How to Sew Your Own Fabric Face Masks
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
In my quest for instructions on how to sew a fabric face mask and the types of CDC compliant fabrics to use, I found much information, but no detailed sewing directions for a single-layer mask. DIY face masks are not one-size-fits all! I have a small size head, and the pattern that produced a mask that fit me well did not work for my husband who has a normal size adult dome. So, after experimenting with several different adjustments, I came up with a formula of sorts for figuring out mask size. (This is shared below.) As regards the best fabric to use that is CDC compliant, the websites below (recommended by Deaconess Hospitals in Indiana) show the following results for some of the better fabrics tested for capturing virus-size particles:
Cotton-Linen blend tea towels—60% to 73%
Cotton blend T-shirt material—60% to 70%
Antimicrobial pillowcase—60% to 68%
Cotton T-shirt material—50%
Cotton woven fabrics—50%
These are approximate numbers, and no home-sewn face mask will protect you as well as an official surgical mask. But the bottom line is that a face mask sewn with any of these materials provides better protection than nothing at all. AND—these DIY masks can be sanitized by washing them, and then used over and over again! There are several videos on how to sew a double-panel cotton fabric face mask. However, tests also show that doubling the fabric does not help the mask to capture that many more particles, and, more importantly, it can adversely affect the mask's breathability. Again, check out the above websites.
Since English style tea towels were the way to go, I found a few around my home and also had some of my leftover Spoonflower designer tea towel fabric that I had not yet sewn into actual tea towels. English tea towels made from linen or a cotton-linen blend are not the same as terry cloth dish towels. You don’t want to use a looped terry cloth dish towel for a face mask—it is too heavy, not very breathable, and is very porous compared to the tea cloth. English tea towels are amazing and they have quite an interesting history. For more info on this, visit this Good Housekeeping website.
If you do not have any tea towels on hand, one easy solution is to order a Fat Quarter (21” X 18”) of any print in linen-cotton canvas from Spoonflower.com.
Linen-cotton canvas is a popular fabric that sewists use to make modern tea towels, and I have designed and made several with this material. Spoonflower’s Linen-Cotton Canvas Ultra is woven from 55% linen and 45% combed cotton and printed with their ecologically-safe Ultra-Color technology. The photos at the end of this blog show masks I made with two of my fun designs printed on Spoonflower’s linen-cotton canvas.
Another option—go through your family’s T-shirt collection, find one or two that are a cotton-blend, wash them, and use these to make several masks.
Enough intro! On to mask making!
First, you need to take some measurements. The average adult mask size given on many sites is a 9” x 6” rectangle. In my preference for a mask with a bit more face coverage and the proper fit, my pattern sizes are based on measuring from the start of one ear, across the face just under the nose, and continuing to the start of the opposite ear. (See illustration.) This measurement will determine the size of the rectangular mask pattern:
11” across face = 10.5” x 7.5” rectangle; two 7.5” strips of ¼” elastic
10” across face = 9.5 x 6.5 rectangle; two 6.5” strips of ¼” elastic
If your face measurement is more, less, or in between, adjust the pattern dimensions accordingly. These patterns include ½” finished edges. If you have time, make a sample mask with fabric leftovers/scraps and base your actual mask pattern on this fitting. You will also need two strips of ¼” elastic. Elastic measurements are given above.
Cut out your fabric rectangle on the straight grain from your choice of fabric, and cut your two elastic strips. I used a piece of my Saoco Cocktail tea towel fabric.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR SEWING A ONE-LAYER FABRIC FACE MASK
1. Press short sides under 1/4” (wrong sides together) and stitch (Figure 1).
2. Press under 1/4” again, and stitch finished edges (Figure 2).
3. Press long sides under 1/4” and stitch (Figure 3).
4. With a pen or marker, draw a small dot on the inside edges of both elastic strips, about 1/4” from each edge.
5. Pin end of one elastic strip 1/2” on top of wrong side of one short edge, just below sewn long edge, marked side up (Figure 4). Baste or tack in place.
6. Repeat Step 5 with second elastic strip on the opposite side (Figure 5).
7. Pin the loose end of one elastic strip 1/2” on top of short edge in opposite corner, as described in Step 5, making sure the elastic is not twisted (Figure 6). Baste or tack in place.
8. Repeat Step 7 with second elastic strip on the opposite side (Figure 7).
9. Press long edges under 1/4” and stitch (Figure 8). Backstitch corners to secure elastic ends.
10. Starting with the top of the mask on the outside, fold the first tuck on one side, about 1” to 3/4” down with a 1/2” inch tuck (a 3/8” tuck for smaller size mask) and pin in place. Repeat on opposite side, making sure that the entire tuck folds across the upper part of the mask evenly (Figure 9).
11. Make a second tuck in the same direction 1/2” from the bottom of the mask on both sides, and pin in place (Figure 10).
12. For tuck #3, fold each side center into a tuck in the same direction, making sure it fits nicely in between the upper and lower tucks and pin in place (Figure 11).
13. Baste tucks on both sides in place, sewing in the direction of the tucks (Figure 11). If the fabric tucks are very thick, baste these by hand.
14. To finish, stitch tucks in place. OR—select a decorative stitch on your machine and topstitch all the mask edges in a contrasting color thread (Figure 12).
If your mask fits too snugly, just keep pulling on the elastic to loosen it. If it is too loose, make a small tuck in each elastic strip where it connects to the mask and stitch in place. Wear your mask around the house to get use to it. After a while, it will begin to feel more comfortable as you adapt.
So many folks are now wearing face masks as they do their outside errands, so you will fit right in! Take care, stay safe, and…