Critical shortages of personal protective equipment forced health care workers to make their own gear.
To bridge the shortage, volunteers were organized to sew cloth face masks across the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, region. Our work is completed, and because supply chains have improved, we should now all be wearing N95, KN95, and KF94 masks — the best protection available against the airborne disease of COVID-19. We appreciate the efforts of everyone who came together for this historic effort. We were one of the most prolific sewist groups in the United States during the pandemic. It was an amazing experience to do something meaningful in the fight against COVID-19. Thank you for participating with us.
Our founding members and many of our sewists have now transitioned to working with:
Crafting Change, a new non-profit “matching makers to those in need.”
Our mission was to:
Connect resources to needs.
Share best practices.
Use alternative organizing with physical distancing.
Identify problems and improve outcomes.
Provide cloth masks for health care workers, then other frontline workers.
Normalize masks for personal use.
(Figures since our project started on 3/22/2020)
More than 571 facilities and organizations in our region received donations, due to national shortages of medical grade personal protective equipment (PPE).
Health care providers on the front line of this fight were our first priority. We also filled requests from specialty medical practices; support staff at health care facilities; first responders such as paramedics, medical transport services, firefighters, and police; vulnerable patient groups whose doctors prescribed reusable cloth masks; workers at nursing homes and assisted living facilities; and other critical, frontline workers and volunteers, many of whom are at work to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and community health issues such as hunger, mental illness, and homelessness. In addition, we helped community organizations who had distribution plans to help high-risk, vulnerable, and low-income residents obtain masks. Sign-ups were posted on our Facebook page so craftivists could decide if they wanted to “Commit to Stitch” for a particular project.
Thank you frontline heroes for all you have done for our region!
And thank you CRAFTIVISTS FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE!
Several Simple Patterns
One Collective Action.
Just sew, send to us, and we’ll deliver for you!
Visit our HOW TO section for tutorials and more!
About Our Project
Who We Are — How We Described Ourselves in March 2020
We are a group of craftivists, stuck at home right now with a wide variety of skills, who want to help fight COVID-19. We refuse to allow the limits placed on us to prevent us from acting together to help our nation’s health care providers.
We met on social media and decided to organize. We have never met in person, only through online conference calls. We are smart, no-nonsense, evidence-based people, and count nurses and health care experts among our organizers. We stepped up because many creative people are searching to find out how to help, trying to sort through misinformation online. At first we were just nine people. Now, we are an effective team of more than 50 organizers, working hours a day, on top of homeschooling our kids and trying to do our normal jobs.
The week of March 20, 2020, we were inspired to act, after reading news stories about Providence health in Washington state, and Deaconess Health System in Indiana. After these two hospital groups published patterns and projects, efforts to manufacture fabric masks sprang up spontaneously in every state in America. Our effort was among these.
We feel that connecting to a local group in your state is a good idea, and we invite other groups to join us and promote this website or share the information we are compiling here. We are being referred volunteers through other efforts such as a national Million Mask Challenge group that formed at the same time as us, GetPPE.org, and our friends at #MaskAmerica, a similarly robust local group, collaborating to support our health care providers nationally.
From the very beginning, this has been a grassroots effort with strong groups now all throughout the country, organizing at the level of church sewing groups, quilting circles, and neighborhoods.
Don’t see a group near you? It may be up to YOU to organize. Talk to your hospitals and health care facilities, recruit other crafters, and go for it. Or you are invited to work with us and to use our process. Thank you for stepping up.
Why We Are Concerned
Due to shortages of supplies, some health care workers fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic have had to start making their own face masks. The shortage of medical equipment has been well documented.
Health care providers should have the best personal protective equipment (PPE), first and foremost, not improvised gear. Our group quickly decided to make DIY face masks that might be large enough to be tied over an N95 respirator, to try to protect the surface from contamination and attempt to extend the life of the far better protective device. An N95 mask has been specially fitted, and it has been tested to filter out nearly all virus particles.
Some face mask initiatives have used misleading language to describe DIY cloth masks using terms such as “CDC-compliant,” which suggests some kind of government oversight. (The CDC Foundation is not endorsing any mask making effort, according to a spokesperson, and remains committed to obtaining medical grade PPE.) A homemade DIY mask is not an FDA approved medical device, and there is no way to measure the specific effectiveness of all the many different kinds of masks, being made by so many different makers.
However, due to the critical nature of the current shortages of PPE, the Joint Commission of American Hospitals has announced that it supports the mask making in general, noting, the “degree to which privately-owned masks and respirators will increase the protection of health care workers is uncertain. However, the balance of evidence suggests that it is positive.“
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has recommended face masks for everyone, even if the only mask available is a DIY cloth mask. Research indicates that as many as 25% of COVID-19 cases may be asymptomatic, and studies have found that masks are highly effective at preventing germs from being exhaled into the air.
In addition, when made with the best available materials, and well-fitted, cloth masks have performed very well during research studies that measured their ability to filter tiny particles from the air. We are compiling information on this website to help craftivists everywhere make the best masks that they can.
Is It Okay to Make Face Masks?
As many as 300-million N95 masks are needed this year to help protect our health care workers as they fight COVID-19, according to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But shortages of medical grade supplies have made the fight against this virus much more difficult for our frontline health care providers.
We cannot afford for our health care workers (and EMTs, firefighters, supply chain workers, etc.) to get sick, when they are needed most. Not all hospitals will accept DIY face masks, so we are only working with providers who are requesting them.
We have many more requests right now than we have masks to send out. The need continues to be immediate. Generally, providers have asked us for more masks than we could provide them, typically double what we have been able to make, even as we near the 100,000 masks-made mark. We hope that our region’s craftivists can continue to sew to meet these needs!
One study found a single COVID-19 patient could come into contact with as many as 41 health care workers during their illness, making the need to make sure that everyone has literally any kind of protection that much more important.
Meanwhile, many critical workers who may have been exposed to the virus have been told to report to work and wear a mask, if they cannot be tested or their test results are not yet known. The need for masks has not leveled off.
Due to national PPE shortages, the CDC went so far as to recommend the use of scarves or bandanas as a last resort, if no other alternative. We want to give our frontline health care workers something that is better than a bandana.
Showing Our Support
Sewing face masks is more than practical. We want to show solidarity and support for those on the front lines. We all think about you, and want you to know we care about you. Our care and concern has gone into what we have made for you. Our masks are indeed made with love.
As an added mental health benefit, this project allows us to find community, to feel like we are doing something meaningful, while so many of us are isolated. Although we have not met each other, we are connected by a common thread: we have worked together and supported each other, craftivists in a collective action.
When we began in March, we decided that our role would be to try to make it easy for as many people as possible to participate effectively.
We reviewed many studies about cloth masks, as we sought to find a way to help. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina recently released a study of 400 DIY cloth masks, and found that the best homemade masks could achieve 79% filtration, as compared to medical surgical masks of 62%-65% and N95 respirators that achieve 97%. The best performing design used two layers of high-quality, heavyweight, “quilter’s cotton” with a thread count of 180 or more. Batik fabrics with tighter weaves and thicker thread were similarly effective, according to researchers at the Manufacturing Development Center at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. We recommend using thick, 100% cotton quilter’s material as a result in our patterns. (Hold your fabric up to the light and make sure it is densely woven and opaque before using.)
After reviewing such information, our sewists rushed to their fabric stashes to pull out the best, tightly woven, cotton materials they could find, and started sewing.
The first obstacle was to figure out a pattern. First, we adopted a simple, common pattern for a basic mask, which could be made quickly, so more might be produced quickly. Nurses gave feedback, and we continue to improve the design.
Second, the pattern team enlarged the mask, to make it easier to use as an extra outer cover over another medical face mask, a custom-fitted N95 respirator, that offers vastly greater protection. Our goal was to see if we could help extend the life of the precious N95 mask, which even in limited supply is supposed to be thrown away after being soiled or splashed.
Our two primary patterns did NOT include pockets and filters at first because — if you can’t get an extremely tight and sealed fit — this feature is not useful for a DIY mask in the current situation, and it wastes valuable time to add it. Our primary goal for the first four weeks was to produce a high quantity of extra masks that were needed in a rush as COVID-19 slammed our communities.
We have now added an additional pattern with a pocket, and are producing parts that are ready to sew for a second design with a pocket. The greatest demand continues to be for the two main patterns, neither of which have a pocket. We hope you will sew one of the patterns for consistency, but every face mask donated is accepted because the needs are so great.
DIY masks may also be useful to cover the mouth and nose of patients, a strategy recommended by the CDC. Wearing a mask can block nearly all droplets containing the virus from being released into the air and contaminating surfaces.
How to Use Masks
We offer a few notes of caution for any organization receiving masks made by volunteers, or for those making masks for themselves.
First, cloth masks that are made by volunteers through this effort MUST BE LAUNDERED in hot water and/or sterilized prior to their first use, and after every use, if reused. Do not make any claims your mask arrives “sanitized” and ready for wear.
A first step in making a mask is to clean your workspace, and then to pre-wash and dry all fabric and materials on high heat settings.
Second, face masks must be worn and taken off properly. That means a snug fit, and if trying to create a more complicated mask design with a filter, there can’t be gaps at all.
Masks should be changed out every few hours during their use, and should be handled with care in order to prevent the masks themselves from becoming a transmission point for germs. Then they should be washed again.
Also, a homemade face mask should not give you false sense of confidence to venture out, especially if you have been asked stay home. Please stay home, especially if ordered to do so.
Finally, always wash your hands before and after carefully removing and handling a face mask, of any kind.
Best Practices for Design
Our volunteers are trying to collaborate and determine best practices, speaking with other concerned citizens around the country who started similar efforts. If you are an expert in face masks, or have any evidence-based ideas, please reach out to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our two primary patterns are a modified basic mask, with straps or elastic ear loops, and then a larger N95 cover mask that always has ties, which will be more durable to launder many times at high heat than elastic. A metal strip at the top has not been included, because we are not trying to replace an N95 respirator, only to help protect it. We don’t know how all those little pieces of metal would hold up under repeated washing cycles at brutally high temperatures.
BUT, if a hospital wants to request something else, we will soon be providing those patterns, and we will be placing these projects on a bulletin board of requests from regional hospitals. Our two main patterns will also be updated, based on feedback and needs.
We hope you will sign up to help.
We are seeking volunteers to sew masks and to do other organizational tasks. Our goal and our challenge is to do this from our homes, limiting trips outside, and physically distancing ourselves from each other. We need to organize a distribution system that does not require people to gather nor handle supplies touched by many people.
Masks for Everyone and at Home
With the CDC recommendation for everyone to wear masks in public, we have been flooded with requests for information. From a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, entitled “Simple DIY Masks Could Help Flatten the Curve,” here is a list of relevant studies about the potentially beneficial effects of this policy.
The information on our website may be useful to anyone who wants to make a DIY mask for themselves or for a family member. The CDC has recommended that people with mild illness will recover at home from COVID-19. According to CDC guidelines, sick people with mild cases should isolate themselves in a room at home, and not continue their routines, even if wearing a mask.
If a family member is isolated in part of a home, the CDC recommends that the possibly contagious person should wear a mask, if available, at all times when leaving the room briefly for an urgent purpose. A face mask should be worn, for example, while in transit to a pre-arranged appointment at a health care provider or testing site. DIY face masks could be worn by other family members if briefly they must be in the vicinity of the the sick family member, in addition to other measures such as disinfection and handwashing, to try to reduce the odds of exposure, according to the CDC.
Most importantly, we hope to normalize the wearing of masks in public for EVERYONE for the immediate future, since about 25% of COVID-19 cases may be asymptomatic, according to the CDC. Face masks are a weapon in the fight against COVID-19, and anyone is capable of creating an easy facial covering, with materials readily found at home.
We Can Do It — If They Can Do It!
Our health care providers, and many other essential workers, got up today and went to work. Many of them are worrying if they will have what they need to fight this battle.
We need to support them and others who are vulnerable right now, and bridge the gap during our shortage of essential supplies.
Let’s work together to #flatten the curve and produce 1-million masks. We may be isolated at home, but we are connected. We are stitched together in some ways even more than before. We will do whatever we can to show love and support for all of those on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, and for each other.
Please start sewing! We can do it!