Introduction: Hand Sewn Fitted Mask

Like many people that are on lock-down because of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, I needed a mask. I actually had a five pack of N95 masks, but I donated them to my local hospital. Of course, trying to order anything online had incredibly long wait times. I needed to make it myself if I wanted anything soon.

There are many DIY masks out there on the internet, and I read thru many of them to get an idea of how they worked. Because I am not a skilled sewer, I struggled with many of the tutorials, as they skipped over parts that were obvious to them.

So, I wanted to provide an Instructable that had more pictures of the various steps. And, this would also show how someone could sew the entire mask by hand.

This is the third mask that I have made, and the second one that required sewing. Each one has been better than the previous, but there are plenty of room for improvement.

But enough of that...onward with the mask making!


  1. Paper For Pattern
    Used paper is fine
  2. Thin Cardboard
    Cereal box cardboard is ideal
  3. Pen Or Pencil
  4. Tape Measure Or Ruler
  5. Scissors
  6. Sewing Needle
  7. Thread
  8. Cotton Cloth
  9. 1/4 Inch Elastic
    Here is the Amazon link for what I ordered.
  10. Wire
    I used 4 1/2 inches of 12 gauge solid copper wire that I had from some electrical work. A smaller sized wire might work better (e.g. 14 gauge).
  11. Ball Point Pins
    Not required but helps reduce the frustration level.
    I also used extra sewing needles to hold the cloth in place, but it is harder to work with.
  12. Time...lots and lots of time. :-)

Step 1: Preparation

I had most of the materials on hand, but there may be some delay to gather them together.

I did have to order the elastic. It took a while to find something that did not have a giant markup, or had much more material than I would ever use. It is possible to use a long shoe string and tie the mask, but elastic is much more comfortable.

Step 2: Pattern

There are so many patterns out there! I settled on winko's pattern. I used the Mask 2 Regular Size pattern, but you may want to choose something different for fit.

If you have a printer, it is straight forward to print out the pattern. But, it is also easy to trace the pattern by bringing up the image on the screen, putting a piece of paper on your monitor, and *gently* tracing the pattern out. I did use a pen, but I was careful to test for bleed-thru *before* putting it up on my monitor. Pencil would be best, but you do need to keep the force as low as reasonable. Also, be sure that the zoom level when you are viewing the pattern on your monitor is at 100%. The pattern has a reference length that you can cross check with your ruler to ensure that the size is correct.

Make sure that you do *not* use any kind of felt tip marker when using the tracing method! It could easily bleed thru the paper and discolor your monitor.

After tracing the paper pattern, use the scissors to make the template. Next, trace the paper template on the cardboard. Cut the cardboard to create the template we will use for cutting the cloth.

Step 3: Cloth Cutting

Do some searching on the best material to use for the mask. I chose a 100% Cotton material from an old dress shirt that had been sitting in my closet for years. Holding it up to a bright light showed that it was fairly opaque.

Now, it is time to use the cardboard template to mark the cloth.

Take some time to plan out your usage. Depending on the type, you will want to organize things so that you minimize waste. You are going to want to make multiple masks, so plan ahead.

In a previous mask design, I tried using some of the existing hems on the shirt for one part of the mask. It did reduce the need to manually hem that area, but it ended up being harder to sew as there were already multiple layers. So, I would stick to *not* trying to use existing hems.

When cutting, open the scissors as wide as possible, and smoothly cut along the marked location. "Chopping" the scissors leads to a more ragged edge. Smooth and steady is the way to go.

Step 4: Sewing Front Face

Because I was sewing by hand, I deviated from many of the other instructions out there and sewed all 4 pieces together at once. By doing this, the inner raw hem is against my mouth/face. The end feel was not annoying to me.

However, there are other reasons that make this design sub-optimal...especially when sewing by hand. Because there is only one sew line in the all important front seam, any gaps allow air to slip thru more easily. I am not an expert sewer, so my stitches were quite uneven. But, I did go over the seam twice, and the end result does keep the air in.

NOTE: The "normal" design involves only stitching 2 layers together at a time, then sewing those two layers together, and finally inverting the mask so that the raw end of the seam is hidden. This is something that I may do in a future update.

I cut a piece of cardboard to 1/4 inch, and used that to trace the guideline for the main seam. I marked around all of the areas, and used Ball Point Pins to hold the cloth in place. Before I ordered the Ball Point Pins, I used extra sewing pins to hold the works but is awkward.

It is very important to *only* sew all 4 layers together on the front curved seam. All of the other sections make a seam that only has 2 layers.

I am not going to describe how to hand sew. There are many good YouTube videos out there, and I suck at it: I would just encourage patterns that you would need to unlearn. :-)

Step 5: Sewing Side Hems & Nose Wire Installation

Sew 1/4 inch hems all around. This takes a while, but the area is more regular than the curved front piece. In the area where the 3 seams meet, do extra stitching up the front seam and the two other seams on the side.

While not strictly necessary, having a wire around the nose area provides for a much better fit. In other mask designs, the lack of a wire support causes my glasses to fog up, as the fit is not close enough to keep the hot exhale air contained. Since this design is more fitted, it will probably work better even if you don't use wire. But, I have not tried it without.

I used 4 1/2 inches of 12 gauge solid copper wire that I had from some electrical work. A smaller sized wire might work better (e.g. 14 gauge). I think copper is a good choice as it will not rust when it goes thru the washer. But, you have many options for wire. In any case, make sure that the ends are not sharp as you do not want it to cut against the fabric and stitches from the inside. For smaller gauge wire, you can bend the ends back on themselves to provide a rounded termination.

Place the copper wire next to nose seam, fold over cloth, and sew in place. Be sure to stitch all around the wire. Do not allow an opening for wire to slip out in the wash.

Finally, fold the side flaps in and sew. The side folds provide a place for the elastic to slide through, so make sure to allow enough room for the 1/4 inch elastic to fit. Make sure to leave the upper and lower sides of the slots open for the elastic.

Step 6: Elastic Installation and Fitting

Find a thin rigid object, and fold it over the elastic. Feed the elastic up one side slot and down the other. This will allow you to have one solid loop for securing the mask to your face.

Try on the mask with the top of the elastic loop fitting over the back of your head. The bottom part of the elastic loop (with the end of the strip) should go around your neck. Take the slack out until the elastic is snugly pulling the mask to your face. You should feel tension from the elastic. If the elastic is not under tension in this position, then the mask will slip down your face. On the other hand, don't make the elastic so tight that it is uncomfortable against your neck and head.

Hold the elastic end at the desired tension at the back of your neck. While still holding the end against the elastic band, take off the mask. Allow for around an inch of overlap from the location you have noted when fitting the mask under tension. Cut the elastic band at that point.

Straighten out any twists in the elastic so it forms a solid circle. This will allow the elastic to smoothly slide along the side slots.

Sew ends of elastic together on the overlap region. This will provide a smooth slide for the elastic however you adjust it.

NOTE: Some people tie elastic to allow future adjustments, but I prefer to sew it in place. If there is a problem with the fit, you can always remove the stitches and sew it tighter.

Step 7: Celebrate! (And Reflect...)

Note the advantage of letting the elastic slide free: when taking off the mask, the free sliding allows elastic that would normally go over your head freedom to provide a bigger loop. This gives more room to remove the mask without the elastic binding.

When first putting on this mask, I could tell that it was much better than my previous attempts. As I breathed in and out, the cloth flapped in sync. The seal was bad enough on my previous masks that much of the air went out the side. But, not this one.

If I walk quickly with the mask on, I start to feel out of breath. This is demonstrating that I am getting good filtering action, but the air restriction is uncomfortable. Other masks have exhaust valves to overcome this restriction, but one of the points of the mask is to filter *my* air from potentially infecting others with SARS-CoV-2.

However, if I am stationary or just walking normally, there is not enough restriction to cause much discomfort. It is difficult to project my voice when speaking to others, but this is a nature of the device.

For my next attempt, I would like to find a way to increase the surface area of the mask filter. This will reduce the restriction. Hopefully to the point where I will be able to walk quickly with the mask on and still be able to get sufficient oxygen. Some mask designs have a pocket to provide a better filter. But, I cannot imagine using this with the current design: the restriction would be even higher.

But, enough reflection. Congratulations! It is done!

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