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Trash Is Tragic: Sustainable Mask-Making Tips

By Melanie Bernier for Boston Compass (#124)

June 28, 2020

Hello, my trashy babies! Since the dawn of COVID-19, my “going out look” has featured a Budweiser bandana, draped elegantly across my mug in a makeshift face mask. That ends now. I’m clearing my busy schedule - which mainly involves blasting Candle in the Wind and weeping - and making a proper face mask.

Why the sudden change of heart, you ask? While “King of Beers” is a strong fashion statement, it’s prolly not the identity I wish to project during a pandemic. No one likes a braggart in end times! And it turns out that bandana face masks prevent the spread of Covid-19 like bandana condoms prevent pregnancy. Not well. And highly chafing. Woof.

Why not buy some freaky-deaky-disposable face masks? Glad you asked. There’s a human cost embedded in the manufacture and disposal of medical PPE, which is largely made from petrochemicals. People living in close proximity to plastic manufacturing plants, or the incinerators that burn medical waste, are exposed to airborne pollutants that can significantly shorten their lifespan; on average, 20 - 30 years below that of individuals from nearby communities. The affected communities disproportionately consist of low-income, black and brown POC.

There’s an inescapable truth of life on Earth: The health of any individual is inseparable from the health of their environment. America’s system of inequality has allowed low-income people and people of color to breathe the dangerous pollution that industry says is necessary for the safety of others. Their lives are basically deemed “nonessential” by powerful forces of industry and government. This is unacceptable. OK cool speech, but how do I make a face mask tho?

  • The Net (starring Sandra Bullock) is crawling with DIY face mask tutorials (Gather Here of Cambridge has a nice one). Find a tutorial that suits your sewing ability and tool set. Access to a sewing machine is helpful, but not essential.

  • The type of cloth you use is very important; it will determine the effectiveness of your mask. According to smarty lab nerds, denim and canvas made from 100% cotton are the best options. Cotton with a high thread count, like quilter’s cotton, is also recommended. Double, triple, or quadruple your layers, making sure they are breathable and light-blocking.

  • Scavenge fabric, elastic, and thread. I’m repurposing the elastic from an old fitted bedsheet, and the legs of denim cut-offs. You could use the elastic off a tired g-string, if the ol’ gal has some life left in her! Sewing by hand? In need of thread? Consider taking apart a plain weave cloth, like an old bedsheet, or use dental floss like an Oi punk.

  • Put the Shivvers on repeat and bust out the face mask of your dreams. Ric rac, clown noses, vajazzles - go hard with the embellishments! Make sure to write DOG PISS across the front, and make intense eye contact with everyone you pass.

—Melanie Bernier

Check out all the art and columns of June's Boston Compass at



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