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Handmade Face Masks: A Matter of Life and Art

Handmade masks can be paired along with surgical masks to create a double, more effective layer against the coronavirus. Here are some creatively done cotton masks, and lessons on how to wear and take care of them.
Handmade Face Masks: A Matter of Life and Art
Handmade masks are popular for the personalised touch they offer

The coronavirus pandemic has a layer of gloom cloaking the world, and many a mask layering faces of people. Wherever one's eyes rest, a fellow human being is either shielding their face or perpetually being forced to cut off from their peers with the pretext of “social distancing”. Gatherings have been sized down to a pity handful, and staying indoors is the new cool.

When one does step out, banners educating about wearing face masks fill up many a corner. With the dangers of virus profound, the hoardings are only of utmost importance, but are having serious backlash of sorts. 

As millions are being rushed to intensive care units, medical professionals are running out of surgical masks. Many of them have even caught hold of the virus themselves, in the light of poor availability of protective gear. Additionally, plastic pollution, which has already been creating havoc, is observing a gigantic spike with an increase in use of the surgical masks, which are made using fabric and polypropylene, a type of plastic!

During this time, when all hell is breaking loose, what's helping mankind immensely is a simple piece of fabric wrapped around the mouth. But while many are detesting wearing face masks, some creative minds are making it easy for people to embrace these, happily, as they give them the option to wear personalised hand-painted masks. 

Not only these hand-painted fabric masks are a solution to the challenges that come with the uncontrolled use of medical grade masks, but also provide an alternative to the pseudo-medical practitioner look that comes along with the blue-coloured surgical masks.

The work is inspiring and so are the stories of these small entrepreneurs, who are making most of the situation, by blending traditional arts with an urgent health situation- who would have thought!

Madhubani On Masks

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Traditional Madhubani on face masks that have been have been hand-painted by artisans from Bihar

Remant Kumar Mishra, a Madhubani painter from Jitwarpur village of Madhubani district in Bihar, has taken the emergency that COVID-19 is, and used it to his utmost benefit, and also that of others.

A fourth generation artist from a family of Madhubani painters, Mishra is making three layer cotton masks with vibrant Madhubani prints on them.

Mishra may very well be the first of trend setters when it comes to fashionable face masks in India, having spotted an opportunity in the demand of these quite early on in the pandemic.

“I started making face masks by end of February and have been making 500-600 masks everyday since, delivering them across India,” Mishra tells us over phone.

Mishra has a team of about 200 people working with him, mostly women, whom he has been able to provide employment to during these odd times, while also making sure he passes down the traditional art of Madhubani to those not already familiar with it.

The very ethnic looking face masks are for Rs 60 each, and only loose some colour after multiple washes, albeit retaining the print. Mishra can be reached out to via social media. He goes by "Remant Kumar mishra Airtist" on Twitter. 

Personalised Prints From The Pink City

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Customised cotton face masks by Jaipur based brand, Sajilee

Sajilee, a Jaipur based brand that specialises in hand-painted apparel, and is primarily known for the pretty roses and tulips they paint on fine silk, is feeding the demand of personalised masks, a trend that continues to pick up.

“I encourage customisation of masks. The seed of the design usually comes from the customer. From what I've observed so far, kids are the most excited about masks. Since it's the new normal, their parents believe in customising the masks for their kids so they wear them readily. Some popular motifs among kids are cars, helicopters, Japanese/Russian dolls, animal faces, and Batman logos. For adult women, they prefer floral designs. And men usually opt for geometric designs,” Sangeeta Sharma, founder and chief designer at Sajilee tells us.

“Since wearing masks has become a part of our daily lives, why not add a little spark, a few colours, a little of you to it,” she adds.

Sharma makes sure that all the masks she paints are made from breathable fabric, as she considers this as the most important quality of any mask. “If it defeats the purpose of utility, any kind of adornment would not help. So I mostly use cotton for the masks,” she says.

Sharma keeps the colours and designs on her masks minimalistic because they're both easy to paint and look neat. 

“As far as the process is concerned, once we lock the main motif mutually with the customer, I go ahead and paint them using dye colours. Once I'm done painting, the colours demand heat to set appropriately. So they can either be kept in the sun or be ironed on the backside,” Sharma shares.

Although based in Jaipur, Sharma delivers the pretty, personalised masks anywhere in the country. Orders can be placed via the brand's eponymous Instagram handle. 

A Government Backed Push

As governments across the planet are rooting for handmade masks, India is no behind. Collaborations with artists from across the country are being materialised. Besides, of course, the popularisation and normalisation of face masks, it is providing the much needed financial assistance to various small artisans, whose livelihoods have been devastated by the pandemic.

One such collaboration can be seen in the Emporiums standing pretty in Delhi's Connaught Place area. The Bihar Emporium, for instance, has included in its collection hand-painted Madhubani masks. These have directly been sourced by the artists, as confirmed by the officials there. One can find both rectangular masks, as well as, diamond shaped ones that extend till half the nose, for a fashionable look.

Depending on the design, these light-on-pocket masks can be availed for as low as Rs. 60 or Rs. 80, making these virus shields affordable for all.

A similar collection can be spotted in all the three Delhi Haat that come under the umbrella of Delhi Tourism. To breathe back some life into their businesses, which have been badly hurt due to the pandemic, artists and shopkeepers at these cultural pots have displayed crafty masks. 

Proper Way to Use Handmade Masks

The idea behind introducing and promoting use of homemade or handmade masks was to save the surgical grade or the N95 masks for front line workers.

Secondly, unlike the professional masks that prevent one from catching the virus, cotton masks help curb the spread of the contagion, making them suitable for healthy or asymptomatic people.

Double layer cotton masks can prevent particles up to five times smaller than coronavirus, states a report as per a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research. 

However, one must make sure that the cotton masks have a thick yet breathable padding, and fit the face snugly. Loose fits and poorly trimmed masks that do not cover the nose and the mouth properly are a no-no.

Furthermore, as the virus mutates, double masking is being recommended for all. This requires one to wear a surgical mask and then a handmade/cotton mask over it. 

Lastly, be it a cotton mask or a medical grade mask, it should not be touched, but if one does land up touching their mask, doctors recommend immediate sanitising or washing of hands.

“Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly,” recommends the World Health Organization.

Tips for Taking Care of Cotton and Hand-Painted Masks

While medical grade masks are meant for one-time use and require immediate disposal post use, cotton masks can be washed and reused multiple times.

For washing a handmade mask, regular detergent or disinfectant soap and water work just fine. For the ones that are hand-painted, a mild detergent is ideal.

The same report by the Indian Council of Medical Research also recommends that after washing, a mask should be exposed to heat. For this, one can expose the mask to sunlight for a couple of hours, dunk it in a pot of hot salty water or simply iron it. However, one must avoid ironing the hand-painted ones.

Word of Caution

Wearing masks alone is not enough. One must maintain social distancing, sanitise or wash hands regularly, and keep abreast with health warnings being issued by regulatory bodies.

Also, before disposing off masks, make sure you have sanitised them and cut off the supporting strings, to avoid misuse and spread of the infection.

Shop Here For Madhubani Hand Painted Masks

  • RNN Madhubani Painting(Mithila Painting) Mask (1) Amazon Deal

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  • Handmade & Hand Painted 100% Cotton Madhubani Painting Face Mask (Set of 2) Multicolor by SKRC Shoppe Amazon Deal

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Shop Here For Geometric Prints

  • OnlyDesi - Handmade Embroidery Cotton Face Mask ( Pack of 2 ) Amazon Deal

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  • mitti se mitti tak... mitti se mitti tak…Cotton Anti pollution Flat-fold Unisex Dust Masks in assorted colours (Pack of 5) Amazon Deal

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Also Refer To: 

Steam Vapourisers To Fight The Flus 

Hand Gloves: A Simple Formula For Keeping Hands Safe and Hygienic 

Handmade face masks: How to take care of cotton masks

Product Price in India
Handmade & Hand Painted 100% Cotton Madhubani Painting Face Mask (Set of 2) Multicolor by SKRC Shoppe ₹ 300
Set of 3 Cotton Face Mask with beautiful handmade Madhubani painting ₹ 329
Personal Pack Genki by Mura Shibori Unisex Handmade Face Mask - Set of 5 (Blue) ₹ 500
mitti se mitti tak... mitti se mitti tak…Cotton Anti pollution Flat-fold Unisex Dust Masks in assorted colours (Pack of 5) ₹ 325
RNN Madhubani Painting(Mithila Painting) Mask (1) ₹ 150
OnlyDesi - Handmade Embroidery Cotton Face Mask ( Pack of 2 ) ₹ 120
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Surbhi has extensively written reports and features for print and digital mediums, and produced videos on a wide range of subjects. Business, ecology, travel, cuisine, art and culture are some beats that she has covered. Surbhi has also been a radio presenter. She likes to keep an eye on world news, and indulge in performing arts from around the globe.