UNSW Making

DIY Face Mask Project at Home
Women In Engineering Workshop

Blog by Jemima Siddiqui

Our world has changed drastically in the past couple of months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has made us do things that we don’t usually do. One of these things includes wearing face masks whenever we leave the house, whether it’s to buy a carton of milk from our local grocer or going to the nearest sushi train for a Thursday night dinner take-away.

Wearing a face mask has become almost intuitive for most people, and this has increased demand for commercially produced face masks and put immense amounts of pressure on companies that produce them. With increasing demand comes a shortage in production, which is probably the reason why you will see the mask section at your local supermarket absolutely empty.

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Now, you might be wondering, ‘How am I supposed to feel safe in public if I can’t find face masks at my local store?’ Well, guess what? You can make a face mask at home! During self-isolation we have tried various activities to kill time, from 15-minute morning yoga, dyeing our hair crazy colours, to secretly practicing TikTok dance moves … You name it, we’ve tried it! So it’s about time we pull out Grandma’s sewing machine and cool leftover retro fabrics to make some cloth masks at home.

According to Dr Abrar Chughtai, infectious diseases epidemiologist and Lecturer in Public Health at UNSW, cloth face masks can help prevent the spread of infections from sick (mainly asymptomatic) people, and partially protect us from infectious particles in the environment. Wearing cloth masks help us protect people around us which is exactly what we need to reduce the spread of Coronavirus.

During the Term 1 break, some members of the UNSW Engineering Faculty and Women in Engineering Society (WIESoc) gathered for a mask prototype workshop, including Angela Tandon, Danika Luichareonkit, Karima Bakhtiar, Sehhaj Grewal, Brandon Winsley – and me!

Over two days, we designed, constructed and tested a number of creative mask prototypes. It was a fun way of coming up with cool face mask ideas that were both aesthetically appealing and functional.

How to get started with your DIY face mask project at home?

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Step by step guide

1. When making masks at home, first choose the fabrics you will be working with. You can go as crazy as you like with patterns and prints – we encourage you to bring out your inner fashionista!

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2. Next, creating a face mask template on paper, which will be used later to cut out patterns from your chosen fabrics.

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3. Then comes the hardest part – actually sewing pieces of fabric together to make a wearable face mask. It’s definitely not as easy as it looks, but it’s not as if you’re pressed for time during self-isolation … Right?

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4. There are various online resources that can help you get started with your DIY face mask prototyping endeavours. The links given below can help you out with making paper templates, cutting out fabric patterns and sewing pieces of fabric together to make a wearable face mask.

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Important tips and recommendations from the mask prototype workshop

  1. Use three layers for maximum protection from infectious particles in the environment and to protect others.
  2. Make the outer layer of the mask as waterproof as possible by using water phobic fabrics such as nylon.
  3. Use high-thread count fabrics for mask construction, but at the same time ensure that you can still breathe properly once you wear the mask.
  4. It is also recommended to use cotton for the inner layer of the face mask to provide comfort to the individual wearing the mask.

Stay positive and make masks with others

We all know that social distancing isn’t easy. So why not set up a video chat with friends and family to practise prototyping face masks together? It’s a nice little activity to do with friends and family, and will also help you feel relaxed whilst doing something highly productive and fun!

Official UNSW policy on wearing face masks for protection against COVID-19

UNSW acknowledges and respects any person’s right to wear a mask if they so choose. Currently, Australian government guidelines do not recommend general face mask use unless people are unwell. However, there are some other circumstances where you may wish to consider the use of a non-medical mask:

  • When visiting busy crowded areas such as large events or rallies, grocery stores, shopping centres, or when using public transport.
  • When visiting or working in confined, closed spaces e.g. labs, media rooms.

For these circumstances, non-medical masks such as cloth masks should be considered to protect from COVID-19. (The use of medical masks should be reserved for health care workers only). The WHO has recently updated its guidelines and recommended the use of cloth masks for general public in high transmission areas.

The use of face masks should only be considered as complementary to, not a replacement for, established preventive measures, i.e. physical distancing, good respiratory etiquette, meticulous hand hygiene and avoiding touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth. If you do develop any symptoms, even mild ones, self-isolate and get a COVID-19 test.