April 4, 2020

‘IGITENGE’ Face Mask Can Protect You from Coronavirus

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Inside a market selling cotton fabrics or IGITENGE which the CDC now says can offer protection from Coronavirus if sown into a face mask (PHOTO by Quartz Africa)

The designer cotton fabric “Igitenge” commonly worn by women mainly in rural Rwanda, and many Africa societies, offers protection against the COVID-19 virus, according to new guidelines from U.S government.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reversed its stance on wearing face masks on Friday, including cloth face coverings sewn at home.

The CDC says not to seek out medical or surgical-grade masks for yourself and to leave N95 masks to health care workers, opting instead for basic cloth or fabric coverings that can be washed and reused.

This new update on face masks from the CDC comes as confirmed cases increase past the 100-mark. Today, according to the Health Ministry, 13 new cases were added, making it 102 cases. Nine of the new cases are Rwandans who contracted the disease from people who had come from outside.

Weeks ago, when the virus was confirmed in Rwanda, some rural tailors began cutting pieces from cotton fabrics in their stock to cover their faces with. Some were selling them at Rwf 500, way cheaper compared to medical masks from pharmacies which ho for as high as Rwf 1,500.

Immediately the Health Ministry issued a statement discouraging people from using those “Igitenge” cotton masks. It said, the masks that can offer protection are those found in medical facilities like pharmacies.

As medical face masks are becoming a rare commodity, to the point that countries like U.S., Germany and France are fighting over supplies from China, the latest CDS advisory may offer some relief.

It means anyone, as long as you have a cotton cloth, you can make yourself a face mask. Here is how:


How to Wear a Cloth Face Covering

Applying a face mask - step 1

Cloth face coverings should—

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

CDC on Homemade Cloth Face Coverings

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.  Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators.  Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

Applying a face mask - step 2

Should cloth face coverings be washed or otherwise cleaned regularly? How regularly?

Yes. They should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use.

How does one safely sterilize/clean a cloth face covering?

A washing machine should suffice in properly washing a face covering.

How does one safely remove a used cloth face covering?

Individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their face covering and wash hands immediately after removing.

Sew and No Sew Instructions

  Sewn Cloth Face Covering

Sewing a facemask - materials needed


  • Two 10”x6” rectangles of cotton fabric
  • Two 6” pieces of elastic (or rubber bands, string, cloth strips, or hair ties)
  • Needle and thread (or bobby pin)
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine


1. Cut out two 10-by-6-inch rectangles of cotton fabric. Use tightly woven cotton, such as quilting fabric or cotton sheets. T-shirt fabric will work in a pinch. Stack the two rectangles; you will sew the mask as if it was a single piece of fabric.

Sewing a facemask - step 1

2. Fold over the long sides ¼ inch and hem. Then fold the double layer of fabric over ½ inch along the short sides and stitch down.

Sewing a facemask - step 2

3. Run a 6-inch length of 1/8-inch wide elastic through the wider hem on each side of the mask. These will be the ear loops. Use a large needle or a bobby pin to thread it through. Tie the ends tight.
Don’t have elastic? Use hair ties or elastic head bands. If you only have string, you can make the ties longer and tie the mask behind your head.

Sewing a facemask - step 3

4. Gently pull on the elastic so that the knots are tucked inside the hem. Gather the sides of the mask on the elastic and adjust so the mask fits your face. Then securely stitch the elastic in place to keep it from slipping.

Sewing a facemask - step 4

Quick Cut T-shirt Face Covering (no sew method)


  • T-shirt
  • Scissors


Sewing a facemask - step 1
Creating a facemask from a tshirt - step 2
Creating a facemask from a tshirt - step 3

Bandanna Face Covering (no sew method)


  • Bandana (or square cotton cloth approximately 20”x20”)
  • Coffee filter
  • Rubber bands (or hair ties)
  • Scissors (if you are cutting your own cloth)


Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 1
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 2
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 3
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 4
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 5
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 6
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 7

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