Photo Tutorial: Sewing a Simple Face Mask

Face Masks are about to be all the rage, and there are all kinds of patterns out there. I’m an experienced seamstress with multiple awards for costuming and quilting, and *I* was having trouble decoding some of those patterns, even the simple ones. They were NOT written by pattern makers, that’s certain.  So when a number of lesser-experienced people were struggling with them, I knew it was time to help out.

Remember the first rule of masks: They will not keep you from getting sick. You need an electron microscope to see a virus; it’s going to go through just about anything, the way a fruit fly goes right through a screen. The purpose of the mask is to keep anything you might leak or spray from getting onto a surface where someone else can touch it, whether it’s flu, sinus infection, or COVID. But the less things we come in contact with, the healthier we’ll all stay right now, especially since many people might have the virus and not know it.

So here’s my photo tutorial on how to make a simple mask, which will increase your chances of not spreading germs to others and possibly keep you from touching your face and bringing other people’s germs to yourself. This is the pattern from The New York Times.

1) You need some cloth – tightly woven COTTON cloth. Not stretch leggings, not Tshirts.  Think a good pillowcase with a 300-thread count (anything above 220 is great).  Batiks are recommended because they have that tight thread count, and are still breathable.

Cotton holds up to high dryer heat, and is bleachable if needed. Polyester won’t. Your fabric must be 9 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches. For a large man, you might need it a little bigger. I tried it an inch smaller in both directions, but it was still too big for my 3 year old.

2) You need a second piece of fabric for the inside. You can use a piece of the same fabric, but this side is going to be against your face, so you might want something soft. You can use flannel – another pillowcase, or an old shirt – or even a piece of kitchen towel.  Same size as the previous piece.

Now, some people are lining these with an extra piece of flannel, or even a piece of vacuum cleaner bag (they are made to filter dust and pollen). If you choose to use them (they come through the wash just fine, just stiffer), cut the piece to the same size.

3) You are going to need 4 ties made of cotton. Why not nylon? Because they shred and rip out. You can use shoelaces, or cotton twill tape, or I used bits of bias tape and seam binding I had lying around. If you don’t have those, you can cut an 18″ strip of fabric, 1″ wide, fold it in half, and sew it closed to make a strap. You will need 4 ties, 18″ long (but 16″ will work if you’re running short).

4) Put your inside/softer fabric on top of it. Put the side you want against your face toward the table, so it’s touching the first fabric. The ugly side should be looking at you. Get your edges even together.

5) Sew the pieces together on one long side, near the edge. If you don’t have a machine, it will take longer, but the steps are the same.

6) It should look like this. I call this seam the top for reference.

7) Open it up. This should be the front you want to see, and the side you want against your face. You shouldn’t see the seam stitching.

8) Take one of your ties and line it up ALMOST touching the top where the fabric is stitched. If you’re using seam binding, or care about it, you want the “nice” or “pretty” side to be face-up. Line it up with the edge of the fabric. I think it’s easier if it goes just a smidge over so you can see it when it’s closed again

9) At the bottom, leave a pinky’s width of space between the tie and the bottom edge of the fabric.

10)  Close the fabric, make a sandwich, smooth it even. If you like, you can pin the ends of the straps in place.

11)  Stitch that side closed, trapping the ends of the ties.

12)  Peel your fabric back on the unsewn side. Place the remaining straps the same way. Pile all the loose ends in a ball in the middle of the fabric so they don’t get in the way of stitching. You don’t want to have to rip it all out to free them, do you?

13)  Stitch side two closed.

14) You should have one open long end. Stitch it partway down.  Stop stitching about a hands-width from the end. You need this part open.

15) Turn your mask inside out now through the hole, so all the ties are free. Poke the corners into shape and flatten it out.

16) Your mask should look like a deflated turtle, flat, rectangular, and with long legs coming out of the corners.

17) But you still have this hole.

18) Fold the raw edges to the inside of the hole until the side is even. Flatten with your fingers, and pin it to hold it. Or just pull it tight and mash it with your fingers until it stays.

19)  Top stitch the hole closed, making sure the folded edges are even with the rest of the side.  Keep stitching  right around the entire thing about 1/8 of an inch from the edge – ie, very close to the edge. This holds the mask’s shape.

20) You should now have a mini-apron with four strings, sewn all around the outside so it stays flat.

21) Pinch the side of your apron, a little less than halfway down.

22) Fold this into a pleat. Squish it so it goes all the way across.

23) Pinch it again from the bottom, so you have two folds, and it makes about three equal rows. Squash it with your hands to make it stay that way, or pin it.

24) Stitch the pleats in place, about a pinky’s width from the edge.

25) Stitch it a second time between the first stitch and the edge.

26) Do the same for the other side.

27) Trim all the loose threads hanging off the corners.

28) Iron those pleats to really set them in and make them crisp.

29) Flap it open. You should have a nice little chin pocket now.

30) You can tie the straps individually or together. I find this one stays best if you hook at least one over your ears. It should fit snugly – if it’s gapping too much, it doesn’t fit well.

These masks are machine washable and dryable, even if you sew an extra liner in them.  Just remember – when you take them off, consider them contaminated. Place them in a plastic bag if you’re getting in your car, and put them straight into the wash when you get home, or leave them in the bag until you get to a laundromat.  You can always spray them with Lysol while they’re in the bag.
Stay Safe! Stay apart!

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