In Which I Lose My Shit Over Oatmeal

Fun & Easy Crafts For the Apocalypse

Once upon a time, I briefly decided that I was going to be the sort of person who Made Shit and Sewed Things; who made her own cloth diapers and Halloween costumes and pillowcases and tote bags. The sort of person who owned a proper sewing machine.

I never, ever became that person, alas. But I do technically own a sewing machine.

I grew up in a house that had an entire dedicated Sewing Room, with a closet full of Butterick and McCall's patterns and an old Singer workhorse machine. I loved sewing doll clothes and tiny dollhouse bedding and pillows and whatever else I could patch together using my mom's fabric scraps. I was not a complete sewing n00b, is my point, so my dreamy dream of handmade domesticity wasn't that out of the realm of possibility. 

But when faced with the modern computerized nightmare of my own machine (a Brother CS 6000i), you'd think I'd never touched a sewing machine in my entire life. I could never thread it properly. It constantly beeped error messages at me. On the rare occasion I actually got it to stitch something, I was so thoroughly terrified of it and exhausted by all the setup and trial-and-error that it didn't seem remotely worth the trouble. HAND SEWING 4 LIFE.

It's been sitting untouched on a closet shelf for years, a secret shame I've occasionally thought about selling before stubbornly decided that no, some day, one day, I will stop letting that bitch intimidate me. Some day, one day, I will learn how to thread that stupid machine and I will Sew A Thing.


This weekend, I learned how to thread my sewing machine. And I sewed A Thing.


This was definitely not the first sewing project I had in mind, but here we are. 

(I also cut my own hair, because desperate dead-and-split-end times.)

This was more of a hack than a proper sewing project -- I used a cotton headband/headscarf thing that I bought off Etsy many years ago (similar to this or this). It never cooperated with the shape of my skull and the elastic never stayed put and would slide up the back of my head before eventually popping off completely. But the fabric was so pretty and there was enough it that I figured I'd maybe get around to remaking it into something more like this

(Yeah right, get in LINE, headband project.)

But after I pulled it out of my fabric scraps, I slid it over my face and found that...huh. The elastic holds it perfectly in place at that angle, and there was more than enough to almost completely double it over in the front and I could just tighten up the sides and maybe insert some kind of liner to give it an extra layer and ANYWAY, that's what I did. 

(I also made one out of an old nursing cover, and am now making the more common style pattern for Jason out of an Acceptable Man Fabric. The sewing machine is now officially MY bitch and doesn't intimidate me in the slightest, even after that one time I forgot to replace the bobbin cover and everything went BZZZZZZTTTTTKDFHDKJLDLDLFH for a few seconds.)


And on the far-out chance that you! Too! Have a big-ass headband like this, I used my sewing machine Out Of Principle but it could definitely be hand sewn, or made with hem tape and safety pins. I made disposable inner liners for it from a vacuum cleaner bag*. The vacuum bag liner could be swapped for another layer of any tight-weave cotton material; I just liked the idea and had extra bags on hand. (Thank you, Robot Vacuum.) I'm probably going to hand-stitch a pipe cleaner under the top fold and add a non-sewn-in fabric barrier between the bag and my skin when I actually need to wear this. 

(I'm the family's designated Essential Chore Runner since it's more likely I'll have unavoidable time out in public during the federal job onboarding process. So I made this basically to have something to wear to the pharmacy in a few days for our medication refills. It's important to have things to look forward to!)



1) Put the headband on like a mask and fold the top and bottom to cover your face as needed. I made the fold along the bottom bigger to hold the liner in place. Carefully mark the folds with pins.

2) Play with the side pleats/gathers to make sure the front fabric is as tight and snug against your face as possible. Pin to mark any additional adjustments you need.

3) Practice taking the mask off and putting it back on using ONLY THE ELASTIC PART in the back or sides. Touching any part of the front of the mask basically defeats the purpose and you'll need to wash it. So take your time with the pinning steps until you can slide it over your face and have it naturally end up where it needs to be without needing to yank on the front. (And obviously watch out for the pins. Keep the pointy bits on the outside!)

4) Sew the top and bottom folds as close to the edge as possible. Leave any and all extra fabric on the inside of the mask. (Iron-on hem tape would work here as well.)


5) Sew the side pleats/gathers together or tighter as needed. I sewed a straight vertical line over all of them a few inches from the elastic on both sides to make it snug. 


6) Trace the final shape on a piece of paper to create a pattern for the vacuum bag liners. 


7) You're done. Wash the finished mask and your hands.


8) Stay the fuck home anyway.  

*So after watching a ton of DIY tutorials over the weekend with vacuum bags, I am now aware that there's some debate and confusion about the safety of it, particularly HEPA filter material that may contain fiberglass. WONDERFUL. I am 99.9% sure these *basic non-HEPA) Oreck bags are just fancy paper but I could be wrong! So might just scrap that part and sew in a couple layers of old dishtowel instead. Stay safe and sane, everybody. 



I've been hearing that we should NOT be using vacuum cleaner bags or air filters in masks because they contain fiberglass...


I also had not touched my sewing machine in a long time and have an embarrassingly large stash of fabric to show for it. FaceTimed my BFF yesterday for 2 hours and we sewed face masks while chatting. Then I cut out some bibs to sew for my cousin's new baby girl. Will wear one of mah new masks to take them to the post office and mail. Then I was cleaning up the kitchen from last night's weekly extended family virtual happy hour (via Zoom) and as I was throwing away a paper cocktail napkin I thought..........hmmmm, maybe I should just sew a reusable set! Getting back into sewing is helping me relieve some stress and anxiety.


@emily Hmm, I keep Googling and am having trouble finding anything really definitive? Seems like some HEPA filters do but not necessarily all HEPA vacuum bags? Very confusing out there, Internet!

I BELIEVE my particular Oreck bags are just a basic paper product (they're not HEPA) but I'll update this post with some caveats. (I haven't actually worn the mask for any length of time yet, and can just sew in an extra fabric layer in place of the bag.)


the AM BLOGGER NOT DOCTOR made me snort.


can you actually breathe in that?


I ended up going with cotton no liner because of breathability issues. And based on everything I’ve read it’s not perfect but it’s ok.


I loaned my sewing machine to a friend in 2011 and have not had an occasion to ask for it back yet. She has been using it to make masks to give to friends and family. Totally taking the pressure off of me...

I have heard of people using coffee filters and dryer sheets to add an extra layer of protection. I work as a nurse, and we are being told to wear a fabric mask over our surgical masks to extend the life of our surgical masks.


I’ve made some face masks using the pattern linked below, using the variations both to create a pocket for a filter and a place to slide in a pipe cleaner. I’ve been using hypoallergenic pillow covers bought online for the outside since it supposedly has openings no larger than 3-4 microns, and an old sheet for the lining. Had some elastic cording that is probably older than you that I used for the ear pieces. They work great, except that it fits tightly enough that I’m actually breathing through it instead of around it and found that it was hard to run and get enough air. Don’t expect to add a filter but at least I have the option. Crazy times.


what about using a coffee filter in lieu of the vacuum filter? or cheesecloth?


Pharmacies are supposed to be delivering in our area, maybe you could check with yours?

Karla Brizzi

I've read that paper coffee filters--cone type, cut off the pointy part--work well, and can be removed & discarded.
Thanks for the useful links! And Amalah, I use my sewing machine so seldom that I forget how to thread it, run it, etc. and have to consult the operating manual every damn time I haul it out, so respect to you for gutting it out.

Emily O Kimm

This article helped me, may help you:

Be safe! And congratulations on making the sewing machine your bitch!


I read an article this weekend about a clothing design shop in LA that tested every possible filter Material and found that the blue shop towels that you can buy at Lowe’s and Home Depot filter out 96% of particles. If you can get some they might be worth it to try.


I grew up with a woman who not only made our own clothes, but had a cottage industry sewing clothes for other people. She also canned fruit and pickles all summer long. (She is now working on masks for the VA.) So when I grew up and had my kids, she gave me a lovely sewing machine, and I bought all the canning stuff I could need, and then all that stuff just.. sat there.
And then I got my ADHD diagnosis and promptly turned the sewing machine over to my cosplaying husband and packed all the canning stuff up and gave it away, because that just ain’t in my skill set and now it doesn’t have to be, and it was a huuuuge relief.
I thought about trying again for face masks, but nope, don’t want to. Proud as hell of you, though!


As a person who has to go outside, I thank you for step 8 not just because it is so, so, so right, but also because it made me laugh my exhausted ass off.


Coffee filters work as inserts, too


If you have access to blue Shop Towels, those are supposed to be great filters. I'd avoid the vacuum bags - mainly because I have the luck of getting the fiberglass ones.


I am hearing tbose blue shop towels are decent to use as a filter but I am not a doctor, scientist or blogger.


If you have an extra furnace filter around ( the higher the filtration the better) you can use that too. I cannibalized a 16x25 furnace filter and have enough filters for my mask to change it every time I go to the store. I used them in masks with a pocket but am thinking of making a few more and just sewing the filter into the mask .


I think I've posted twice in the decade I've read your blog but I needed to tell you...your post on making your own cloth paper towels a few weeks back, before all this craziness hit us? Very apropos. We haven't been able to resupply because California is Out of Paper Towels so I cut up some old dishcloths, plonked them on the counter minus the cute basket, and told the kids to get used to the new paper towels. Works like a dream. Thank you!

Melissa D

I just feel like you need this, if you haven't already seen it.


I've been making them out of those reusable grocery bags you get for free at every event you go to Hoarding and procrastinating for the win - finally! They are apparently pretty good filters and they are waterproof plus something many people have around. I too am shocked that my sewing maching is in use almost every day now - i feel like my grandma, in a good way! seeds planted in containers all around the house further eveidence of my grandmalution.

Anxious Judy

I read an article in our local newspaper about this very subject (making facemasks) and emailed the writer about the fiberglass issue. She then did a deep dive and found this video from a member of the vacuum cleaner bag industry reassuring folks about fiberglass!



Blue shop towels apparently make pretty effective filters-- and this. company also made a super effective mask and is giving away the pattern!

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