There are a seemingly endless amount of ways to make cloth face masks during the COVID-19 crisis. Google or YouTube will pull up many hits. Why add my voice? I live in a limited resource setting, and figured since I have actually worn masks as a nurse, I could create a blog which may help others in my region or with limited resources elsewhere.
Initially, I was very opposed to the idea of the public wearing masks or making them for healthcare workers, but strange times, global shortages of PPE (personal protective equipment) and the CDC’s latest recommendation that the general public wear cloth masks in case they are asymptomatic carriers of the SARS-COV-2 virus have caused me to re-evaluate my stance. These cloth masks can be used by healthcare workers facing shortages to extend the life of medical grade PPE by covering it with a cloth mask. Additionally, if the general public uses cloth, then we can keep the real PPE for the front-line healthcare workers, the immuno-compromised and possibly those who are sick. For those of us from the asymptomatic public, we can use these to protect others from us spreading germs unknowingly.
Therefore, given my propensity to dive into research for projects to find the best possible solutions, I figured I would try to find the best materials given my resources. I learned that 100% cotton masks and ties are best for healthcare facilities to place into an autoclave for sterilization. The material needs to be very tightly woven and of good quality, so I have chosen shweshwe (german print cotton) or extremely high thread count (400 TC or greater) cotton sheets.
I have a version of this mask with a pipe cleaner in the nose area to bend to the shape of your face to give it a better seal, but it is unknown whether these pipe cleaners will rust over time, so if you are giving to a healthcare facility check with them to see what they suggest. Elastic will not stand up to sterilization nor is it comfortable to wear for long hours. If you are making for personal use, feel free to substitute elastic, but if you’re planning to give to someone who needs to wear it for hours, then it is better to make with cotton ties.
Disclaimer: This mask is not meant to be a substitute to an N95 or other surgical/medical mask. It is meant to help preserve masks in this time of shortage and should not be substituted for an N95. I recommend use of this mask for personal asymptomatic use, over a medical mask to extend the life of the mask, or for those who are ill without access to medical grade who need to prevent the spread of infection.
Equipment & Materials:
ruler or measuring tape
iron & ironing board
100% cotton fabric (e.g. shweshwe / quilters cotton)
pipe cleaner*optional for molding around the nose
Filter material – paper towel, dried out wet wipe, coffee filter, etc.
1. Prewash all fabric and dry. Iron.
2. Wash your hands thoroughly and cut mask fabric according to the following sizes:
Large (Men/larger face) – 10” x 16” (25cm x 40cm)
Medium (Average adult)– 9” x 14” (23cm x 35.5cm)
Small (child 8+) – 8” x 14” (20cm x 35.5cm)
X-small (small child) – 7”x14” (18cm x 35.5cm)
3. Cut mask ties according to the following:
(2) strips 15 “x 31” (5.5 cm x 80cm) – Quantity of 2 of these!
4. Iron the fabric ties according to the following:
With the wrong side facing up, press 1/4” fold on each end of the tie. Then fold the ties in half lengthwise, right side out (wrong sides together) and press to create a crease.
For each tie, fold long sides in so raw edges meet at the crease in the center. Refold on crease & press.
Stitch along the open edges of the tie, along the length and both folded ends.
Fold the finished ends together and cut into two pieces. You’ve now made two ties. Repeat for other tie and you should have 4 ties when this step is complete. (See notes at bottom for using knit ties for more efficient mask making!)
5. Iron the face mask fabric according to the following:
Fold right sides together and create a crease so that you have a rectangle that is
L – 10” x 8”
M – 9 x 7”
S – 8 x 7”
XS – 7 x7”
Now fold raw edges back exposing the right side of the fabric 3/8” and again (x2) and press to create a “tunnel”. Do this on each side.
6. Sew each tunnel using a ¼” seam allowance. *Insert a pipe cleaner in one of the tunnels. Fold the sharp edge of the cleaner x2 to round off the edges so no sharp end pokes through. Sew an additional topstitch or zigzag in place if your tunnel is too wide to keep the pipe cleaner in place. * (Optional)
L: 9” cleaner
M: 8” cleaner
S: 7” cleaner
XS: 6” cleaner
7. Keeping the right sides of the mask fabric together, sandwich ties in between fabric and pin into each corner.
8. Sew with a 3/8” seam allowance down the sides of the mask, backstitching over each tie to reinforce. Do not sew the tunnel sides as this will create a pocket opening to insert filters.
9. Now turn the mask right side out and press the mask with the iron.
10. Lay the mask so the ties are at the sides, the top pocket opening of the mask will be at the top and the pipe cleaner tunnel should be facing up.
11. Pin 3 pleats all folding in the same direction starting at the top of the mask (near pipe cleaner tunnel) and folding the fabric down into a pleat. My pleats usually end of using about 1.5” of fabric ending in a ½” pleat. Nestle the pleats next to each other so there aren’t overlapping bulks of fabric. Press the pleats in place (don’t iron over your pins).
12. Stitch the pleats in place TWICE (to reinforce) using a 3/8” seam allowance. Edgestitch the bottom of the mask.
13. Press the mask again and it is finished. Before donating: Wash and dry mask on high heat. Press after wash.
Bonus Tip: I learned from Made Everyday is that you can use a knit fabric in place of the cotton ties/bias tape. Take a pair of worn leggings with stretch and cut them into 1″ wide strips into the desired tie length. Tug on the fabric and it will “roll in” on itself. You don’t need to sew these knit strips closed like the bias tape because this fabric won’t unravel in the wash.
Mask Wearing Rules:
• When you get to your car or final destination (home), take the mask off. Don’t touch the front of the mask. Untie it from your neck first, and pull the mask up and over your head. Put into a mesh laundry bag, pillowcase, etc until you have more to wash, then wash on hot, dry on hot and press afterwards.
• When you get home, WASH your hands for 20 seconds.
• Disinfect your car by wiping down the things you touched, your steering wheel, keys, phone, credit card, doorknob to the house when you came in.