How to Sew a Surgical Face Mask for Hospitals – Free Pattern

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.

fabric mask for hospitals with filter pocket, fabric ties, and bendable nose piece

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:

  1. To respond to the hospitals’ requests for emergency backup masks.
  2. To help community members “slow the spread” in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

Sources for further reading: Cambridge StudyNatureOcc. Env MedAnnals Occ Hygiene)

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:

  1. Follow the CDC guidelines as the situation develops.
  2. 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.

materials for a fabric hospital mask

DIY Surgical Mask Pattern

The finished adult mask will be 7.75″ wide and 3.75″ tall.

View the full video tutorial on Youtube!

Materials

  • 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
  • ruler
  • pins or clips
  • sewing machine and thread

Cut List

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.
diagram showing how to sew fabric masks for hospitals

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.

materials and supplies to sew a surgical mask

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.

sewing the seam for the filter pocket in a fabric surgical mask

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.

sewing the seams for a homemade fabric surgical mask

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.

pinning fabric ties to the cloth mask
fabric ties or elastic on the inside of the mask before sewing

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.

using wire to create a flexible nose piece on a fabric mask

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.

making the folds for a pleated face mask

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 pins to secure three pleats on a fabric surgical mask

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.

sewing down the pleats on the side of a fabric surgical mask for hospitals

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.

how to make bias binding fabric strips

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

Click here to download a pattern PDF

DIY Fabric Surgical Mask

DIY Fabric Surgical Mask

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Homemade fabric surgical face mask to be worn as a last resort in a crisis situation.

Materials

  • cotton fabric, tightly woven
  • 1/8" elastic, or fabric ties

Tools

  • sewing machine and thread
  • scissors
  • ruler
  • sewing pins or clips

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


    Notes

    • 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"

    Did you make this project?

    Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

    A free pattern to sew homemade surgical masks for hospitals. Make a standard pleated face mask with a filter pocket and elastic ear loops or fabric ties from cotton fabric or t-shirt material.

    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.

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    627 thoughts on “How to Sew a Surgical Face Mask for Hospitals – Free Pattern”

    1. Thank you for the pattern, I have made loads for the local community hospital and for family and friends as well. Really glad that I found this site. Thank you from Ireland.

      Reply
    2. If you don’t have elastic you can use strips about an inch wide of knit fabric such as t-shirt material. When you pull it will curl in and make sort of a stretchy cord. You may need to experiment with the length because different material stretches by different amounts.

      Reply
    3. Thank you for the pattern. I have made many for family and friends here in Oklahoma and some in California.
      Shelley

      Reply
    4. I’ve made a few of these and the only thing that is giving me trouble is the filter. I have plenty of coffee filters so I thought I would use those but they don’t seem to lay properly inside. The filter bunches up in the pleats. Perhaps I’m cutting them the wrong size or something. Can you give me any tips?

      Reply
      • Don’t sew the coffee filters into the mask. They need to be inserted in the “slot” provided so you can removed them later before washing the mask.

        Reply
    5. Hello Sarah,
      First of all, thank you for your tutorial on the mask. But can you tell me the dimensions of the “Cut List” in centimeters please?
      I thank you in advance for this
      Speedwell

      Reply
    6. Hello,
      I appreciate your detailed instructions, however, I have struggled with getting the elastic pieces situated so they are completely inside the seam. Any suggestions on what I could do so the elastic is completely inside the seam at the top and bottom of the mask?
      Thanks again. Rita

      Reply
        • If you make a pocket, sort of like the top of a curtain, you can slide the narrow elastic through the pocket, tie the ends into a knot and slide the knot back inside the pocket this will form the loop for your ear. You may have to cut the elastic a little longer so you can get a good knot tied to make sure it will not come untied. Hope that makes sense.

          Reply
      • Hey, what I did was pin one end, sew that side towards the bottom, and then use the filter pocket (works best if you make the pocket bigger to 3.5 or 4 inches instead of 3) and a pair of tweezers in the open corner to pull the other end of the elastic where I need it to be. Then I just hold it in place through the pocket until it’s sewn in. This is literally the only way I could figure to make things work.

        Reply
    7. Your instructions and patterns are so detailed and is much appreciated! I make a similar mask with three instead of four pleats. It works well for most faces, but I will incorporate your ideas in future masks! Your larger measurement with four pleats interests me! I’m still trying to figure out something for guys with long beards. Your filter info was great! I do use the very lightweight fusible interfacing. For me, the two layers of finely woven cotton with the interface makes for a great breathable mask. I will keep your site in my favorites! Thanks!

      Reply
    8. I’m not the best at sewing but this was a great set of instructions and I am really happy with the face mask I made for myself. Thank you so much!!

      Reply
    9. Sarah I love this pattern, thank you, the only thing I did different was I surged the raw edges. To prevent fraying. plus it looks nice at least on the inside LOL

      Reply
    10. I don’t use my sewing machine that often, although I’ve done lots of repair work. But this is only my second time around making something from scratch. I kept doing things close to what author recommended, but not ever quite right and had to re-do a few things. In the end I have made 3 masks from this . But I feel the instructions are more for people who make new clothing from scratch. Too many steps are left out compared to all the many steps I actually had to perform. For example in the first sewing step, I sewed thw first stitch on the wrong side of the cloth and had to undo the work and rotate the cloth around by 90˚ and then re-sew. When I turned the mask inside out, the elastic bands went to the inside and could not be used, so I just decided to accept the mask without the turning inside out step.

      If you are an infrequent sewer or one who does mostly repairs, I suggest you search for another lesson. Still, 2 of my 3 masks are quite functional, for which I thank the author.

      Reply
      • I did the same thing at first! There’s been a bit of trial and error and note-taking on each step of my instructions. I write down in large sharpie when a piece of fabric needs to be inside out or right side out for this mask.

        From using the Kaiser Permanente pattern and moving to this, I noted at one point that it doesn’t say to stitch all the way up each piece of bias tape if you use that, but hers is sewn and you definitely need to!

        Reply
    11. I am not a regular sewing machine user. I’ve made two masks getting better with each one. I find the pleating difficult. Could the steps to achieving the pleats while being mindful of which side the vent is be revised, it’s playing hell with my dyslexia, Paul in Ireland .
      Ps thanks so much for such a great pattern.

      Reply
    12. I want to thank you for the instructional video on making this mask. I left the video open and went back to each step as I sewed. I completed 10 masks for my own personal use and I’m sure they will last me for a while. Thank you again for your precise instructions.

      Reply
    13. Thanks so much for providing this template! I’m going to give it a try. I was wondering if pipe cleaner can go into the washing machine, since it looks like the pipe cleaner is sewn into the mask and the whole thing has to go into the wash? Thanks so much.

      Reply
      • I’ve been using cotton pipe cleaners (like for smoking pipes) and they work great! Stitch carefully on all three sides so they can’t migrate anywhere else in the mask, and know that you may have to reshape them after the wash but they will be just fine. I haven’t gotten the great seal with pipe cleaners that I’ve gotten from the metal bars on a real surgical mask but I think they’ll be fairly durable.

        Reply
    14. I have made 500+ masks (still going) to donate using your instructions, with only slight modification for attaching the elastic or ties. Thank you so much for this tutorial!!!

      Reply
    15. OMG. I love this pattern and instructions. You have done a wonderful job breaking down all the details. Thank you. Thank you

      Reply
    16. Could you please make a free pattern to mail to our postal home address! Is there anyway that that could be done?

      Reply
    17. Excellent pattern and tutorial.
      Only tweak I have seen elsewhere is the addition of a small pocket on the top edge to hold a (removable) nose strip so the mask fits around the nose more closely.

      Sew a short section of binding tape to the top edge to create the pocket. Then you can insert a short piece of copper wire (or opened paperclip) which can be pinched around the nose for a closer fit. This variation allows you to remove the wire/clip before washing. The wire ends can be turned back on themselves so they don’t push through the fabric, and copper wire wouldn’t rust if it accidentally goes through the wash.

      Reply
      • I’ve only been able to test on my 5 year old, but here’s what I’ve heard. The smaller size is good for about 3-6ish. And the larger for about 7-11ish. As always, it depends on the kid. Thanks for the question.

        Reply
        • Thanks for the reply! After seeing people sell these sort of masks at extortionate prices, I’ve decided to do them for cost of fabric! So thank you x

          Reply
    18. My husband was wanting a mask with a pocket. The pattern is perfect! I will be making several more for my children and grandchildren. I work in healthcare and per my employer’s request, I must wear a surgical mask since I interact with patients. I will be making at least 1 or 2 of these masks for myself for when I’m not at work.

      Reply
    19. Why don’t you recommend fusible interfacing? I am getting ready to make masks and was planning on using interfacing, but this is counter to your recommendation. Thank you for the pattern and information. It is truly helpful and well done.

      Reply
      • First, let me just say that I couldn’t find research on fusible interfacing specifically, so the following is just my opinion. But, I think it would be better to use sewn-in interfacing versus fusible interfacing. My thinking is that the adhesive chemicals that melt to make it fusible would be not great to breathe and/or hard to breathe through.

        Reply
        • Sarah, thank you for the quick response. I am not surprised by your thinking and wondered if that was why. I appreciate all you have done to make face masks patterns and information available to the public. You are a blessing!

          Reply
    20. I’ve made 5 face masks using this pattern, all by hand. Thank you for publishing this for free!

      Not sure how big to make the filter since the folded-flat, finished size is 3.75” but larger when expanded. Any recommendation for a size? I’m sending another one out tomorrow and would love to include a filter. Is there a way to stabilize it in there? Judith

      Reply
    21. Hi Sarah, I have had fun making 8 masks from one batik dyed pillowcase so each one is different. Thanks for you free pattern, instructions & video. Fortunately I made a prototype & found the elastic too tight as I machined the ends also with a 5/8’’ seam. When I tried a 3/8’’turning the fit was correct.
      Hilda
      England

      Reply
    22. Hi,
      Thanks for this tutorial, really helpful and easy to follow. I’m having trouble with the pleats though. When I sew down the edge I find it hard to get a nice neat, straight line as the pleats make it too bulky. I might try with the pocket opening off centre a bit so one of the pleats doesn’t have all of that extra fabric on as well. Does anyone have any good tips please, I’d really appreciate it?
      Thanks

      Reply
    23. I didn’t have any luck with this pattern. The elastic measurement is too short, it pulled the square off, and when I went to try it on it was very uncomfortable, and I have a small head. 8″ might be better. When trying to pleat, the filter pocket seam area had so much bulk of fabric it wouldn’t lie flat. How does yours look so neat and flat? Maybe its in the wrong spot but I used a ruler for 3 evenly spaced lines.

      Reply

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