Tag: 3-layer masks

The weather outside is frightful

(But these masks are quite delightful!)

By Kitty

In normal years, when the holiday season arrives, I head down a deep dark hole and hibernate there until all the party-goers have gone to sleep it off and it’s safe to re-emerge.

But not all people are misanthropic goats like me, and some of them even want to celebrate Christmas/Winter Solstice/Kwanzaa/Diwali/Hanukkah/Las Posadas/non-denominational holiday of choice with family and/or friends and/or attractive strangers, pandemic or no pandemic.  

This gave me to think.  You, being all sociable and well-adjusted and the like, are probably getting dressed up and sallying forth sometime this month.  And you likely don’t want to top off your glamorous outfit with a mask you got out of a ten-pack in Surgical Blue or Grim Reaper Black.

Can masks be a fashion statement?

Unequivocally, yes.  Some masks absolutely can, the operative word being “some.”

Like any other item of clothing, I think masks can project certain messages.  They can cover the full spectrum, ranging from “I’m covered enough not to be illegal; can’t be arsed to do laundry too” (think ill-fitting, one-size-fits-none disposable masks that gapes open at the top and sides) all the way to “I’m mysterious, alluring, and something fascinating awaits discovery beneath.”  

Which latter is what I’m hoping to evoke with our latest style.  Bit ambitious for a simple mask, maybe.  But designers without ambition are like eggnog recipes without rum: they exist, but shouldn’t.

Compare and contrast the following two concepts:

The Sparrowhawk mask

This is the mask style for people who don’t mind being surreptitiously stared at.  

If ever a mask could be said to make a statement, this one does.  Co-ordinate one of these with your office suit or party dress, and suddenly the face mask gets elevated from merely utilitarian to the perfect finishing touch to a thoughtful ensemble.

Here are several examples of the breed, both plain and embellished:

Pros, cons, and undecided

The geometric, angular design forms what can only be described as a beak, which projects far enough off your face to give you loads of breathing room.  The extra 3D space is definitely a pro.

It’s very structured, with a three-layer mask folding into side panels that are at least six layers thick.  It’s the face mask equivalent of a super-secure, ultra-modern skyscraper.  Just so we’re clear, the part directly over your breathing passages contains only three layers, because you still need to breathe.  It’s a myth that thicker is better, beyond a certain point.

Is all that a pro or con?  It’s a pro if you prefer a solid-feeling mask that stands upright on your face.  It’s a con if it feels too rigid for you, and you’d rather have something a bit cuddlier and more flopsy-soft.

The extra layers at the side panels definitely forms a better barrier, and makes them sturdy enough so gaping is generally a non-issue.  But the trade-off is that not as much air can move through those 6 plies, which bothers some people and others don’t even notice.

I personally find the panoramic height of the “beak” compensates for any restriction through the sides, and the three layers over my nose and mouth allow more than enough air flow.  I went for a brisk hike in a Sparrowhawk mask and had no trouble at all.  In fact, I think this might become my go-to style, because I like the solidity and the extra vertical space over my nose.  Plus it does look so interesting.

But if you’re highly sensitive to the least reduction in breathability, you might be best off in a mask designed mainly for easy breathing, like the Gondola mask.  There’s a certain charm to its Empty Child aesthetic, if you’re into that (if you don’t do Doctor Who references, think WW2 gas masks).

And we’re off to the ball!

The drama of the Sparrowhawk mask lends itself especially well to ornamentation.  I rummaged through my box of shiny things, and put together a few fun possibilities for your next party, special event, or just showing your festive spirit at work:

By the way, all of these embellished masks are being offered for sale here while they last.  We’ll match each one sold with a mask to be donated to a local shelter (especially in child sizes and unusual sizes, which are harder for them to come by).   

We have enough special materials left to make another one or two of some of these, while others are really one-of-a-kind.  They’re gone when they’re gone.

You can find regular (undecorated) Sparrowhawk masks here.  These can be made in any number of fabrics from our vast fabric galleries to match your outfit, so your imagination is the only limit.

Happy holidays to one and all!

Is this the best mask of them all?

Or, better late than never.

By Kitty

In this instalment of our continuing adventures in mask making:

  • Old Aunt Kitty eats a helping of humble pie, with a side of crow
  • We encounter a mask style that may just be the best ever
  • We are reminded that wet masks are bad, and unimpeded vision is good

The hunt for the perfect seasonal mask

So after I spouted off at some length about the latest official mask recommendations and the pros and cons of assorted filter materials (herehere, and here), I turned to the task of creating a new style of mask with some quite specific requirements.

  1. The shape must allow maximum ease of breathing, while being able to accommodate a filter pocket for those who wanted to use disposable filters.  Now that we’re supposed to have a minimum three layers of tight-woven material, breathability is more important than ever.
  2. It must be fairly simple to make, so we could keep the price down, and so we could produce them quickly for donation.  Since every single health authority says that wet masks should be changed AT ONCE, we all need to carry around three or four masks in the wintertime, meaning they can’t cost an arm and a leg.
  3. It must maintain its 3D loft and resist sagging, even if it gets damp.  For those of us in the North, rain/snow/condensing breath/runny noses are a fact of life now, and we do not want possibly contaminated, clammy fabric crumpling against our breathing holes.
  4. It needs to form a good seal around the nose to prevent glasses or sunglasses from fogging up, even in nasty weather.

The new mask style (well, new to Kitty, anyway)

For weeks I pounded my head against the sewing table, trying out design after design and rejecting them all.  Some were too complex, some stuck to my nose or mouth if I took a deep breath, some pulled down every time I talked or moved my jaws, some caved inward when a little moisture from my breath precipitated on them, and so forth. 

Finally, I struck upon the perfect idea, and there was much rejoicing.  Hurray and huzzah!

Then about two minutes after that, I found out that about eleventy-thousand other people had struck upon it already.

It turns out that this mask concept is already out there, and has been for months.   Origami enthusiasts, sewing mavens, and droves of millennial Youtubers had all gotten there before me. If there was an originator for the design, it has been obscured in the mists of time.

Which goes to show that even an elderly, experienced seamstress like myself can stand to learn from the internet.  I could have saved myself a deal of head-banging if I’d just sone a little Google search first.

In my defence, my version does contain several refinements of my own, which I really believe will make these masks a bit more comfortable and even a touch safer.

So here they are, these not-exactly-new but still kind of brilliant masks. If they have a standard name I haven’t found it, but we’re calling them Gondola masks, because that’s what they look like to me:

The selling points

First, these masks are comfortable.  Airy, lofty, with a metric buttload of breathing space.  We didn’t think anything would beat our Ziggurat masks for ease of breathing, but Felix and I both agreed that these are significantly better for sheer airflow, even with three layers of fabric.

Next, the 3D shape is genuinely self-supporting.  The pin-tucks work like reinforcing beams to help keep the huge “dome” of the mask high and dry, well off your nose and mouth.  Even when you deliberately inhale deeply, it’s all but impossible to suck the fabric down far enough to touch you.  If the mask does get wet from rain or snow, the fabric will stay lifted up instead of collapsing onto your face, which is rather important for safety.  

Observe how the mask dome stays up by itself

The dome is nice and tall — too tall to soak up those unspeakable fluids we all leak from time to time in the cold (it’s mainly water vapour from the air condensing in your breathing passages, but that sounds less fun).  

Because the path of least resistance means that your breath travel outward into that big space, it really minimizes fogging up of glasses.  I also scooped out a dip under the eyes, so the mask conforms better over the bridge of your nose, and doesn’t interfere with your vision — even when you wear it high enough.  You can see how nicely the mask sits against the nose here:

Close-Up showing the snug fit around the nose

By the way, next time you see someone in one of those disposable masks with the straight-across top, note how low-slung down their nose they’ve got it (and also note the big gaps that result at the sides of the nose).  They have to do it that way, because if they had it at the proper height, the straight top would wander into their eye region. So it’s either impaired vision or bad fit.  Either way, it’s dangerous.

If you want to use disposable filters

If you’re into filter pockets, this style does offer you the option.  No, not all mask styles work with filter pockets.  No matter what anyone tells you, adding a filter pocket to a pleated mask is an exercise in logical failure (it can be done, of course; it just negates the point of the pleats).  

Keep in mind that a filter pocket must perforce float free from the pin-tucks buttressing the mask’s structure, therefore may be more liable to get sucked up against your nose.  I have yet to find any supported studies indicating that disposable filters are better in any way than a three-layer mask, but you’ll need to decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

The negatives

Well, there really aren’t many.  This one is a winner in most respects.  

If you have a big beard you want to keep covered, or stubble that tends to catch on and pull down masks, you may want to stick to a mask style with pleats at chin level, like the Ziggurat mask.  Though Felix swears the Gondola mask doesn’t ride down even when he gets all stubbly, which is a complaint he has against all other non-pleated styles.

The Gondola mask does take up quite a lot of footprint on your face, which may be a plus or a minus depending on what you’re after.  It’s better coverage, but if you really don’t like the World War gas mask aesthetic, this style may not be for you.  

It’s uber-practical and perhaps lacking in elan.  If you’re attending a fashionable holiday masquerade, maybe try the Sparrowhawk mask instead.  Speaking of which….

Next time, the other new mask style

With the holiday season upon us, some of us are probably preparing to attend various gatherings.  In a world of mandatory face covering, I thought there’s a place for a mask made for glamour — all striking looks, but still not without practicality.  Kind of like a dramatic swirly cloak, as opposed to a parka.

If that sounds like your cup of amontillado, join me in the next instalment, in which Fairy God-Aunt Kitty makes masks for the kittens who want to attend the ball.  Guaranteed comfier and safer than glass slippers.

The Big Mask Update – Part 2

A treatise on mask styles, filter pockets, and disposable masks

(Turns out there will be a Part 3.)

By Kitty

DISCLAIMER: As always, nothing in this article is meant to be official medical or safety advice.  Everything presented here is either publicly available information that’s considered accurate at the time of writing, or just my opinion.  If you have health-related questions regarding the pandemic (or anything else), you should seek answers from your health care professional, not a sewing lady off the internet. 

Last time, we went over a short summary of Canada’s latest recommendations regarding masks and filters, with an aside for some mask myths and potential mask materials.

This time, we’ll go into a bit more detail on how some of those materials handle when used in actual face masks, as well as the pros and cons of solid 3-layer masks versus masks with filter pockets.   Oh, and my thoughts regarding single-use face masks (spoilers: they’re not great, though possibly not for the reasons you’d think).

Some of my opinions are based on what little tested information that’s available at this date, and others on reasoning and my experience as a fabric worker.  If you want the science part, search and ye shall find, same as I did — though there’s precious little to find.  This isn’t the kind of article that’s going to list citations for all the studies I looked at, just a quick summary.

The government’s most-recommended 3-layer mask system

(And the problems thereof)

The official recommendation says to choose masks with at least three layers, preferably with a non-woven polypropylene-type material sandwiched between two tightly-woven fabrics.  Speaking as a seamstress, I find this problematic.  Not from an effectiveness standpoint, just a purely practical one. 

In my experience, every non-woven material like the one they’re talking about tends to deteriorate fairly rapidly, especially with repeated laundering and heat drying (remember, you’ll need to wash your mask after *every* wearing).

I don’t mean that they all curl up and die after one wash cycle — just that they will lose structural integrity much, much faster than, say, the kind of high-quality tight-woven cotton I might use for the outer shell fabric.  They become thin in spots and scrunched up in others, and that creates permeable patches, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Even more troubling: you won’t be able to *see* when the non-woven middle of your fabric sandwich has become useless if it’s hidden between two layers of sturdy quilting cotton! 

For myself, I’m sticking to three layers of high-quality, tightly-woven (or tight-knit) fabrics if I’m using a hidden permanent third layer.  I don’t fancy tossing out my perfectly good cotton masks every few wearings because I’m afraid the middle’s gone all worn and wonky.  Anyway, Big Gov says this is still a quite acceptable option.

They also say you could choose to have a mask with a filter pocket, and get that polypropylene third layer as a separate filter.  Which brings us to…

The masks with 3-layers vs. 2 layers with filter pockets

This is a complex issue.  But when you pare it down to essentials, it mainly comes down to personal preference, since at this point in time, we don’t have actual peer-reviewed science to tell us one is conclusively better than the other.

The complicated part: how well each system works depends on loads of factors, including but not limited to the fabrics used, how well it fits your face, what filters you choose (if any), how well filter/s play with the mask design, and what you find most comfortable and easy to use.

To VERY BROADLY generalize, assuming all other factors are equal (same quality of materials, same fit, etc), there are pros and cons to both.

3-layer masks

PROS: These are simpler to use, in the sense that you don’t need to insert and remove filters every time you wash them (which is after every wearing.  Right?  Right?).  You don’t need to worry about filters shifting around, or whether it’s covering all the relevant areas.  You don’t have to keep buying and replacing filters, keeping in mind that even reusable filter materials wear out much more quickly than any decent woven mask fabric.  Pretty much any design of mask can be made in three layers.

CONS: Some people find these harder to breathe through than two layers plus a filter, though that may depend on the filter material.  Edges and seams can get bulky where all three layers meet, especially if the mask pattern isn’t designed to minimize this.  The authorities say we should preferentially choose non-woven polypropylene-type material as the third layer, but it will wear out before the regular woven fabric, meaning you have to toss the whole mask.

Masks with a filter pocket

PROS:  Some people feel it’s safer to discard the filter piece after each use (though there’s no evidence that this is better than laundering a reusable material).  But you can now use a reusable polypropylene non-woven filter as the third layer and discard it when it starts to get worn, since you can actually see it.  You have the option of experimenting with different filter materials to see which one you like best.

CONS: Some people don’t want to faff about with filters every time they use their mask.  You have to keep buying and replacing filters, which always wear faster than good-quality shell fabrics.  Some filter materials are pretty dodgy (not breathable, ineffective, or even dangerous) so you really have to use your judgment.  Filters can shift in your mask, especially if the mask design isn’t compatible with it.  Which means some mask designs could be a no-no; for example, many pleated masks don’t play nicely with a lot of filters.  Less breathable filters can cause serious problems for people with respiratory issues.

What about single-use/disposable masks?

Officially, we’re asked to choose washable, reusable masks instead of single-use ones when possible for the environment.  Which is an excellent and valid reason all by itself.  I mean, we have enough problems with without making more of a hash of the planet.  The plague is no excuse to be ecologically irresponsible.

I have a whole other, seamstress/designer’s, perspective on the matter, which is that disposable masks are rather like “one size fits all” clothing.  They work fine if you just happen to be the tiny minority that they actually fit well.  For the rest of us — well, we all know that it should really be “one size fits none.”

Next time you see someone in one of those blue single-use masks, have a good look (from six feet away, of course).  Quite often you will see spaces on either side of their nose at the top of the mask, and gaps at the sides of the face where the mask doesn’t sit flush against the skin. 

If you have noticeable gaps between your face and the mask, it almost doesn’t matter what it’s made of, or how often you change it.  Anything that’s out there can just hop on in, and vice versa.  And the consequences of an ill-fitting mask could be far more serious than a bit of spillover from a one-size-fits-none stretchy bra.

Also, for what it’s worth, the government guidelines do specify that masks should fit well against the face without gaps.

Why don’t disposable masks fit better?

Most disposable masks are made as cheaply and therefore simply as possible.  They tend to be a pleated rectangle-type affair, sometimes with a nose wire which is supposed to make the ruler-straight top edge seal against the curve of our nose bridge. 

This most common single-use mask shape is a lot like our Accordion masks, which is the least popular design we have — for a good reason.  It’s one of the oldest mask designs, and for the longest time, at the beginning of the pandemic, it felt like the only available one, which is why I offered it originally. 

But your face isn’t a flat plane; it’s got peaks and valleys.  There’s only so much a rectangle can do to curve around all your in-and-out bits.  If you have a fairly narrow, small face without prominent cheekbones, eyes that aren’t deep-set, shortish chin and thinner or flatter mouth, this shape might work fine for you. 

However, the rest of us find that it makes for sizeable gaps when worn.  Also, the straight top edge can actually impede your vision if you wear the mask as high as you’re supposed to.  This is why you often see people wearing single-use masks dangerously low on their noses — just so they can still see downward.  Masks designed to scoop down under the eyes and up over the nose get around this problem, but aren’t commonly found in disposable form.

I’ve sewn countless masks for donation or sale since the early days, and NO ONE who has ever tried one of my newer designs (like the Ziggurat Mask, which is still basically a pleated mask, but with actual shaping for the nose, eyes, and chin) ever goes back to the flat rectangular pleated mask style.  I realize this is just anecdotal evidence, but I think it illustrates the point.

The OTHER disposable mask problem

We’re told that masks should be cleaned after every wearing.   In addition, if your mask gets wet, it ceases to be protective and you need to change it for a clean dry one as soon as you safely can.

With cold weather, your own exhalation condenses rapidly, meaning your mask WILL get damp if you’re outside for any length of time, say waiting for the bus or walking to the shops.  Which means you need to change it the moment you’re able to get your hands clean to do it.

It’s not a big deal if you keep several washable masks in rotation and always carry a couple of spares, as you definitely should, especially in the wintertime.  But imagine throwing out three or four disposable masks every day.  Do you believe that everyone who uses them will change them each and every time they get wet or soiled?

If you do, where can I get some of your faith in humanity? 

Even if you’re right, that’s an awful lot of masks in the landfill….

Next time, in Part 3:

This got way too long, so there will have to be a Part 3, in which your Ancient Aunt Kitty will go over many popularly suggested mask filter materials.  We’ll talk general safety, availability, pros and cons for everything from paper towels to vacuum bags to surgical sterile wrap, and maybe a few options you didn’t even know about.  If your ambition was to become a mask filter nerd, join me, and we shall…erm…rule the sewing room together. 

As for the add-a-filter-pocket-tutorial?

It’s in the works.  I’m trying out a few different methods to see which one/s will work best for people without my industrial machinery or specialty sewing notions.  Or even a sewing machine, because these days, not a lot of you have one.  I’m even trying a no-sew option, though I wouldn’t hold my breath for that one.

The Big Mask Update – Part 1

A sewist perspective on mask misinformation, 3-layer masks, filter pockets, new government recommendations, and other matters of safety

By Kitty

DISCLAIMER: As always, nothing in this article is meant to be official medical or safety advice.  Everything presented here is either publicly available information that’s considered accurate at the time of writing, or just my opinion.  If you have health-related questions regarding the pandemic (or anything else), you should seek answers from your health care professional, not a sewing lady off the internet.

NOTE: Most of the masks we’ve been making for sale and donation have been two-layered to date, because that’s what the official guidelines recommended at the time.  Obviously, we’re changing that.  In the meantime, you don’t need to toss out your old masks; I’ll be posting a tutorial shortly on how to retro-fit a makeshift filter pocket on them.


In the past week or two, the Canadian government has dropped some new official recommendations regarding face masks and COVID-19.  I’m not repeating all that info here, since you can get it straight from the source (and you should). 

But I thought I’d summarize some ideas that are most relevant to us regular folks, and also call your attention to some misinformation which has been making the rounds.  Some of the false claims are just silly, but others are downright hazardous, so it’s worth educating yourself.  So here’s an info-heavy, no-pictures, not-fun-but-relevant article that’s worth one read-through.

Despite what you may have heard, seen on shelves, or read on the internet…

1. Virus-Proof Masks?

No mask is virus-proof, self-sterilizing, prevents microbe growth, or any of those things that just don’t science.  I even saw one brand of mask that claimed that it used “sterilizing ultraviolet rays” to keep you from catching viruses (oh, I really hope we’re all too smart to fall for that). 

ABSOLUTELY NO MASK you buy (except N95 masks, sort of) can offer you a guarantee that it will prevent viral infection.  It’s actually kinda illegal to say it can.

2. Alternate Materials?

None of the following materials have been tested for effectiveness in face masks in real-life conditions.  This doesn’t mean they don’t work, just that they haven’t been put through proper robust scientific studies, so we just can’t know.  A material that works great in itself may be totally inappropriate for use in face masks.

Some of these may be proven effective in the future, and some are even currently recommended, in the absence of more data.  Others are just plain rubbish or even dangerous (I’ll go into a bit more detail on which, how and why on Part 2 of this series).

  • Paper towels, blue shop towels, facial tissues, newsprint, other paper products
  • Coffee filters, dryer sheets, microfibre tea towels, or other household materials
  • Baby wipes or sanitary napkins
  • HEPA filters, air purifier filters, air filtration system filters, vacuum cleaner bags (HEPA or otherwise)
  • Interfacing, craft batting, polypropylene non-woven fabric, felt, other craft fabrics
  • GORE-TEX fabric, tent material, and other rain-gear materials
  • Halyard H600 medical-grade sterilization wrap material, which I have high hopes will be proven to work at some point in the future.  But I’ve not been able to find any evidence at this moment that it’s any good for sewn face masks.

3. Reusable Filters?

A lot of available reusable filters are a bit questionable.  Most, if not all, of them have never been tested to see how they hold up over multiple washings, and some of them apparently totally disintegrate after being put through a hot wash-and-dry cycle or two.  So be careful and use your judgment if you’re relying on these.

4. Ventilator Buttons?

Masks with ventilator buttons/exhalation vents/breathing vents are basically useless.  Unless they’re plugged up with some kind of filter, in which case, what’s the point of having a vent in the first place?  Vent openings are not really different in principle from just punching holes in your mask.  This isn’t just my opinion, by the way; Canadian health authorities says much the same thing.

5. Best Material vs. Worst Fit?

It’s a myth that the most important thing about a mask is what it’s made of.  Even masks made from the very best medical-grade materials are worth squat if they don’t seal well against your face at the edges.  That makes sense; a virus or droplet doesn’t need to do the limbo through the tangle of mask fabric fibres if it can just shoot through the big gap at the sides or bottom of your mask!  Like water, electricity, and white-tailed deer, infectious particles often take the path of least resistance.

Actual government recommendations regarding masks, summarized

  • You should wear one anytime you’re in public, unless you have a valid medical reason not to
  • Your mask should consist of at least three layers of tight-woven, BREATHABLE fabric and/or have a pocket for a disposable filter
  • Masks should fit well, and stay close to the face at the edges, without any gaping
  • Your nose, mouth and chin should be covered by your mask
  • You need to change masks as soon as possible when they get wet or dirty
  • Mask materials should maintain their shape and structure after washing and drying (more on this oft-overlooked point later)
  • Choose reusable (not disposable) masks if possible

What NOT to do, simplified official Government of Canada version

  • Never uncover your nose or mouth, or hang your mask from your ear or off your chin (you know you’ve seen people doing this!  Don’t be one of them.)
  • Avoid masks with those “ventilation valves” (also called exhalation valves or ventilation buttons) or made from loose-weave materials or with holes
  • Don’t use materials that fall apart, like tissues
  • Don’t use non-breathable materials
  • Don’t put masks on anyone who can’t safely remove it themselves if it becomes necessary
  • Don’t put a mask on anyone who’d having trouble breathing
  • Don’t put masks on children under 2 years
  • Don’t choose masks that impair your vision or interfere with something you’re doing
  • Don’t share masks

Who SHOULDN’T wear masks?

  • Children under 2 years of age
  • Unsupervised children between age 2 and 5
  • People with health conditions that may be made worse by wearing masks
  • People who can’t easily remove masks if needed

What about face shields or those neck gaiter thingies?

Face shields don’t replace masks, though they do protect your eyes from flying droplets.  Because face shields don’t prevent droplets from entering or escaping through the open sides and bottom, they don’t protect you or others from spreading infection. You should only consider a face shield instead of a face mask if you’re unable to wear a mask for some reason.  You can wear both, of course.

Neck gaiters aren’t a good idea because they tend to slip around and need lots of adjusting (you shouldn’t touch any face covering while you’re wearing it, ideally), and because they’re hard to remove without contaminating yourself.  Again, you should consider them only if you can’t wear a face mask.

What should you look for in a reusable face mask (as per current new guidelines)?

1. It Fits *You*

It should fit YOU well.  Not your sister or boss or the model on the box.  This is probably the most-often-overlooked, yet perhaps the most important, factor in your hunt for the best face mask.  If there are visible gaps between the edges of the mask and your face, it doesn’t matter how great the mask material is, or how durable, or even how comfortable (yes, a mask can be comfy AND gappy at the same time).  It’s still an open door for infectious droplets to waltz in and out. 

So if you buy those one-shape-fits-all ten-pack masks, do the world (and yourself) a favour and check all around the edges in a mirror to make sure it’s conforming well to your face.  Do this after you’ve been wearing the mask for your daily activities for an hour or two, not right after you’ve put it on and adjusted it to perfection!

2. Minimum Materials

Masks should be made from at least 3 layers of breathable, washable, tight-woven (or non-woven, in some cases) fabrics that will hold up to repeated washing and drying (or at least 2 layers plus a pocket for holding disposable filters).  Since you should wash all masks after every wear, this is really important.  Also, any material that falls apart, frays, changes size, or loosens its weave after washing isn’t suitable for non-disposable masks.  Watch out for cheaply made masks with unfinished exposed seams, since fraying can lead to loss of protection.

3. Official Middle Layer Material

The official government suggestion is for the middle layer of the recommended three to be made from a non-woven polypropylene material (though they say another layer of tight-woven fabric is okay).  Buuuuuut….

4. The Professional Fabric Perspective

Here’s my professional fabric worker’s perspective on the above: most of those polypropylene non-woven fabrics tend to lose structural integrity much faster than, say, tight-woven cotton or linen.  If the middle layer is sandwiched between the two outer layers like the government suggests, how do you know if it’s disintegrating on you? 

Personally, I’d stick with another layer of tight-woven washable fabric for the middle layer. OR, if you want to use a reusable filter, opt for a filter pocket so you can see the non-woven polypropylene filter and change it when it starts to get manky.

5. Comfortable

It should be comfortable.  Every time you touch your mask while it’s on your face, you’re potentially introducing pathogens.  If you’re constantly adjusting your mask, you really need to try another fit, size, or style.  Not all styles work for all people, so it’s important to try different ones until you find one that works for you (you can always sterilize and donate the ones that didn’t work for you to your local shelter; someone in need will thank you).

Next Time, in Part 2:

Great-Aunty Kitty weighs in on assorted mask fabrics, filter materials, filter pockets, different mask design concepts for different faces and needs, and the who-why-how-when of each one.  And also, at some point before or after that, what you could do with all those two-layer masks you already have.