Many makers have asked for a pattern to sew homemade surgical masks for hospitals. The DIY pattern in this post will teach you to make a standard pleated face mask with elastic ear loops.
If you can’t find or don’t want to use elastic, there are also instructions for using fabric ties instead.
A printable version of these pattern instructions is available at the bottom of the post.
Currently, the supply of surgical masks is at a critical all-time low throughout the entire nation.
Orders for the standard disposable masks used in hospitals are back-ordered, due to the high demand for protective equipment.
So, because of these supply concerns, many hospitals across the country have requested homemade surgical masks as an emergency stopgap measure.
According to the CDC, fabric masks are a crisis response option when other supplies have been exhausted.
This pattern has 2 layers of fabric, and an internal pocket in which you can add additional layers of disposable filtration material if desired.
An Important Distinction
Homemade face masks are not as effective as the N95 filtration mask recommended by the CDC, and are not a substitute for proper PPE.
Rather, they are meant to respond to the hospitals’ requests for emergency backup masks.
I strongly caution you before you spend time sewing these masks:
- Follow the CDC guidelines as the situation develops.
- Contact your local hospital and clinic to ensure that they are accepting masks, and that any masks you make will meet their individual guidelines.
Homemade Face Masks are a Last Resort
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has explained that in times of crisis, homemade masks are acceptable as a last resort. On the CDC website, Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of Facemasks, they explain that while homemade masks are not a substitute for PPE, they can be used in settings where facemasks are not available.
HCP use of homemade masks:
In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.
Some Hospitals are Requesting Homemade Surgical Masks
Some hospitals and clinics (like this one) are accepting donations of homemade face masks.
Before you spend time sewing a large batch of masks, please call first to ask if they are accepting them. You should ask if this pattern (2 layers of fabric with a pocket for additional disposable inserts) will meet their requirements. You should also ask about drop-off/pick-up procedures.
What Fabric Can You Use to Make A Face Mask?
Researchers at Cambridge University tested the effectiveness of a wide range of household materials for use in homemade masks. They measured how well the household materials could capture and filter small particles.
Test data shows that the best choices for DIY fabric masks are cotton t-shirts, pillowcases, or other cotton materials. For this pattern, I used a tightly-woven premium quilting cotton fabric.
Using a double layer of material for your DIY mask adds a small increase in filtration effectiveness.
DIY Surgical Mask Pattern
- 100% cotton fabric (with a tight weave)
- 1/8″ flat elastic, or additional fabric for ties
- fabric scissors
- pins or clips
- sewing machine and thread
For an adult size mask:
- Cut 1 fabric rectangle 15.5″ long and 8.5″ wide
- Cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 7″ long
For a child-size mask:
- Cut 1 fabric rectangle 13.5″ long and 6.5″ wide
- Cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 6″ long
For elastic ear loops:
- Cut 2 7″ long pieces for an adult mask
- Cut 2 6″ long pieces for a child mask
For fabric ties, if you aren’t using elastic:
- Cut 4 rectangles 18″ long by 1.75″ wide. Fold the long sides to meet in the middle, then fold in half again to encase the raw edges. Stitch down the length of the rectangles along the edge to create the ties.
Step 1: Sew to the top side, with pocket
Fold the fabric in half, with the right sides facing each other.
Sew along the 8.5″ width edge, using a 3/8″ seam allowance. Leave a 3” opening in the center of this seam to create an opening for the filter pocket, and to allow the mask to be turned right side out after sewing. In the picture above, I’ve marked this opening with pins.
Don’t want a filter pocket? If you don’t want or need a pocket, that’s totally fine. You will still need to leave an opening so that you can turn the mask right side out. After you’ve attached the elastic (in the next step) and turned the mask right side out, you can stitch the opening closed. Then you can continue with the rest of the directions.
Step 2: Pin Elastic
Turn the fabric so that the seam with the pocket opening is centered in the middle of one side. (If you didn’t make a pocket opening, just skip this step and proceed with the elastic.)
Optionally, stitch to reinforce the seam: Press the seam open and topstitch or zig-zag stitch along both sides of the seam for a neater edge. Keep the mask wrong side out. (See the video for clarification.)
Pin one piece of elastic to the top and bottom of the short side of the fabric rectangle to create an ear loop. Place the ends of the elastic 1/2 “ from the top and bottom edge of the fabric.
The length of the elastic will be sandwiched inside the two layers of fabric, so it will be on the outside when you turn the mask right side out.
Repeat this process on the opposite side.
Alternative – Use fabric ties:
If you can’t find elastic, or prefer to use fabric ties, you can use 4 fabric ties, one in each corner. Each tie will be 18″ long. Sew one tie in each corner, being careful not to catch the ties in the side seams.
You can also use twill tape, bias tape, or strips from cotton jersey (t-shirt fabric).
The finished mask will then be worn by tying the fabric strips behind the head. See notes at the bottom of the post.
Step 3: Sew the Sides
Sew the sides of the facemask. Backstitch over the elastic or fabric ties to secure them. Trim the corners with scissors.
Turn the mask right side out and press with an iron. You can use a pencil to push out the corners.
Step 4: Make the Pleats
Create three evenly spaced 1/2” pleats. Pin the folds in place, and sew along the sides. Make sure all pleats are facing the same direction.
The finished mask will be about 3.75″ tall.
When the mask is worn, the pleats should open downwards to prevent any particles from collecting in the fold pockets.
Troubleshooting the Pattern
Can’t find elastic?
I’ve heard from many people that are having a hard time finding elastic. If you can’t find elastic to make the ear loops, you can make a mask with fabric ties instead. You can use ready-made 1/4″ twill tape, double-fold bias tape, or cut long strips of the same tightly woven cotton fabric you are using for the rest of the mask.
To make fabric ties: Cut 18″ long strips of fabric, 1.75″ wide. Fold the long sides together (lengthwise or hot-dog style) so that they meet in the middle. Then fold the strips in half again (lengthwise) to encase the raw edges. Stitch down the strips along the edge to create the ties.
If you wanted these straps to have a bit of stretch, you could also cut long strips from cotton jersey or knit T-shirt material.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll want to cut 4 pieces about 18″ long, and attach one strip to each of the corners. The mask will fasten by tying the straps behind the head.
What about metal to help it fit better?
To help the mask fit better around your nose, you can insert a length of flexible metal to the top inside of the mask, through the pocket insert opening before forming the pleats. Then, you can topstitch down around the metal insert so that it stays in place. I’ve seen people use pipe cleaners, floral wire, or twist ties.
What can you use as a filter?
It is so important that everyone understands that while wearing a cloth face mask can offer some level of protection, it can’t protect against viruses the same way that an N95 mask can.
In testing, a layer of HEPA vacuum cleaner bag or HEPA air filter seems to perform the best. However, it will be harder to breathe through.
If you are sewing for hospitals, they may have their own medical grade filters. Always call before you sew to check their requirements.
Disclaimer: This pattern has not been industry-tested and is intended for educational purposes only. The decision to use this device is solely your own.
- cotton fabric, tightly woven
- 1/8" elastic
- sewing machine and thread
- sewing pins or clips
- Cut the fabric. For an adult size mask, cut 1 fabric rectangle 15.5″ long and 8.5″ wide. Then, cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 7″ long
For a child-size mask, cut 1 fabric rectangle 13.5″ long and 6.5″ wide. Then, cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 6″ long. (If you are using ties, make 4 18" long ties.)
- Sew the top side, with pocket
Fold the fabric in half, with the right sides facing each other.
Sew along the 8.5″ width edge, using a 3/8″ seam allowance. Leave a 2"-3” opening in the center of this seam to create an opening for the filter pocket, and to allow the mask to be turned right side out after sewing.
Optionally, topstitch: Press the seam open. Turn the mask right side out, and topstitch/zig-zag stitch along both sides of the seam for a neater edge. Turn the mask wrong side out.
- Pin Elastic
Pin one piece of elastic to the top and bottom of the short side of the fabric rectangle to create an ear loop. Place the elastic 1/2 “ from the top and bottom edge of the fabric. Repeat this process on the opposite side. (If using ties, stitch one to each corner.)
- Sew the Sides
Sew the sides of the facemask. Backstitch over the elastic to secure it.
Turn the mask right side out and press with an iron.
- Sew the Pleats
Create three evenly spaced 1/2” pleats. Pin the folds in place, and sew along the sides. Making sure all pleats are facing the same direction.
Note: When the mask is worn, the pleats should open downwards to prevent any particles from collecting in the fold pockets.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Remember, before you start sewing a huge batch of masks, please call the hospital or clinic and make sure that they both want and can accept homemade masks.