At one time, wearing a balaclava-style face mask into a store would get you some awfully funny looks, if not a chat with a local police officer. Well, times have changed. Now, you’re likely to get the same funny looks for not wearing a face mask on your weekly grocery run.
As a result of current health risks and the shift they’ve caused in public perception, face coverage in a social setting is becoming more and more commonplace. People want to ensure that they are protecting as much of their faces as possible from virus-causing droplets. They also want to be considerate and avoid spreading any virus-causing droplets of their own, on the off chance they could be infected but asymptomatic.
Why a balaclava?
There are several versions of masks available, with people choosing styles that work for them. However it’s understandable to feel that, the more of your face you keep covered, the lower your risk of exposure to COVID-19. Although a large part of mask effectiveness is actually tied to the fabric used and the security of the fit, there’s no denying that a balaclava-style face mask comes with a certain feeling of protection that other masks do not.
Still, there’s troubleshooting to do. Since most versions of balaclava are designed for warmth when snowboarding or motorcycling, they don’t usually fit as snugly as you might need in order to protect your mouth and nose. And with summer just around the corner, you don’t want a version that will have you sweating buckets while you stand in line outside your local shop.
However, you can adapt by wearing a tube bandana version a few different ways or you can make your own balaclava face mask from scratch. Perhaps you can adapt a balaclava you already have at home by adding ties to hold the bandana more effectively on your face.
What materials work best
First of all, you need to have the right supplies to make face masks with fabric. Cotton fabrics are recommended, such as bed sheets, denim, heavy t-shirts, tea towels, or shop towels.
The tighter the weave of the fabric, the better protection it offers. You can test the weave by holding fabric up to a light or by spraying water at it to see how much comes through.
In tests done by Smart Air, doubling the layers of dish towels made them more effective, an effect not seen noticeably with other materials. Scarves and bandanas are generally less recommended since their weaves tend to be looser and therefore, more likely to allow droplets though.
A note on sewing masks
Since your masks need to stand up to wear and tear, it is faster and stronger to sew face masks with a sewing machine. If you know how to sew a mask by hand, you will need to focus on making tight, consistent stitches. They should be close enough together to hold the layers in place over multiple washings.
How to make a balaclava face mask – pattern 1
The easiest pattern to protect you from germs is breathable, quick to make, and simple to put on and remove. It ties around your head above the ears and drapes to your neck, where it can be tucked into a t-shirt or jacket.
Supplies (per mask):
- A piece of fabric 22 inches wide and 12.5 inches deep
- 42 inches of complementary seam binding or a strip of non-stretching fabric that is 42 by 1.75 inches long
- Six inch pipe cleaner or flexible wire
Now, to make your mask:
1. Hem the two short sides and one long side of the main face mask material by folding the edges in by one-half inch, twice. Stitch it in place.
2. If you don’t have seam binding, 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. Do not stitch the strip closed yet.
3. Find the center point of the long strip and insert the wire so it is centered. Stitch around the wire so it is held in place within the inner fold of the strip.
4. Match up the center of the seam binding or long strip with the center of the fabric rectangle.
5. Stitch the long strip closed from one end to the other, encasing the top edge of the fabric rectangle as you go.
How to make a balaclava face mask – pattern 2
This pattern by Lana Creations covers your head and your neck, with the option to line it with a second layer of fabric. It has a loose, traditional fit that is good for those who have difficulty tolerating tighter masks, although you will need to ensure that it can remain in place without the need to touch it constantly, as this defeats the purpose of wearing a mask at all.
Though the original pattern calls for fleece, you may wish to substitute a fabric with some give, such as t-shirt material, to make a lighter version that can be comfortably worn in the warmer seasons.
- Half a yard of fleece or a large cotton t-shirt
- 42 inches of seam binding or 42-by-2-inch strip of fabric
- Six inches of pipe cleaner or flexible wire
Start by cutting out one top front piece, one front piece of 30 by 34 centimeters, and one back piece.
1. Fold the bottom of the top front piece under half an inch and stitch it flat.
2. Fold the top of the bottom front piece under one inch, then ¼ inch to create a casing. Leave holes in front of the fabric for the ties to come out at the sides of the head.
3. Stitch the top front piece to the back, with a half-inch seam allowance.
4. Stitch the lower front piece to the sides of the back piece so the front pieces meet but do not overlap.
5. Stitch a six-inch piece of wire inside a 42-inch fabric tie (as described in pattern 1).
6. Attach a safety pin to the end of the fabric tie and push it through the casing, then pull it out the other end.
7. Hem the bottom of the balaclava.
Get a free printable version of this pattern and see it for yourself!
How to make a balaclava face mask – pattern 3
This pull-on balaclava covers the head and the mouth, with a hole cut out for your eyes. It works well for children, but the size below is adapted for adults. As with most balaclavas, this was designed for cold winter days, so you may wish to use a different fabric for warm months.
- Half a yard of fleece or a large cotton t-shirt
- Fold-over elastic, one yard (5/8 – 3/4 inch wide)
If you’re using fleece, be sure to cut your pieces with the stretch going from right to left so it fits correctly over the head. You can either cut the fabric on the fold, with the straight edge along the back of the fabric or cut two pieces and sew the back seam.
1. Draw a J shape from the bottom of the fabric eight inches wide and 17 inches tall. The hook in the J ends at the top of the back of the head.
2. Cut along that line. (You can cut out your eye holes now or wait until you try the hood on.)
3. Place the pieces together with right sides together, then sew together around the top and sides (using a 1/4 inch seam allowance), skipping the cut-out for the eyes. Be sure to leave the bottom edge open as well.
4. Sew another straight seam, right next to the first one, for reinforcement.
5. If you didn’t cut out the eye holes earlier, try on the mask and figure out where the eye hole fits best, without exposing your nose. You may need a buddy for this step.
6. Pin your fold-over elastic around the eye-opening of your balaclava – sandwiching it around the edge of your fabric. Pull the elastic slightly, to help ease the elastic around the curves and to keep it from puckering when you sew.
7. Leave the two ends of elastic free as you sew the elastic in place with a zig-zag stitch. Be sure to leave several inches free at both ends of your elastic. If your elastic is pulling and stretching out as you sew, increase the stitch length a bit so that it will skip over more fabric with more stitch.
8. Use the center seam of the front of the balaclava as your guide for where to join the two elastic ends. Pull one end over to where it would reach the seam of the fleece and place a pin there.
9. Pin the two elastic ends together, with right sides together and sew a seam right where the pin was inserted.
10. Trim the excess elastic ends, then sandwich the remaining elastic around the rest of the eye-opening. Pin in place. Continue zig-zagging the rest of the way around.
11. You can finish the bottom of the balaclava with elastic or a simple hem, whichever you prefer.
We add a precaution about this mask in particular. Since this does cover so much of your face, you may wish to call ahead and confirm that you will be allowed to wear it into the store. Although this type of coverage isn’t unheard of these days, some store owners may have concerns about the ski mask look.
How to make a balaclava face mask – without sewing at all
A simple tube of stretchy fabric can also be converted into a balaclava in a variety of ways. However, the light material does not seem to block out virus particles as well as other fabrics, so pay extra attention to your distance from other people while wearing one.
If you make a tube out of a stretchy fabric, you can turn it into a balaclava by wearing it these ways:
1. Pull the tube over your head and down so the top of it rests across the bridge of your nose.
2. From this position, pull the bottom of the tube up to cover the back of your head while your face is still covered.
3. Have the tube opening around your face. Find a fold of fabric under your neck and pull it up to cover the bridge of your nose. This doubles the fabric, which may help to protect you more.
Wearing your balaclava safely
The fit of your balaclava around your nose is important. You want to be able to breathe, but you also want the mask to be snug enough to do its job. So consider using a pattern that includes a nose wire or elastic to keep yourself protected in that vulnerable area.
Remember that once you have worn your balaclava face mask in public, it may have droplets or particles containing the virus on the outside of it. (That’s a good thing! It means the virus didn’t make it to YOU.) Remove your face mask without touching the mouth area or letting the outside rub against your face. Then, wash it immediately by hand with hot water or in the washing machine.