Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The ultimate mask tutorial, I think

Over the last couple of weeks I have made several masks, each time changing the technique and approach to make the process easier and faster.  Here's my perfected technique for making a mask, although it may improve even more as I do it again.  If so, I'll share my new plans.

Cut two pieces of tightly woven fabric -- I like batik because it's really dense.  If you have a choice between two different kinds of fabric, hold them both up to the light.  The one that blocks the most light is the one you want.  One piece will be 9 inches by 8.5 inches.  The other will be 9 inches by 7.5 inches.  Cut a piece of interfacing 9 inches by 7.5 inches.

Sandwich the three pieces with the large one on the bottom and  the interfacing in the middle.  You will turn the top and bottom edges up and over the other two layers and stitch them in the next few steps.

Fold one edge of the taller piece over the other two and stitch a neat hem.  This will be the bottom side of the mask, under your chin.  If you're feeling obsessive, go back and stitch the seam again, a little ways closer to the edge to really hold that sucker down in place.

You will note that I left the raw edge of the fabric open.  Because batik is so tightly woven, I'm not worried about it raveling.  But if you're worried about your fabric, feel free to turn a tiny hem before you sew down the edge, or zigzag the seam down instead of straight-stitching it.

Find a piece of wire approximately 3 inches long that you can bend to fit tight over the bridge of your nose.  I used a six-inch length of 30-gauge wire doubled in two, but any weight of wire that can bend easily will do.  A twist tie or telephone wire would also work, and I see no reason why any of these can't go through the wash.  If by any chance your wire rusts, so what? 

Turn the mask around and fold over the top side to hem it, just as you did with the bottom side.  Mark the center, which will fit right over your nose.  Hold the wire against the edge and eyeball where the ends will be -- about an inch and a half out from the center.  Mark those places too.  You are going to make a pocket to slip the wire into, just a little bit wider than the wire itself.

Stitch along the folded edge until you get to where the pocket is going to start.  Stitch in and back to make one end of the pocket, then do the same for the other edge.  Keep going to the end of the seam.

Slip the wire into the pocket.  Push it snug up against the top seam.

Stitch the top side once more, this time farther away from the edge.  When you get to the pocket, slow down and be careful that you don't sew into your wire and break your needle.  If the wire has been pushed way up toward the edge of the mask, it shouldn't be a problem.

Pleat the mask so the side is about 3.5 inches tall.  You can use three or four pleats, whichever seems easiest to make.  It doesn't matter if all the pleats are the same depth, but they should all point in the same direction, and try to keep the two sides symmetrical.  You may want to mark the pleat lines in the margin, or you can just eyeball.  You can gently iron the pleats in place, or finger press them, or just pull them taut, whatever makes you feel most secure.  You can pin them in place (pin heads toward the center of the mask, pin points toward the edge) or stitch across the pleats to hold them in place.

I am fortunate to own a lot of one-inch bias binding from the previous century.  If you don't, you should cut some fabric 2 inches wide and make your own binding.  If you have some fabric that's lighter in weight than the batik you used for the mask, it will be easier to work with. 

You will need two 40-inch strips of binding.  If you don't have a piece of fabric that long, you can seam two pieces together.  You can cut straight across from selvage to selvage, or parallel to the selvage; it doesn't matter.  But don't cut on the bias.

Fold the strip in half and press it. 

Open the strip flat.  Now fold each of the edges in again, almost touching the center fold, and press. 
Cut two ties, each 40 inches long.  Mark the center with a pin or pencil.  Fold the two sides together and stitch from one end.  When you get close to the center mark, insert one side of your mask.  Eyeball it so the center of the mask is at the center of the tie.  Fold the binding/tie so it encloses the raw edges of your mask and stitch.  After you clear the mask, continue stitching to the end of the tie.

The mask will fit better if the ties don't extend straight up and down from the mask edges, so pleat the ties and stitch them at a better angle.  The top ties should extend slightly upwards at an angle.  The bottom ties should extend straight out.  Just scribble-stitch across the pleats to hold them in place.

Flip the mask over and look at the front side.  Make sure the line of stitching has caught the entire binding firmly.  You can run a second line of stitching inside the first line to make it stronger.

Inspect the rest of the mask, front and back, and if you see any places where your stitching veered off the edge go back and stitch again to reinforce.  Clip off any dangling threads.  But don't be too precious about it.  These masks are not going to be entered in the state fair where the quilt police would tut-tut your construction techniques.

If you didn't have two colors of fabric, write "inside" on the inside of your mask.  That way if you have to take the mask off and put it back on, you can be sure to put the clean side next to your face.

Now comes the hard part -- you and your loved ones have to WEAR IT!!  Wear it when you go to the store.  Wear it when you go to work, if you still have a job.  Wear it when you go to the park, unless you are absolutely sure there's nobody else in the park with you.  Wear it when you drop groceries off for your mom.  Wear it when you ride on the bus.  Wear it when you pick up hamburgers at the drive-through window.  Wear it when the grocery-store girl brings your stuff out to the car.  Wear it when you open the door for the pizza guy. 

You are protecting yourself and you are also protecting your co-workers and your mom and the bus driver and the pizza guy.  And you should probably even wear it when you read my blog, because I don't want to catch it either.

Wear it in good health!!


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Plague diary April 7

First off, can we all agree that they have found a really insipid name for a horrible disease?  Nobody even knows how to spell it correctly -- some people write Covid-19, others write COVID-19, some eliminate the capital C, others omit the "19."  It was named by a committee, and who could possibly think otherwise?  The only mystery is why it took the World Health Organization so long to come up with the name.  (Imagine weeks upon weeks of meetings in which they debated endlessly between covid-19 and cordis-20 or maybe even virudi-1...)

In the past, diseases had evocative, easy-to-remember names -- Ebola, Zika, Alzheimer's, legionnaires' disease, Spanish flu -- but now such names are politically incorrect because they might bring stigma on a place, person or occupation.  (Read more about this here; it's fascinating.)  And don't forget, if you name your disease covid-19 maybe people will be so bored that they forget it's a plague and think it's just an acronym for Consolidated Occupational and Vocational Instruction Division or shorthand for Columbia Video.

On the bright side, I am glad that Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, is in intensive care.  Not that I want him to be sick, but I am so tired of all the famous people who test positive, put themselves into self-quarantine in their nice houses and announce that they have no symptoms, they feel fine, they are continuing to work as if nothing has changed.  Tom Hanks and Prince Charles, I'm talking about you.  Rand Paul, whom I'm embarrassed to identify as my own senator, I'm talking about you -- and you weren't even responsible enough to stay out of the Senate dining room and gym while you were waiting for your test results to come back.  (And Rand is even a physician, shame on him thrice.)  Every one of these cheery episodes makes us think that this virus is no big deal

I am glad that Chris Cuomo revealed yesterday that he chipped a tooth from gnashing and flailing, because the pain was so bad one night while he was suffering from coronavirus at home.  Not that Chris Cuomo deserves to suffer any more than anyone else, but it has been too easy to not think very hard about the agonies of the people who are indeed sick, those faceless people on ventilators who die in faraway places like New York City and Detroit, aka Sodom and Gomorrah, not at all like my nice safe red-state home town.

I am glad that at least 30 people who so recklessly attended a revival meeting 160 miles down the road from my home, in defiance of the governor's orders prohibiting large gatherings, have fallen sick so far, and three of them have died. I am glad that at least one of the 20-somethings who went to a coronavirus party in my own city has come down with it.  Not that I want people to get sick, but I want people to realize that their bad behavior has consequences, that this pandemic is worth taking seriously.

And that brings me to my lecture.  PEOPLE, WEAR YOUR DAMN MASKS!!!

In the past I wrote that I wasn't sure masks were all that effective, but now I have changed my tune.  Current research shows that masks are extremely effective in slowing the transmission of coronavirus.  If every person in the US were to wear a mask in public, we could lick this pandemic.  So why are the clerks in the grocery store not wearing masks?  Why are the shoppers not wearing masks?  Why are the dog walkers and frisbee players and runners in the crowded park not wearing masks?  Why are the people riding on the bus not wearing masks?  Why are the guys delivering pizza not wearing masks?  Why are the mail carriers not wearing masks?

And of course, why are the people standing behind the president at the daily dog and pony show not wearing masks, even as they're telling us to do so?  And why is the president telling us that he isn't going to wear a mask, because it wouldn't feel right meeting kings and queens and dictators in the Oval Office wearing a mask?  (No, I'm not making that quote up.)

People, wear your masks.  If you don't want to take 45 minutes to make a mask, or don't have a sewing machine, watch the Surgeon General explain how to make a mask from a T-shirt in three minutes.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Who was that masked man?

My husband was determined to go to the fruit market last week, and I was equally determined that he not do it unprotected.   I made us each a mask with just two layers of tightly woven batik fabric.

Then came the directive/suggestion that we all wear masks in public (good guidance for all of us plebs to follow, but apparently not good enough for the president or all the minions lined up behind him on the daily dog-and-pony show).  I made several more for friends and family.  My son brought me a fancy air filter that is rated effective against virus particles, and thought I could take it apart and use the innards for masks.  Sounded like a good idea, so I proceeded to dissect.

The working part of the filter, which looks a whole lot like loosely packed nonwoven interfacing, is adhered to a grid of metal, because apparently the metal lends some electrostatic properties that help in air filtration.  But the metal is too stiff to be pleated into a mask, so I peeled the fiber away.  This was a slow and not entirely satisfactory process, with a fair amount of fiber left on the grid, and it felt as though the fibers left behind were precisely those with the glue coating, the smooth outer layer that held the whole batch of stuff together.

Nevertheless, I extracted a rectangle of fiber that I put inside the mask.  I made two masks like that, all the while thinking of how I could improve the process.

I concluded that the air filter fiber is the moral equivalent of plain old interfacing, maybe even morally superior because it's more firmly stuck together, and heaven knows interfacing is a heck of a lot easier to work with than this rigamarole with the air filter.

So my second batch of masks contained one layer of batik on the outside and one layer of medium-weight interfacing next to the face.  Since batik doesn't ravel much, I just turned the raw edge over and stitched it down.  This time I pleated the edges before finishing the side seams, and encased the pleated edge in a fabric binding.  This meant way less time in sewing and fiddling.

I also realized that stitching fabric for the ties was taking a lot of time, even after I found a lot of inch-wide bias tape in my stash, probably dating back to the 1970s.  I thought maybe I could substitute tightly woven selvages or ribbon, eliminating 72 inches of seams per mask, but then I thought to look in my stash again and found some sturdy nylon cord that required only knots at each end.

Plan A: sew a pillowcase, with our without inner layer of fiber, catching the ties at the corners.  Turn it inside out, finger-press seams smooth, pleat and stitch.  Counting the seam allowances in there, you sometimes have to stitch through 12 thicknesses of fabric to secure the pleats.

Plan B: turn batik over interfacing at top and bottom edges, topstitch.  Pleat edges, add binding (yes, just like a quilt).  Position cording inside the binding. 

Fold binding over and stitch, making sure to catch the cord in the stitching so it doesn't escape or slide to and fro.  Add a second row of stitching all around the mask. You still have to stitch through 10 layers of fabric, but four of them -- the binding -- are extremely lightweight instead of heavy-duty batik.

After I made four masks with this model, I saw an online report that gave me an even better idea.  Finish and pleat the mask as described in Plan B, up until you need to finish  the short edges.  Cut a piece of fabric or bias tape 36 inches long, center the mask on the binding, and stitch the whole length over on itself just once.  Finish the mask and make the ties, all in one step!  Why didn't I think of that?  So that will be my new plan C.

I would rather be in the studio making art than making masks, but when I contemplate my non-fiber art pals, not to mention my sons, trying to produce masks without even a sewing machine on premises, I think it's time for me to step up and take one for the team.  Perfecting my technique every time I make a new batch.

I'm still not sure what degree of protection these homemade masks offer.  You would think it's a lot more than zero, because even though viruses are small enough to sneak through porous materials, the glob of snot the viruses are riding on should be stopped even by a simple bank-robber handkerchief mask.

If this keeps up for months and months, I fervently hope that some materials scientists and microbiologists will start testing all the different fabrics and patterns circulating out there and tell us which ones work and which ones don't.  Otherwise I'm afraid that millions of sewists will have spent millions of hours making things that make us feel warm and fuzzy but don't actually protect anybody very much.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Return to my sew-off squares

As you may know, I am a fan of what I call "sew-off squares" -- little bits of fabric that you use when machine-sewing sewing large projects to avoid having to cut your threads.  If you ever do any machine sewing, you should develop this habit!  Read about it here.  I often make such little squares deliberately for a certain quilt, sewing dozens or hundreds or thousands of them into airy grids, but I also make lots of them with no particular design in mind as a byproduct of sewing and quilting.  Some time ago I gathered several hundred of them and packed them neatly into a box on the shelf, but a week ago I decided I needed to return to them, and dumped everything out on the sewing table.  What you see here is less than half of what I started out with, because I have been using them!

Vickie asked me last week how I make the sew-offs, so I looked through my pile for examples to show you.  They range in size from as small as an inch to as large as two inches, which is why I also call them "postage stamps."

Some are sewed carefully with tiny grids, stitching lines neatly parallel and perpendicular.

Others are sewed more randomly on diagonals.

Some are stitched so densely that you can barely see the underlying fabric.

Since opening Pandora's box, I have done a lot of sorting.  I made some tiny grids as presents for other people:

I chose others that will eventually  be mounted for display.  These two sets will be on boards that I salvaged from a group project years ago, clamped resist for indigo dyeing.  You can still see a few of the circles from the C-clamps.

Mostly I have been using the sew-offs for a big project.  I usually make these "postage stamp" quilts with the grid quite closely packed, like this:

But obviously in these times of social distancing they need to stand farther apart!  So instead of leaving maybe a quarter-inch between the bits as I sew them into a grid, I'm spacing them about seven inches apart.

What you see here are several columns of bits, each one sewed onto a spine of fishing line.  When I get to the next step in the assembly, they will be spaced about seven inches apart horizontally as well.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Plague diary March 31 -- freezer update

I spent a large portion of Monday and Tuesday on the phone trying to get my freezer operating.  First call was to Home Depot, where a lovely manager called GE and lit a fire under them.  Deshalique, my GE "case manager," called me back to say yes, the temp sensor that Jerry's Appliance Repair wanted was back ordered to June 21, but good news, she had access to more warehouses than Jerry's did and she could get a temp sensor out to me this very afternoon!  Well, not this very afternoon, because it was after 3 pm and that's when the shipping closes for the day, but tomorrow.

Thank you, and please send me an email with the tracking number, when it's shipped, so I can be alert.  A couple of hours later, there was an email, not with a FedEx tracking number, but with the message that the part is back ordered to August 20.

I am not having fun 

Tuesday, back on the phone with GE for an hour and a quarter, this time with Sabrina, who couldn't have been nicer as she suggested they would take away the old (new) freezer and bring me a new one.  How wonderful!  She would get that transaction going right now, just let me put you on hold for a bit.  She came back to report that there are no 17-cubic-foot freezers to be had anywhere, but how about a 14-cubic-foot model?  Well sure -- do you have any of them?  Apparently so, and one will be delivered on April 7.  (Seeing will be believing.)

I see on the GE website that this freezer costs about $100 less than what I paid for the big one.  Will the refund for the difference be done through Home Depot or through GE?  Hmmm.  Sabrina wasn't planning on making any adjustment.  I said that wasn't going to work.  She put me on hold again for a while, then came back to say that she would put me in for an exception and my case manager would call me within 48 to 72 hours with an update.

By the way, those of a certain age may remember when the US government decided to force the Panamanian dictator/druglord Noriega out of his embassy hideaway by playing heavy metal rock music 24/7, very loud.  If such a situation comes up again I suggest we could accomplish the same thing at much less volume simply by playing the GE hold music, a new age-y concoction punctuated now and then by a siren-like wail.  People who weren't having anxiety issues when they made the call will be certifiable by the time they get to hang up.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Plague diary March 28

The freezer repairman came out first thing Monday morning, took some pictures with his cellphone (of what??) to "document" that the freezer is not working, and went away to order parts.  Later that afternoon they called to tell us the parts are on back order.  In other words, heaven knows when if ever they will come.  We went through the kitchen freezer to consolidate and pack tighter, and got a beautiful blackberry cake out of some of the stuff jettisoned. 

Gave away some meat to the children, thawed out a bunch of things for future use (good news: when you start at -30 it takes a long time before you really have to cook it).  Unplugged the new freezer.

When I reported this last week, Carol left a comment: "I would be calling the manager of the place you bought it and ask for a new unit.  Something is wrong in the mechanics of this one and it will probably stalk you all the live long days.  After two service calls the issue is beyond the serviceman.  Get tough."  Good advice, Carol, and I did call Home Depot.  The guy said to call the repair place Monday morning and see if they know when the parts will come, and if it's too far out, we can order you a new freezer.  Can you even get a new freezer?  I asked him.  Well, that's a good question, he said.

I have developed a new obsessive behavior, checking the Johns Hopkins coronavirus site once a day.  They keep a running total of cases around the world, updating the site every couple of hours, apparently.  My daily ritual is now to take a screenshot of today's map, then call up yesterday's screenshot to compare the two tables. 

on the left, Friday evening / on the right, screenshot of Thursday night

Some will think this macabre, but we all need our rituals, and often it helps to stare the danger in the face for a bit as an antidote to pulling the covers over your head.  It's here in the US with a bang -- on Thursday we topped China for the most confirmed cases in the world, and since we do so little testing, we probably have way more cases than the "confirmed" numbers show.  If nothing else, confronting the stark reality makes you more diligent about staying home and washing your hands.

If you have been worrying about virus on your groceries, you might want to watch this video, made by a doctor.  Although I wasn't really worrying until after I watched it...

the tag on this new little tree: "Magnolia Butterflies" -- what a great name!

We've been having beautiful weather here, unseasonably warm and sunny.  The trees are flowering everywhere; the breezes smell of new growth and spring.  People are out in the parks having a great time, walking in the neighborhood, not staying far enough away from each other.  They had to take down the basketball backboards from our parks because so many guys were out playing pickup, ramming into one another, breathing heavily and all touching the ball.  Would it be better for us all if it were cold and rainy and the call of the outdoors were not so loud?