This is your ultimate guide to making fabric face masks for yourself, your family or to donate to hospitals and other essential workers.
There is a shortage of medical face masks. Hospitals are in desperate need of face masks for medical care professionals. If you are staying at home during this crazy time and know how to sew, you can use your time and skills for the greater good by sewing fabric face masks and donating them to your local hospital.
When I read this article, I knew it was something I could help with. I plan to put my fabric stash to good use to help my local hospital prepare for the influx of patients they expect in the coming weeks.
Fabric face masks do not replace medical grade face masks. However, because of the shortage, many hospitals are using them in non-critical areas of the hospital or they are being layered with a medical grade mask.
The CDC is now asking people to wear fabric face masks when they leave home to go about their essential errands like grocery shopping. That means you should make several masks for each member of your family. DO NOT use N-95’s or medical grade masks. Please save those for healthcare workers who are directly in contact with affected patients.
Read the CDC’s guidelines for fabric masks here. In summary, a face mask should meet these requirements:
— Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
— Be secured with ties or ear loops
— Include multiple layers of fabric
— Allow for breathing without restriction
Here is what a friend (whose husband is a doctor) had to say after making a batch of masks to donate:
Hubby got his first round of handmade face masks at his ER yesterday. This IS helpful and also helps raise morale at the ER, because they feel they aren’t facing this alone. But! Here’s some feedback I hope will be helpful.
1. They need to be slightly wider (taller vertically!) so they can reach from above the nose to below the chin.
2. If you can vary the sizing on the ones you make, that’s helpful. The ones delivered fit some people. But some docs like my hubby are bigger. Many nurses have quite small faces. So maybe size your pattern up and down so you have small medium and large if you can.
3. The masks he got had elastic that went around the ears. These have a lot of fit restrictions. If you can do ties behind the head, they will fit way more people.
Without a good fit, they aren’t helpful. ❤️
You people doing this—your efforts are appreciated! In many places the docs are allowed ONE disposable face mask per day. Within 3 hours, my husband’s has stretched and is useless (the mask worn over the N95) and handmade masks would be great replacements. (And they need to be washable so they can reuse them).
Most mask patterns I’m seeing are the same size: 6″x9″, so it might be good to vary the sizes a bit so doctors and nurses can choose one that fits them best.
Before you begin sewing, call your local hospital to see if they accept donations of fabric masks and to find out any specific requirements they might have.
PHD students from the UC Berkeley School of Public health have compiled a list of hospitals accepting donations of homemade masks. It is organized by state and is being updated frequently.
Michaels Stores have also created a DIY face mask landing page with tutorials, links to supplies and lots of great info.
Many healthcare professionals have sore ears from where the mask elastic rubs. These simple DIY ear savers are a great item to donate along with fabric masks.
MATERIALS NEEDED TO MAKE FACE MASKS
What Fabric Should I Use to Sew a Face Mask?
Face masks should be made from high quality, tightly woven 100% cotton material. If you don’t have quilter’s fabric at home, here are some other materials you can use:
- Cotton Pillowcases or Sheets (not microfiber)
- Cotton Flour Sack Towels
What Material Can I Use to Add A Flexible Nose?
Adding a flexible nose to masks makes them more comfortable and improves the fit substantially, therefore increasing effectiveness. Here are some materials you can use:
- Twist Ties
- Florist Wire
- Chenille Stems (AKA Pipe Cleaners)
- Jewelry Wire (lightweight)
If you want to add a flexible nose to masks you’ve already sewn, you can whipstitch a piece of pipe cleaner right on top, like this:
It’s not pretty, but it works really well!
Do I Need to Add a Filter to My Fabric Face Mask?
Not really! Two layers of cotton fabric have been shown to be 74% effective at filtering the air, so most scientists say that is good enough for people to use while running essential errands. [Source]
What Filter Material Should I use to Sew a Face Mask?
Although not essential, if you would like to add a filter to your masks, here are some of the materials you could use and a note about effectiveness and comfort for each material:
- Pellon Interfacing – sold out in most stores and hard to breath through
- Coffee Filters – hard to breath through but widely available
- Vacuum Bag Hepa Filters – hard to breath through and limited availability
- Quilter’s Batting – hot to wear
- HVAC system filters – readily available at hardware stores, but the manufacturers do not recommend using them for face masks [source]
- Reusable Shopping Bags or Oly-fun Fabric – Still widely available, inexpensive and breathability is okay
- Paper Towels – Not found to be super effective
Conclusion: Two layers of cotton material are sufficient. The fit of the mask is more important to its effectiveness than including a filter.
Watch this FACE MASK SHOWDOWN VIDEO to help you see the different masks and how they fit:
FABRIC FACE MASK TUTORIALS AND PATTERNS
Click on any of the numbered titles below to see the full tutorials.
Fabric Face Masks with Elastic
This is the most basic medical face mask pattern with two loops of elastic that slip over the ears. Even if you are a beginner sewist, you can handle this pattern. It includes a video tutorial to walk you through every step. I suggest adding an extra inch or two to make this mask cover better.
This mask features side elastic ear loops, but instead of a pleated mask, the fabric is cut into an ergonomic shape designed to comfortably fit over the nose. It also features a pocket to insert a medical grade mask inside. This pattern also comes in several sizes geared for children and adults.
This face mask features contrasting trim along the two outside edges, which gives the mask a nice finished look and would probably help keep the elastic secure. The tutorial has great step-by-step photos too.
This is the same basic mask as #1 but it has a nice Youtube video tutorial and sometimes it’s nice to hear things explained two different ways.
This mask gets points for style. See how to make a mask that looks like a Storm Trooper! With so much stress and sadness, I mean… why not?!
Fabric Face Masks with Ties
Created by a nurse, this pattern doesn’t require elastic. Nurses say they prefer tie masks because they are more adjustable than elastic and more comfortable to wear for long periods. The page includes a free printable pattern and good instructions.
This mask would probably be the most comfortable for healthcare workers to use because it features a bendable wire piece in the nose to help it keep its shape and bias tape ties to help customize fit.
Save some time and use your Cricut Maker to cut out the pattern pieces.
This mask tutorial and pattern has a pocket for filters and features fabric ties instead of elastic. When completed, it is a three layer mask, even without a filter.
No-Sew Face Mask Tutorials
If you can’t sew, try this video tutorial that uses a bandana and hot glue and features a filter pocket and flexible wire nose.
Turn a t-shirt into a face mask with just a few cuts of the scissors. This is actually a genius method!
Turn a t-shirt into a face mask using safety pins and hair elastics.
Fabric Face Masks for Children
I do not recommend using any filter material for children because they may not be aware enough of their oxygen intake. I also do not recommend taking your children in public unless absolutely unavoidable.
Any of the mask patterns listed above can be re-sized to fit children. That being said, here are some patterns made specifically for children.
So there you go… several different medical face mask tutorials for you to pick from.
Remember that the most important thing you can do to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home. If you must go out for essential errands, wear a mask and practice social distancing measures of keeping 6 feet apart.
Stay home and help essential workers stay safer!
To doctors, nurses, hospital staff, first responders and all of those individuals who are working tirelessly to care for others, THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Hang in there during this crazy time. Even though we’re apart, we’re in this together.