Tips for Sewing Face Masks

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Tips for sewing face masks to use and to donate to others in need of masks. Two easy patterns that you can use as a template!

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When people started sewing face masks, I was following along to see what the official verdict was on these. I’m a big fan of reusable cloth products, but I also know that there are some pros and cons to them. I want to discuss some of those today, talk about how to make a face mask, and discuss some tips for faster sewing.

Are face masks helpful?

Probably not enough for the people on the front lines, interacting closely with those positive for COVID. There’s a reason the hospitals are BEGGING for real N95 masks and refusing cloth ones. Check your DIY supplies- you may have a dusty mask or three in your stash somewhere. SOME hospitals have started accepting fabric masks, but this is purely because it’s “better than nothing.” It might not be good ENOUGH though.

One problem with these masks is that they only cover our nose and mouth. The masks make us more prone to touch our faces. Germs can enter through our eyes as well and ideally we DO NOT want to touch our face. It’s HARD to stop doing something that comes pretty natural to us.

You also have to be careful not to remove your mask by the front of the mask. If germs built up on the front of them, you’re grabbing onto the germiest piece.

The second problem is that fabric simply isn’t tightly woven enough to keep out all of the virus particles. If someone who is positive coughs in your face, it’ll go through your mask (although if they’re that close, your eyes will probably be the biggest problem). That’s really where social distancing comes in.

My understanding is that these masks are helpful when worn by normal folks because it might help stop us from SPREADING COVID if we aren’t aware we have it. It might also help prevent germs from someone sneezing across the produce aisle. Maybe.

So is it a good idea to make them? HECK YES. Make them for yourself and your entire family. Make them for your local grocery store clerks and your mailman. Make them for the people who are out there interacting with a bunch of folks EVERY DAY because they’re essential employees. The people who AREN’T getting better quality masks.

And if your hospital is requesting them, make them for them too. But if we ALL WEAR MASKS whenever we go out, if we ALL stay home as much as possible and practice good social distancing, then maybe our nurses and doctors won’t be exposed at all.

It’s WEIRD to be among the first wearing masks in public, but DO IT. Make it the norm. Protect yourself and others as much as you can. Maybe it’ll become trendy.

Here’s a quick video I did about JUST WEARING THEM. Do it.

Tips for Sewing Masks

Tip #1: Prewash Your Fabric

If you’re sewing these masks for healthcare workers then they’re going to need to wash them on hot. If you don’t pre-wash your fabric on hot and dry it on hot, there’s a chance that they will not be able to wear them after one wash. Pre-washing allows the fabric to shrink before you start sewing it.

Tip #2: Use Bias Tape Instead of Elastic

If you’re making these for yourself, it is probably fine to use elastic or fold over elastic. They will work. Many people are making them so the elastic fits around the ears. But this is a lot easier when you can fit them to the person you’re making them for.

Consider using bias tape instead of elastic. Some people are allergic to elastic and others will just be aggravated with elastic around their ears all day.

Don’t have bias tape? You can MAKE bias tape from cotton fabric so no big deal if the stores run out. I ordered a ton of bias tape on Amazon before this started for my stash.

Bias tape can be tied around the head and neck, allowing people to tie it tighter or looser depending on the size of their head. It’s a great option when you’re donating the masks. Bias tape WILL NOT work going around the ears.

Tip #3: Consider Sizing

Different people have different size faces. It’s good to find a mask pattern that has different sizes available. We’ll chat about patterns in a second.

Tip #4: Make an OBVIOUS Interior/Exterior

Make sure one side of the mask is very obviously the inside. Otherwise if someone takes off their mask, they won’t know which side is the clean side and which one is the side that has been facing patients or other people.

You can use a different fabric for the inside and outside, or add a pocket to the inside.

Tip #5: Add an Optional Interior Pocket for a Filter

I’m not super confident the filters are really being used or working. Adding the interior pocket gives people the option to pop a filter in there though. It’s probably worth adding, just in case it’s healthy.

Tip #6: Choose your Fabrics Wisely

Fabrics used must be breathable. You cannot use four billion layers of fabric or something like laminate fabric.

I would not use PUL, even though I’m normally a fan. It has some breathability, but folks need to be able to actually breath.

Also do not use stabilizer.

The fabric chosen is ideally a tightly woven fabric. It must be washable on HOT. This is a great use of quilting cotton. I’ve been using 2-3 layers. I think three layers is probably best. I think some folks are using an inner layer of flannel.

If you decided to experiment with a different fabric than 2-3 layers of cotton, wear your mask for an hour and see if you can breath.

Tip #7: Add wire to the nose

Many people are using a pipe cleaner or other wire to a casing at the nose. This is fairly easy to add, although I haven’t tried it yet. I need to see if I have any. This allows the user to bend the wire to shape tightly around their nose.

Tip #8: How the Mask Should Fit

The mask needs to cover the nose without being in the eyes. The bottom of the mask needs to be under your chin. Ideally you want no or few gaps for particles to get under the mask.

Tip #9: Get the details before you start sewing to donate

Before you hop into this and start whipping up masks because you want to donate some to your local hospital, GET THE DETAILS. They may have certain requirements, sizes, fabric, or patterns that they want you to use. They also may not be accepting them.

Free Sewing Mask Patterns

There are quite a few mask patterns being used so I’m going to discuss the two I have used.

Cricut Access Pattern

If you have a Cricut machine, Cricut is offering a pattern on Cricut Access. The pattern comes in different sizes and has a fitted shape around the nose.

If you have a Cricut maker then you can cut the fabric with your machine. But don’t worry if you don’t! You can also just cut paper or cardboard to use as a template. If you do that, you cut it the paper pattern and lay it on your fabric to trace. VERY simple.

Personally, I have the Maker, but preferred to cut all of the fabric myself. I just used a cardboard template for a few different sizes. I feel like I can get more masks out of one size of fabric if I do it myself.

Cricut has children’s and adult sizes.

The mask looks like it will be more fitted than the rectangular version which is cool, but I found the pleats on the rectangular version do the trick to help the mask form around your face too. So either should be fine!

I used the Cricut pattern for a few masks, but used the PROCESS that I’ll explain in Method 1 of my rectangular masks for actually sewing them. I did not use elastic as the Cricut pattern suggested.

DIY Rectangular Masks

Rectangular masks with pleats are really easy to make. I started with the Cricut pattern and then tried a few of these. The rectangular masks use less fabric so I think you’ll get more bang for your buck in terms of making these. It’s also way easier to cut out a bunch of rectangles.

The sizing I’ve seen is as follows:

  • Large 6×9
  • Medium 6×8
  • Small 5×7.5

I’m curious to get feedback on these sizes. Large is a good size for me so I wonder if they’d be too small for someone bigger… but I have a big head so eh. Who knows? I’m hoping to try to make a few small masks for my kids to test out. I’ll update this post accordingly.

To make these rectangular masks, you just cut 2-3 rectangles in the size you want. I made my third piece a pocket.

So I cut the 3 pieces and hemmed the top of one piece to use for the pocket.

TO CUT THESE FAST: My quilting ruler is 6″ wide, allowing me to cut a ton of 6″ wide strips for a Large and Medium mask with my rotary cutter on a cutting mat. Once I cut a bunch of long strips, I can cut those strips into 9 and 8″ lengths, depending on how long my strips are!

Next I layered my mask pieces as such: inner fabric right sides up, pocket right sides up, outer fabric right sides down.

The pocket piece needs the bottom lined up with the bottom of the other fabrics. This allows you to sew the bias tape on after without sewing the pocket down too. There should be a gap between the top of the pocket and the top of the other two pieces of fabric.

Method 1: Bias Tape across the top and bottom

I added my bias tape across the top and bottom. For the large mask, I cut a piece 35″ long for the top and 27″ long for the bottom. You’ll use less bias tape if you use method 2.

Okay so to start with this method, you sew your sides. You can skip sewing the top or bottom. In the photo below I sewed the bottom… it’s an unnecessary step. I was just trying to zip around the three sides quick. (Photo is of a serged seam, but a sewing machine is fine!)

Once you sew those sides, turn the mask right sides out. Press.

You add two pleats next. Pleats are fun. The pleats are what enables the fabric to form to your face a bit. You don’t sew them down horizontally.

You simply fold your fabric over, pin in place (on both sides), fold it over in a lower spot, then pin. You can press them down with your iron.

Then you top stitch the sides. This holds the pleats in place on the sides WITHOUT you sewing the pleats down horizontally.

Find the center of the bottom bias tape piece and center it on the bottom of your mask (make sure you check where your pocket is and which direction it’s facing). Sew on.

You can just sandwich the bias tape around your fabric which is faster, but you probably should sew the bias tape on the correct way. It’s good practice if you do. I was going for fast.

I turned over each end of the bias tape and sewed it down.

Here’s the mask finished…

Here’s the pocket on the inside. I wish I’d done a different fabric inside for the pocket so I could find it easier. I have to look pretty close because it blends in nice.

Method 2: Bias tape or elastic added to the sides only

If you are adding elastic or bias tape to each side, you’re sandwiching your elastic/bias tape inside the rectangular pieces. The ends get sewn down when you sew the mask up.

When sewing them like this, you’ll need (2) 14″ pieces of bias tape for the top, (2) 9″ pieces of bias tape for the bottom. I haven’t used elastic at all so I can’t say how much you’ll need for elastic that goes around the ears.

I’m going to try to get a good video later of how to make these, but I haven’t had a chance yet. Three kids home so I haven’t had a chance!

No Sew Mask

Want to make a no sew mask? It can be as simple as wrapping a bandanna around your face… or two. Two or three layers of cotton are best.

Here’s a no sew mask tutorial from a friend of mine at Repurpose and Upcycle.

Washing the Masks

Pull strings in the back, toss mask in wash without touching the front of the mask. Detergent and a good wash cycle should kill the germs, from what I understand. I’m not washing them/my clothes on hot so I’m hoping it’s enough. If you’re worried, I would run the mask through on hot by itself or with items that can also tolerate heat (ie. towels, bed linens).

Some people are steaming their masks clean as an alternative to a full wash every day. Steaming might be a great option to try in between patients. You could use two masks during your day, steam one, let dry while you wear the other. And small steamers are fairly affordable.

$100 Most Creative Mask Contest

When you get on the airplane, they tell you that in case of an emergency, you should put your mask on first before helping a loved one. This applies here. Everyone needs to own one or two masks for personal use, unless you’re able to practice 100% social distancing (aka you never ever leave the house).

I’m giving away a $100 online gift card (to the retailer of the winner’s choice, assuming I can practice social distancing and order it online) in my “most creative mask” contest on Facebook. You can enter by sharing a photo of you WEARING your mask here.

Here’s the rules:

  • Personal masks only- these need to be the ones you plan to wear.
  • You must be wearing the mask in the photo!
  • Anything goes for homemade- you don’t need to sew. You can personalize a bandanna that you want to use or re-purpose some old clothing or linens.
  • Handmade masks ONLY. Let’s save the N95 masks for the people who desperately need them.

I will pick my top 5 and let everyone vote for the final winner. Contest ends April 15th 2020.

You don’t need to do anything else (just make sure I can message you on Facebook if you win). I’m hoping to encourage people to make and WEAR their own masks out in public so we can help stop the spread of COVID!

Please share and pin this post! If you make this project, share it in our Stuff Mama Makes Facebook Group in order to enter to win our monthly giveaway.

Tips for Sewing Face Masks

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