Introduction: Mask Modifications - Hacks + Changes

If you've been making masks, as so many of us have, you've likely seen numerous patterns and approaches to the challenge. Each one seems to have it's strengths, but they are all a little different.

After I had made the first batch of 22, I decided to branch out a bit with different patterns and make a few modifications of my own. I'm posting them here in the hope they may be useful to you, and inspire you to add your own modifications and improvements to the comments,

Most of the people making masks are creating surgical masks with elastic ear loops. I tried one of these, and it was incredibly uncomfortable to wear, and kept slipping off my ears. My spouse felt the same way. Plus I didn't have a lot of elastic. So I switched to making masks with ties.

There are tons of patterns out there, but so far there are two that I like best.

AB Nurses' Mask right here on Instructables is a very good pattern. It has one dart at the top for the nose, three pleats on the sides, and two pleats on the bottom. It fits well, and is comfortable.

The denim mask from Joann Fabrics is also a good design. It works well with heavier fabrics that would be difficult to pleat. (here's the video link:

I really like the way this mask ties. It's from the School of Nursing at U of Arizona. I have modified the patterns to use this method.

These are SIMPLE modifications.


Some of the things I have found useful for mask making:

- Really long shoelaces (50" ones are great)

- Inexpensive cord from the dollar store

- random bits of electrical wire that I tucked away in my art supplies

- covered paper clips

- wire cutters

- small pliers

- shock cord - this is typically used in making outdoor equipment

I have cleaned out half of a drawer of random bits of things I saved because i thought they might be useful. So it's not always about leading a minimalist life. ;-)

Step 1: Nose Wire

If you are in any of the Facebook mask sewing groups, you'll know that making a nose wire is a hot topic of discussion.

If you have coated electrical wire (from a renovation or an applicance you took down), this works well. I do not bend the ends, because it becomes too thick for the mask. It is coated, which provides a bit of cushioning. The downside is that it is very firm, and you have to take the mask off to adjust it. Copper does not rust, so it will wash well.

Coated large paperclips work better, because they are not quite as firm. The coating protects the wire and your nose, and these should not rust when the mask is washed. Folding them in half makes a wire that is a bit too stiff. Instead, I bend the wire in and squeeze it snug, so that the total length is about 4 inches.

There are two ways to put it into a mask, depending on the style you are using.

Method for masks that have seam binding on the top. When the mask is finished, open about 3 stitches on the inside of the seam binding, and insert the wire. Try to slip it behind the seam allowance for more cushioning. If it feels loose (mine rarely do) then you can make a short seam on either side to keep it in place. This approach is fast, it is neat, and you don't break needles on your machine.

Method for denim-style mask. I have tried two approaches. You can insert the wire inside the two layers, after you turn the right side out. You then bend the wire, and while holding it in place with clips (or fingers) you sew around it, creating a little pocket. I have found this tricky, because you need to bend the wire to make it fit, and it is a complex curve, which makes it hard to fit under the machine.

A better approach is to make a small sleeve of fabric with a scrap and slip the wire inside. seam both ends. now you have a piece of fabric you can easily sew on one side to the mask. (Sorry i do not have a picture. If you are an experienced sewer, you will be able to figure this out. Beginners would find this just frustrating without a pattern.) The denim mask does not really NEED a wire, however, because of the way it fits. And these masks would not be used in a high-risk situation, so minor gaps at the edge of the mask are not a big deal.

Step 2: Simplify the Ties on the Denim Mask

Instead of sewing four ties on to the mask, you can make two long ties, and also use them to bind the edges, greatly simplifying the construction of this mask.

You prepare your tie fabric in the usual way, as if you were making bias tape (except not on the bias.) When finished, it will be folded twice, with raw edges inside the tie, and a single seam through most of it.

To start, fold the unsewn fabric tie in half, and mark the halfway point. The halfway mark will go at the TOP of the mask. Then use the tie as seam binding with the edge of the mask. This is considerably simpler, faster, and to my eye neater, than the original approach.

(Sorry I don't have pics mid-step. If you know how to use seam binding, this will seem straightforward. I will add pics later if I make more.)

Step 3: Simpler Tie Method

Having four ties to wrangle is surprisingly annoying for some people. It seems like a small thing, but if we are going to get people to actually WEAR these masks, they need to be super easy to use.

That's why I loved the method created by the U of Arizona nurses, where there is a SINGLE tie that loops through the edges of the mask. You have one loop at the bottom that you slip over your head. You then pull the tails and tie the top. One tie. Much easier, and holds the mask as snugly as the two tie method.

Making a mask without the long fabric ties saves a ton of time and fabric. Instead of fabric ties, you can use inexpensive covered cord from a dollar store, or long shoelaces. (clean ones, obviously.)

Changes to make to the approach.

You need to modify the mask pattern to make a channel for the tie to go through.

For the denim mask: the patterns tell you to cut four pieces, two for the outside and two for the lining. When you cut the outside, extend the edge as shown in the picture approx 1.5 inches. (The PDF shows the modifications to the denim pattern.) Sew the mask at the top and bottom edges before turning right side out. You will now have a mask with a longer top piece than the lining piece. Turn and hem the top and bottom edges so there is no raw edge visible. Then fold over the extension and put a single seam down to make the channel for the cord. Loop your cord (40" works well) and secure the ends

Secure the ends: Knots are pretty easy to pull through this kind of channel. Instead, I've been using scraps of fabric to make a square that covers the end, and will make it harder to accidentally un-thread the mask tie. These are about 1 inch square, and I zig zag around the edges. I think they look kind of fun, and upscale the shoelace appearance considerably.

For the pleated mask: You will have used seam binding on the top and bottom edges. You need to cut two pieces of fabric approximately 3.5" high x 3" wide. Turn under 1/4" hem at top and bottom, leaving you with a 3 inch square. With right sides together, sew this piece to the edge of the mask, as if you were making a fat seam binding. Turn the fabric around, and finish the binding, leaving a channel about an inch wide. You don't need lining in this, because you want the fabric to gather easily. Insert your tie, and secure the ends.

Step 4: Forget the Ear Loops, But Still Use Elastic for Ease and Comfort

You can use any elastic for this, threading it the same way as for the shoelace method above. When you are done, the bottom will be a loop, and so will the top.

Since sewing elastic is hard to find these days, I tried some round profile, covered elastic I had on hand. This worked well.

Then - nirvana - I tried shock cord. It seems to be just the right size and strength for this application. It is stiff enough to thread easily, even without using a safety pin.

I had some spare cord-locks in my drawer of hoarding, and so I threaded one on before knotting the cord. It was really easy to adjust the size of this mask, which now sits by my door, ready for use every time I leave the house.

Step 5: Final Thoughts

What I did make, and am not happy with as yet, is a denim mask with fabric ties that Velcro together. I made it for my spouse, who has very fine curly hair that tangles easily in ties. Unfortunately, I ran into a few issues.

  • Measuring the ties and getting the Velcro in the right place was surprisingly challenging, and needed multiple try-ons. I'm still not sure they are right, in terms of angle.
  • The straps are thicker/wider, meaning they want to sit OVER the ear, instead of ABOVE it, not unlike a ski mask. Not as comfortable for day-to-day wear
  • The end product looks like something Hannibal Lecter would wear, and not sure it presents a very friendly face to the public.

We know that fabric masks are not truly protective against small particles. So I used fun fabric for a few of them, including a bag that originally held Jamaican Mountain Coffee, and another that originally held wild rice. These were popular masks among the males in my second family. Any losses in efficacy are more than offset by actually wearing the mask, in my view. Although if I made these again, I would double up on the lining to make it a bit denser.

I got a bunch of colorful, fat hair elastics, and am trying to figure out a combination with fabric ties and hair elastic that creates a stretchy fabric tie, at least until I find a supply of shock cord. No solution yet, still experimenting.

I would love to hear about modifications you have made that you are happy with. And if you have figured out something with Velcro or hair elastics that you like, please do post it in the comments, or in a new Instructable.

Stay safe, fellow makers!