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tl;dr today I’m sharing my favorite mask pattern

Handy Guide to this Seriously Long Post

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Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

It’s been a while, but let’s just chalk that up to 2020 and move on, shall we?

Speaking of, it’s been a year, hasn’t it? We haven’t seen friends, family, or done anything more exciting than rescue feral kittens in months.*

Like so many of you, I miss my family.
I miss my friends.
I miss not knowing the latest hot news in epidemiology;)

I wanted to write about how things were going. I wanted to write something encouraging. I wanted to write, period.

But.

I just didn’t have it in me. And sometimes that just has to be ok. So I worked, managed and generally tried to keep my fashizzma together while the world did 2020.

I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been to the workshop. My sewing machine crapped out on me. I have been reading, at first to study a couple of new genres I wanted to understand from a writer’s perspective, but then I just wanted happy endings.

You know, those things that used to be a luxury but now feel like a necessity. At least to me.

But I’m slowly coming out of it. Fall is sliding into the cold sleep of winter but paradoxically, I’m waking up.

I had a story idea the other day. It wasn’t all that good, but whatever. Thank you, brain.

I’m also doing what a lot of people are doing. Buckling down, cooking, making masks, the quintessential pandemic pastimes.

And I had the urge to share. So I’m here today to share my favorite DIY mask pattern.

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Mask Talk

Despite dramatic progress on the scientific front, we don’t have as many tools in the fight against Covid-19 as we’d like (I know, stating the obvious). What we can do, right now, is socially distance, wash our hands, and wear masks. Why masks? Check out this cool NYT interactive or this handy explainer to see why masks are effective.

Short answer, breathing other people’s spooge is nasty. Masks help.

There are a lot of ways to buy masks these days, and it’s certainly possible to find a variety of options for sale. But if you, like me, enjoy being able to customize your style, size and fabric, then this pattern may be for you.

In the early days of the pandemic a lot of civic-minded makers designed and shared mask patterns. One of the best I found for me and Mr. Man (whose face has a striking set of cheekbones), was this pattern by Tom Bihn (check out the videos and notes).

I’m sure I’m not alone in the search for a mask that fits my face, is comfortable and also effective. For me and Mr. Man, the Tom Bihn design is that mask. This spring, the company was agile enough to add mask production to their line, but also generous enough to share the pattern.

I like the shape and structure of that mask, but wanted a filter. The modifications Rachel posted are helpful, but I realized that the top seam was too thick for me. It added more bulk than was comfortable and all that fabric didn’t quite shape to my face.

Was that something I could fix? It was. Would Tom Bihn be open to me sharing this new version? Yes!

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The TBv3+ (Cue Rainbows and Dramatic Music!)

I give you my modified mask pattern, the TBv3+ with a flat top seam and bottom filter pocket.**

Pattern snapshot

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Many Photos of Same

I’ve streamlined the process a bit from my first versions, so hopefully the pattern will be relatively straightforward. I’m not set up for sewing videos but here are some photos to help you get started!

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An Excessive Number of Notes:

This mask is a medium size and fits me well. It’s a bit tight for Mr. Man (those cheekbones!) so for him I add 3/8” to the bottom seam and go from there. This extra bit of fabric is enough to cover his chin and keep the mask in place while he’s talking. If that still isn’t big enough for you, consider printing the pattern at 110%, which will give you more room all around.

Fabric density does matter, so hold any potential candidate up to the light. If you can see individual fibers and holes between them, it’s not a great option. If it’s all you’ve got, bolster your protection with an extra layer of filter.

Want different fabrics inside and out? Fold the paper pattern in half along the top seam line, then add 3/8” to the top seam. Cut out two pieces from your front fabric and two from the interior fabric. Stitch together at the top seam and proceed from there. You’ll have a thicker top seam (as with the original TB pattern) but it may be worth it to you if you like a smooth inner lining (Mr. Man requested this approach; some fuzzier fabrics were interfering with his Movember).

— I flip things around a lot (I was probably 30 before I realized that my goofy childhood habit of flipping things was actually a touch of dyslexia, kudos to my parents and teachers for making it work), so one thing I have to watch out for with this pattern is where to put the elastic. It can feel backward to start sewing on the right/outside of the fabric, but that’s the way to do it. Stitch away!

On nose bridges: The first draft of this pattern added an external fabric nose bridge to the outside of the mask in the final step. It works and makes it very easy to change out the nose wire, but it does add more fabric and is a bit fiddly. By the time I finalized the pattern I’d shifted to adding one additional stitch line, centered below the top seam. If you leave a half inch or so on either side, it’s fairly easy to slip a nose wire into the resulting pocket from the inside of the mask. That’s what I do now.

with nose bridge fabric and without; guess which one is easier

On nose wires: Of all the options I tried, a thin strip of aluminum was the best. I ordered rolls of aluminum because it was so much cheaper than the pre-cut version, but if I had to do it over again I’d go with pre-cut. Freshly cut aluminum is sharp, y’all, and sanding it down is tedious. Other options I’ve tried in descending order of effectiveness: heavy-duty floral wire in foam (effective but annoying to slide in), the industrial twist-ties from Vistaprint masks (good but not quite stiff enough), doubled-over pipe cleaners (weak), thin floral wire (very weak). You may have other options.

some possible wire and elastic options

On elastic: lots of options here too, from the thick white kind harvested from an old fitted sheet to pre-cut resizable versions. I’m using the latter now because it’s faster and less annoying, but I had good luck with 6mm elastic from my local fabric store, with or without little plastic pony beads (what do ponies have to do with it, I wonder?) for sizing adjustments. (If you go with the pony beads, add an inch or so to the elastic length and tie a knot on the end to keep the bead from slipping off in the middle of Costco. Ask me how I know!)

Is that it? Probably not, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started. If you have questions, check out the linked TB videos or let me know.

Even More Notes:

* Granted, it’s been a lot of kittens. A kindle of kittens, even! Cute as heck, but consider supporting your local animal rescue organizations; Humane Society and neutering program closures have started a wave of ferals and strays, and winter. is. coming.

** The usual caveats apply: no mask is 100% effective, fabric density matters, adding a filter helps, cover both nose and mouth while wearing, wash after wearing, social distance, wash your hands a lot, etc. Fun times, am I right?

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Congratulations, you’ve worked your way through all this text! As a thank you, here’s an Inspiring Quote from someone who lived through much worse than this year and used it to create things both astonishing and beautiful.

Stay healthy, stay safe!

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Obligatorily Inspiring Quote!

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

― J.R.R. Tolkien
the sun rising over mountain peaks

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Making yogurt is easy, affordable, and (if you’re a kitchen nerd like me) fun. It can also give you a much better product than you’ll find in stores. The process is simple: heat milk to get rid of existing bacteria and denature the proteins, cool it, then add good bacteria and give it some time to work. That’s it.

I like writing, so this recipe will be wordier than strictly necessary. Don’t let that make the process feel daunting! It isn’t.

The tricky bits, and there aren’t many, are in the details. It helps to have a thermometer. It helps to have an oversized heavy-bottomed pot, a few things like a canning funnel and conveniently-sized jars, kitchen towels to help keep the yogurt warm as it cultures, and a Post-it to keep you from hitting the oven’s on button with your yogurt inside (ask me how I know!).

None of those things are necessary, however.

Search for information on yogurt-making and you’ll find a variety of alternate recipes and methods, from counter-top to Crockpot. We’ve distilled that information and found a way that makes thick, tangy lactose-free yogurt and works for us. Tweak at will!

 

Yogurt, Plain but not Boring

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon/4 Liters milk, whole or 2%
  • ½ C. plain yogurt with live and active cultures (~2 T. per quart)

1. Scald the milk: add milk to a large pot over low to medium-low heat. Cover and heat to 195℉, or until just simmering with bubbles forming around the edges.
2. Denature the protein: reduce heat to the lowest setting and hold the milk at 190-195℉ for 15 minutes.
3. Cool: remove from heat, uncover and cool to 115℉, or pleasantly warm to the skin.
4. Inoculate: Preheat the oven to 115℉, then turn off. Add a half cup of the milk to your yogurt starter, whisk together, then add the mixture to the milk and whisk until smooth. Leave in pot or move milk to containers. Fill one jar with ½ C. to use as starter for your next batch.
5. Culture: If using jars, place on a cookie sheet. Insulate containers with kitchen towels. Place in oven or other warm spot. Let sit for 6 to 20 hours, then store in the refrigerator.

Transfer the starter to the refrigerator after ~6 hours to keep bacteria healthy. Longer cultures produce thicker and tangier yogurt. If you’re lactose-intolerant, culture for 18 to 20 hours to give the bacteria time to digest the lactose for you. No pills necessary!

Bacteria at work. Yum.

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Those are the basics. For a distillation of the tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years, read on!

Notes:

  • You can make yogurt with lower-fat milks but the resulting taste tends to be chalky and not as nice. We use 2% because Mr. Man is reasonable. I prefer whole milk myself;)
  • We bump this up to 5+ liters of milk (that’s four bags if you’re in Canada) but keep the amount of starter the same; it works fine.
  • For your starter, you want a plain yogurt with minimal additives and no sweeteners. We’ve had the best luck with more industrial-strength brands like Dannon or Stonyfield or (in Canada) Astro or Western than with some of the boutique varieties. There are other culture sources (like chili peppers!) but the grocery store is the easiest way to get started. Whatever you choose, you want bacterial cultures that are tough and ready to work. Rawr!
  • The heating and cooling cycles are somewhat time-consuming. I don’t recommend rushing the heating part of this process as that way lies hard-to-clean pans and nasty flavors, but you can speed cooling by sitting the pot in a sink of cold water. Be careful not to splash or otherwise contaminate the milk.
  • There are ways to make mesophilic yogurt at room temperature without the heating and cooling cycle but this thermophilic method works for us.
  • Precise measurements aren’t required. You need enough starter for the bacteria to get off on the right foot, but as long as you have live cultures and eliminate any competitors by heating the milk, the good bacteria will have room to work. If the yogurt isn’t thickening as fast as you like, feel free to start your next batch with an extra tablespoon or so of starter, or give it another hour or two to set up.
  • The longevity of your starter will depend on the strength of the original bacterial strain and how you treat it. We often go six or more months before buying replacement starter, and we make yogurt about once a week. If your finished product isn’t as thick as before, takes longer to set up or (heaven forfend) smells off, it’s time for new starter. We keep the starter in its own container to avoid contamination, try not to let it culture longer than ~6-8 hours, and whisper encouragements. Your mileage may vary.
  • The jars we use (see below) are perfectly sized for our needs (Mr. Man strains one for breakfast, I now use two per smoothie) but you can use any option you like so long as it’s clean and non-reactive. You could re-use quart-sized yogurt containers or, if plastic isn’t your thing, mason jars, jam jars or the pot you used to make it.
  • If you like additives, add them just before serving. Jam, honey, fruit or other flavors are great additions.
  • Straining the yogurt to make a Greek-style thick version is also easy. Use a yogurt strainer, a bag of cheesecloth in a strainer over a bowl or with a filter in your drip coffee maker.
  • Strained yogurt is a great base for dip too. I like to add grated cucumber, lemon, minced garlic, salt, pepper and herbed Boursin with a sprinkling of bourbon-smoked paprika.

Optional: for your information only, here is the list of the tools we use to make yogurt:

  • 8-quart stainless pot
  • remote thermometer
  • stainless whisk
  • stainless cup measure
  • canning funnel
  • glass jars with lids
  • cookie sheet
  • kitchen towels
  • yogurt strainer
  • one yellow Post-it

We didn’t get all of these things at once, but as we realized we needed them and that we were in it for the yogurt long haul. I’ve found the remote thermometer to be the most useful tool for this, as it lets us be precise and to do other things while the milk is coming to temperature. We use an older version of this one, but there are a lot of options out there. Your needs may vary!

For even more information on the technique and science of making yogurt, I recommend these sources:

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A friend with a shared love for Harry Potter sent me a link the other day. Some creative and determined person decided to make a Weasley clock.*
The magical ‘Harry Potter’ location clock exists in DIY form

For those who may have missed this detail from the HP book and/or movie, the Weasley clock is a magical JK Rowling invention that tracks each Weasley family member’s location and displays it on an antique clock face.

Rowling thought it up, and a Muggle made it real. How cool is that?

So with thanks to my friend, today’s installment of #ThingsILike is the real-world power of fiction.

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“If you just focus on what you know, you’re blinding yourself to new opportunities.”
— Tyler Jacks, MIT

There are a lot of discussions of this topic out there, both contemporary and historical, but it’s a point I like to touch on periodically. A writer imagines a thing and someone else finds a way to make it real.

That’s magic right there.

This applies to specific items like the clock but also to everything from emotional states to broader goals. Want to generate ideas, stir up communal interest, and apply creativity to complex problems like living in space long-term? Tap the power of fiction:
The White House Wants To Use Science Fiction To Settle The Solar System

How to get into space? Excite the minds of young (and not so young) people with stirring tales of adventures in space. This applies to stories from Asimov, Clarke and other Golden Age of Science Fiction authors, but also to more recent blockbusters like Andy Weir’s The Martian.

The latter was particularly good at building future versions of current technologies, and NASA was happy to help Weir build his fictional (for now) world from the Popular Science article on the support NASA gave Ridley Scott as he turned the book into a blockbuster movie:

If you want to understand why it is that NASA loves The Martian and is so gung ho for this movie, you have to realize that this movie more or less presents exactly their future vision, minus all the drama.

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I’ve cited this quote before but it’s so fitting I’ll use it again:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

That’s the power of fiction.

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* There may be other such clocks out there (in fact, I hope there are) but this is the version that caught my attention. Feel free to build more!

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I’m in the mood for something positive. In that vein, here’s the start of what will probably be an irregular series of Things I Like. No sponsors, no kickbacks, just a sampling of things that I find useful or fun or funny or sweet.

As I’m writing this just after lunch, today’s Thing I Like is full-fat lemon yogurt from Riviera Petit Pots. I stumbled across this product at the grocery store while searching for a dessert that would nevertheless let me recover from a not-so-minor bout of holiday gluttony, and I’m glad I did.

This fine yogurt comes in the cutest glass bottles* (they even link recipes for foods to refill them with), and they sell reasonably-priced reusable lids to boot. The Laiterie Chalifoux company was established in 1920 and is based in Quebec (sorry, non-Canadians, I think they are a northern delight only, at least for now**). While they also make cheese and butters and creams, I’ve only found the yogurt so far. Eyes, stay on the lookout!

* I’ve liked glass bottles since the day my mother took us on a bottle hunting trip and I found a green glass medicine flask from the 1800s, miraculously still whole and wedged between the roots of a tree.

** Don’t have access to this or another really good yogurt? Don’t despair, make your own. It’s easy and more affordable than buying it from the store, and so much better. For the lactose-intolerant among us (yeah, that’s me), making your own lets you “cook” the lactose out of the final product. I find 18 hours or so does the trick.

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“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”

— Mark Twain

We spent the weekend refinishing the deck. The wood was a mess, half covered with multiple layers of thick, splintering stain and half exposed to the elements. It was time. The only problem was that I’d never refinished a deck before.

Did I let that stop me? Nope. It helps that Mr Man is ridiculously handy but still. I took Mark Twain’s quote to heart and jumped in, and now, days later, the splinters and uneven steps and flaking are no more. I learned how to use an industrial sander, tons of power tools, and now know that Onion Goggles are perfect for jobs that result in large clouds of airborne particulates. The wood is now smooth, the finish even.

Is it perfect? Well, no. But it’s done. And that’s much better than not doing anything at all.

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The Asian grocery down the street can have some amazing  deals. This past week it was daikon (aka white radish) for nine whole cents a pound, and lemons, nine for $1. Now, I picked up some daikon because, well, why not?, but I also bought as many bags of lemons as I could carry. I love lemons, their color and acid taste, the way their juice brightens almost any dish, and the fact that they don’t even need to be fresh to be good. In fact, sometimes they are better when they’ve been preserved. On the off-chance that you too have been blessed with citrusy goodness, I include my recipe.

MOROCCAN PRESERVED LEMONS
One of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever tasted involved these savory morsels of salty sour goodness. The Restaurant Marrakech in Fez serves poulet citrone with chicken stewed to the tenderest perfection in a bright yellow potion of salty preserved lemons and olives and onions. I haven’t reconstructed the recipe but I’m working on it.

2 lemons
½ cup fresh lemon juice
⅓ cup coarse salt

1. Wash the lemons well. Cut them into 8 sections each and place them in a glass jar. Add the remaining ingredients, cover tightly and shake to combine ingredients.
2. Leave the lemons at room temperature, shaking the jar every day, for 2 weeks. Rinse lemons before using.

Note: From The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook. Recipe scales well, and once ready, lemons will keep in the refrigerator for ~6 months.

Doubled recipe in a 750ml jar. Trust me, you want to pack these in something water-tight.

/zomg delicious!

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