Mastering Mask-Making: a Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective on Covid-19

A pile of fabric face masks with plastic window that is in the process of being completed

At this point of the pandemic, wearing masks has been a regular part of people’s routines when going out their homes. This is not to debate the merits of wearing one or the politics surrounding mask wearing during this pandemic, but more on my experiences making them and using them.

In the spring, there are so many instructions online on how to make masks, that even as someone who sews on a regular basis, I was a bit overwhelmed. There seemed to be two major pattern types, the folding accordion type, and the front folding two pattern type. Since I have no shortage of fabric I decided to use what we have to make the masks for my husband and myself.

Selfie of woman wearing a fabric face mask, the horizontal accordion style.

It took several attempts. Some are too small, and many were too tight! I don’t have a lot of experience working with elastics, and as a result I end up putting insufficient elastic for the string that is supposed to hold up the masks. I also don’t have a lot of experience with additional components that are not necessarily a fabric such as metal wires for the nose bridge. At first, I don’t even have materials that can function as a nose wire. It wasn’t until after I got some garden wire and also some pipecleaners, that I had the chance to learn how to incorporate a nose wire into making a mask.

A few months into the pandemic, when mask wearing started becoming more commonplace, I heard an article talking about the difficulties that people who are deaf or hard of hearing are facing because of people wearing masks. The challenge that they face is, it is even harder to hear people speak, and for those who rely on lip reading, they are unable to do so. I eventually stumbled upon a mask with a clear plastic transparent window and I thought that was awesome. I made a few attempts making this mask and they are a part of my own inventory of masks that I wear on a regular basis.

Selfie of woman wearing a fabric face mask with a plastic transparent window.

I really like these special masks that I made. When I have gone to retail stores wearing these masks I get a lot of nice compliments! People say that it is actually nice to see a persons smile again which obviously was covered thanks to masks. I remember attending an outdoor community event around early October and I wore one of these masks with a plastic window, and I got a lot of compliments from people who attended. One inevitable challenge is that when you talk, some fogging or moisture buildup occurs. I learned a trick to mitigate this, which is applying a very thin layer of dishwasher soap and letting it dry. Letting it dry is particularly important because it is awkward sniffing and smelling the dishwasher soap scent while wearing the mask with the window. I’m sure you can tell I learned that from experience.

During this time, I was also helping with fellow Albertans making free stuff for those in need specifically, I was helping to make free laundry fabric scrub bags for health care workers. There was another initiative running alongside this one, which is making free fabric masks for people in need. I admit, I felt conflicted for a while. I wasn’t sure which initiative I should keep on helping with. Eventually, I reminded myself that it is OK to help on one initiative only and hope that others, are willing to step up to help with the other one. It seems like that is the case! Many other people who have skills in sewing and quilting, helped to make free masks for those in need. Others turned it into a creative fundraising method. I heard that one lady made masks as a fundraiser and raised $10,000 for the Edmonton food bank and I thought that’s impressive.

Sewing machine on a wood table with sewing supplies around it, and a pile of completed fabric face masks beside the machine.

I made an attempt to make free masks for those who need it, and it was good but it did not last long. I was happy to make roughly 30 masks in total. The challenge I had was, because I am not a car owner, delivering these masks was more difficult than I anticipated. I also got frustrated when people don’t respond to Facebook messages after a couple days.

I decided that chasing people and following up with them on social media after making a request for a free mask is not worth my energy. When I stopped making these masks and getting stressed out with all the logistics of delivering them I decided to focus on the fabric bags that I am making for healthcare workers and I’m able to reach making 300 of them. And that felt pretty awesome!

When my husband had to go back to the office on a more regular basis he asked me to make several more masks for him. He already has a few that he uses whenever we have to go out for things such as going for groceries. But this time he actually wanted something more special and customized for him. We went against my inclination to use fabric I already have, and we went to the fabric store to buy a brand new fabric with a design that he likes for me to make masks. He has about two dozen of these masks. He seems pretty pleased with himself and I’m more than happy to make those for him.

Just in the fall, as I started to go back to work at my office on almost a daily basis, I decided to make additional masks also. At this point, after some trial and error, I found a mask style that I’m happy with overall. So I made five more of these and I learned my lesson from last time, and I put in an additional inch of elastic.

Woman wearing a face mask while donating blood at a blood donation clinic.

Now that it’s getting even colder, I learned another technique that I started to do when taking public transit and having my face covered. In the past, to keep myself warm and comfortable I actually wrap my winter scarf around my face. A few times, I have actually taken public transit and covered my face using only this scarf , not wearing a mask at all. And the way I wrap my face it is pretty comprehensive, practically my entire face is covered except for my eyes. So I’m pretty confident that I have fulfilled the bylaw regulation about face coverings. But now that it’s getting even colder I even doubled up. I would wear my fabric mask 1st and then, wrap my face you seeing that fluffy winter scarf that I use everyday during winter. When I go to our office, I make sure that I have at least one fabric mask which is what I use when community or when I don’t need to talk to people, and I make sure that I have at least one of my special masks with a plastic transparent window if I need to talk to people.

The routines related to masks in my daily living has been more settled now. From handwashing them on the weekends, ensuring the stitches and seams are still intact, and providing solidarity on social media to people who had to deal with people who refuse to wear masks feel second nature now. There is a part of me that wishes that people continue to wear masks to limit the spread of the flu during flu season. But for now, I’ll continue to find small motivations and silver linings to make the pandemic more manageable.

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