Now that fabric face coverings are compulsory in shops and on public transport, we’ll all need more. Using disposable ones generates waste and we need to preserve medical grade mask supplies for carers, medical staff, and front-line workers such as shop assistants and transport workers.

Do read this guidance here from Public Health England which explains clearly best practice in how to wear and remove them. These are no substitute for medical masks.

So why not sew your own reusable masks? Here I’ve pulled together some of the best links for free-to-use patterns (but note they are copyright so cannot be used to sell masks for profit – just for you and family or friends). I’ve also included details of local fabric shops and sewing classes – if you get the sewing bug and can support local business please do. And finally if you want to make a political statement do look up the Craftivist Collective (website here) which was established and is run by Haggerston local Sarah Corbett.

Public Health England recommends two layers of fabric, but the World Health Organisation suggests three in certain circumstances. Whether two or three layers, it’s quite easy.

What you will need

You don’t need expensive material but here are some tips:

Tightly woven cotton (not T-shirt material) is best and most comfortable (an old shirt or pillowcase or sheet). Polycotton, which is blend of cotton and polyester and often used in bedding is less comfortable (you can usually tell because it won’t crease as much if you scrunch it up)

In place of elastic you can cut a strip off the bottom of a T-shirt or from an old pair of leggings. Cut a strip about 1-1.5cm wide. Pull it lengthwise to stretch it and it will curl up. It doesn’t unravel

If you cut around 18-20 cm strips you can knot them to length for ear loops or around 60cm for around the head.

If you do use disposable masks you can recycle the nose wire and if you are an advanced sewer add this into your home sewn mask to help it fit (and avoid steaming up your glasses)

Big Community Sew

The Big Community Sew, spearheaded by erstwhile Hackney resident Patrick Grant of the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee has provided two patterns – easy for beginners – for you to use for free. Just visit here to find out more and download the templates.

Dhurata Davies

Designer Dhurata Davies has provided another easy to sew mask with a bit more shape – it includes darts to shape it for your chin and nose and comes in four different size options. She also provides comprehensive instructions. Remember copyright only allows this to be used for personal use. See here.  

Other options include:

The 3d mask – easy, because you only require a ruler and a piece of paper no pattern to print and only need to sew six lines of sewing. Provides a bit more breathing space. See Old Street resident @thriftystitcher on Instagram here where she has made a video tutorial. The Thrifty Stitcher also runs online courses for beginners to advanced. See here for more details.

Designed to fit – a bit more complicated

And for the super advanced option – see this link here to a series of patterns made by an out-of-work American engineer who used lockdown to design masks for his family. This takes quite a bit of time to work out the right fit but as masks will be around for a while it may be worth the effort.

Local fabric shops include:

Mermaid Fabrics on the Narroway at the top of Mare Street for fabrics and haberdashery. Specialises in curtains and soft furnishings. Visit their website here.

Fabrications on Broadway Market run by Barley Massey who 20 years ago pioneered green and upcycled sewing and haberdashery and also runs how to sew lessons and sells sewing machines see here. Also sells wash and wear masks made locally at 2 for £15.

William Gee, Kingsland Road which has been serving Hackney’s fashion industry since 1906. It doesn’t sell fabric (except calico – great if you want children to draw their own design on a mask) but sells every other sewing tool or notion you need (currently only online here)

Dalston Mill Fabrics on Ridley Road (on the left at the end as you walk away from Kingsland Road) which is a treasure trove of fabric and notions (also online here).

The New Craft House, off Broadway Market – a small business specialising in deadstock designer fabric sourced direct from local designers’ surplus stock to avoid fabric waste. Fabric is one of a kind and does sometimes stock suitable cottons. Also runs high end specialist sewing classes. Visit their website here.

And charity shops are great for finding and recycling old shirts, sheets and T-shirts into what your need to make a fabric face covering.