SINGAPORE – These days, the most striking thing about my attire is my homemade cloth face mask.

Long before Slovak President Zuzana Caputova sent Twitterati into a frenzy over her outfit-matching face mask, I have been attracting attention from supermarket cashiers, wet market stall-holders and random strangers who demand to know where I buy my colourful masks.

When I reveal the masks are made by my mother, they express admiration. She is the chief designer and sole artisan of our recently set-up “cottage industry” producing handsewn masks, or artisanal masks, as I like to call them.

I have appointed myself part-time consultant, quality control manager and top customer.

Even our pet keeshond chips in, hanging around the production floor, picking up stray strands of thread on his fur.

It all started in mid-February, when I read an article about Chinese car manufacturers reconfiguring production lines to churn out face masks.

Inspired, I convinced my 68-year-old semi-retired sales manager mother, whose hobby is sewing patchwork quilts and patchwork tote bags, to switch to making cloth masks.

Masks are going to be on-trend and in great demand at such a time, I beseeched her.

To get things rolling, we read an AsiaOne article about Dr Chen Xiaoting, a Taiwanese anaesthesiologist who recommends making your own cloth mask with an “air filter”.


Madam Sheila Khoo can sew up to 15 masks a day in two types of materials- Japanese cotton and waterproof polyester. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

My mother pored over YouTube videos on mask sewing for a day and produced a prototype within 24 hours.

Then, spurred on by my nagging and feedback, which I provided at annoying frequency, she has ramped up production and improved on her design and materials.

She can sew up to 15 masks a day in two types of materials- Japanese cotton and waterproof polyester. She has two main designs: a pleated one that resembles the surgical mask and a duckbill-shaped one.

Each mask has soft elastic cloth ear loops and a concealed pocket for the “air filter”, which is dried out wet tissue.

Sadly, this is no profit-making venture. We are in fact operating at a loss as we do not sell the masks. My mother gifts them to her friends. She also made a batch for me to send to friends in South Korea who had difficulty getting face masks.

Now, I will not vouch for the effectiveness of cloth masks as a form of protection against the coronavirus. But they are a fun fashion accessory and a good camouflage for no-make-up days.

The only downside to running this home factory? My mother uses mask making as a reason to not cook dinner for us.