In my personal experience. Faces vary.
For me. Faces vary. Photo by Christopher Frizzelle

Here's the thing about faces: They're all different.

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What works for me won't necessarily work for you. I bought a beautiful Afriquaino mask because a friend on Facebook said it was his favorite, but its elastic straps fold up my ears like tacos. I tried the face masks sold by Timothy De Clue Collection, manufactured in Italy, but it wasn't a firm enough fit. A friend in Massachusetts sewed the last sentence of To the Lighthouse, my favorite novel, into a mask she sent me through the mail, but it has tie-on straps in the back—slightly inconvenient.

The best mask I've tried for my particular face is the three-layer cotton chambray face mask created by the Seattle company SwaddleDesigns. Right now on their website, it's $5.99.

The CEO of the company, Lynette Damir, is a registered nurse who worked at Swedish Hospital on First Hill for 10 years. "As a nurse, I have a desire to help people," she says in an interview with The Stranger.

"In addition to being a nurse, I studied design at the Art Institute of Seattle, so I have a lot of knowledge in the medical field as well as design. And I grew up as a competitive ice skater and I used to sew my own costumes. So here are all my life experiences coming together," she says, almost in awe at this turn of events.

I have tried a lot of masks. I keep them on the handle of my front door so I dont forget.
I have tried a lot of masks. I keep them on the handle of my front door so I don't forget. CF

As soon as the CDC said last spring that everyone should at least wear a bandana or scarf, she got to work. "I just knew I could do better than that. I spent the next few days like a mad scientist researching everything I could find—fabrics, everything."

She says there are about 14 different measurements that go into making a mask. Weirdly enough, even though I'm (almost) six-foot-five and have a large head (at least when it comes to hats), the medium mask fits my face better than the large one.

"Everybody's face is very different," she explains. "My husband is also over six-foot and he likes the large. My brother is over six feet and he likes the medium. There's some women who like the large. It really depends on the measurement across your cheekbone, where your ears are, the shape of your jaw... I'm happy to provide a variety that people can try on and see what works best for them."

Side view.
Side view. CF

"Things have to be comfortable. Especially as a nurse, I know that they need to be comfortable. But they also need to be effective," she says. "As a nurse, I am science- and evidence-based."

When I ask her where the three-layer cotton chambray mask would rank in this recent Duke University study of 14 different kinds of masks, she says, "We have been in talks with them because they did not include our mask in their study and we think our mask would perform better than all the cloth masks that they tested."

She explains: "Duke focused on droplets released with talking." But a recent test conducted at Florida Atlantic University studied droplet leakage when coughing—a higher hurdle. Florida Atlantic University tested SwaddleDesign's three-layer cotton mask and lab results validated that it minimizes droplet leakage and provides significantly better filtration than others on the market.

It is the last mask tested in this video:

What if you already have a mask at home and you're not sure how effective it is?

"A simple test is to hold the washed mask up to a light in your ceiling, and if you see a whole bunch of specks coming through the fabric, that is not a tight enough weave," she says. "You should not see specks of light coming through if you hold the mask up to a lightbulb."

She also says that, in general, polyester fleece is not a good idea. With the gaiter-style polyester fleece mask that ranked last in Duke's study, "the droplets go through the mask—the droplets broke up as they went out of the polyester, it kind of sliced up the droplets, so they hung in the air longer because they became aerosolized. Knit polyester is not effective at stopping the droplets. It needs to be tightly woven cotton."

The three layers in her cotton chambray face mask are all 180 thread-count. "I looked at 140-thread count and it was way too thin, so I rejected that fabric."

SwaddleDesigns, which used to just produce baby blankets (thus the name), has sold tens of thousands of masks at this point, and not just to individual customers. They've sold to grocery store chains, pharmacies, large corporations, and schools, and can now print custom logos on designs.

A view of the chin gusset, which wraps around the jaw bone.
A view of the chin gusset, which wraps around the jaw bone. CF

"It was very, very bittersweet for me at the beginning, because I didn't want to look like I was profiting off of something so tragic, but my desire to help people—I knew that we all needed to be wearing masks," she says. "We have friends and business associates in South Korea, and everyone was wearing a mask, and they just shut the virus down. If you compare what they were doing compared to what we're doing..."

Her voice trails off.

"We knew we had to do something for our community, for our citizens, to help prevent the spread."