Sewing school owner Ng Ching Ching is well aware of the shortage of disposable face masks amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. While cloth masks make a good alternative, she knows not everyone knows the nuts and bolts behind creating one.
Last month, the Kuala Lumpur-based sewing instructor put her skills to good use by uploading a YouTube video tutorial on how to sew a face mask.
She never thought the video would be picked up by GetUsPPE, a United States grassroots movement founded by physicians and medical researchers on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The video, DIY Covid-19 Fabric Mask (with Filter Pocket) Sewing Tutorial, is listed as one of its resources on how people can learn to sew face masks.
“I am happy that the tutorial is useful. I have really tried my best to make it as simple as possible for everyone to sew, even for beginners,” says Ng in an email interview recently.
Her 3-minute video tutorial, uploaded on March 9, has since garnered over four million views.
“I did not even expect it to reach over 1,000 views. So it was a shocking but pleasant surprise.”
Ng was inspired to create the video tutorial after hearing about Taiwanese doctor Dr Chen Guanting’s advice that fabric masks should be used by the public so that surgical masks are kept for healthcare workers.
“Dr Chen explains how the usage of a non-woven layer in between the cloth pieces acts as a filter to increase the efficacy of a fabric mask,” says Ng, 37, from Seremban.
She encourages the public to learn how to stitch face masks to ensure there is enough supply for healthcare workers.
“Right now, our healthcare workers are facing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes surgical masks. If the public hoards surgical masks, how can our doctors and nurses battle against Covid-19 to keep us safe? “
“So instead of using surgical masks, we can sew fabric masks, which are washable and reusable,” says Ng, who owns Maker’s Habitat in Kuala Lumpur.
In her tutorial, Ng shows how to stitch a simple face mask using three pieces of cloth. In between the layers, a non-woven filter (a dried-out unscented wet wipe) is inserted for better protection against any respiratory diseases, including Covid-19.
“Although fabric masks are not as effective as surgical masks, they are indeed better than nothing. Dr Chen says the non-woven layer does not have to be expensive either.
“Some options to use as the non-woven filter include dry sweeper wipes or non-woven gauze. The non-woven layer should be discarded and not reused.”
Reviews for Ng’s video have been positive, with many people commenting that her sewing tutorial is informative and relatively simple even for beginners.
This has further fuelled Ng’s determination to use her sewing talents to help others.
On March 28, Ng put out a message on social media requesting for help from volunteers to stitch PPE items for frontliners in KL and Johor.
“On March 24, someone from a community Facebook page connected me to a doctor in Johor who needed head covers for her staff.
“The traditional head cover design uses elastic bands, which can be tricky for beginner sewists. So I eliminated it and re-designed it. Our head cover, sewn from (good quality) garbage bags, can be stitched in five minutes.”
Thankfully, over 50 volunteers from Johor, Negri Sembilan, Perak and the Klang Valley signed up for the cause. Her mother Shirley Ng, who lives in Seremban, and her 14 friends are also helping out.
KL-based volunteer Sheila Singam, 60, is happy to help out and do her part for the frontliners. Together with her two daughters – Stephanie and Joanna – and son-in-law Dilip Gaspar, they help to cut the materials before sending it to other volunteers who piece the items together.
“It is important for Malaysians to contribute in whatever way we can. Our frontliners are in ‘the direct line of fire’. Some don’t have enough protective wear. Helping in the project is the least we can do,” says Sheila, a training consultant.
Ng is happy that so many people are reaching out to help.
“It is very heartwarming because there are so many people – the youth, retirees and working individuals who wish to help. When the doctors and their teams send us messages to thank our volunteers, it makes me feel like crying.”
Good quality disposable garbage bags and non-woven fabric material are used to stitch the PPE. The volunteers fork out money to buy the garbage bags while suppliers donate the fabric material and plastic to make the boot covers.
“Most of our volunteers are beginner sewists who have families to take care of and work to do from home, so they make time to sew the PPE items whenever they can, ” says Ng, who spends between four and eight hours each day to sew the PPE equipment.
In three weeks, Ng and her team have posted out over 3,000 headcovers and 250 pairs of boot covers. They have just started to work on isolation gowns.
“While collectively, we may not be able to produce as great a quantity as professional tailors, everyone is very willing to contribute what they can to help our medical frontliners. You can call our group the ‘everyday neighbourhood volunteers’, ” says Ng.
Doctors say it is essential for government clinics to be equipped with sufficient PPE because anyone who walks into a Klinik Kesihatan could be a positive Covid-19 patient without even knowing it.
“If the rate of infections gets higher, the usage of PPE would also increase drastically. For the medical staff, PPE suits must be disposed of after handling a Covid-19 patient. You can imagine how many sets of PPE a hospital needs to use in a day,” says Ng.
PPE item sewing patterns and tutorials are available on Maker’s Habitat’s blog.