Introduction: How to Sew Face Masks at Home for Healthcare Workers (by Harriet&Ginger)

This is a pattern for a fabric face mask that you can sew from home. If you are able to follow this pattern and sew this mask - please sew and donate as many as you can to healthcare workers. Thank you!

As someone who has had some form of breast cancer for the past decade, I am no stranger to the everyday, often quiet heroics of medical professionals. My doctors have literally saved my life more than once; my nurses have guided me through crisis after crisis. I stand among many patients who have experienced the selflessness and relentless dedication of healthcare workers.

We are generally accustomed to medical professionals helping us. But with COVID-19 depleting resources and burdening our healthcare system to an unprecedented degree, medical professionals now need our help.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers have continued their work despite their own risk of infection - a risk that skyrockets without proper PPE (personal protective equipment).

I am filled with admiration and respect and gratitude for the selflessness and bravery of these men and women - and I am also terrified for their safety, and for what this risky recipe could mean for all of us.

Because far too many medical facilities are dangerously low on PPE (personal protective equipment), healthcare workers are being exposed to the deadly virus at an alarmingly high rate. Yet we all depend on those working in healthcare to get us through this crisis. (You can also help by signing this petition for more PPE for healthcare workers).

We can do better. We can do better for all the women and men risking their own health to help another. If there aren’t enough N95’s to protect our healthcare workers, then we need to do the best we can to provide them with the best face masks possible. And because the supply of surgical masks has also failed to keep up with need, we must now sew the best homemade masks possible. A homemade face mask cannot compare to an N95, but it’s better than no protection at all.

If you can follow and execute a sewing pattern, you can help.

Please help protect our healthcare workers by sewing these face masks and donating them to medical facilities that are in need (and that are accepting homemade masks). This is also a meaningful way to demonstrate your support and gratitude to those working tirelessly to keep us all safe.

While no homemade mask is as good as an N95 mask (including this one - I, of course, make no claims that this mask matches nor outperforms an N95), a homemade mask is better than no mask. In designing this pattern, I did my best to incorporate elements of an N95 mask that I was able to replicate using materials from home and/or that were easily accessible. In addition to protection, I tried to keep in mind other important face mask elements, like breathability; how practical the design would be in a clinical setting; comfort; size adjustability; and laundering/re-using the mask.

This face mask pattern includes a bendable wire across the nose bridge, it can be laundered (please remove any filters before washing), it has two layers of 100% cotton that create a pocket for a filter, and its adjustable bungee straps can be comfortably secured behind the ears or behind the head/neck.

Instead of wearing this mask with a filter inside, another option is to wear it with a surgical mask in the pocket between the two layers of fabric. Due to the PPE shortage, currently some medical professionals must re-use surgical masks. If any mask is re-used, ideally it would be cleaned between shifts - but cleaning a surgical mask is a challenge. However, wearing a surgical mask inside this fabric mask means that between shifts, a healthcare worker can take out the surgical mask, wash and dry the fabric mask, put the surgical mask back into the fabric pocket, and return to work with a mask that has clean outer and inner layers plus the filtration capacity of a surgical mask. Re-using a surgical mask this way both extends its life and improves overall cleanliness.

PLEASE NOTE that this is NOT an N95 mask, nor do I make any claims or guarantees about this face mask’s efficacy. I cannot and do not guarantee the efficacy of this mask’s ability to protect the user from COVID-19. I do not make any claims that this pattern is superior to all others, and there are of course similarities to other patterns. I am not a medical professional nor an expert in design. By making this pattern and accompanying instructions public, I hope to encourage more people to sew and donate face masks to healthcare workers. However, this means that I cannot make any guarantees regarding the quality or construction of the masks made with this pattern.

For more info on the efficacy and breathability of homemade face masks, please go here.


Important notes:

  • Remind your mask recipient(s) to wash their mask before wearing it, or leave it out in the sun for 72 hours (research suggests the COVID-19 virus is non-viable - so it can’t infect you anymore - after 72 hrs. That said, we are learning something new about this virus all the time.
  • Make a sample using your chosen materials so that you can try it on and assess for fit, comfort, ease of taking on/off. DO NOT try on any of the masks that you donate. Your sample mask is yours to try out, and yours alone.
  • Secure ALL stitching - straight and zig-zag - by going forward a few stitches in the beginning, backward, then forward as usual.

What you need:

  • 2 pieces 100% cotton, each 7”x7” - A, the outer fabric
  • 2 pieces 100% cotton, each 5”x7” - B, the inner fabric
  • 2 pieces of 22” bungee cord. Pictured here is ⅛ in bungee cord.
    • Instead of bungee, you can use flat elastic or ribbon - something that comfortably secures the mask either around the head/neck or behind each ear. Be creative. If you use bungee - you can either leave the ends raw, or you can *carefully* burn each cut end to prevent fraying.
  • One piece of 4” (3mm width used here) padded (foam or rubber) all weather garden wire - light duty is sufficient.
    • Other Nose Bridge Wire Options: Whatever you choose to use for your nose bridge wire, sew it into your sample mask and try it on, so that you know if it is bendable enough, comfortable, if it stays in place, and what advice (if any) is necessary to give to the recipient. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different materials. Be creative! Whatever you use should hopefully be able to to withstand being washed & dried.

Step 1: Cutting Out Your Fabric

Print and cut out A (outer layer of mask) and B (inner layer of mask)

Fold A fabric pattern in, and cut out two A’s. Keep the two fabric A’s aligned, pin together.

Fold B fabric pattern in, and cut out two B’s. Keep the two fabric B’s aligned, pin together.

Step 2: Sewing Your Two B’s Into One BB

Put your A’s aside for now.

Working with your B’s:

The two B’s should be aligned and pinned together - pattern in.

Straight stitch the two B’s together along the center curve, pattern in. From here I’ll refer to the two sewn together B’s as “BB.” Move pins so that you can easily work with the “outer ear lines”.

Move one B out of the way so that you can easily hem the other B along the “outer ear line”.

To hem this edge, fold the “outer ear line” over about 1/4 inch (the fold should be “wrong sides together”). Pin and straight stitch the seam - being careful not to sew the two B’s together.

Hem the other “outer ear line” in the exact same way.
Unpin all other edges and open the hemmed “outer ear line” edges away from each other - BB forms the inner lining of the mask. Set aside.

Step 3: Turning Your A’s Into AA & Making the Elastic Casing

Return to your A’s.

Straight stitch the two A’s together along the center curved edge, pattern in

Fold both AA and BB alone the center curved edge, as pictured.

Place your hemmed BB on top of your AA, aligning the center curved edges, top nose bridge edge, and bottom jaw line edge

Moving the bottom A layer out of the way, take the elastic casing edge of the top A layer and fold it over, wrong sides in, so that the raw elastic casing edge of the top A aligns with the raw outer ear line edge of B. Put a pin in the center of the A fold (make sure you don’t pin through both A pieces - only the one that you are working with)

Remove BB and put to the side.

Step 4: Hemming the Top and Bottom of the Elastic Casing

Fold over the top and bottom of the pinned elastic casing about ¼ of an inch (enough just to get rid of the raw edge, as pictured). Pin both folds.

Use the pinned elastic casing that you just created to measure and pin another elastic casing on the other side.

With AA opened up, straight stitch down each elastic casing about 1/8 in from the raw edge. This line should extend all the way up to the top of the nose bridge line edge, and down to the jaw line edge, which will secure the top and bottom folds you made in the elastic casings.

There should now be a channel down either side of AA that is wide enough to thread the bungee straps (but don’t do this yet).

Step 5: Align and Pin AA (outer Lining) + BB (inner Lining)

Starting at the center of the nose bridge, align AA with BB, pattern in, and pin the two nose bridge lines together.

While pinning, push the two center curve seams together. As you do, the two pieces of fabric will form a dome that peaks in the middle of the center curve seams.

Note that the AA left and right “elastic casing” edges are longer than BB “outer ear line” edges - this is intentional.

Now work on the bottom jaw line edges. Starting at the center curve seams, align and pin the two jaw line edges together.

You’ll also see that a small piece of the 4 corners of BB extend beyond the perimeter of AA (please see the picture for reference).

Don’t worry if the top and/or bottom edges don’t line up exactly (if misaligned by ¼ inch or so, that’s fine. If more than 1/4 inch, you might want to backtrack and see what went wrong). The mask doesn’t need to be 100% perfect, particularly aesthetically - it needs to be functional, comfortable, and effective - and healthcare workers need masks quickly. Please don’t sacrifice the quality of your mask construction too much for speed, but it’s better to produce imperfect looking masks quickly than flawless masks slowly in this situation.

Step 6: Sew the Top and Bottom Lines Together

Straight stitch AA and BB together where you pinned them together - along the top nose bridge line and the bottom jaw line. Be careful not to sew the elastic casing closed on the far left and far right, but make sure that both seams extend at least to the end of BB. Please see pics for guidance here.

Follow the curves of the pattern as you sew, leaving about 1/8-1/4 inch room between your stitching and the edge of the fabric.

Step 7: Sewing in the Nose Bridge Wire

Turn your machine to a wide zig-zag - #3 on my machine, pictured here.

Keep the mask inside out, with the AA side facing up.

Align your 4 inch piece of padded wire with the top nose bridge line, just below your seam line. Align the center of the wire with the center curve seam.

SLOWLY zig-zag stitch over the length of the wire, securing your stitching by going forward and backward a few stitches at the beginning and end of the wire. Ideally, your zig-zag stitch is wide enough so that your needle lands on either side of the wire as you move along its length.

Go very slowly so that you don’t break your needle. If your needle hits the wire inside the padding, especially if sewing at a higher speed, your needle can break. PLEASE GO VERY SLOWLY to avoid this! If you feel resistance as the needle lowers, or you notice that you’ve gone a bit off track and can see that your needle might hit the wire or padding, stop, lift the foot, and manually shift the fabric/wire so that it is in the correct orientation with the needle (move the fabric/wire so that the needle once again strikes each side of the wire padding when zig-zagging).

Step 8: Turn the Mask Right Side Out, And.....

Ta Da! You have completed the body of your face mask.

Tip: You can use either opening, on the left or the right, to invert the material. Either way, do this carefully and while paying close attention to the wire.

Step 9: Adding the Straps

Thread one of your 22 inch pieces of bungee through each of the elastic channels.

Tie the two bottom ends of the bungees together USING THE KNOT PICTURED HERE. If you tie a square knot, even if double knotted, it can come untied spontaneously. Tie the bottom ends together so that the knot sits securely about an inch from the ends of the bungee (no more than 2 inches). The mask recipient will not need to untie/re-tie this knot - he or she can leave it alone.

The recipient can put their head through the bottom bungee loop, so that the bottom knot sits behind the neck, place the mask onto their face, press down on the nose bridge wire so that it creates a good seal over their nose and cheeks, pull on the two top bungee pieces until the mask is secure but comfortable, and tie the two top bungees together around the back of the head using the SAME KNOT as was used to tie the bottom bungee ends together.

When completed, I recommend loosely tying the top bungees together - loose enough for the recipient to easily untie - just to keep your masks neat and organized until donated.

The mask should be regularly sanitized.


Step 10: Filter and Pictures!

A filter can be inserted in the pocket between the two fabric layers. Please remember to adhere to all instructions on how often a filter should be replaced, removing filters before washing the mask, etc.

Step 11: Sew, Donate, Repeat! THANK YOU!

If you are able to make these - PLEASE sew and donate as many as you can! Our healthcare workers desperately need help. And, if by some miracle all medical facilities get adequately supplied with face masks and other PPE soon - please keep sewing, because we have to make sure that all essential employees and everyone in the community is protected as well.

As someone who is immuno-compromised due to a decade of cancer; the spouse of an immuno-compromised organ transplant recipient (truth. we are quite the medical power couple); the friend of a number of selfless, caring, & amazing nurses who continue to go to work everyday despite not having sufficient protection against COVID-19 (many are also mothers to young children, including 2 of my godchildren); the patient of so many incredible doctors who have literally saved my life more than once over the years, yet now face their own mortality due to an equipment shortage; and the lucky patient and friend of a team of oncology nurses who have been by my side professionally and personally for years - the fact that you are taking the time to make these masks for healthcare workers means the world to me. Thank you for helping to protect the people I love. Thank you for helping to protect the professionals who work so hard to give me more time to play with my nieces, to cuddle with my dog, to smell the sea air. Thank you for making this crisis a little bit less scary by protecting more healthcare workers - the ones who we need to get through this. Thank you for showing your support to those on the frontlines, and for showing all of us that no matter what else happens, there is so much good in this world. You are the good.

Thank you!