Fabric in high demand, DIY face masks on the rise

Fabric is in high demand now that health officials are urging the public to wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

With masks in short supply, more and more people are learning to sew them at home.  

Some Bay Area fabric shops, like Piedmont Fabric, are rising to the occasion. 

 “I use very soft cotton because it's going to be on your face all day,” said Lan Nguyen, the owner of Piedmont Fabric. 

She showed off two basic patterns she uses to make face masks.

Nguyen uses three layers of 100 percent cotton. She says fabrics with high thread count work best. The masks should be snug, but breathable. 

“You don't need to know how to sew,” said Nguyen. “Just know how to follow instructions."

Nguyen said her sales shot up 30 percent when the pandemic forced a “stay at home” order in the Bay Area. The majority of her customers are looking for supplies to sew masks at home. 

Nguyen said one of her customers from China first warned her about the coronavirus months ago, and told her to start making masks and stock up on supplies. 

 “They said in Hong Kong,  everybody is running out of masks. They can't even find it. And it’s going to come here. It will come here. So you need to start now. And that was three months ago,” said Nguyen.  

She has been making masks ever since. 

In Concord, the Joann Fabric Superstore is giving out free face mask kits. 

The kits include fabric, elastic, and step-by-step instructions.

 “This is a great gift and blessing Joann's is doing for the community,’ said customer Diana Gearing.

She arrived with her daughter to pick up the kit curbside. Each kit can produce five masks.

“We all just need to stay at home,” said Gearing. “We are headed home after this. We will get busy making the masks.”

Joann Fabrics stores launched a “Giving Back” campaign – with a goal to donate enough supplies to make 100 million masks for healthcare workers.  

Customer Genevieve Lee has made nearly 100 masks on her own. “People need masks,” said Lee. “I'm giving away masks to friends and family. And people who are working need masks. Even if they are not N95's they are better than nothing."> 

Health officials say face coverings should not replace social distancing or hand washing, but be used as another tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Elissa Harrington is a reporter forKTVU.  Email Elissa at elissa.harrington@foxtv.com and follow her onTwitter @EHarringtonKTVU