Many makers have asked for a pattern to sew homemade surgical masks for hospitals and their communities. The DIY pattern in this post will teach you to make a cloth pleated face mask with elastic ear loops or fabric ties.
The fabric face mask can be made with an interior pocket in which you can insert additional filter material.
If you can’t find or don’t want to use elastic ear loops, there are additional instructions for making and using fabric ties. You can make fabric ties from cotton fabric, t-shirt material, or use ready-made bias binding.
A printable version of these pattern instructions is available at the bottom of the post. And you can watch the video tutorial on Youtube.
Is there a need for Fabric Face Masks?
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, and there is a high demand for protective equipment for health care workers.
According to the CDC, fabric masks are a crisis response option when other supplies have been exhausted.
Due to these concerns, many hospitals across the country have requested homemade surgical masks as an emergency stopgap measure.
The CDC Now Recommends the Use of Cloth Face Coverings
What’s more, federal health officials now recommend people cover their mouths and noses with cloth face masks when in public.
This is a voluntary public health measure meant to help stop the spread when people must visit to public spaces such as grocery stores and public transit stations.
CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.
Sewing a cloth face mask for yourself will allow medical grade surgical masks and N95 masks to be reserved health care professionals and patients.
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.
- To help community members “slow the spread” in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
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.
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.
Some Hospitals are Requesting Homemade Surgical Masks
Some hospitals and clinics accepting donations of homemade face masks. Organizations like Masks for Heroes have a searchable database of facilities currently seeking donations. If you are wondering where you can donate masks, they can help you find a hospital or clinic that needs them.
Before you spend time sewing a large batch of masks to donate, 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.
The Best Fabric to 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. Using a double layer of material for your DIY mask adds a small increase in filtration effectiveness.
Other research has found that most effective masks were constructed of two layers of heavyweight “quilters cotton” with a thread count of at least 180, and had a thicker and tighter weave.
This pattern has 2 layers of fabric, and an internal pocket in which you can add additional layers of disposable filtration material if desired.
DIY Surgical Mask Pattern
The finished adult mask will be 7.75″ wide and 3.75″ tall.
- 100% cotton fabric (with a tight weave)
- 1/8″ flat elastic for ear loops, or 4 fabric ties (you can use the same cotton fabric to make strips, use pre-made bias binding, or strips of cotton jersey)
- fabric scissors
- pins or clips
- sewing machine and thread
For an adult size mask:
- Cut 1 fabric rectangle 16″ long and 8.5″ wide
- Cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 7″ long (or up to 8″ for a larger adult size)
For a small child-size mask:
- Cut 1 fabric rectangle 14″ long and 6.5″ wide
- Cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 6″ long
For a large child-size mask:
- Cut 1 fabric rectangle 15″ long and 7.5″ wide
- Cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 6.5″ long
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.
- 18″ may be too long for some people, especially kids. Please feel free to trim this down.
Step 1: Sew to the top side, with pocket
Fold the fabric rectangle in half, with the right sides facing each other.
Sew along the top 8.5″ width edge, using a large 5/8″ seam allowance. Leave a 3”-4″ 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.
Update: Some people are finding it easier to insert/remove additional filter material if they make a larger opening. Instead of leaving a 3” opening, you could make a 4” inch opening.
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 or ties (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.
Next, turn the fabric so that the seam with the pocket opening is centered in the middle of one side. Using an iron, press the seam open.
Fold the excess seam allowance under, encasing the raw edge of the fabric. Topstitch or zig-zag stitch along each side of this seam to finish the edge. This will help keep the fabric from fraying when you insert and remove any filters.
See the next photo or the video for clarification.
Step 2: Pin Elastic or Fabric Ties
If Using Elastic:
Pin one piece of elastic to each side of the mask, one end to the top corner and one end to the bottom corner of the fabric rectangle. This will create the ear loop once the mask is turned right side out and pleated. Place the ends of the elastic about 1/4″ to 1/2“ from the top and bottom corners of the fabric.
The piece of elastic itself will be sandwiched between the two layers of fabric. Once you turn the mask right side out, the elastic will be on the outside.
Repeat this process on each side to make two ear loops.
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, Securing the Ties
With a 3/8″ seam allowance, sew each side of the facemask. Backstitch over the elastic or fabric ties to secure them. Trim the corners with scissors so that it will be easier to turn the mask right side out. Becare not to accidentally clip the stitches.
Turn the mask right side out and press with an iron. You can use a pencil to push out the corners.
Optional: Insert a Flexible Nose Piece
Cut a 6-inch piece of pipe cleaner, floral wire, or other flexible wire to create a nose piece. I folded the ends of wire back into to keep them from poking through the fabric. Place the wire through the pocket hole and slide it up to the very top of the mask. Stitch around it on all 3 sides to keep it in place.
Step 4: Make the Pleats
Make the mask with three evenly spaced lines. To do this, you can measure and mark with a water-soluble fabric pen. Or, you can do what I did, and fold the mask in quarters – fold the sides to meet in the middle, and then fold again in half. Use an iron to make a crease.
Use your markings to create three evenly spaced 1/2” pleats. Pin the folds down, make sure all pleats are facing the same direction. Sew along the sides to secure the pleats. I like to sew down the sides twice, just to make sure.
When the mask is worn, the pleats should open downwards to prevent any particles from collecting in the fold pockets.
Troubleshooting the Pattern
What if you 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 bias binding 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. The great thing about using jersey fabric is that it will form itself into a tube when you stretch it. And, it’s comfortable to wear since it keeps a bit of stretch.
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 the mask 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.
Many different types of filters have been suggested, like coffee filters, felt, and vacuum filter bags. Not all of these filters are effective, and not all of them are safe.
Without further research into the safety and efficacy of face mask filter materials, we won’t know what the best filter is.
Face Mask Filter Materials: Pros and Cons
- HEPA filters. In testing, a layer of HEPA vacuum cleaner bag seemed to perform the best. However, it is difficult to breathe through. In addition, many people have raised concerns over the safety of materials (like fiberglass) used to produce these filters. At this time I can’t recommend them.
- Coffee filters. One of the mask designs that the CDC has published includes a layer of a coffee filter. They are readily available and disposable.
- Blue shop towels. Others have tested the efficacy of blue shop towels, like these. They look promising, but the data hasn’t been released publically or verified.
- Dryer sheet or baby wipes. Because these items are coated in fragrances and other chemicals, I don’t recommend using these as a filter.
- Non-woven interfacing. This has been suggested many times in the comments. I can’t find research suggesting it will help. If you choose to use interfacing, avoid the fusible/iron-on types.
- Flannel or felt. These materials are not as closely woven as the cotton fabric on the outside of the mask, so it is doubtful they would improve filtration effectiveness. In addition, they may trap moisture.
- One more layer of cotton fabric. The research we do have suggests that the safest and simplest option for a filter is cotton t-shirt material or tightly woven cotton fabric.
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.
Where can you donate masks?
Not all hospitals are requesting masks, but many are. Search your local hospital to see if they have requested donations.
Many groups, such as the Sewing & Craft Alliance, are working to connect healthcare organizations with volunteer sewists. Check out their website, WeNeedMasks.org.
Also, an organization called Masks for Heroes has a website with a searchable database of facilities currently seeking donations. If you are wondering where you can donate masks, they can help you find a hospital or clinic that needs them.
How do you wear a cloth mask?
It’s important to use proper procedures when putting on, and taking off, your mask. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing the mask and wash your hands immediately afterward.
Here is a clear, step-by-step guide to the best way to properly wear a face mask.
Important to Note: Per the CDC, masks “should not be placed on young children younger than 2 years of age, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.”
How do you clean and sanitize a cloth mask?
Wear only dry masks. When masks get moist, even if it’s just from your breath, they need to be cleaned.
Wash masks regularly, with regular detergent and in a hot washing machine cycles. Dry completely.
Free Face Mask Printable Pattern
- cotton fabric, tightly woven
- 1/8" elastic, or fabric ties
- sewing machine and thread
- sewing pins or clips
- Cut the fabric. For an adult size mask, cut 1 fabric rectangle 16″ long and 8.5″ wide. Cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 7″ long. Or, cut 4 fabric ties 18" long.
For a child-size mask, cut 1 fabric rectangle 14″ long and 6.5″ wide. Then, cut 2 pieces of elastic, each 6″ long.
- Sew the top side, with a pocket opening. Fold the fabric in half, with the right sides facing.
Sew along the 8.5″ width edge, using a 5/8″ 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.
Press the seam open. Topstitch/zig-zag stitch along both sides of the seam for a neater edge.
- Pin Elastic or Fabric Ties. Pin one piece of elastic to each side of the mask, one end to the top corner and one end to the bottom corner. If using fabric ties, pin one tie to each corner, with the rest of the tie sandwiched inside the two layers of fabric.
- Sew the Sides. Sew the sides of the facemask. Backstitch over the elastic or fabric ties to secure them.
Clip the corners, 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, making sure all pleats are facing the same direction. Sew down each side to secure the pleats.
Note: When the mask is worn, the pleats should open downwards to prevent any particles from collecting in the fold pockets.
- Some hospitals are requesting a larger pocket opening for faster filter changes -- try 4".
- For a smaller child size, start with a square that's 6.5" by 14".
- For a larger child size, start with a square that's 7.5" by 15"
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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.