Introduction: 15 Minute Face Masks for the Rest of Us

About: Vietnam era veteran (USAF), former air traffic controller, former entrepreneur, former clergy, former chauffeur. Currently retired and busier than ever. Devoted husband to an extremely talented wife and fathe…

First of all, I'm a crafter, not an expert - so don't even ask me about N95 or anything like that. As I write this Instructable on March 24th, 2020, we are in the midst of a worsening pandemic and in these times the saying applies that the perfect is the enemy of the good. If you can get a supply of N95 masks, use them. We can't, so we began researching masks we could make for ourselves and our family and this mask is the result of those efforts. It incorporates ideas from several designs we encountered along the way, improvements we devised ourselves, and winds up being a better, more serviceable design than ones that we found posted by hospitals that offered videos and instructions on how people could make masks for them and send them to the hospital to augment their dwindling supplies. So if this improves on the designs the hospitals are putting out there without compromising in any way I figure they ought to be good enough for us. The improvements over the other designs I found are:

There are three layers of filtration rather than two.

Cutting the fabric with pinking shears rather than straight scissors will increase their durability.

I've included a simple, easy way to adjust the fit.

You should be able to complete your first mask in about fifteen minutes. If you make a bunch of them you should be able to get it down to ten minutes or less per mask.


Materials for each mask (Figure 1):

Two pieces of cotton fabric, each 6 inches by 9 inches

One piece of cotton flannel, 6 inches by 7 inches

Two pieces of flat 1/4 inch wide elastic, each 7 inches long

Equipment you will need:

A sewing machine and thread




Straight pins

Optional - pinking shears

Step 1: Cut and Assemble the Fabric

Measure and cut two pieces of cotton fabric, each 6 inches by 9 inches. If you have pinking shears, use them for this step as they will make for a sturdier finished mask that will hold up better through repeated washings and will be easier to sew. If not, regular shears will do.

Also cut one piece of cotton flannel, 6 inches by 7 inches. Cut the flannel with regular shears rather than pinking shears. Stack the two pieces of cotton fabric together, then lay the piece of cotton flannel on top. It will be one inch shorter on each long end than the cotton fabric. This will make the mask easier to sew while still providing filtration in front of the nose and mouth where it counts. Cut two 7 inch pieces of 1/4 inch wide elastic for each mask.

Step 2: Sew the Fabric and Elastic Together

A. Beginning two inches in from a corner on one of the long sides, sew the three pieces together moving toward the corner and leaving a 1/4 inch seam (Figure 2).

B. Stop just before the corner and insert one of the pieces of the elastic between the two pieces of cotton fabric (not between the fabric and the flannel). The end of the elastic should meet the corner of the fabric at a 45 degree angle and the elastic itself should be sandwiched between the pieces of the fabric as shown in Figure 3. Stitch back and forth two or three times over the last half inch or so at every corner to reinforce the elastic connection.

C. Sew to the corner and turn your work, sewing up the first short side (Figure 4). Your stitch will secure the two pieces of fabric but not the flannel on this side. Again, stop short of the corner.

D. Reach in and bring the loose end of the first piece of the elastic into the corner so it is positioned just like the end you already secured (Figure 5).

E. Sew to the corner, turn your work and begin sewing the second long side. You will now have secured the first piece of elastic to the first short side of your mask.

F. Sew all the way along the second long side, leaving a 1/4 inch seam and catching the flannel as you proceed. Stop just short of the corner.

G. Repeat steps A through E above. Stop after sewing about two inches into the second long side so that there is a gap that is not sewn on this side (Figure 6). You now should have stitched all the way around the mask except for a gap of four or five inches along one side (Figure 7).

H. Trim each corner as shown in Figure 8. This will make it easier to sew once the mask is turned right side out.

I. Reach into the gap you have left - between the two pieces of cotton fabric - and turn the mask inside out, with a layer of cotton fabric on each outside face and the layer of flannel sandwiched in between (Figure 9). A long stick such as a chopstick will help you push each corner into place (Figure 10).

Step 3: Finish Sewing and Making Pleats

A, Fold the raw edges along the hole you left to turn the mask inside out and stitch the hole closed (Figure 11).

B. On both short edges, fold and pin two or three tucks into the edge as in Figure (12). We found that two tucks were sufficient. Make sure the tucks are folded in the same direction on both sides.

C. Sew a seam along the entire circumference of the mask at 1/8 inch from the edge - this will secure all pieces of fabric inside the mask and secure the pleats (Figure 13). Go around the entire mask a second time on this same seam. This will give you a total of three complete lines of stitching sround the entire edge of the mask (Figure 14).

Step 4: Knot the Elastic

As completed, this mask will comfortably fit an adult with a fairly large head. They fit me just fine, but Figure 15 shows that there is a considerable gap on the sides when my wife wears it. We came up with an easy way to adjust the mask so that it will fit snugly on most any adult:

Fold each elastic loop at the center and tie it into a fairly loose knot as in Figure 16. If the wearer has a larger head, this knot can be removed completely and the mask will fit well. A smaller adult can adjust and tighten the knot so that the mask fits snugly but comfortably on them. You can see in Figure 17 that with the knot in place the mask is now snug on my wife. It would be best, before washing, to remove the knots - then replace the knots after washing. Using this method, the mask should fit anyone from teens through adults. If you want to make masks for children we recommend experimenting with both smaller pieces of fabric and shorter pieces of elastic to properly fit the child you have in mind. You would probably want to use 1/8 inch elastic on a child's mask as well.

That's it. Does it meet N95 specifications? We doubt it. Is it better than nothing? You bet! You have a serviceable mask that should hold up well through many launderings and provide you with at least some degree of personal protection - and we think it is a significant improvement on many of the mask patterns we encountered out there. We find that despite the fact there are three layers of filtration it is not at all difficult to breathe through these masks.

The point here is to do everything we can to starve the virus because that's the only way we're going to defeat it. The government isn't going to do it for you; the only way to keep yourself from becoming a statistic is to remove yourself as much as you possibly can from the available pool of new carriers. That means keeping yourself out of contact with others as much as possible and wearing the best protection you can acquire or devise when contact is necessary. We sincerely hope this mask will help. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." Thank you for taking a look at our Instructable, and wash your hands!


Radical Geezer

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