Kuala Lumpur-based creative Ching Ng is the founder of cosy sewing studio Maker's Habitat, which offers sewing classes and courses to adults and children. At Maker's Habitat, you can sign up to sew anything from a simple tote or take an advanced course in dressmaking.
But recent global events have caused Ng to turn her sewing machine to a different cause - sewing fabric masks, and showing others how to do it, too.
"My colleague shared a Facebook post with me about fabric masks with filter pockets that was written by Dr Chen Guanting from Taiwan, and we thought it was a very good idea to help save the surgical masks for those in need, such as health care frontliners and the sick," Ng tells us.
"At that time, we were already wearing surgical masks while teaching our classes, and we did feel it was a bit wasteful to throw the masks away. Dr Chen's solution of having a filter pocket where a non-woven fabric is inserted in would reduce our usage of surgical masks, and we wanted to show people how easy it can be to sew such a fabric mask on your own - all you need is a sewing machine, and some basic sewing skills."
Ng put together a simple video going through the steps ("If you can sew a straight line, you can make a mask," she says) and uploaded it without thinking too much of it. That was three weeks ago. At time of writing, the YouTube video has now had over 1.3 million views.
"That was quite shocking, considering this was the first ever video we posted on our channel - that was created just for this video," Ng says. "60 per cent of our views come from the US, as right now there are many hospitals in the US that are calling for the public's help to sew fabric masks for them as they foresee a shortage of surgical masks. We've had positive feedback from viewers who are nurses and doctors, so that's reassuring."
The comments section of the video is full of lively discussion, including recommendations on materials to use as the non-woven filter layer, and others coveting Ng's mini iron. Either way, it's clear that the practical, positive tutorial has struck a chord with quarantined civilians all over the world. Additionally, Ng is very clear on the realities and limitations of a fabric mask.
"It's important to understand what a fabric mask can and cannot do for you," she says. "If you're heading to a high-risk and/or crowded place, a surgical mask will give you better protection, especially if you are elderly.
"Based on a peer-reviewed study, a fabric mask is able to capture at least 50 per cent of virus particles that are five times smaller than the coronavirus. A surgical mask captures 89 per cent. Dr Chen's recommendation is that healthy people use fabric masks, and to replace the non-woven filter daily."
And it's not just Ng using her sewing skills to help out; sewing communities all over the world are coming together and mobilising to help frontline workers and vulnerable communities in the face of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. "In the US, a student group at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health has compiled a list of hospitals that are accepting fabric masks," says Ng. "In Sri Lanka, a 'sewist' is starting a fabric mask donation drive to distribute them to the needy.
"Here in Malaysia, we're sewing masks for a small group of NGO workers, and we're talking to a doctor to see what we can sew for her hospital. All over the world, there's a shortage of medical grade PPE (personal protective equipment), and it's heart-warming to see sewists asking, 'What can we do to help?'"
After all, plenty of people are sitting at home right now, with an abundance of time on their hands, and a desire to help out in this global crisis. "Sew a fabric mask for a neighbour, or your neighbourhood delivery person as your way of saving the surgical masks for our health care front liners," Ng advises.
"If you'd like to help the frontliners, check with your local hospitals if they need any help in the form of sewing. You could also take this time to mend and alter the clothes in your wardrobe. Whether you choose to sew for others or for yourself, sewing is a mindful activity that will encourage brain growth, improve hand-eye coordination, and ward off dementia. Plus, you'll have something sweet to show off on Instagram!"
Ng's tips on optimum mask hygiene
1. Wash and dry your hands before putting on a mask.
2. Adjust the mask to fit around your face snugly - you can tie the elastic loops tighter if needed. Once the mask is worn comfortably, you will not have to touch your face or the mask to readjust it.
3. If you find yourself sweating a lot, prepare replacement masks so that you can change to a fresh one when needed. Fabric masks must be washed daily.
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