Introduction: Elastic-Free Fabric Face Mask

If you're a sewist living in the US right now, you've probably realized that elastic - particularly the 1/4" size used to make fabric masks - is in short supply. Thus, my boyfriend and I have devised a method to make fabric face masks without using elastic. All you need is fleece, fabric, and a sewing machine!

Note that this tutorial assumes you have basic sewing knowledge, such as how to wind a bobbin and how to pin fabric. The most difficult sewing technique used in this tutorial is buttonhole making using the machine's buttonhole foot (and that was even possible for me, as a beginner sewist!). If you've never made a buttonhole before, I'd suggest you practice on scrap fabric before trying it out on the mask.

Now let's begin!


- Two 8x9-inch squares of the fabric of your choice (I used 100% cotton in this tutorial, but denser fabric makes it harder for germs to get through. Hold fabric up to the light to see how dense it is!)

- Two fleece strips at least long enough to go from behind your ears to the nape of your neck; 24 inches of fleece was enough for me with room to spare. Cut them so they're wide at one end and narrow at the other, as seen in the picture. I've found that a cheap fleece blanket from Walmart, once cut, will give me enough of these strips to make dozens of masks.

- Sewing machine, pins, scissors, and thread

- Seam ripper (optional)

Step 1: Put the Fabric Together

Start by putting the fabric pieces together with the front, brighter side of both pieces facing in. Place them on your sewing machine with the needle about halfway down the longer edge (see red arrow).

You will be starting your mask by sewing along the bottom edge, so if your fabric has an up-down orientation (like characters standing only one way), make sure the top is on the other edge.

Step 2: Sew Across and Down

Sew a straight stitch (you can see the values I used for the length and width in the second picture) across the bottom edge and down the right side, ending fairly close to the top edge (in the picture, the stitching is just outside the purple line). Anchor your needle in the fabric so it stays put as you switch directions. When you're done, anchor again and grab a fleece strip!

Step 3: Fold Fabric Back and Attach First Fleece Strip

With the needle still anchored in the fabric, fold the fabric back, take your fleece strip, and tuck the wide end up next to the needle, folding its long tail in half enough times (I did twice) that it fits snugly inside the little half-pocket of fabric that you've created. Then, sew over it, sewing back over it a few times so the fleece is attached firmly.

Step 4: Sew Across and Attach Second Fleece Strip

Sew most of the way across (see purple line) until you're a little further away from the opposite edge than your remaining fleece strip is at its wider end. Then, add your fleece strip in similarly to the way you did the first one, except you don't have to fold it this time - just let it hang out the opposite side, which should still be partially open (depending how far across you started stitching). I backwards stitch over this one a few times as well so it's attached solidly.

Step 5: Sew Down and Trim

Sew down the final open edge, making sure to tuck your fleece strip back and away from the machine so it doesn't get sewn over. If need be, you can fold it up and stick it in the mostly-completed pocket. Make sure to only sew to about an inch or so shy of the end of the edge and NOT around the corner.

In the second picture, you start sewing at the purple line on the long edge and end sewing at the purple line on the short edge (closest to the scissors), leaving a small gap for your second fleece strip to poke through.

Trim any fleece that is sticking out from the end on the opposite side, leaving the fleece's edge roughly in line with the fabric's.

Step 6: Turn Inside Out and Grab Your Buttonhole Foot

Turn your mask completely inside out, using the gap you left as a starting point. (I often grab the fleece strip tucked inside to help it go faster.)

Then, take your buttonhole foot attachment (second picture) and put it on your machine. I used the lower end of the recommended settings (between 3 and 4 wide and close to .25 long) on the sewing machine for the buttonhole. I have an automatic buttonhole foot on my sewing machine, which allows you to determine the size of the buttonhole by an actual button. Since I'm putting fleece strips through mine, not buttons, I just set it fairly large. There is no magic size here as long as your fleece fits through it!

If you don't have an automatic buttonhole foot and don't know how to make a buttonhole on your particular machine, check out the user manual or search on YouTube.

Step 7: Sew and Cut Your Buttonholes

Starting fairly close to the edge of the mask on the opposite side from where the fleece ties start, sew your buttonholes onto your fabric, one on each side (mine were a bit crooked here). Make sure the buttonhole tab (upper left) is pulled down, or the machine won't complete the buttonhole and instead will stall halfway through.

When you sew the buttonhole onto the side with the gap, make sure you leave enough room for the fabric to get tucked in as you sew on the pleats, but don't leave it tucked in or you'll have extra fabric to cut through. If you're more experienced and this isn't a big deal to you, it might be useful to have the fabric pinned down by the buttonhole.

Cut your buttonholes open, being careful not to cut past the stitched bounds of the buttonhole. I used a seam ripper to poke a hole and extremely thin embroidery scissors to make the cut because I had both of them lying around from other projects. If those tools aren't handy, regular scissors will do just as well.

Step 8: Pin the Pleats

Fold your fabric over in two places to create pleats and pin them in place, ensuring that the head of the pin is on the side you want to be the front. I generally have the pleats facing down in the front, but many people who use these masks see them as reversible. Just know that on one side the fold will be pointing down and on the other it will be facing up. If you have a preferred front (in my case, the cherry blossom fabric), pin from that side.

Step 9: Fold Your Gap Over and In

Since you don't want the fabric to fray, make sure the edge of the fabric where it's still open is folded in before you sew. I pinned it here to show you how to fold it, but generally when I sew I find this particular pin gets in the way more than it helps, so I just fold it in and hold it down with the foot.

Step 10: Sew Around the Edge Twice

Do this carefully, being sure to keep the pleat folds intact on one side while you're sewing the other. I typically remove the pins after the first go-around so there's less risk of them getting hit by the machine.

You can sew from either side of the fabric, but I prefer the front because the pins are easier to remove while sewing. I always start at the beginning of the gap so it gets sewn first and I don't have to worry as much about keeping it folded.

You could probably only go around once and be fine, but I've always done twice because I think it looks nicer.

Step 11: Finished!

Slip the fleece ties through the buttonholes and you're done! Each fleece tie goes around your ear, through the buttonhole, and down to the nape of your neck, where they're tied together.

Wear it when you go out in public, but be sure to wash thoroughly between uses, and remember that these masks are not medical grade, so take every additional precaution you can. Scrub those hands for a good solid 20 seconds! ;)

Modification Idea:

If you don't want the fan shape around the edge by your face, you can probably make the short edge narrower and more tapered - I haven't tried that myself, but I don't see why it wouldn't work.

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