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Courtesy of Antoine P., Amy Vandyken, and Melanie Chang

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The homemade masks of coronavirus

Readers shared photos and stories of the masks keeping us safe.

Meredith Haggerty is the senior editor for the Culture section at Vox. Before coming to Vox, she was a senior editor at Racked.

In an ideal world, no one would need to wear a protective mask at all. In a less-than-ideal world, only health care workers would require them, and masks that meet all of the CDC requirements would be provided in great stacks, allowing doctors, nurses, and hospital staff to safely do their jobs. In a slightly worse but still aspirational world, medical-grade masks would be readily accessible to everyone, and no one would need to be making them at home — for themselves, for the people they love, for the essential workers keeping us all safe.

We are not currently living in any of these worlds. In the world we are living in, the rise of homemade masks tells a complicated but hopeful story.

There has been a great deal of confusion about mask guidelines since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but current direction from the CDC indicates that everyone should be wearing a facial covering in certain public settings. While homemade masks are not as protective as N95s nor surgical masks, evidence suggests they are better than going without, and even better than a simple bandana, and you can make your own, even if you don’t have a sewing machine. As a result, people around the world are making masks for themselves and others.

Vox put out a call to see your masks and hear your stories about how they came to be. You sent us dozens of photos representing hundreds of masks, along with powerful stories of people trying to help their family, friends, neighbors, and strangers in this uncertain time. From military personnel who learned to sew for this very purpose, to long-time crafters who used their supplies to sew personal protective equipment for hospital staff, to friends who made masks without being asked, these stories paint a picture of people working together to keep one another safe.

These submissions have been edited and condensed.

Courtesy of Morgan Elwell

I used material already in my home to minimize risk, I’m a crafty person so I had loads to work with. I found a pattern that was washable, had a pocket for a filter or to cover a surgical mask, and could have wire over the nose.

I’m making masks for friends and family. All I asked was for the postage and for them not to mind the crazy fabrics I used for their masks. I also made about 20 for my sister who is a nurse, and I’m averaging 10 masks a day while working from home full time at my job.


Courtesy of Amy Vandyken

My friend made the mask for me. Her and her sister have been making a lot of masks at home, and posted on Facebook that did they were willing to give them away to people. My friend dropped it off in my mailbox and she has the same one I do.


Courtesy of John McDonald

This mask is made of a pair of baseball pants on the outside and a dress shirt on the inside. I miss baseball so much, so this is my homage to America’s pastime.

This mask has a removable HEPA filter in between. I went with around-the-head elastic to avoid the over-ears style. I also sewed masks for my daughter and other family members.


Courtesy of Alexandra McElwain

I am currently Active Duty Air Force, a medic, and working on our base’s Covid-19 response team performing screenings, testing, and training in case we need to stand up a contingency field hospital to support overflow from our local hospital.

For military personnel, it is required that any cloth face coverings worn in uniform be of conservative colors. This got me thinking: how can I help? My dad bought me a sewing machine in a leap of good faith, I asked my neighbor to show me how to use it, and I taught myself how to sew by watching four YouTube videos on how to make these cloth face coverings.

I was determined to make them reversible (conservative color on one side and fun on the other) in hopes individuals would then want to wear them even outside of uniform.

I have since made over 117 masks and counting. I supplied them to my entire medical unit, some units who asked for help in another state, and working on my neighborhood and anyone with at-risk family members.

What I believe to be the most amazing out of all of this is how many people insisted on donating to help cost of supplies. Because of that, I began a pay-it-forward process; I let each person I make a cover for know who paid it forward to them. That has sparked an incredible amount of generosity and most importantly hope in everyone I’ve made a covering for so far. It inspires me to continue!


Courtesy of Jonathan Zigrand

I’m a crafter so I used fabric, pipe cleaners, and elastics that I already had at home and I made it using my sewing machine. I used patterns that I found on a Vox article and YouTube tutorials from doctors and nurses. I made an inside pocket in each mask to add a filter but I have tried different patterns since not all fit the same. Especially with kids, it’s a learning process.


Courtesy of Teerth Dhudshia

I folded my Khadi handkerchief into a narrow strip and put on some rubber bands. (Khadi is a hand-woven natural fiber cloth, mainly containing cotton.) It has three layers of thickness making the virus hard to pass through.


Courtesy of Hannah Burnham

At the University of Southern California, School of Dramatic Arts, most of the production staff (props, costumes, scenery) have been sewing cloth masks since March 16 for the USC Hospital system. Here I am modeling one! So far we’ve delivered over 400.


Courtesy of Antoine P.

A friend made it. I didn’t even have to ask for one, he just made me one.


Courtesy of Melanie Chang

My husband is an emergency doctor. I scavenged some of his old scrubs to make pleated masks, following a pattern I found online and modified to include a filter pocket. The scrubs material isn’t very thick, so these require a filter (blue shop towels) to be of any use, but they are comfortable and breathable and look sort of official because they’re scrub green.

I am not crafty, and I can barely use my sewing machine (see photo of crooked mask). But sewing these goddamn things has become my rage (i.e., at the state of the world) displacement activity, and I can’t stop making them now. I experiment with different designs. I sew a few every day and have started sending them to friends and family members. I rarely leave the house, so it’s not like I need all of these.

I’m afraid to wear it in public because I worry that being masked will make me (even more likely to become) a hate crime target. The couple of times I’ve worn one out, despite the current guidance, no one else was wearing one. My reluctance to be seen in one means sewing all of these masks makes even less sense.


Courtesy of Riley Church

It was a lot of trial and error, I used my family to test out different shapes and sizes. We learned my dad has insanely small ears!

I’ve currently made 30 masks, and I’m working on another batch right now. It started as just for my family, then my mom’s friends wanted some, and now I’m mailing them to the Houston Food Bank. It’s already a big transition from traditional school to online school, and the addition of making masks is tough to balance. As a senior in high school, I needed something I could control, after my entire year was stripped away.

I ran out of supplies after the first 10 or so, luckily I am working completely on donated ribbon, ties, and fabric. Really cool feeling.


Courtesy of Jennifer Fong

I was feeling pretty useless as to how to help people at the start of the quarantine; I have an autoimmune disease and am a single mother, so I didn’t want to come in more contact with others.

I started with four for my cousin, whose wife is a nurse on the front line around Detroit — she has coworkers and a boss who have the virus, and still goes in with so much courage, and yet she can’t hold her children when she comes home. It made me so proud of them.

Then I had quite a few people I know reach out, even a former student, who placed an order of 40 for her company to send to a Food Kitchen in Aurora, Illinois. I ended up doing around 75 so far. It really helped me find my contribution and explain these things to my son — I want him to start to understand how to handle serious situations, find a way to help, connect, and problem solve in hard times.

I took donations. I didn’t want to charge, I know a lot of people lost even more income than I did/will be. I’m so glad I did it, even though it was a crazy week. [People I’ve made masks for] sent me pictures, and I’ve been able to share them with my son. I got to connect with very old friends and contribute from a distance.


Courtesy of Richard Nordlund

We bought Kirby vacuum bags — HEPA qualified — and followed the instructions from Dr. Ryan Southworth’s YouTube tutorial. Important to know that I sewed a small bendable strip to fold onto your nose to keep it secure.


Courtesy of Erin Lehman

As a crafter/quilter, I realized I had the materials on hand, so I got to work. First for my sister and her husband and son, then for another sister, my dad and stepmom. Then, my grandmother and her caregiver. Then, whoever wanted one. I think I ended up giving away seven or eight to coworkers/fellow interpreters and even to a homeless woman on the exit ramp to the hospital where I work.

I was lucky to have funky fabric on hand, so each mask had a little style, but I’ll admit it made me sad to sew to mini masks for my nephew and a coworkers daughter. My heart broke a little that kiddos will remember this and have to learn to protect themselves all the more.

I work at a hospital and supplies are in demand. As interpreters, we’ve been removed from the “front lines” and are working remotely. If my using a homemade mask means our nurses have more on hand, I’m happy to.


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