattern – The new pattern that we came up with it hugs the face nicely, has a place for the nose wire, and even can accomodate third-party filter inserts.