Spreading Smiles Not Cooties

By Mary Schilling / Published:

With the general supply of Personal Protection Equipment running low, homemade face masks have been critical to the supply of PPE’s for hospitals, nursing homes, first responders and the general public.  There are many patterns found on the internet which completely cover required facial area from ear to ear. People are wearing homemade masks sewn from bandanas and random fabric.

The few times I had been out of quarantine, I noticed most of the masks were generic, solid color fabric or just white medical looking. Everyone looks like zombies, not the frightening brain eating ones, but the skittish zombies, slowly moving without looking up, tired and burnt out and not smiling under their sterile masks.

I thought, what if medical masks become part of our daily lives? What happens if social distancing creates an atmosphere where everyone is afraid of each other, and worse yet, we cannot see the smile on another person’s face?

And then it happened, on April 3, 2020, the U.S. government recommended that we should all wear protective face masks in public to prevent the spread of the virus.

So, if masks are to become the new normal, then why can’t the masks represent who we are underneath (or secretly want to be), what we enjoy or just something entirely goofy creating smiles in the process? They can be all of those things.

Repurposing Hardware for Smiles

Here in my lab in Fountaintown, Indiana I have a wide format Canon printer with aqueous dye inks I use for demos, proofing and testing RIP configurations for ColorGate and print customers. Normally printing is on various paper roll stock, but figured I would try some printable fabric we could use for facemasks. After testing various printable fabrics and thicknesses, I discovered a compatible 6mil, machine washable, water-resistant poly cloth which is a lightweight, wicking,  wrinkle and tear-resistant polyester fabric from Aaron Graphics. This fabric produces excellent image quality using a low-ink synthetic setting on the Canon.

Once the perfect print fabric was found, it was time to search the Internet for mask patterns. Most of them were the folded or a flat pattern, which didn’t provide the shape to show the depth and imagery I was envisioning. I wanted to make the graphics look 3D and as lifelike as possible.

So as funny as it sounds, the process started with measuring faces of quarantined household family members and taking an average for a finished size.

The drawing above shows a wider pattern for those making medical type masks. This expands the actual mask to cover ear to ear and allows the printed fabric ends to fold back over the elastic and backing. But if you are making these for the general public and you need to save printable fabric, as you can imagine this printable fabric is expensive, there are different ways you can finish the sides of the mask and use less fabric.

Who Let the Dogs Out?

With my creative hat on, started designing different graphics, taking photographs and searching stock photography sites for cool and colorful graphics.

Smaller width pattern shown

Knowing everyone smiles when they see a dog, I started my imagery focus on dog faces as they could create a 3D effect when sewn properly. Then added some fun smiling faces and sayings. From Basset Hounds and Saint Bernards to smiles and funny faces, the artwork began to form.

Small Problem- I Don’t Sew

Talk about not thinking things through…

Lucky for me, I know some very talented seamstresses who were very excited about the project. Their talents brought my vision of 3D looking masks to life. They customized the normal pleats in the mask to accentuate the jaw line making the dogs come to life. This change even made the mask a comfortable customized fit to the face.

Amanda modified the pattern to create the life like effect

A handmade mask won’t offer the same protection as a N95 hospital mask, you say? For those on the frontlines working directly with the virus, masks can be placed over certified PPEs. Because these are made in a rounded form, they fit over certified respiratory masks well.

In other situations, though, the general public will only need face masks to help protect them from catching and passing on the virus. Which these will more than do the trick.

I am excited to say, this mask project has grown from a quarantine project into sewing all types of animals and graphics at 3 sites spreading smiles to our heroes in the medical profession and adventurous shoppers across 2 states.

Smiling on the Outside

If you can’t decide on a certain mask style, then just be yourself. As much as I don’t condone selfies, this is one time its approved to take a picture of yourself smiling for a mask. 

Be a cat, dog or duck for that matter. This project was created to show your fun side as well as make others smile.

I now understand, why my dog is so excited to go outside or for car rides. Lately, I feel the same way. But wearing my custom mask helps me know I am protecting myself and others while bringing smiles in these changing times.

About the Author

Mary Schilling


Mary Schilling writes about technical inkjet industry articles, provides RIP and workflow training, manages print quality analysis evaluation, ink management and color management for OEM’s and end users for pre and post machine installs. Mary Schilling consults with paper mills, fluid and inkjet machinery suppliers on how to improve color and print quality for high speed and industrial inkjet involving paper, plastics, metal, fabric and glass with UV and aqueous inkjet fluids. This experience led her to receive Innovator of the Year awards from the Flexographic Technical Association and from Xplor International for her efforts in closing the gap between inkjet printing for document, and digital corrugated packaging. She is the owner of Schilling Inkjet Consulting, Published Author and Certified ColorGate Color Trainer and Distributor. Her latest published works can be found www.thinkforum.com/bookstore

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