Updated on September 14, 2022 by Sarina

A fitted mark with fabric

All of us know about the necessity of the day – why we should be careful, why we should wear masks while outdoors. But still many hesitate to wear that mask, unless absolutely necessary.

Why? Some find that they cannot breathe inside their mask, some are skeptical about their mask fabric, some feel claustrophobic inside the thick layers of the mask. Then some others have preconceived notions of the effectiveness of any kind of protection and may feel an inevitability about the whole thing.

There is no solution to the last dilemma, you cannot convince some people beyond a point (those who use masks only as a means of getting into a shop, or train) But for all others, there are solutions.

There is no doubt that fabric masks are saving us. They are also saving the earth from being a gigantic plastic garbage dump of disposable masks.

Disposable Surgical masks can only be used once and needs to be discarded many times over (6 hours use maximum) the same day.

Fabric masks trumps over disposables here. The fabric masks can be washed and used. But the downside is that the surgical masks are more effective. The ones with filters are even better. Anyways, here is a tutorial to make a fabric mask with as many layers as you want.

Make a fitted mask with full coverage

You have to take two pieces of 12 inch wide and 6 inch long fabric for making this mask. Fold them both by the half so that you have 4 layers of 6 inch square in front of you with the fold on the rightside.

Mark the pattern as given in the picture below.

mask pattern

The two fabric pieces will look like this, when open.

cut out the pattern pieces for the mask

Keep the fabrics folded and then Sew the dart closed. Do this for both the pieces.

sew the dart closed on the mask fabric make fabric mask

Keep the two pieces rightsides together. Sew along the outer edge (do not sew the side edges closed)

keep the mask fabrics rightsides to the inside

Turn the fabric inside out.

turn the mask rightside out

Turn the short edges to the inside twice and sew – leave enough space to insert the elastic through.

Turn the edges of the mask to the inside making a casing

Insert elastic through the casing. Use 2 pieces of 8 1/2 inch elastic piece of width 1/4 inch for a woman. For a man or a big faced person you can use 9 1/2 inch piece elastic.

Thread narrow elastic through the casing

Sew the elastic edges together with hand sewing needle and thread. After sewing adjust this overlapping sewn area to inside the casing so that it is hidden from sight.

Join the edges of the elastic

Do for both the sides. There it is, your fabric mask with enough coverage.

Add elastic to both the sides ; adjust the seams to the inside

Make a contoured Mask

 

cut out a 5.25 inch square fabric in the shape given

To make this mask you need to cut out 4 fabric pieces -2 from the outer fabric and 2 from the lining.

cut 2 outer fabric and 2 lining

Keep the two outer fabric pieces rightsides together and join them along the curved edge . Do the same for the lining fabric as well.

sew the two outer fabric pieves along the curved edge

You get two fabric pieces like this.

sew the outer and lining the same way

Clip the seam allowances at regular intervals along the curved seam so that it turns smoothly. Press the seam as well.

clip the seam allowance

Keep outer mask piece infront of you, rightside up.

Take 4 3/4 inch long elastic pieces – 2 numbers. Keep it along the side edges and stitch in place with hand sewing needle and thread, as in the picture below- ensure that the elastic is not twisting. (You can use ties instead of elastic)

keep the elastic along the sides and baste stitch in place
Place the elastic along the sides and baste stitch in place

On top of this, keep the lining mask piece, right side down.

Sandwich the elastic between the outer and lining
Keep the elastic between the outer mask and the lining mask

Sew all along the outer edges (the elastic pieces are enclosed inside, remember?); leave 2 inch space unstitched, anywhere along the edge. Red line in the picture below is the stitching line.

sew the maske together along the edges leaving a 2 inch unstitched

Bring the right side of the mask out through the unstitched portion.

Turn the mask rightside out through the undetitched part

Top stitch along the outer edge, in the process sewing the unstitched portion closed.

fabric for masks

 

How to make a flat Fabric Mask

For making a flat mask you need to use a fabric with a slight stretch like a knit fabric or a bias cut fabric with stretch and flexibility.

Cut out the fabric pieces – you need the center mask fabric, two strips to bind the sides and then the strap. Cut the long strap from fabric on the bias. Here is a tutorial on making bias strips and also for binding with bias strips.

Use simple back stitches to hand sew if you do not have a sewing machine.

Cut out mask fabric and some bias strips

Bind the side edges.

Bind the side edges of the mask

Fold and stitch the short edges of the long bias strip 1/4 inch to the inside.

Now this long strip is used to bind the mask fabric.The strip is to be arranged as in the picture below.

sew the bias tape around the mask

 

With the long bias strip, start binding the top and bottom edge, with the straps measuring 5 1/2 inches on either side. 

sew the binding all around the maske fabric

Finish stitching the strap on either side.

Join the short edges together at one side – overlap the edges and stitch in place. Isn’t it easy enough ?

join the binding at one end

If you are a novice at sewing and cannot be bothered about binding and stuff, just add extra allowances at the sides and top and bottom edges as you cut and turn under the edges and stitch. Then use thin elastic as straps on either sides. The steps are as follows. 

Cut out 2 fabric pieces and 2 pieces of elastic of width 1/8 inch, length 6 1/4 inch.

cut out 7 1/2 inch and 5 inch long fabric - cut 2

Keep one of the fabric pieces right side up in front of you.

Keep the elastic pieces on either sides of the fabric as in the picture below. Baste stitch in place – use a hand sewing needle and thread to stitch it there.

Keep elastic along the edges and sew in place with hand sewing

Keep the other piece of fabric, right side down on top of this, as in the picture below. Ensure that the elastic is sandwiched inside, not peeking out.

Keep the other pieces over this and sandwiching the elastic inside

Now sew the whole thing shut along the edge (with 1/4 inch seam allowance) except for a 2 inch gap. The red line in the picture below is the stitching line. Use hand stitches (stem stitch or back stitch)

Sew all around leaving a little space somewhere on the long edge unstitched

Turn the whole thing out through the gap you have left unstitched.

turn the mask rightside out through the hole

Fold the edges at the unstitched portion to the inside. Top stitch the whole edge, in the process closing the gap shut.

You can use a hand stitch like ladder stitch to sew the hole shut.

fold the unstitched portion to the inside- top stitch

Alternatively, you can use your surgical mask as a pattern.

No Sew Mask

If you would rather not sew at all, or you do not have any elastic as strap, here is an easy way to convert a sock into a fast and easy mask. I saw it as a video forward and it is a very clever hack.

Cut out a rectangular piece from your sock – from the leg portion or the feet portion.

cut out socks to make a no-sew mask

Cut up from the folded edges as in the picture below – this cut portion will serve as the facemask straps.

cut the sides a little as in the picture to make the ear holders

Use as a mask – you can insert another cotton fabric piece or tissue inside the fold of the socks mask to make it foolproof.

pull the cut sides to make your no sew mask

Best Fabrics suitable for making masks

You may use 100% cotton fabric (tightly woven with thread count more than 180) Use two or more layers of fabric for more effectiveness. I think a good quality Nylon is a tightly woven fabric that wouldn’t let anything pass through its holes. But there is the problem of breathability. Some say that a combination of cotton and synthetic fabrics in layers helps to keep off the germs. 

Here are some pointers on the fabric and other materials for making one.

masks made of fabric - 100% cotton

The number one criterion for choosing the best fabric for making your own masks is that it will filter out small microorganisms both to the outside and to the inside. But compromising breathability is also dangerous as after some time people will have enough of trying to breathe through several layers of unbreathable fabrics and may abandon wearing the mask altogether.

The best bet is to use a tightly woven premium cotton (more than 180 thread count) and that too more than 2 layers. Cotton twill is such a tightly woven soft high quality fabric.

You can use thin 100%  cotton layers (cotton jersey) with Microfiber fabric or flannel inside. If you are using a cotton-polyester blend you need at least 3 layers for it to be effective but poly-cotton fabrics are not as breathable as cotton. If you can buy fabric with antimicrobial properties that is best.

This article says that using cotton and silk as layers or cotton and chiffon works better in filtering out droplets. 

Some of the N95 masks on the market have upto 6 layers, likewise you can add layers of fabric to your mask to increase its protection.

For the layer that touches your skin, you can choose a fabric with moisture-wicking (take water away) properties like bamboo fabric, silk. Cotton, though it absorbs moisture, can retain moisture and this may cause discomfort but this is relevant only if you already have cold, cough, etc and the mask will get wet. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester have moisture wicking but you may question their breathablity.

Whatever you use, prewash the fabric before making masks.

Decorations on your mask ?

For my husband’s birthday this week I managed to buy a shirt for him secretly, sanitize it, hide it and then when I presented it to him, he tells me “But this is not what I want”. Well, talk about ungrateful. Then he showed me the photograph of a shirt with a matching mask in an online shop. It drew a laugh from me and though it was said as a joke, I understood his viewpoint. We have to wear masks, so might as well wear it with some semblance of style, other than the same old black ones.

What I would do is make it in a neutral colored checkered fabric. Checkered patterns are always classy. Learn the names of different check patterns here.

mask fabric styles

I am going by the many many checkered shirts he already owns. But it may be too matchy-matchy with similar shirts.

Plaid fabric masks

A denim one is always in demand.

denim fabric for masks

You can even use embroidered jeans scraps to make a mask. Or maybe not.

embroidered masks

Most kids need to be insisted on wearing masks. Appealing fabric patterns can make masks more enticing to them.

embroidered fabric and elastic covered with fabric

Or You can make it interesting by embroidering funny faces.

make embroidered designs of animal faces on kids masks

I have seen masks with some really weird looks. If you are into bling you can try some simple bead work along the edge as in this post.

beaded edges for mask fabrics

And end up with a mask like this.

mask fabric styles

Do not feel offended if this is not your cup of tea, I mean mask. Live and let other people wear the mask they like. 

add lace to the edge of the mask

Filters for the masks 

Usually, people who make masks add filter inside the mask through a  pocket opening accessible from the inside of the mask. This filter is disposable and is removed before washing. For the inside layer /filter, polypropylene (the kind of material used to make reusable grocery bags), and Nonwoven interfacing are used.

It is an extra protecting layer but the problem is that you may feel constricted inside, some of the filters used. It is not the most comfortable thing to wear for a long time. But if you are going out for a short detour, then by all means wear the mask with a filter in between its layers.

Fastening – Ties / elastic bands.

Sewing elastic ear bands are convenient. But they prove to be a disaster after a few washes. The elastic will stretch out of size soon enough. Or your ears will end up like that of the elf. You can instead use fabric ties, bias tape or twill tape, or even ribbons. If you are using elastic you can buy rope elastic or 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch elastic.

Though homemade masks are not enough as protection for health care workers working in intensive care units and those who are directly in touch with patients, the DIY Fabric Mask has proven itself again and again as a piece of equipment for the common man’s fight against the common enemy (along with all other precautions). The right kind of mask serves a community rather than an individual.

Masks help in one very important way – it makes us touch our nose and mouth less frequently. Actually, touching eyes, nose and mouth with contaminated hands is the most dangerous thing in spreading the germs.

To use the masks properly, wash hands before donning the mask and after removing the mask. Ensure that the mask is covering your nose and mouth effectively. And remove the mask from the behind, to avoid touching nose or mouth.

Wash the fabric masks frequently in the washing machine keeping them inside a laundry bag (to avoid damaging the elastic) or Handwash the fabric masks, with detergent and disinfectant. 

If you do not have a sewing machine and can only hand sew here is tutorial to hand sew a mask easily and that too with a small pouch to keep them neat inside a bag.

hand sew a mask 

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    1. Hi Carol
      Most of the things that you sew with a sewing machine can be sewn with a hand sewing needle and thread with simple hand sewing stitches – you can sew back stitches which makes the neatest straight stitch. Check out these posts on hand sewing stitches

  1. Surgical style masks such as these can be effective for reducing the spray of a cough, sneeze or just normal speech from an infected person. They will not protect from vies entering the airways though as those are adhering themselves to water vapor as small as 5μm (microns).

    If you feel safer wearing one, I say do it, but there is also an increased risk of touching your face to adjust the mask and bringing viral particles to your mouth, nose or eyes. These are the reasons WHO is telling healthy people not to wear them.

    Be careful. Wash wash wash.

    1. Hi Kim
      What you said makes so much sense. Touching the masks with hands which have touched contaminated surfaces is a risk that many may unknowingly be taking. At this trying times, you cannot be too careful. Stay safe.

  2. Hello,
    Thank you for posting information, as well as the tutorial for making a reusable dust mask. I was thinking about possibly adding an additional layer in the middle:

    What are your thoughts on using interfacing (the thin, fibrous, sew in (NOT GLUE backed) types? It may stop some dust particles that made it through the outer layer. I would really like to hear your thoughts on this idea, to see if I was on the right track.

    Thank you again, and stay well

    Catherine Barron

    1. Hi Catherine,
      You can add more layers – Definitely woven sew-in interfacing, not nonwoven fusible one. Why don’t you use another fabric layer?. Thanks for writing the comment. Take care.

        1. Fusible is totally brathable, and you actually want nonwoven – smaller gaps for things to slip through – effectiveness tests back this ( also hand towel type fabric is one of if not the best fabrics to use.)

  3. Thanks so much Sarina for taking the time to provide this to the world. I’m sending you 2 files as attchments to a reply to this email as I’ve not figured out how to attach to a comment. One file is for a cloth mask c/w pattern from Ageberry.com that uses 2 fabric layers and elastic for the ears . People may find it easier than using bias binding. The other one from Urban Survival.com is for making hand sanitizer from ordinary ingredients. Feel free to share them around. Just give credit where it’s due to satisfy the intellectual property rights. Stay well.

    1. Hi Eilea
      It is nice of you to write this – I am sure a person reading your comment would want to check out these sites and the tutorials on their own on ageberry.com and urbansurvival.com. Take care.