At the outset of the Coronavirus pandemic, or rather when it was recognised as reaching crisis proportions, or even more correctly speaking was allowed by government inaction to do so, I got busy making masks for the family. It’s beyond question that wearing a face mask helps contain the propagation of the virus. I found a pattern on a site called Craftpassion which seemed to be a good one and got busy. I felt rather smug when, a few days later, a French hospital started recommending this particular pattern. They subsequently put out their own pattern based on this model, but a bit larger in size and requiring more layers (three, as opposed to two). I made one of the Frenchified version with cotton jersey as the central layer and it’s tough going to breathe through.

There followed a general period of free-for-all in mask production to answer various groups’ demands for these items, but very soon the volunteer sewists’ stocks of elastic ran dangerously low, if not out altogether. I was reduced to using thin round elastic and I even started hunting out what items around the house contained elastic that I could requisition. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that Amazon had by now announced it would supply only what it considered to be ‘necessary’ items, and elastic didn’t come into that category. The earliest delivery dates given for the various types I looked up was mid-May! Specialist online sewing accessories providers were all out of elastic too. I eventually tracked down some rather inferior 3mm stuff, and also bought a few metres of what else they had whether it was suitable or not, but I’m still waiting for it!

Then on 27 March 2020 an organisation called AFNOR stepped in and published a definitive document about what masks were the best. AFNOR stands for Association Francaise de Normalisation. On the English version of its website it describes itself thus: “With 1,600 members of AFNOR Association, a workforce of 1,250, 40 offices in the world et 77,000 customers, the AFNOR Group designs and deploys solutions based on voluntary standards around the world.”

Having seen this report mentioned, I signed up to obtain a copy. The long, detailed document, consisting of sections, sub-sections, sub-sub-sections and beyond and full of intimidating references to various directives such as UE/2017/745 and NF EN 149:2006+A1:2009, recommends two different designs: the duck’s beak and the folded mask. The former lives up to its name and is altogether bizarre in appearance but apparently effective. I had to rule it out because it relies on two pieces of round-the-head elastic to keep it on which is far too extravagant use of a precious resource. So I went with the folded design which is workable with round-the-ears elastic. The document also provided a very basic pattern and scant information on how to put the thing together, so I watched a few videos on YouTube for inspiration. And not without a degree of envy, as in each case the tutor skipped between their top-of-the-range sewing machine and their top-of-the-range overlocker (a special type of sewing machine for stretch materials) as they demonstrated what to do.

I’m now a convert to this design. Requiring two 20-cm squares, it takes more material than the Craftpassion one which could be fashioned easily from oddments of fabric which every sewist has by the sackful. However, being a volunteer sewist for ‘Opération Surblouse’, as well as picking up two kits for surblouses each week (each one consists of 10 metres of synthetic over-wintering plant protector from which you can make seven surblouses) I can pick up a kit for 25 masks. This latter consists of a good chunk of offcut fabric and 10 metres of stretchy gold i.e. elastic. So far I’ve worked with some rather lovely, dainty organic cotton and some heavy sheeting material that seems to have spent a lot of time round toilet cleaner, judging by its smell!

And from a few days ago, 25 April, fabric shops have been allowed to reopen as someone in government has finally twigged that if members of the population wish to make their own masks then they need the materials with which to do so. This same government has promised to make available via their local mairie a mask to everyone who who needs one for when lockdown begins to be lifted on May 11th. Presumably, though, they’re hoping a lot of folk will already have kitted themselves out. Yet despite this massive operation, it currently seems that the wearing of masks isn’t going to be made compulsory.

That is infuriating, incomprehensible and unforgiveable. Of course it should be. If everyone wears a mask the rate of infectivity can only go down. It’s more to stop you spreading the disease than preventing you from catching it, so possibly that’s just too altruistic for many people.

France hasn’t exactly shone over its treatment of Covid. For example, at the time of writing this only 153k tests have been performed in the whole country, with the pathetic total of just 12 in our département of Creuse. Test, track and trace has proved to be a far better way of limiting the human and financial damage wreaked by Covid, and yet this country has practically ignored it.

Like most people, I’m looking forward to lockdown being eased but still anxious about contracting the virus as until there’s a vaccine, it’s going to remain a real threat. I’d feel a good bit less anxious if everyone wore masks.

Enough blogging, time to get sewing again!