How to Sew a Face Mask (Using a Sewing Machine): Part 1 of 2

Health officials recommend individuals cover their mouths and noses with cloth face masks any time you go out in public to prevent the transmission of the novel coronavirus. Due to the rapid increase of COVID-19 patients, the public frantically and quickly loaded up on supplies such as, toilet paper, surgical gloves, surgical masks, and N-95 respirators. Hospital workers including doctors, nurses, and cleaning staff work on the front lines of the novel coronavirus. They risk their own health for the safety of others. Due to the shortages that healthcare workers are facing, some hospitals have asked the public to create their own face masks and donate any N-95 respirators you may have. Still, other hospitals are accepting homemade masks as donations, due to the extreme lack of supplies and funding.

Please avoid going out in public. However, if it is essential (for example: you have to pick up your parent’s medications), then remember to wear a mask and maintain a six-foot social distance from other individuals.

I began this project to provide my family and friends with FREE homemade masks with replaceable filters, as long as they pay for shipping. I am planning on making more masks after that to donate to local hospitals in cities with the highest number of COVID-19 cases. I pray that together we can make it through these hard times.

In case you cannot sew or craft and would still like to help, consider donating money through Google‘s platform to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund through the United Nations Foundation. Google will give $2 for every $1 donated, up to $5 million. 

My biggest hope is that the following instructions will teach and encourage others to sew extra masks to donate to their local communities, hospitals, and other individuals in need.

Materials You Will Need:

  • Fabric(s) — preferably two different colors
  • Thread
  • Pins (optional)
  • Pipe cleaners (nose bridge)
  • Elastic 1/8″ wide
  • Replaceable filters (optional)

Tools You Will Need:

  • Sewing machine
  • Ruler
  • Fabric scissors
  • Seam ripper
  • Craft cutting mat (optional)
  • Rotary cutter (optional)
  • Iron

Step 1: Measuring & Cutting Your Fabric

First, you will need to measure and cut the fabrics you will be using for your face mask. For this demo, I’ve chose light purple as my “inward” facing color. This fabric is the one your mouth will be against. For my “outward” facing color, I’ve chosen dark purple.

Your “inward” fabric (light purple) will be approximately 11″ long x 6″ wide. Your “outward facing” fabric (dark purple) will be approximately 11″ long x 10″ wide. Once you’ve measured these pieces of fabric, cut them out using fabric scissors (or other sharp scissors). Alternatively, if you have a rotary cutter and craft cutting mat, it is easier and faster to cut your pieces of fabric this way.

Using a ruler and a pen or pencil, draw a rectangle approx. 7″ long x 4″ wide in the middle of your “inward” fabric, on the side that is considered the inside of the fabric. The “inside” of the fabric is the slightly lighter side or the side with no decorations or patterns. This rectangle should be equidistant from the other sides as shown in the photo below.

Once you’ve cut your fabrics to the right size, figure out which side of your “outward” facing (dark purple) fabric is the outside and which side is the inside. The outside is typically the slightly darker or bolder side (if you’re using solid tones). Place your bigger fabric (dark purple) with the inside facing down and the outside facing up.

Next, align your fabrics on top of one another, as shown in the photo below.

(The next part is optional). In order to keep your fabrics together and to avoid the risk of sewing them onto each other unevenly, you can add pins along the inside length of the drawn rectangle (as shown below).

(This step is only for those using pins) Once the pieces are pinned together, gently pick up only the top fabric (light purple) and pull it downward so that the unpinned side of the light purple fabric meets the unpinned side of the dark purple fabric. Pin the two fabrics together, once again, along the inside portion of the drawn rectangle as shown in the photo below.

**Make sure you are only pinning two layers of fabric. You will have excess fabric underneath (dark purple) and in between the two locations you’ve pinned.** The photo below is what the back of these pinned fabrics will look like.

Step 2: Ready to Start Sewing

Now that you’ve prepared your fabric, you’re ready to start sewing! Make sure you’ve prepped both your thread color and your bobbin color to match your fabric. In this demo, I will be using black thread since it will be easier to see where and what I am sewing.

First, you will be sewing along the lengths of your drawn rectangle. Start sewing roughly an inch prior to your drawn line. Also, make sure to sweep the excess fabric (underneath) away from you. When you lower your presser foot, there should only be two layers of fabric ready to be sewn together (as shown in the photo below).

The photo above shows the correct positioning of the drawn rectangle side of your fabrics. The photo below shows the excess fabric hasn’t been accidentally stuffed or caught in with the fabric that is now under the presser foot.

Once you’ve sewn both sides to each other and removed your pins (if you used any), your fabrics should look like the ones below, on the top left side (with some extra thread possibly hanging off). The top right photo has the extra threads cut off. The bottom left photo shows the outward side up with the extraneous threads trimmed. Once you’re done trimming off any extra threads, prepare to use your fabric scissors or rotary cutter.

Cut horizontally on the outside of the drawn rectangle. Cut as close to the thread as you can, without cutting through any portion of the drawn rectangle sides. See this in the photo on the bottom right.

Once you are done trimming the horizontal edges, you can (but don’t have to) cut or even out the vertical (shorter) edges. You should now have something like the fabric shown below.

Step 3: Ironing & Folding

Turn your fabric “sleeve” inside out. Fold over the crease where the light colored fabric meets the dark colored fabric. First, run along this line and crease it with your fingers. Next, iron over this portion as carefully and evenly as possible.

After that, iron the entire portion of the “inward” (light purple) fabric. Repeat with the other horizontal edge of the fabric. Afterwards, carefully iron the dark purple fabric, without making creases anywhere else. Your fabric should look like the photo below.

Now flip over your fabric so the “inward” light purple side is facing down. Pick which horizontal line appears straighter or looks better to you, as the top of your mask.

Next, you will fold three “flaps” to form the “outward” portion of the mask. You can start at the top or the bottom. I find starting at the bottom is slightly easier. However, this is probably the hardest step in creating this face mask. Grab about a 1 cm flap of (dark purple) fabric and position it roughly one inch above the bottom of the mask. Iron this flap.

With the remaining fabric (dark purple), you have to make two more flaps, similar to your first flap. The edges of the flaps should be parallel with the top and bottom of the mask. You might need to play with the fabric a bit until you get it to the right length and it appears parallel with the other flaps. See photo below.

Fold it with your fingers first. You can easily refold it if you’ve made a mistake, like if your flaps aren’t even or if your lines aren’t parallel. **If you iron too soon it gets increasingly more difficult to fix afterwards.** If needed, use a ruler to help you. Once you’re satisfied with your flaps, iron over the entire “outward” portion of the mask (dark purple).

Step 4: Sewing Down the Flaps

Once you’re finished ironing your mask, bring it back over to your desk. Place the “outward” dark purple side down and the “inward” light purple side facing you. As centered as possible, use a ruler to measure 7 inches on the top and bottom. Mark lightly with a pen or pencil. See photo below.

Make sure the top of your face mask is on the top and the bottom of your mask is on the bottom (or closest to the edge of the table). Use your ruler to measure one cm gap between the top marked line and your gap. It doesn’t matter if it is the left or right side, as long as it’s the top of the face mask. Mark this with a dot or line.

Here, on the right side of the fabric (or whichever side you put your gap, you will start sewing on that marked spot down to the very bottom marked spot on the other side of the fabric (along the width). Your finished line should have a gap at the top like the one shown in the bottom right photo.

On the side you haven’t sewn, sew from your top mark to your bottom mark. See photos below.

Step 5: Sewing the Sides

Next you will sew alongside the borders of each horizontal side of the face mask. Start sewing about half a centimeter or so past the vertical stitched line. You should be sewing about one millimeter from both edges.

Step 6: Creating the Nose Bridge

Sew a horizontal line that is parallel with the top of the face mask and roughly one cm away from the top border line. This second line should also be about one centimeter apart in distance from each of the vertical side lines.

Measure and cut a pipe cleaner to approx 4.5″-5″ long. This pipe cleaner will be your “nose bridge.”

Carefully insert the nose bridge through the one cm gap located on either the left or right side of your mask. Keep pushing the pipe cleaner through until it is centered and in between your one cm parallel lines at the top of your face mask. Once you’ve done that, close the one cm gap on the left or right vertical side by sewing over it. Then sew perpendicular to the parallel lines at the top of the mask, thereby, creating a rectangle box around the nose bridge.

Step 7: Adding the Ear Straps

Grab the elastic you will be using for the ear straps. Measure approx 11-12″ long for each of the two pieces of elastic. **Remember if it’s too long you can always tighten your mask later. However, if your elastic is too short, it could be too small and too tight on your face. When in doubt, it’s better to cut a longer piece of elastic.**

Sew on the elastic to each of the vertical lines. You can sew to the right of the lines or on the lines. Center out the straps so there is an equal amount of elastic on the top and on the bottom of the mask.

Next, using fabric scissors, cut off the tips of the corners of your mask. ** Do NOT cut all the way down to the elastic. **

Next, fold this outside portion in half (as shown in the picture below). Sometimes it helps to fold 1-2 millimeters past where I have folded in my demo. Iron over this fold a couple times.

After ironing this fold, you will fold it inward once more. If you’d like you can iron over it again but not crucial.

You will sew vertically along these folds or “sushi roll” you just created. It should look like the photo below.

Repeat by cutting the tips of the corners on the left side of the mask and folding the fabrics over twice and ironing.

After you iron, repeat sewing over this side as well. Once you have finished that, you can tie together your elastics at a length that is best suited for your face.

There you have it! Your mask is complete.

(Unless of course, you would like to add a removable filter for your mask. In that case, stay tuned for part 2!)

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Ivi Kim is a content writer, marketer, and legal writer. Ivi graduated with a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and a Master of Business Administration from Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Ivi writes thought provoking content that organically increase SEO scores and helps companies facilitate the development of their online presence. She blends her logical and creative understanding of the world to compose works that go beyond reaching an audience. She hopes to create a community that becomes a catalyst for changing America's broken healthcare system and the increasing underemployment/unemployment crisis facing millennials.