Homemade protective mask project/Instructions

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This is a set of instructions for making your own face mask out of cotton, based on Deaconess Health's instructions and clarified and expanded.

These instructions have been expanded to include variant construction methods (because some things, like 1/8-inch elastic, are sold out everywhere), though some variants are a work in progress.

What you will need[edit]

  • Cotton fabric, printed or solid-color.
  • Cotton or polyester thread.
    • White and black will go with most fabrics, though you could certainly buy colored thread to either blend in better or create artistic contrast.
  • Two 7-inch lengths of rope elastic (beading cord elastic will work) or 1/8” flat elastic
    • OR four lengths of 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch grosgrain ribbon to use as strap
    • OR four lengths of scrap fabric turned into straps. You'll need a loop turner or bias tape maker to do that.
  • Optional: A roll of floral wire to use as nose-pieces (4 inches at a time), and wire-cutters or tin snips to cut it (note: beware of sharp points!).
    • OR paper clips, but beware of rust.

Buying fabric[edit]

If you're buying new fabric, remember that people may have breathed or coughed on it, so you should be sure to wash any and all masks you make before using them, and wash your hands as soon as they're in the washing machine or before doing anything else.

You don't necessarily need to buy new fabric; if you have T-shirts or other light cotton garments that are clean but you don't mind losing, you can cut mask pieces out of them. Heavier cottons like denim may not be breathable, so stick to things T-shirt-like in weight and porosity.

  • Note that T-shirt fabric is knitted, rather than woven, so it may be harder to work with (eager to skew, roll, or slip). But it's doable, and you should work with what you've got rather than go without.

A fabric quarter (sometimes called a “fat quarter”) is one half of a half-yard of 44-inch quilting cotton (woven)—i.e., a rectangle 18 by 22 inches in size. It will make three adult masks and one set of straps, four child masks and one set of straps, or one mask (either size) and four sets of straps.

If buying by the yard:

  • You're looking for plain woven cotton, often sold for quilting, usually 43–45 inches in width. (Typically 44 inches between the selvedges.)
  • Avoid muslin (too thin/porous), denim or twill (too thick/dense), or canvas (too thick/dense, may be waterproofed). “Jersey knit” cotton is T-shirt fabric (see note above). Cotton-poly blend may work OK but most mask instructions recommend plain cotton (cotton takes high heat better than synthetics). Generally, if you see fabric sold as “cotton fabric” and it's about 44 inches wide, it should be the right material—woven quilting cotton fabric.
  • The unit count when buying by the yard is in yards of length (perpendicular to the fixed ~44-inch width). For this project, buy in increments of half a yard. This gives you enough fabric to make multiple masks (for practice or to share with fellow household members). Note that online stores may require you to buy in increments of 1 yard.

Here are a couple of diagrams of how many pieces (and batches of four straps, which is one mask's worth) can be cut from half a yard of 44-inch fabric (assuming orientation/framing doesn't matter). Note the dashed line in the middle of each diagram showing where a fabric quarter would end.

  • For adult masks, Deaconess Health pattern: Masks, adult, per half-yard of fabric.png
  • For child masks, Deaconess Health pattern: Masks, child, per half-yard of fabric.png

Cutting the pieces[edit]

The fabric[edit]

You can cut pieces from a clean T-shirt, or buy new cotton woven fabric (or draw on an existing fabric hoard if you've got one).

For an adult mask, use one 9-by-12-inch piece, folded over to 9-by-6, or two 9-by-6 pieces.

For a child mask, use one 7.5-by-10-inch piece, folded over to 7.5-by-5, or two 7.5-by-5 pieces.

For straps (if not using elastic or ribbon), cut four strips of one inch by at least 16 inches. Give yourself an extra inch of length if using a bias tape maker.

If you're working with a printed fabric, think about how the cut will frame the pattern (e.g., for licensed characters or other designs with a right way up). The mask is horizontal (9-inch or 7.5-inch is the longer side), and you should cut straight across the fabric or along the fabric (with the grain).

Two separate pieces of fabric is easier to work with when you're installing straps rather than elastic; it's also a way to use up fabric that isn't big enough for a one-piece mask (e.g., if you're making masks from a fabric quarter, which is 18-by-22, you can cut two 9-by-12 pieces and two 9-by-6 pieces, leaving an 18-by-4 remainder).

If you're using elastic[edit]

Cut two 7-inch lengths of elastic. If you're using beading cord, tie a knot at each end. If you're using flat elastic, don't do that.

If you're making masks for young children, they should get priority on the elastic, particularly if they're not yet familiar with shoelaces. Adults may have an easier time tying straps or ribbons behind their head than children.

If you're using straps[edit]

Method A: Cut four 16-inch lengths of ribbon.

Method B (requires a loop turner or [a straw and skewer](https://theseamanmom.com/how-to-turn-a-fabric-tube-inside-out/)): Cut four 1-by-16 pieces of fabric, then fold each one over to half an inch, sew it down, and use a loop turner to turn the tube inside out. You've just made four 16" spaghetti straps.

Method C (requires a bias tape maker): Cut four 1-by-18 (note the extra length!) pieces of fabric, then feed each one into a 12mm/half-inch bias tape maker. Following the tape maker's instructions, iron the tape flat as it comes out. (May be slightly tricky with grainwise rather than bias cuts.) Fold each tape over again, and sew it flat. (A bias tape foot will help here, if you have one.) You've just made four 16" quarter-inch straps.


Phase 1: Main body[edit]

Elastic variant[edit]

  1. Put right sides of cotton fabric together.
  2. Starting an inch or so from the center of the bottom edge, sew to the first corner, then stop with the needle down. Lift the foot, turn the fabric 90 degrees, and drop the foot. You should be in position to continue sewing down the next edge.
  3. Insert one end of the elastic into the corner, with the end sticking out from between the pieces of fabric. The elastic between the ends should be on the inside, between the right sides of the fabric. Sew over the end of the elastic; a few stitches forward and back will hold it.
  4. Sew almost to the next corner, stop, and bring the other end of the same elastic to the corner. Make sure there is no twist in it. Sew a few stitches forward and back over it, then do another 90° turn.
  5. Now sew across the top of the mask to the next corner. Put in the end of the other elastic, with the end sticking out. Another 90° turn, then sew back and forth over the elastic.
  6. Sew down almost to the next corner, and sew in the other end of the same elastic. Again, make sure the elastic is inside the mask and that there is no twist.
  7. Last turn, then sew across the bottom leaving about 1.5” to 2” open. Stop, cut the thread.
  8. Turn the mask inside out. You should have a rectangular mask with two elastic ear-pieces, one sticking out of each side.

Strap variant[edit]

  1. Put right sides of cotton fabric together.
  2. Place each strap into a corner with the end sticking out, and the rest of the strap on the inside, between the right sides of the fabric. Do a straight stitch over it to secure it in place.
  3. Put right sides of cotton fabric together.
    • Each strap should be angled toward the top/bottom of the mask, but not cross it since you don't want to fasten it into that edge—it should only protrude from the left and right edge.
  4. Starting an inch or so from the center of the bottom edge, sew to the first corner, then stop with the needle down. Lift the foot, turn the fabric 90 degrees, and drop the foot. You should be in position to continue sewing down the next edge.
  5. Sew to the next corner, stop, and then do another 90° turn.
  6. Now sew across the top of the mask to the next corner. Another 90° turn.
  7. Sew down to the next corner. One more turn.
  8. Sew across the bottom leaving about 1.5” to 2” open. Stop, cut the thread.
  9. Turn the mask inside out. You should have a rectangular mask with two elastic ear-pieces, one sticking out of each side.

Phase 2: Installing the pleats[edit]

This design is pleated so that the middle of the mask can expand like an accordion (necessary because the distance from nose to chin is greater than the distance from cheek to mandible—pleats are how this is achieved in a rectangular mask).

At every step, make sure the edges of the mask are aligned—if the mask begins to slant, start removing pins until you can fix it.

You'll need at least eight pins. Three more pins or clips in the middle are highly recommended.

  1. About half an inch from the top of the mask (somewhere below, but near, the elastics), fold the mask over. Make sure the edges are aligned, then pin this fold at each end and optionally in the middle, about 3/8-inch away from the fold's crease.
    • Each pin should point from the middle toward the edge of the mask.
  2. Fold the mask back the other way where the pins are.
  3. Fold the fabric again at 3/8-inch, directly beneath the previous fold, and again pin the fold 3/8-inch from its crease (i.e., at the base of the fold).
  4. Do the previous two steps one more time.
  5. Flatten all three folds in the same direction toward the bottom of the mask. Use two pins, pointing in opposite directions, at each end of the mask to hold the three folds down.
  6. Sew over all three pleats at each end twice.
  7. Sew an additional, final seam around the edge of the mask.

Phase 3: (OPTIONAL) Installing the nose-piece[edit]

A nose-piece helps keep the top of the mask somewhat flush with the face on either side of the nose, rather than having two big gaps there. It should be made of stiff wire that can be bent by hand, while holding its shape otherwise, and shaped in such a way that there's no danger of it getting free while the mask is being worn.

Floral wire variant[edit]

Floral wire is flexible but stiff wire that comes on a roll, used for building the skeleton of a floral arrangement. Here, a short length of floral wire becomes the nose-piece of the mask.

Illustration of the steps required.

The best floral wire is ~2-mm aluminum. Daiso might have it; Dollar Tree used to sell it but has replaced it with a much thinner wire, but some stores may still have old stock.

The way to make a nose-piece out of floral wire is to form it into an “S” shape like an unfolded paper clip, and sew it down with five bar tacks, in order from the middle of the wire to the ends.

If you don't know what a “bar tack” is: It's a zigzag stitch with length 0 and some amount of width. For example, shirt buttons are installed with one or two bar tacks over the holes in the button.

  1. First, find the exact center of the long edge of the mask. Measure this with a ruler, then put a pin or clip at that center point.
  2. Place the nose-piece about half an inch down from the top of the mask, on whichever side will be the outside. Ensure the middle of the wire is in the exact middle of the mask.
  3. Sew your first bar tack over the middle of the wire. You can now remove the pin or clip.
  4. Sew the next two bar tacks at the ends of the nose-piece (the end curves of the wire).
  5. Sew the last two bar tacks just shy of the ends of the wire.

The wearer of the mask should fold the paper clip to about 90°, then adjust it further once they put on the mask for the first time.

Paper-clip variant[edit]

A single normal paper clip can be turned into a simple nose-piece.

BE WARNED: Paper clips rust! It's critically important that any masks built using a paper-clip nose-piece get immediately dried after washing or otherwise getting wet, and are monitored for signs of rust. Coated paper clips may help (but note that the ends are still exposed), along with providing color options.


  • Fancy paper clips in whimsical designs such as animal shapes may not be effective here. You want normal, bog-standard paper clips.
  • Daiso's “easy to use” paper clips with the rectangular edge are even better. The installation process is the same.
  1. Take your paper clip and spread it apart. Spread it flat, so you have a metal “S” shape.
  2. Place the paper clip so that the middle of the paper clip is in the exact center point that you measured, and the clip is about half an inch below the edge of the mask.
  3. Do a bar tack with a width of 2.5 mm over the middle of the paper clip.
  4. Next, move to one of the end points of the paper clip's “S” shape and sew a straight stitch with length 2.5 mm over both parts of the clip.
  5. Do the same thing for the other end point.
  6. Lastly, do a bar tack with width 2.5 mm over each end curve of the clip.

The wearer of the mask should fold the paper clip to about 90°, then adjust it further once they put on the mask for the first time.

Phase 4: Final inspection[edit]

Look at both sides of the mask, but especially the face side, and trim any loose threads with thread snips, scissors (the smaller the better), wire-cutters, or any similar small cutting tool. You do not want any loose threads tickling the face and tempting the wearer to touch their mask.

After assembly[edit]

Laundry/care instructions[edit]

Masks made of 100% cotton (no polyester ribbons, cotton-poly blends, etc.) should be machine-washable on the medium setting. Check the care instructions on your fabric and other components; some prints (e.g., metallic), cotton-poly blends, and some elastics may advise washing on cold.

Put your masks in a small, fine mesh bra bag/lingerie bag before throwing them in either a washer or dryer. This will help ensure any elastics or nose-pieces don't get caught on the machine's drain holes.

If you're pressed for time, you can hand-wash masks in a bucket with a small amount of laundry detergent with water that's warm to the touch, then rinse them clean in the sink.

You can machine-dry masks in a small, fine-mesh bra bag on the medium setting.


Launder your masks after you finish making them, especially if you buy new supplies during the pandemic, and especially if you're giving them to others (e.g., neighbors or donating to health care providers that accept them). Don't let homemade masks become a vector.


Before putting a new mask on for the first time, pinch the nose-piece down to about 90°. After you put it on and (if the mask has straps) tie it fast, press the nose-piece snug against your nose.

Do not mess with the mask at all while you're wearing it. Regard the outer surface in particular as a touch hazard; if you do have to touch it for any reason, including taking it off and putting it back on, wash your hands immediately afterward.

Masks with straps[edit]

Tie each pair of straps together into a knot—the top two straps into one knot, the bottom two into the other knot.

Keep your head upright and facing forward. Resist the urge to bend your head down.

A simple shoelace knot/Ian Knot works well. Pull your half-hitch tight, then do an Ian Knot on top to secure it.

To take off your strap-based mask, pull a loose end out of each knot, just as you would with shoelaces.


Some health care facilities accept donations of homemade masks when commercial PPE is scarce. Maintaining a list of such facilities is outside the scope of this article; if you can't find a current list, check the websites of your local hospitals, clinics, etc. If you can't find such a statement online, you might call them and ask whether they accept donations of homemade face masks, but be ready and willing to take no for an answer.

Note that some health care facilities, such as Kaiser Permanente, only accept masks made from a particular design that they provide, which may be a different design than the one documented here.

Other options:

  • Yourself (you could even have a small variety of masks)
  • Neighbors
  • Family members and close friends

Consider including mask distribution in other forms of mutual aid, such as grocery shopping on folks' behalf.

Also, remember that not everyone can safely wear a non-N95 mask (they may need the real stuff), or any mask (they may need completely unobstructed respiration). Be sensitive to people's needs; ask whether they need a mask and accept refusal gracefully.