Introduction: Empathetic Designing: Custom Face Mask

It is April 2020 and the entire world is being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. People are staying at home as well as practicing social distancing in order to either prevent themselves from contracting the virus or to avoid getting anyone else infected. In order to help reduce the transfer of this virus our governor of our state has issued an order that a type of face mask needs to be worn while in public areas. This need for face masks and the limited supply available for purchase has caused people to find creative solutions by making their own style of dust masks.

As a designer, I felt obligated to design a solution that would help to keep my family and the general public safe from the possible spread of the Coronavirus. In addition, I wanted to be sure to do my part as a citizen of the state of Hawaii to support the efforts of the government to promote the health and safety of all members of our community.

This project, although simple in design, is meant to provide in a small way the means for all people to protect their family while showing support for the health and well being of their community.



- An old cotton t-shirt, handkerchief, or other leftover cotton material

- Thread

- Ribbon, string, elastic, or a strip of material to be used as the string


- Sewing Machine

- Scissors

- Paper

- Pencil

- Blue Painters Tape

Step 1: Empathetic Research

Every good design starts with the understanding of the needs and feelings of the client. In other words, the designer must have the ability to empathize with the client. In general, empathy is the ability for someone to understand the cognitive, emotional, and/or compassionate needs of another.

Cognitive empathy seeks allow one to look at a situation from another's point of view and seek to understand their perspective. Emotional empathy seeks to allow one to understand the feeling that another is going through. Lastly, compassionate empathy allow one to be driven to take action on behalf of another.

Before starting this project, I looked closely at the needs of my family due to this Coronavirus pandemic. My wife and I would need to protect ourselves while going to the grocery store and venturing outdoors. In addition, purchasing face masks were getting costly which tapped into our finances. Our family needed the masks now but to order and deliver the items to our house was going to take weeks . Lastly, my family has enough raw materials at home to make our own masks which saves us from going to the stores, saves money, and provides me the ability to create a mask that is custom fit to my wife.

Therefore, after assessing the needs of my family, taking an inventory of our supplies on hand and determining the timeline we expected to meet with for completion, it made sense to make our own masks.

... And to share this project for everyone and their loved ones.

Step 2: Critical Measurements

We will be using blue painter's tape to map out the critical measurements of the mask on half of our face. Run a vertical strip of tape starting near your nose at the highest point of the mask and ending under your chin where the lowest point of your mask will be. Second, attach a horizontal piece of tape starting from your lip just under your nose and extend the tape toward your ear stopping at the point of your choosing. Please keep in mind that this tape will need to end well short of your ear as we will be adding elastic, string, or ribbon to loop around your ear. Stopping the tape around your sideburn would be about perfect.

Step 3: Creating the Paper Pattern

Attach your blue painter's tape to a piece of paper in the same configuration that it was on your face. At this point we will be filling in the shape of the mask. Draw a 3 inch vertical line starting from the top of the tape near the ear going downward. This will be the allowance for the attachment of the elastic band. From here you can just go ahead and add curves to your mask pattern until you achieve the shape that you like.

Lastly, you will need to cut this pattern out and try it against your face. Please be prepared for multiple iterations of this stage. You may need to trim a bit here and there or add a little more here and there. It's all good. When you think you have it, cut two patterns, tape them together, and try it on your face. Do you like it? If you do then we can move on to the next step.

Step 4: Adding a 5/8 Inch Seam

Take your half paper pattern and attach it to a new piece of paper by doubling up some painter's tape and placing it under the patterns. Next you will trace your existing pattern onto the paper. Following that you will need to draw an outline of your pattern offset at 5/8" from the original pattern. This will allow enough material for you to sew the parts together.

Step 5: Pin and Cut (4) Pieces

Pin your pattern to your material and cut the pieces out. You will need (4) pieces. Please feel free to experiment with different combinations of fabric. You may opt to make a colorful combination of fabrics. Be as creative as you would like to be.

Note: By folding your material in half and then pinning the pattern to it you can speed up your production of the cut pieces.

Step 6: Line Up the Pieces and Sew

At this point, you will want to stack two pieces of your cut parts. Sew along the round edge first. You will need two sets of these.

Next, open up the pieces which you just sewed, place two sets of the attached fabric pieces next to each and sew the top and bottom edges together. The neat face of the mask should be facing each other. Be sure not to sew the two ends near the ears.

At this point, you may want to iron your mask to make it easier to complete the final steps. Ironing is optional.

Step 7: Turn the Mask Inside Out

Turn the mask inside out so that the clean face is now on the outside.

Fold the end of the mask near the ear in 1/4 inch and stitch closed. Next, fold over 3/4 inch and stitch near the previous stitch. This will create a pocket that will allow you to slide your rope or string through. Repeat this for the opposite side of the mask.

Step 8: Attach Your Elastic, Ribbon or String

Slide a length of elastic, ribbon, or string through the pocket on the edge near the ear of the mask. Do this on both sides using a length of material longer then what you think you need.

Place the mask on your face, put the string material around your ears. Adjust this material until the mask fits comfortably. Cut the ends allowing for at least a 1/2 inch overlap. Stitch the ends together on the overlap. Slide the string material through the pocket until the stitch is hidden in the pocket. Do this to both sides.

Step 9: Step 9: Give a Big Hug to Your Loved Ones

Congratulations!! Now you can give your custom face mask to your loved ones and let them know how great they are. Stay safe and Healthy everyone.

First Time Author Contest

Participated in the
First Time Author Contest