• Field Ready

How to make 150 reusable face masks for your community

Face masks are critical in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Field Ready is working hard to produces these locally in many parts of the world including the US. Following standards in making quality items are vital.

Here we present how to make masks locally. The video below details how to sew a face mask using a design by Mary Robinette Kowal. We scoured the internet to review dozens of face mask designs, settling on eight different designs to test. After thorough testing, Field Ready decided to use Mary Robinette’s design because it:

1) is very simple and quick to sew for all sewing skill levels

2) provides the best fit on a wide variety of faces to give the best protection

3) doesn’t waste much material during production.

Field Ready engineer Catherine set out to make 150 face masks using Robinette’s technique, intending to donate them to underserved and vulnerable people in her community and hoping to share how to go about it with those interested in doing something similar. These are the resources needed:

Time: 35 hours of labor and preparation

Total Cost: About $90


2X Twin Sheet Sets for fabric (About $22)

2X 300’ of Paracord for ties (About $46)

Sheet metal nose pieces (About $17, prices will vary by location)

At least 5 spools of thread (About $5)

The masks she made are being distributed through the Portland Housing Authority in the US state of Maine. 

To start a similar effort, you must figure out who needs masks and how you’re going to distribute them. These masks aren’t intended for healthcare providers; they’re for community use to reduce the spread of transmission. Health care providers, if possible, should be wearing disposable medical masks per their institution’s standards. 

In the U.S., COVID-19 infection is hitting poor communities and people of color the hardest. Across America, on average, Black Americans and Latinx Americans are three-and-a-half times and two times, respectively, as likely to die of COVID-19 as their white counterparts. The Navajo Nation in the country’s Southwest has the highest per capita rate of infection. In Los Angeles, people who live in neighborhoods where 30% to 100% of residents live in poverty have about three times the coronavirus death rate as neighborhoods where less than 10% of residents live in poverty. For these masks to make the greatest impact, you should be strategic about who you distribute the masks to and how you do so.

Ideas for who to reach out to in your community to assess the need for masks include homeless shelters, labor unions that represent factory or meatpacking plant workers, public housing authorities, harm-reduction organizations and organizations serving frontline workers and low-income neighborhoods.

After you know who you’re producing the masks for, you’ll need to source materials. A mask needs to both protect the user from COVID-19 and be breathable. This is a tricky balance; generally, the harder it is to breathe through fabric the harder it is for aerosolized COVID-19 particles to pass through. Luckily, the French standardization body Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR) has tested a large combination of materials and layers for both breathability and filter effectiveness. Two layers of 200-thread count Percale cotton, used for most low-cost bedsheet sets, both passed AFNOR’s tests and is remarkably easy to source. 

You’ll also need to source ties for the masks. Catherine used 550 paracord for ties – it's relatively cheap, easy to find and comfortable. 

The metal nose pieces can be the trickiest item to source. Start by calling local hardware stores or sheet metal businesses and get a quote for noncorrosive metal strips 3.5 inches x 0.25 inches that are deburred with rounded corners. Aluminum with a thickness of 0.04 inches to 0.06 inches is recommended. Galvanized or stainless steel measuring  0.012 inches to 0.018 inches will also work. Before ordering, ask for a couple samples - they need to bend easily but not snap after repeated use.

If finding the appropriate metal nose pieces proves difficult locally, you can experiment with noncorrosive wire from a local hardware, electrical or craft store. Make sure the wire doesn’t poke the wearer; this is probably best done by curling the ends or using drops of hot glue or epoxy to make protective bulbs on the ends.

Once you have your materials, it’s time to start producing. You’ll save a lot of time if you set up a production line, even if you’re working by yourself. This means you’ll finish one step on a large batch of masks and then move to the next step until the batch is done. 

You’ll need to ensure that you don’t transmit the disease to a user via the masks. Don’t make masks if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive in the last 14 days. Even if you’re healthy, wash your hands before every work session and make sure you’re working in a clean environment.

When finished, each mask should be placed in an individual zip-lock bag and then be left to sit for 72 hours before use; the virus can survive for three days on a surface on which it lands and the waiting period reduces virus spread. Each mask should be distributed with a label that outlines user risks, how to wear it, how to wash it and all materials used in its manufacture. Field Ready has templates for these documents, so please reach out if you’d like a copy. 

The work goes much faster if you have one or multiple people helping. If that’s not an option, look for an audiobook or podcast to help you stay motivated. Now, it’s time to make some masks! 

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Field Ready is a non-profit, non-governmental organization. We aim to meet humanitarian need by transforming logistics through technology, innovative design and engaging people in new ways. We do this by working with a variety of partners and helping to build people's resilience. We are a charity registered in a number of countries. In the US, as a 501c3, gifts are deductible to the full extent allowable under IRS regulations.   

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