Mad Hatting

July has been another crazy moth, since the UK government announced almost everyone must wear a face covering in shops as well as on public transport I have had almost no time for felting. When I started making masks for friends and family in late April I never for a moment thought I would sell more than 1,000 and donate several hundred more. It has been a strange time but I hope my efforts are in some small way limiting the spread of this nasty virus.

In amongst all the furious cutting and sewing my online students have been keeping me sane, unwittingly allowing me to live vicariously through their posts, revelling in their felt-making while I could not make any myself. Thank you all, you have no idea how much solace and inspiration your beautiful felted creations have provided over the past few months.

I hope you all enjoy their works as much as I did….






I am frequently asked about how to make a concertina style witch’s hat so, finally, and long overdue, I got around to making one this week. I am relieved to discover the plan of action I suggested when asked how to make one does actually work in practice 🙂

A new set of class dates has just been agreed, you read it here first!

Registration will open on Sep 15th, with the first felting tutorial posted on Sep 24th and the forum will remain open for sharing, discussion and questions until Nov 15th.

If you would like to receive an email notification just before registration opens please email indicating if you would like to hear about the concertina hat or the bag class (or both!).

What are the best materials for homemade face masks?

There has been an overwhelming deluge of information and some confusion around the use of face masks to limit the spread of coronavirus in recent weeks. I thought I would put my science background (I studied coronaviruses for my PhD) to good use and try to summarise the deluge of new information into something more digestible to the lay-person, in particular those looking to make or buy a handmade face mask.

Please, if you take nothing else from this post, remember this….

Wearing a homemade mask alone will not prevent you from catching Coronavirus, hand-washing and social distancing are still needed but wearing a mask is widely accepted to help keep us from unwittingly spreading the virus.

Coronavirus & COVID-19 Overview: Symptoms, Risks, Prevention ...

What masks do most effectively is limit the spread of virus from people who are not yet showing symptoms to other people. While they make it more difficult for you to touch your nose and mouth they will not stop you touching a contaminated handle and then rubbing your eyes. Social distancing (keeping 2 m / 6 feet away from anyone you do not live with), avoiding touching your face while out of your home and scrupulous hand hygiene are still your best bet for avoiding this nasty infection.

Think of mask-wearing as an act of altruism, you are protecting everyone else from the virus that you might be breathing out without even knowing that you have the infection. Between 20 and 50% of people infected with coronavirus do not know they have it and there have been documented instances of asymptomatic carriers infecting other people (Mizumoto, Nishiura). Masks are most effective in limiting viral infections if everyone wears them while in confined public spaces.

Most of the world has now adopted a policy of wearing masks in enclosed public spaces (public transport and shops are key hot spots where you might have close encounters with people you do not live with), it looks like face masks are here to stay.

Please don’t rush out to buy an N95 mask or surgical face mask, our healthcare workers (from doctors to nursing home assistants) need these much more than we do.

Another issue with the general public using disposable, medical-grade face masks is the environmental impact, they contain synthetic materials that will take centuries to degrade, piling up in land-fill sites for generations to come. Unfortunately, washing and reusing them is not an option for most of these masks, they disintegrate and lose their filtering integrity if you put them in the washing machine. Making or buying a reusable face mask is far more eco-friendly and sustainable for the planet.

Which materials make the best face masks?

There have been several papers submitted or published on this topic recently, some with very exciting results but I think we need to consider the data regarding particle size penetration of different materials with a healthy dose of scepticism. These data are generated in a lab with specialist equipment and as such are a useful starting point but do not take into account human behaviour or the “sticky-ness” of virus particles and the liquid droplets they are invariably carried in when a person talks, coughs or sneezes. These studies are conducted by blowing particles of a known size through samples of fabric and then measuring how many particles reach the other side.

This area is a rapidly evolving topic of research, I fully expect mask material recommendations will be updated multiple times in the coming weeks and months.

What do N95 N99, FFP-2 and FFP-3 mean?

These masks are seen as the gold standard and are currently in short supply as they are are single-use items, desperately needed by front-line medical staff.

FFP-2* (Filtering Facepiece against Particles) and N95 meet equivalent standards, the materials of both masks will trap at least 95% of 0.3 micrometer (um) diameter particles.

N95 mask - Wikipedia

FFP-3 and N99 are broadly equivalent to each other too, trapping at least 99% of particles.

As with all masks, how well they fit an individual will impact their effectiveness, this is particularly true in children (van der Sande).

While coronaviruses, measuring 0.1-0.2um, are smaller than the 3um particles used to test commercial dust masks and respirators they are expelled from the body (through talking / coughing / sneezing) in fluid droplets, and these droplets are typically 0.1-10um in diameter (Zayas).

*FFP is most commonly used in Europe and sometimes you will see FFP2 / FFP3 abbreviated to P2 / P3.


When selecting a mask material there has to be a trade-off between breathability and particle filtration (how many particles will be let through). At its extreme, plastic sheet may give 100% protection against virus particle transmission but it does not allow the wearer to breath so is useless as a mask material. At the other end of the spectrum, cotton scrim has large open holes between the threads, it is very easy to breathe through but also allows even large particles to pass through unhindered.

Recommendations for mask material selection

Up until last week, I was making masks with good quality quilter’s cotton fabric (at least 80 threads per inch), which had been recommended by several research groups, and a layer of flannel (I suspected that the fluffy surface of flannel would capture more particles but had not read any papers that had tested it as a material).

Then, last week I stumbled across a very exciting paper. It was submitted on 24th April to the American Chemistry Society Nano (I know, not looking very exciting so far but bear with me…). This team reported on the effect of combining different materials to improve small particle filtration without sacrificing breathability (Konda). Some of the combinations they tested performed better than the surgical masks and were on a par with the N95 masks under laboratory conditions. This table summarises their most promising materials:

As mask makers, we are most interested in the left hand column, the less than 300 nm column. 300 nm = 0.3 um and if your recall, coronaviruses are roughly 0.1-0.2 um in size, so in aerosol form they will come under that column but in droplet from they would most likely be in the middle column for particle size, however, these larger droplets tend to fall to the ground quickly so you are less likely to be breathing them. The higher the number in these 2 columns the better, this reflects the percentage of particles that the material has trapped.

The column on the right is a reflection of how breathable the fabric combinations are, i.e. how hard you have to breathe to move air through the layers of fabric. Although slightly increased in comparison to the N95 and surgical masks the researches indicated mask wearers would be unlikely to tell the difference in practice.

I was disappointed that the researches did not share which type of “natural silk” they used, they do not appear to be aware that silk fabric is available in a very wide range of weights and unlike some of the other fabrics tested, they did not provide a supplier either. I am going to assume they used a medium weight (5-8 MM) as 4 layers of heavy-weight (12MM) silk would be quite difficult to breathe through.

The results for silk fabric are likely to be of interest if you are thinking of folding a cotton bandana looped over 2 elastic bands to create a makeshift face covering, you might want to reach for a silk scarf instead!

Which shape mask should I make?

The Konda et al group were keen to point out that a poorly fitting mask significantly reduces its ability to filter particles, even the much coveted N95 mask only managed to filter 34% of particles if the mask did not form a tight seal. This seems rather obvious, if there is a gap between your skin and the mask, air is going to take the route of least resistance and flow through the gap rather than the material. Therefore, finding a mask shape that fits snugly is at least as important as choosing the right materials.

Max Siedentopf presents alternative coronavirus masks
A poorly fitting mask, best leave your bras in your underwear drawer

Thousands of different face mask designs / templates have been shared online in recent weeks, many with accompanying instructions on how to assemble your mask. I won’t list them here but if you Google “free face mask pattern” you will have hundreds to choose from.

The first design I tried did not fit at all well, it did not include a nose clip so gaped either side of my nose, and when I talked it rode down, almost exposing my nostrils. I had a play with a few different templates in an attempt to find one that fitted well and this is what I found:

  • Include a nose clip, this could be made from any bendable metal but aluminium or plastic coated metals are preferred since it will be washed and you don’t want the metal to rust, twisty ties are recommended by several makers.
  • I found the pleated designs offered enough length to wrap under your chin and not move around when you talk.
  • Make sure it is wide enough, the outer edges of your mask should extend beyond the outer corners of your eyes but not reach your hairline.
  • Elastic or adjustable straps will help to accommodate different head sizes.
home made face mask


Another important consideration is washability. Coronaviruses, are an enveloped virus (this means they have a lipid [fatty] outer layer) this layer breaks down when exposed to detergents (just like washing up liquid cleaning greasy dishes), without its lipid envelope the virus is inactivated. This is why hand-washing with soap and water is so effective. Washing your face mask with detergent will also destroy virus particles trapped within its fibres. Making your masks machine washable makes it easy to ensure you never need to reuse a dirty mask, you just pop them in the machine with the rest of your washing.

I make my masks from machine washable materials. If you want to use paper towel or coffee filter papers in your mask, I would choose one of the mask designs with a filter pocket.

Are some materials toxic?

Yes, you do need to be careful, especially with HEPA filters, some of which contain fibreglass, you really don’t want to be inhaling microscopic fragments of that!

I also strongly recommend machine washing any fabrics you plan to use, partly because they sometimes shrink the first time they are washed but mainly to remove any size and other treatments left on the cloth during manufacturing.

Using masks while caring for someone with Covid-19 symptoms

I am surprised by how little this is discussed in the press, while various governments request or instruct us to wear masks when in potentially crowded public spaces and that healthcare professionals should were them as PPE when treating patients there is rarely any mention of using them in the home if you are isolating with someone with Covid-19 symptoms.

Wherever possible, the sick person should isolate themselves in one room as much as possible, if they need to leave that room (to got to the bathroom for example) I recommend they should wear a mask. Similarly, if anyone needs to enter their room, I think it is a wise precaution for both parties to wear a mask, the only exception is if the sick person is struggling to breathe, in which case you probably should be calling for an ambulance.

In summary

  • Homemade face masks worn in public spaces, where social distancing is difficult, will help limit the spread of coronavirus but they are no replacement for good hand hygiene and social distancing.
  • Include a nose clip in your masks to achieve a good fit.
  • The best materials for constructing your masks include, quilter’s cotton, polyester chiffon, flannel and natural silk. Layering a combination of different materials in the same mask is likely to produce the best filtration and may be on a par with N95 masks.
  • At least 2 layers of fabric is advisable but be wary of using too many layers, you still need to be able breath through your mask (not around it!)
  • Always wash and dry your mask after each use.
  • Please leave the medical grade masks for the medics and give yourself a pat on the back for not only helping them but investing in a reusable face mask that is better for the environment too 🙂

If you would prefer to buy a ready-made reusable mask rather than make your own please take a look…

Stay safe


Abhiteja Konda, Abhinav Prakash, Gregory A. Moss, Michael Schmoldt, Gregory D. Grant, Supratik Guha. Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth MasksACS Nano, 2020

Mizumoto K and Chowell G. Transmission potential of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) onboard the diamond Princess Cruises Ship 2020. Infectious Disease Modelling 2020. 5: 264-270

Nishiura H et al. Estimation of the asymptomatic ratio of novel coronavirus infections (COVID-19). Int J Infect Dis doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2020.03.020

van der Sande – Professional and Home-Made Face Masks Reduce Exposure to Respiratory Infections among the General Population, 2008

Zayas G et al. Cough aerosol in healthy participants: fundamental knowledge to optimize droplet-spread infectious respiratory disease management. BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2012, 12:11

Finding Mojo – Creativity in Lockdown

Before we begin….I really hope you and your loved ones are safe and well, but if you are grieving for a loved one who lost their battle with Covid19, I am truly sorry for your loss, I can’t begin to imagine the pain of losing a loved one when you cannot be there to comfort them. Please don’t think for a moment that in this post I am comparing the anxiety many people are feeling and my own journey through this crisis in any way to the combination of grief and anxiety you are experiencing. My heart goes out to you.

Overwhelmed and impotent

We are just over 3 weeks into lockdown (in the UK) and the days have long since become indistinguishable from each other, some days drifting laboriously on, while for others (if I avoid the news) I can convince myself I am holiday and happily while away the day reading and pottering in the garden. I have lost all sense of time, what day of the week is this? Or what month!? Are you feeling the same?

Social media seems to be full of people enthusiastically telling us we need to use this time productively but, quite frankly, a lot of people, myself included, are just too exhausted from anxiety and worry to…. overhaul my website / clean the house from top to bottom / landscape the garden / make all my stock for Christmas *

*insert that overwhelming project that glares accusingly at you from your to-do list.

I know most of these people mean well but their posts really only serve to make me feel even more inadequate and impotent than this crisis already has. If this resonates with you, try to ignore them, mentally file these posts with the fake news and scam posts, they really aren’t worth your attention or energy.

I realised early on that my creative mojo was burrowing further and further into hiding the more my anxiety increased; the more anxious I felt (for myself, my loved ones and friends still working on the frontline), the harder it was to find that creative spark we all rely on. It took me a few days to realise this but just by limiting my access to the news to once a day and only grocery shopping once every 3 weeks I can (mostly) control my anxiety. Have you found a coping strategy? Did you lose your creative mojo too?

To begin with I couldn’t even face the prospect of starting a felt project, all the ideas usually overcrowding my tiny brain had flown away. So I set myself some quite mindless tasks, more to keep busy and distracted than with a goal in mind.

  • Tidying and organising the “wool room” (don’t be fooled by the name, like you, I have wool and other fibres stashed in EVERY room, but this room has almost nothing but wool and felting kit in it)
  • Painting colour charts for my watercolour paints (something I have wanted to do for a long time but never found time for)
  • Baking (if this keeps up, I will be too wide to fit through my front door by the time we are allowed out again)
A colour chart from my watercolour sketchbook

Then Fiona Duthie threw down a felting gauntlet…..

Those of you that have taken one of Fiona Duthie’s online classes will know about her “alumni” Facebook page, on there she posted a “coronavirus challenge” on the theme, “Separate Yet Connected”.

I have taken part in one of Fiona’s previous challenges (you can see the publication here) and really enjoyed it, especially reading about how everyone else had interpreted the same theme in such varied ways.

But I was filled with nagging doubts, could I come up with an idea and be inspired enough to see it through? I really wasn’t sure. I went back to baking…. and comfort eating…..

A little known piece of personal history for you… I studied coronaviruses for my PhD. It was a long time ago (early 2000’s) but I still feel personally connected to this virus despite the havoc and devastation it is inflicting on us all. This connection and a desire to turn the fear and anxiety into something positive, or at least constructive, kept bringing my thoughts back to Fiona’s challenge but what could I make?

The name corona-virus, comes from a very fuzzy electron micrograph image of crystalised coronavirus particles that show a crown (corona) of spike proteins protruding from the virus envelope.

Coronavirus - Wikipedia
Not as pretty as all the whizzy computer-generated images the media are bombarding us with today but I see a simple organic elegance in these decades old images

It was this micrograph that inspired a scruffy self portrait I drew a couple of years ago, where I applied the corona of spike particles to my portrait.

If you are wondering about my bizarre colour choices, they too were inspired by my PhD, I did a lot of confocal microscopy work that used fluorescent markers to highlight different cellular structures and virus proteins (even as a scientist colour was still a very important element in my work!).

Confocal micrographs from my thesis

Those who know me, know my favourite felt practice is sculpted, 3 dimensional wet-felting. It seemed like a natural step to translate the self portrait into a series of 3D faces.

This is the prototype of the “masks” being laid out
… and with the shaping begun but far from finished

I applied quite a lot of silk to the “spike proteins” expecting them to add a dash of colour but the fuzzy nature of Black Welsh wool has all but engulfed them

My plan is to make a series of “masks” with different ethnicities to reflect the global impact and arrange them as a wall hanging.

I will post an update as this project progresses but in the meantime please be kind to yourself as well as those around you, this situation and the feelings that accompany it is alien for almost all of us but we will get through it.

Stay safe, stay home.

Trash-in’ The Ocean

Photograph by Jordi Chias

Last year I joined the Wey Valley Workshop, an exhibiting textile group based in west Surrey (UK). The theme for this year’s exhibition will be “re-use, recycle, re-purpose” and titled, “Adapt, Adjust, Amend”.

I have long considered myself (and most felt-makers) to be a Womble at heart, making this an ideal exhibition theme. For those who do not have childhood memories of these fictional furry beasties from the 1970’s, they were among the original recyclers, decades ahead of their time, collecting rubbish left by others and finding new uses for it. As I write this post the theme tune is running through my mind….

Underground, overground Wombling free, Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we….

Making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind.

By our very nature, using wool (a waste product of sheep husbandry) as our principal material we felt-makers are already up-cycling other people’s “rubbish” but many of us also scour charity shops for unwanted fabrics and felting tools (AKA children’s toys, massage tools and kitchen equipment), old rubber mats, plastic shelf liner… the list is endless, in our pursuit of textile happiness.

For my exhibition piece I wanted to highlight the growing issue of plastic detritus in our oceans. The impact of human activity on the wildlife in our oceans is truly horrific, I have been reduced to tears time and again by they photos and videos I encountered while researching this project. The impact of plastic affects all ocean-dwelling species, from the the larger pelagic species and seabirds found dead or dying from gut obstructions (caused by swallowing plastic carrier bags) or intestinal perforations (caused by ingesting shards of plastic), to turtles and fish entangled in the plastic rings from multi-packs of drinks and discarded fishing nets, down to the tiniest crustaceans ingesting micro-plastics.

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Terrapin trapped in plastic packaging; before someone feels the need to comment I know these are fresh-water inhabitants, it serves to illustrate how rubbish in our rivers flows downstream to our oceans.

I knew I wanted to upcycle some waste plastics into my exhibition piece and that it would have an aquatic theme so I put a call out for mesh plastics on local social media sites and to the Wey Valley Workshop members, I was inundated with donations, this is just a fraction of the plastic netting I received….

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Many, many thanks to all the wonderful people who donated to this project, I will make sure they are put to good use and don’t end up in landfill.

My initial thoughts were that the netting would look like fish scales when felted into the surface but the more I pondered this exhibition piece the more I started to see possibilities in all manner of items that would normally go in the recycling bin and a few items I could rescue from the horrors of landfill. So I started collecting all manner of “rubbish” much to my other half’s bemusement. 🙂

Unusually for me, I refrained from immediately making the most complicated fish imaginable, instead sampling a wide selection of plastics, including food netting, carrier bags, drinks bottles, sweet wrappers, bread bags and the trays soft fruits are often sold in.

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The sweet wrappers were a surprise, they feel like plastic but once they were wet with warm soapy water it became apparent that they were organic in origin; they became slimy and slowly disintegrated while I was fulling the felt.

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Already impatient to stop sampling and start making, I started experimenting with different resist shapes for the fish, of course I had to start with my most complicated idea first…. ? This is a yellow box fish, made using a book-resist and strips of deep purple carrier bag between the layers of wool. He is a bit of a disaster but with a lot more work he might still make it into the exhibition.

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My next two “water babies” were a little more successful, this time using plastic mesh for surface decoration.

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I plan to add some plastic pectoral fins to this little chap.
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Close up of the plastic netting

Plastic bottles and food trays have proved useful in my attempts to replicate coral (employing a fair amount of artistic licence of course).

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I plan to colour the plastic and entwine it more evenly amongst the felt but I am mesmerised by how the shiny plastic and matt felt augment each other’s qualities.

Some of my other plastic bottles have the potential to be become jelly-fish, what do you think? Try to imagine this piece upside down with slubby yarn tentacles….

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This just the beginning for this piece of work; looking forward, I hope to incorporate crisp packets (which invariably end up in landfill) into some fish and I envisage all of these elements (and lots more, yet to be made) forming a 3D coral outcrop that could be hung from the ceiling.

Has this post struck a cord with you? Would you like to do more to lessen your personal impact on the oceans? This link contains several helpful suggestions, some of which I expect you are already doing but there may be one or two you haven’t considered yet. Please add a comment your thoughts on this topic and any novel steps you are taking to minimise your “footprint”.

Autumn is my favourite colour

I know I have said this before, but it is worth saying again :). Every year I am left in awe of the beautiful colours that mother nature brings us each October / November.

While the British deciduous woodlands make my heart sing with their beautiful yellows, oranges and chestnut browns, this year I was lucky enough to visit Japan for the first time and was blown away by the intensity of the golden yellows and crimson maples against the dark green conifers.

The FFS fourth quarter challenge is all about creating a colourscape (creating pleasing combinations of colours). It seemed an obvious step to use some of the photos from this trip as my inspiration, but what to make? Felt can be notoriously difficult to work with when you want to place complementary colours next to each other, by its very nature the fibres (and therefore colours) want to mix and mingle and of course that will lead to muddy browns and greys where the two colours meet.

A few months ago, Fiona Duthie posted a video on how to make a double-walled vessel on her course FB page (it is only open to former students of her online classes). I have been having lots of fun with this technique as it provides an excellent solution to the colour mixing problem.

This is one of the first vases I made following her video, the double-walled technique lends itself very well to placing complementary colours adjacent to each other.

Feeling inspired by the crimson and orange acers (Japanese maples), I set about planning my vessel…

First to choose the colours…. for the inner wall:

And the outer wall:

Laying out the silk and wools:

Silk hankies that will be seen on the inner layer
Wool layout for the inner layers
Wool layout for the outer layers

While felting I couldn’t help but adore the colour transitions from the inside to the outside wall:

I could have cut the leaf shapes from the outer wall free-hand but given how fiddly they are I decided to play it safe and made myself a stencil.

I used water soluble crayons to mark where I wanted to cut the felt (these are really convenient way to mark up damp felt and they wash out easily).

Once the leaf patterns had been cut away I continued to shape the vessel and heal the cut edges, et voila! It’s not quite dry yet but I think you can still get a feel for the colour combinations even though the sheen on the silk can’t be seen yet. What do you think?

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