You’ve been sewing up a storm, making face masks to protect the people around you. You’re feeling productive in the midst of self-isolation and want to keep up your momentum. Just one problem: As you burn through yards of fabric, you suddenly realize that your supply of elastic for masks (you know, for those very important ear loops) is in dangerously short supply.
What do you do?
First of all, don’t panic. Embrace the opportunity to find creative solutions for this problem. After all, sourcing materials for face masks during a pandemic has become a treasure hunt on many levels.
You probably already have a sewing supply backup plan, but many places you would ordinarily turn to may be closed or out of stock. You need a Plan B (and C, and D…) in case your local craft supply haunt is stripped of materials or your usual mom and pop fabric store has closed temporarily.
Thankfully, there are still many places to find exactly what you’re seeking. You just have to stop sewing long enough to dig into various corners of your house, reach out for help and/or stand six feet away from your neighbors in line outside a store.
Plan B: Look for makeshift elastic for masks at home
Very likely you have plenty of elastic (or elastic-like materials) lying around the house right there with you. Take these steps before you plan a trip to the store:
1. Dive into your junk drawer
…or maybe your bathroom cabinets if you’re organized. Remember that time you tried to grow your hair out and you bought hair elastics for those glory days ahead? Now is the time to capitalize on your optimism and repurpose them for another part of your head. Lay one loop over one end of a mask, fold the fabric over to encase it, and sew it right in.
2. Go through your office supplies
All those rubber bands tucked aside after they arrived around a batch of Christmas cards or bunches of broccoli are suddenly more than just clutter. You knew you would need them some day! By the way, add broccoli to your grocery list in case you need more elastics later.
3. Raid your own sewing kit
If you sew, you have likely accumulated an odd assortment of items over the years that you have completely forgotten. Now is the time to crack open those boxes and storage containers for remnants of stretchy ribbon or half-made skirts with elastic in the waistband. Being a hoarder – or inheriting your dear Aunt Mabel’s sewing supplies – suddenly pays off as you discover items that will tide you over.
4. Bring out the bungees
Remove the outer fabric from a bungee cord and separate the strands inside. Check with the person using the cord first. Some people get really attached to their outdoor supplies and you don’t want to end up in conflict while in self-isolation.
5. Give old tutus a new lease on life
Got a child enrolled in dance? Then you’ve probably got a lot of old costumes lying around. Look for tutus, etc. that have been outgrown and upcycle the elastic from those! Your dancers may also wear a lot of headbands to hold their hair in place. These are also a great source for elastic. That material is already designed to be as soft and gentle on the ears as possible.
6. Repurpose items from your first aid kit
A tensor bandage has a lot of elasticity, which can work for mask-making in a pinch. Just make sure you don’t actually sprain anything unless you have another one around the house. Although, you would at least have a mask to wear to the emergency room…
7. Put out an all-call to your friends
Post a plea to social media and see what happens. Many of the ideas you’re reading came from that route. It also generated two deliveries of elastic and one promise to share a large spool once the original owner was done with it. People seem happy to share their wealth – of knowledge and supplies.
Plan C: Shop (carefully) at stores that remain open
Hopefully, you’ve got at least one mask to get you through a quick visit to the store. If not, check these store websites to see if you can order online to avoid exposing yourself to COVID-19.
8. The dollar store
They carry hair elastics for as little as 40 for $2. That also gives you a range of colors that last for 20 more masks. The largest size will give you the most comfort, according to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. It’s an odd piece of trivia but a very helpful one since you don’t want to go back to the store again if you can avoid it.
9. Office supply stores
Check office supply stores for a box or two of non-latex antimicrobial elastic bands. A Rotary Club member who is sewing up huge batches of masks recommended them after she saw other stitchers using them. She also owns the store and has started buying boxes at the end of the day to incorporate into her own masks. She says the width and length is optimal for support.
10. Go with “Old Faithful”
Craft stores are beefing up their online presences right now to keep up with the demand for mask-making supplies. Check your usual go-to and see if they’re still stocked up, or try out that new one across town you’ve been eyeing. Just be sure to follow social distancing recommendations if you’re not able to shop these stores online.
11. You didn’t think we’d leave Amazon off the list, did you?
Whatever your feelings about Jeff Bezos, Amazon is a quick place to find supplies that may be out of stock locally. Even better, those supplies get to your door, fast. Since this is a worldwide crisis, after all, get your elastic where you can find it!
Plan D: Change the design so you don’t need elastic for masks
Maybe you’ve turned your house upside down and searched the web for hours, and elastic is just not happening for you. You can still get the protection of a mask without following the traditional patterns by using a little bit of creativity.
12. Put a sock in it
To get around the need for elastics and sewing altogether, you can fashion a makeshift mask out of a clean sock. Simply cut off the top four inches of a sock, then slice the tube so you have a long rectangle. Nick the fabric about a half inch from the ends to create loops to go over your ears.
13. Or better yet, go straight for the shoes
Shoelaces may not usually be stretchy, but they’re long enough to tie around your head. It’s probably not a long-term solution, but it will get you through your next grocery trip until your order of real elastic is delivered. Just clean them first. For obvious reasons.
14. Upcycle your old t-shirts
Cut t-shirt fabric on the bias so it stretches. Sew it into thin tubes then turn them right side out to use as loops or ties. Since t-shirts don’t tend to fray, you can do a quick narrow hem or just leave it as is.
15. Switch to fabric ties
You can just give in and use fabric ties instead of elastics. If you’re using cotton, start with a single strip of 42-by-1.75 inches or two strips of 17-by-1.75 inches. Fold the long sides so they meet in the middle, then fold again. Sew close to the open side to seal the raw edges inside. You will end up with a strip that is less than half-inch wide.