Homemade fabric face masks are not a substitute for professional-level protective equipment like N95 or N99 masks. The CDC is now recommending every one over the age of two wear cloth face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19.
An important reminder: homemade cloth masks should only be used in the case of a mask shortage. Two-layer cotton fabric masks filter out only a portion of virus particles—which is obviously better than nothing, but having these masks should not give you a false sense of security. A mask only works if you put it on and take it off properly, wear it properly (tightly fitting, and with the same side facing out), and clean it regularly (preferably after every trip out in public).
When planning to donate masks, please check with local health care facilities to (a) ensure they are accepting homemade mask donations and (b) inquire about specifications they request for donated masks. Never try on a mask that you are planning on donating.
During the current crisis, medical facilities have sent out calls requesting homemade fabric face masks to help alleviate the shortage of both N95 and standard surgical masks in hospitals and doctors’ offices.
A DIY fabric face mask is not a replacement for high-quality medical masks or respirators, but many health care professionals are finding them useful to supplement their low supply of personal protective equipment, and with the CDC now recommending cloth face masks for everyone over the age of two, the public has been encouraged to make or source their own masks.
If you are sitting at home during quarantine and feel like you can’t help during this crisis (although staying at home is a HUGE help), making homemade fabric masks and donating them to health care facilities that need them is one way you can. We’ve created an incredibly simple fabric face mask pattern here that can be made by even the most novice of sewists. It’ll go faster on a sewing machine (about 10 minutes each!), but it can also easily be done by hand.
What’s the best fabric to use for a homemade face mask?
We’ve combed over multiple requests from various health care facilities, and the overwhelmingly preferred material for fabric face masks is tight-woven cotton. This article is a wonderful evidence-based deep dive into the filtering levels of fabrics, if you want to learn more.
Tight-woven cotton is cotton fabric that when held up to the light, seems “solid”—no loose weaves or holes should be visible. While almost all quilting fabrics and muslin in a fabric store will be this kind of fabric, we’d MUCH prefer you stay at home and use what you have. Upcycled options that you can use that mean you wont need to leave your house include:
- cotton t-shirts
- cotton tea towels
- cotton sheets
- cotton bandanas
When you’re choosing your fabric, please remember to try and accommodate everyone on the gender spectrum. While a floral, feminine print might bring a much-needed dose of sunshine into a person’s life who enjoys those kinds of patterns, being forced to wear that for someone who isn’t comfortable with it might add more stress to an already-stressful time.
Do these fabric face masks need filters?
In an ideal world? Yes, these would all have N95 filters, but we don’t live in that world right now, and finding filters for the face masks is nearly impossible. Beyond this, most health care facilities are using these homemade fabric masks as supplemental masks to their professional-level protective equipment.
As this mask is designed, it has two layers of tight-woven cotton, which, according to this article, filters out rough 50-60% of virus-sized particles—is it perfect? No. Is it a decent option when no other options are available? Yes.
Some health care facilities are asking for very specific requirements to help with filtering (like adding a third layer of featherweight interfacing in the middle of the mask), so make sure to check with your local healthcare facilities if you have a specific one in mind.
How and where do I donate these DIY masks?
The logistics of getting your homemade masks to those who need it most will depend entirely on the mask situation of the health care facilities in your area. There are numerous Facebook groups and other resources that are helping get homemade masks to hospitals, so here’s a few ways I recommend making the connections:
- Do a Google search for “(your city/area) homemade face masks” and you’ll probably see an article or two from local news sources offering more information about the homemade mask movement in your area.
- Put out a post on Facebook and specifically tag the health care professionals on your Friends list asking if their facility is accepting masks, what the requirements are, and who to contact. I did this, and I was connected with three local facilities that are taking homemade face masks.
- Browse the websites and social media pages of local hospitals. Many hospitals are putting out the call for masks (plus their requirements and delivery options) on their websites and Facebook pages.
- Check the #millionmaskchallenge hashtag on Twitter for folks in your community that are sewing masks. You can combine to form a guild that can make a big difference in your area.
- Don’t forget that other essential workers might be in need of protective equipment as well—food bank volunteers and employees, addiction recovery employees, construction and trades workers, women’s shelter workers, and grocery store employees, and many more people are still working every day. Check with your friends and family.
IMMEDIATE MASK DONATION NEED:
The hardworking heroes at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper University in Camden, New Jersey reached out and requested that we post their donation information here as an option to accept masks. You can send masks to:
MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper
Two Cooper Plaza
400 Haddon Avenue
Camden, NJ 08103
ATTN: Frances Lee
Their goal is to get fabric masks on all their non-critical care staff so they can leave the surgical masks and N95 masks for critical care staff and cancer patients. They’re hoping to get 4,000 masks donated. They are requesting you include your name and address so they can later send a thank you note (when this all calms down, obviously).
Can I sew these masks by hand?
Sure can! It’ll be much faster with a machine (about 10 minutes per mask), but this pattern is simple enough that even a novice sewist with just a needle and thread can tackle them.
Help! I can’t find 1/4″ elastic anywhere!
With everyone making masks to donate (yay!), tracking down any 1/4″ elastic to use has been tricky (not yay). If you can’t find 1/4″ elastic, there are a few things you can do:
Cut down wider KNIT elastic
There are multiple kinds of elastic, and the only ones that can be cut down to smaller sizes without unraveling are knit elastics. You can buy wider widths, which are still in stock in some places, and cut them down to 1/4″ width strips. Again, it must be knit elastic—other kinds of elastic will fray terribly when cut lengthwise.
Use elastic hair ties
There are two ways to use hair ties in place of the elastic on these masks. First up, if the wearer is a child or has a smaller head, just a single stretchy (NEW!) elastic should work in each the elastic channels. Please don’t use hair ties that have been in someone’s hair if you are donating these. You must pin the elastic hair ties into the elastic channel before sewing it closed in (in step 4 of the tutorial down below).
Some hair ties are tighter elastic than others, and might be too tight or not fit well if the wearer has small ears and/or a large head to wrap around. If you find the elastic hair tie is too tight, you can also break/cut two hair ties, tie or sew them together, and use them just like the regular elastic in the elastic channel.
Use string, shoe laces, or other ties
You can also run other types of string or lacing through the elastic channels to make tie masks that tie in the back of the head—these are a little more cumbersome to put on and take off, but they’ll do the trick.
How do I clean my fabric masks?
It’s suggested that you wash your mask daily in a hot water or sanitize wash in your washing machine and then dry on high heat. For an added dose of sanitizing-power, you can “sun” your mask in the sunshine for a few hours. Sunlight is a natural disinfectant.
How to Make Homemade Fabric Face Masks
Start off by washing and drying your fabric, and then downloading either the Child Size Fabric Face Mask Pattern or the Adult Size Fabric Face Mask Pattern. I fit the child-size mask to my almost six-year-old, and it covers her well, but still has a bit of room to go. It would be a bit too big on kids much smaller than that, but with varying elastic sizes, it should fit on kids over the age of five using the written 1/4″ seam allowance. If you need to make it to fit a smaller child, you can use a 3/8″ seam allowance to make the mask slightly narrower.
Materials & Tools
This pattern is adapted from this pattern from Instructables. If you can, use a different fabric for the lining than the outer layer, so that health care professionals can remember which side faces the patient, and which should be towards their face.
- Face mask pattern—adult size or child size
- (1) 7″ x 14″ (6″ x 11″ for child size) outer layer fabric (tight-woven cotton)
- (1) 7″ x 14″ (6″ x 11″ for child size) lining layer fabric (tight-woven cotton), preferably, this fabric is a different pattern from the outside fabric so it’s easy to tell what side is the inside of the mask, and which is the outside
- (2) 14″ pieces of thin elastic (cord or flat-woven)
- Marking pen
- Needle or sewing machine
- Straight pins
How to Make a Fabric Face Mask
Step 1: Cut out the face mask pieces
Fold your outer layer fabric right sides together so the two short ends match up.
Pin the pattern in the top right corner of the folded fabric, and pin it in place, making sure to pin through both layers of fabric.
Cut around the pattern piece, making sure to cut through both layers of fabric. Unpin the pattern piece and set aside. You now have two mirrored fabric pieces of the pattern piece.
Repeat the same process with the pieces of lining fabric.
Step 2: Assemble the outer and lining layers of the mask
Grab the two pieces of the outer fabric, and match them up, right sides together.
Pin along the curved edge of the pieces, making sure to pin through both layers of fabric. Repeat with the lining fabric pieces.
Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew along the pinned (curved) edge of both the outer and lining fabric pieces.
Open the pieces and press the seam open using an iron—the pointed edge of an ironing board helps to make this easier.
Step 3: Sew the outer and inner layers together
Line up the outer and inner layers, right sides together, at the center seams. Make sure the pieces are facing the same direction—the top of the outer layer is lined up the top of the inner layer.
Pin all the way around the outside of the mask.
Sew all the way along the edge of the face mask, leaving a 1 1/2″ space at the bottom of the mask for turning.
Using the opening, turn the mask right side out. Use the tip of scissors, a pencil, or a metal nail file to make sure the corners are pushed out crisp.
Step 4: Make the elastic pockets and top stitch
Fold in the side edges of the mask about 1/2″-3/4″ (or use the marking from the pattern) on each side, and pin.
Fold in the unfinished edge (the one you used for turning the mask right side out), and pin it closed.
Topstitch around the outside of the mask (using a 1/8″ seam allowance), making sure to not stitch over the ends of the elastic pockets.
You can use contrasting or coordinating thread for the topstitch. After this stitch is a good time to go ahead and press the mask again.
Step 5: Add the elastic
Thread the two pieces of elastic through the two elastic pockets on either side of the mask.
I then just double knot the end of the elastic to finish it to make the elastic length whatever is comfortable. I like this method for adding elastic because it’s easy to adjust the masks for different size heads, and it also makes it very easy to replace the elastic if it gets stretched out or otherwise damaged.
NOTE: Please do not try on any masks that you are planning on donating—help keep our health care professionals as healthy and safe as possible!
Feel free to share this pattern and tutorial far and wide to get it to as many people as possible! It brings me such joy to see everyone coming together to do something so good during this horrible time. Stay safe, friends.