Brighten Up to Lighten Up

I paint silk. I have painted silk for over three decades. I have mostly painted silk scarves, but I have also painted silk for dresses, jackets, trousers, skirts, blouses and cushion covers, but this is the first time I have painted silk for face masks. Or, should I properly call them face coverings. This is my response to the so-called ‘new normal’.

Back on December 31st as midnight struck and folk celebrated the arrival of the New Year who knew it would be bringing us Covid 19. A highly contagious, nasty little virus that would suspend global normality as country after country entered lockdown.

After much procrastination and discussion our ‘leaders’ finally decided that perhaps face masks (sorry face coverings) could help reduce the spread of the virus. And, now, here in England, as the restrictions of lockdown are slowly eased, covering your face is to become part of the new normal. If you want to travel on public transport or visit your local hospital you will be required to wear a face covering and we are all encouraged to don them when entering small shops where social distancing is difficult.

I expect like me you have already seen the odd ‘used’ face mask littering the environment. I read that people can buy packs of disposable face masks quite cheaply. The consequence of being cheap and disposable means thousands of non-recyclable masks end up as waste in landfill. Surely, if you don’t need a single-use mask for medical reasons why buy any disposable ones when you can make your own reusable and washable ones. And, if you can’t or don’t want to make your own there are now thousands of cloth versions available online. There are plain, striped, spotted, floral, paisley or even animal versions of face coverings made from cotton, linen, polyester, non-woven fabrics and even silk. Like many people with access to a sewing machine I decided to make my own mask. Then I’ve made some for my family and friends. And now, I have also painted and made some silk face coverings for my shop.

It is most definitely a stranger world when you can only see people’s eyes. Talking and evening breathing with a mask on your face is not a pleasant experience, but we are requested to wear these masks/face coverings to help stop the community spread of Covid 19.

Yes, yes, we have been asked to wear a face covering, but nobody said it has to be dull or dark or serious. Why not take this new normal regimen as an opportunity for a brighter, lighter-hearted or even amusing response to this awful crisis.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

21 thoughts on “Brighten Up to Lighten Up”

  1. I’m all in favour of buying masks from you, and not getting disposable ones. Just one thing. It’s recommended that you wash masks at a high temperature, but isn’t silk only washable at low temperatures? And do you need to iron them to have them looking as good as they look now in your publicity.

    1. Okay – I can’t offer any definitive advice about washing masks as far as the medical side is concerned. Although as I have been making them and also have a couple myself I have taken particular interest on listening to various experts discussing infectious disease control and wearing masks. I don’t know if you’ve heard of ‘The Naked Scientist’, Dr Chris Smith, his actual field is virology and his day job when not on TV and radio is working in the labs at Cambridge. He says that soap and hot water is extremely good at killing the virus – hence all the hand washing instructions. I hand wash my masks in hot water with lots of liquid soap and rinse out a couple of times and hang out to dry. I iron them with my steam iron. More generally, I think instructions to not machine wash silk and only wash at low temperatures is about keeping expensive delicate pieces in pristine condition and making them last a long time. I have been washing out a bright blue silk mask everyday for the last three weeks or so and it still looks fine. I would say from wearing a favourite silk scarf a lot over five years or so that silk does not last as long as cotton. So, in a way it is perverse to make a mask that will need frequent washing out of silk, but after trying heavier cotton ones, the softer silk is easier to wear. I think if you are worried and want to wash at 60 degrees but still want something soft next to your face then perhaps cotton lawn would probably be your best option. I would recommend, from my making and wearing experience, that a cotton lawn one (tight weave, but fine thread) is better than a cotton poplin. There are lots of cotton ones on Etsy, but they don’t always say if they are made of poplin or lawn and it’s hard to see from the photos.
      Oh dear it seems I’ve written an essay, sorry about that, but I hope it helps.

    1. Thank you very much. I know because my phone just beeped at me to tell me I had a sale. I will be popping it in the post (signed for first class) tomorrow so it should be with you sometime on Saturday. Not sure what your postal route is like, but first class to Islington last week arrived next day so fingers crossed should be Saturday. And, thank you again for buying some of my work. Have a pleasant evening, Agnes.

    1. Thank you. So far though here in the UK not so many people are wearing masks, but as from 15th June you will have to on trains, planes and buses and when visiting hospital. It is now mandatory. We are also encouraged to wear them in small shops. I have worn mine in my local shops, but I would say it is only one in five people doing this at present. Of course, you’ve been asked to wear them for longer although I see the chap in the Whitehouse doesn’t seem too keen!

      1. In our state we are required to wear them inside public places and where social distancing is not easily achieved. Pretty much every store has a sign – You must wear a mask to come in. It’s funny to see people coming up to say, a busy convenience store, and how they all pull out a mask, fit it on, etc., and all the different styles. Plenty of states don’t push the issue, well, I am glad I live where I live, no more said.

  2. As you’ll see, I’ve just ordered a mask. There was nowhere to say that if the one I’ve chosen has sold out, simply any will do – they’re all lovely – well, as lovely as a mask can be, anyway!

    1. Thank you for buying a mask. There is/was only the one that you chose and as soon as you bought it the computer says ‘sold out’. It is one of the little annoying things about the platform I use which doesn’t allow the ‘sold out’ button to simply say ‘sold’. I think the computer people make assumptions that only ‘proper’ artists make one-offs. The other red one already sold was made from the same silk and same dyes, but slightly different pattern. Anyway, I will be popping it in the post (first class, signed for) and so it should be with you tomorrow. Thanks again. Looks like we are in for another grey day, but I hope you get out for a pleasant walk. Agnes

      1. Walk today? Don’t be silly, Agnes! And thank you. I shan’t be upset if it doesn’t arrive tomorrow as I’m still not doing much that requires such things, but I’m looking forward to being the talk of the town when I do!

    1. Ah thanks, but I am by no means the only one doing this. It is now mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport and visiting hospitals so it has/will become part of one’s everyday wardrobe – the new normal. Hopefully, you will soon be like New Zealand and be Covid free and won’t have to cover your faces.

      1. It’s not mandatory here. In fact early advice by health authorities recommended against wearing masks unless you had specific need. Perhaps that was to manage scant resources. We are only just now starting to get into social outings, and not many people are wearing masks there. But certainly, a home industry did blossom – but not hand-painted silk!

      2. We were also told for ages that they don’t make much difference. However, I think they now think quite a few people here, especially younger people, are infected and have only minor symptoms or are asymptomatic and they are shedding virus. The idea is that with a mask they don’t shed as much or as far??? Also, definitely early on they most definitely did not have enough supplies of medical grade masks if the general public starting buying them. Personally, I don’t see the point of wearing them outside if you keep socially distant from people. Washing hands is the really important thing to be doing.

  3. It’s arrived Agnes, and I’m delighted. Yours wasn’t the first mask I’d bought- I thought I’d better get ahead of the curve, not realising how many people would turn over their production to masks – but it’s certainly the most comfortable and the most stylish. Even the packaging and presentation were elegant. Thank you.

    1. I am so pleased you like it and thank you for your feedback. I don’t think wearing a mask will ever be truly comfortable as such and my experience has made me admire even more all the NHS and Care staff who have to wear the full gubbins hour after hour. What a test of nerve and endurance.

      1. Indeed. But thank you for being among those who make it possible for those who don’t have to wear full PPE to have a non-disposable option,

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