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How to Sew Your Own Face Mask

Have you looked everywhere for a protective face mask, only to find them out of stock? Now is the perfect time to jump in and learn how to sew your own face mask. Once you get started, you’ll discover how easy and rewarding it is to create these little germ screeners.

Even if you’re new to sewing face masks, it doesn’t take long to master the technique, you just need to follow certain steps. After you learn how to sew a mask for the first time, it becomes easier over time to make more of them.

How long does it take?

It takes about 15 minutes to make a face mask with a sewing machine. It will take longer to sew a mask by hand, with the time depending on the skill of the stitcher. If you sew them in batches, they come together at a little more than five minutes each. Once you get rolling, you can do several of them in one sewing session.

What you need

First of all, you need to have the right supplies to make face masks with fabric. Although you can improvise to some extent with materials you have on hand, certain items do make for a more effective mask.

Cotton fabrics such as bed sheets, denim, heavy t-shirts, tea towels, and shop towels are all good starting points. (Doubling layers of tea towels can make them more effective.) The tighter the weave of the fabric, the better protection it offers. You can see how tightly woven a fabric is by holding it up to a light or by spraying water at it to see how much comes through. 

Regardless of the chosen sewing method, you will require the following materials for each mask:

  • Fabric pieces cut into rectangles – 16 inches by 8.5 inches 
  • Two seven-inch pieces of ¼-inch elastic
  • OR four 18-inch pieces of seam binding (you can also cut strips of fabric 1.75 by 18 inches and make your own ties, instructions down below)
  • Strong cotton thread (or a polyester thread mixed with cotton) 
  • Straight pins 
  • Sharp scissors
  • A ruler or measuring tape
  • A six-inch piece of flexible wire or pipe cleaner (optional for the nose piece)

Although it’s not absolutely necessary, some people find a nose piece helpful to hold the face mask in place, since it fits more snugly. It also reduces the glasses-fogging issue many people have reported.

How to make face masks

Since they need to stand up to wear and tear, it is preferable to sew face masks with a sewing machine. They will be completed more quickly and turn out stronger that way. However, it’s not the only option.

If you want to know how to sew a mask by hand, you will simply need to focus on making even stitches that are close enough together to hold the layers in place. Rather than a machine, you will need needles and a thimble (the thimble is optional, but recommended).

It is best to start by making one mask from start to finish, so you can learn the process. Then, once you’re comfortable with the steps, you can begin stitching them in an assembly-line fashion, which is much more efficient. While the steps of how to sew a face mask may feel awkward at first, they will make sense as you see the first one come together.

1. Fold the right sides of the fabric together so the two shorter sides of the rectangle are together.

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2. Put one pin in each side, 2.5 inches from the edge of the fabric.

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3. Using a 5/8-inch seam allowance, sew the ends of the seams, leaving a three-inch gap between the pins. (This leaves room for you to insert an extra filter, if you want one. It also allows you to turn the mask four steps from now.)

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4. Move the seam allowance to the middle of the new, smaller rectangle and press it open. If the fabric frays, turn under the raw edges and topstitch them.

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5. Pin the ends on one piece of elastic inside the top corner and bottom corner of one side of the mask, with the loop tucked inside between the right side of the fabric. Repeat on the other side. If you are using fabric ties, pin one tie each to the upper and lower corners, making sure they won’t get caught in the stitching. 

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To make ties, fold the long sides of the fabric strip together with back sides facing so they meet in the center. Then fold them again to encase the raw edges inside and stitch as close to the outer edge as you can. Finish the ends, if necessary.

6. Sew the side seams with a 5/8-inch seam allowance. Go over the ties with a quick backstitch to ensure they are held securely in place.

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7. Turn the mask right side out and press it with an iron.

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If you are inserting a nose piece, place the wire inside the mask now and push it to the top of the mask. Topstitch around it on all three sides to hold it in place.

8. Make three half-inch pleats on each side of the mask – lining them up evenly with the other side, all going the same way – and pin them in place. Sew along the sides of the mask with less than a ¼-inch allowance to hold them in place. Since they are bulky, you may need to remove the pins as you go but hold them in place with your fingers. Also, sew from the top of the mask down, switching the mask from the right of your needle on your sewing machine to the left for half of these seams.

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9. Press it again and try it on.

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After making your first mask, you can check how it fits by putting it on and taking a few regular breaths, followed by some deep breaths. Move your head from side to side, then up and down. Try talking and bending over to ensure it stays in place. If the mask falls off or slides around, adjust the pattern until the finished product works well and feels comfortable.

Inserting another layer once your mask is done

If you want to add an extra layer of protection, insert a coffee filter, HEPA filter, or piece of paper towel into the opening inside the mask when you wear it. It may make it a little more difficult to breathe, depending on what material you choose, so testing the mask before you wear it outside the house is very important. And of course, remember to remove paper items before laundering your mask.

Elastic vs. ties

Both of these methods of holding the mask in place work. The ties make it easier to fit the mask on the right position on the head but the elastics make it easier to fit by looping them over the ears. You may find you have a personal preference, so perhaps try making one of each type before you commit to making several.

There are also plastic clips – like those on the back of fitted ball caps – that you can use to hold the elastics and give your ears a break. The more comfortable it is, the more likely you will keep the mask on while out running errands or while in situations where physical distancing is not possible. Since you’ve gone through the effort of learning how to make face masks with fabric, you might as well make one that is comfortable enough to use!

Once you’ve worn your new, reusable masks, it is vital to wash them in a washing machine or by hand in warm soapy water. They should be dried on high heat or in direct sunlight.

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