Apparel Experts Design Mask
To wear a mask or not became the question that occupied medical professionals for days as people nationwide sought ways to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
For University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences apparel, textiles and design instructors Chelsey Lewallen and Lori Wahl, the question was more focused: If you want to make a mask, which mask style offers the best fit and what fabrics offer the best protection?
Their work targets home sewists who want to protect themselves, friends and families during errands and other non-medical duties.
Wahl is also working with U of I College of Engineering colleagues on a 3D printed form-fitting facemask with a material insert capable of more rigorous particle and liquid protection.
The desire to produce masks at home swept through sewing circles, churches and civic groups as people sought ways to help themselves and others.
The two-layer, shaped mask designed by Lewallen offers an extra layer of security for those following the recommended 6-foot social distancing.
“This will not protect you entirely from the virus, but a personal mask will hopefully reduce the likelihood of you spreading it if you are ill,” Lewallen said.
The Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences apparel designers approached the issue much like other product design challenges.
With people more likely to wear an item that is comfortable, they posed the question “how can a mask be comfortable and provide adequate coverage?” Now that medical professionals softened their earlier recommendation of only medical professionals wearing masks, the demand for home-sewn masks is expected to increase.
The U of I design recommends a knit fabric that offers a closer fit around the face and more comfort for longer periods of wear. Fabric ties can be made from the same fabric or cut from old knit t-shirts.
The project presented some real-world challenges such as balancing adequate face coverage with ease of construction and finding fabrics and other materials.
“We would come up with a solution and then there would be another issue,” Lewallen said.
Elastic seemed a good way to hold the masks in place, then supplies of elastic disappeared at local retailers.
Then Lewallen came up with the idea to use knit ties after Wahl suggested using knit fabric for the mask based upon feedback from material researchers and their fit testers. The knit fabric for the mask should be tightly knit as found in an interlock, double knit or ponte.
“Our most important consideration was how is this going to help?” she said.
People should still practice social distancing, she said. But the project also reflected people’s desire to want to do something to help.
"I suggest using an interlock knit that has 5% spandex if possible. We are still determining the ideal textile for the mask."
Please note that these masks are not a replacement for N95 or medical grade masks. These instructions and patterns are intended for personal use and to donate to medical facilities as an emergency resource.
Article by Bill Loftus, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos by Dave Harlan, Theatre Arts lecturer, and Kevin Lewallen
Video by Chelsey Lewallen, Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences, and Dave Harlan
Published in April 2020