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Sewing tutorial on a face mask from fabric plus a free pattern PDF

Recently I published another tutorial for a similar face mask (V1)  and I got lots of comments that it was really helpful but a few people said that they want to simplify it a little.  I have a third version of the face mask, slightly easier to sew, here: How to sew a face mask using my free printable face mask template. You decide which is better and more convenient for you.

In this sewing tutorial I want to present another version of a face mask from fabric.

This one here is a relatively simpler design and it’s probably easier to sew. Also in my opinion this covers the face, nose and chin quite well and at the same time allows for easy breathing. The mask is made from 100% organic cotton batting inside, outside is a layer of 100% decorator silk. It has a metallic nose insert and elastic loops.  The first design used fusible interfacing for the face mask, the second design uses fusible interfacing but also a middle layer of cotton batting is added as filter. The batting is quite dense but not very thick, only about 1mm. Because I was concerned about possible issues I did wear the mask at home for some time and I did not have any breathing problems.

I used fusible interfacing in the project, at the time I made the masks I did not know of any study that shows it to be unacceptable for such use (and I still don’t). I was concerned myself that it may cause allergies and I did mention that. However later a number of readers have drawn my attention to the fact that the glue in the fusible interfacing may introduce chemicals that a non-fusible interfacing does not have, therefore it might be better to use non-fusible interfacing for the third filtering layer. A non-fusible interfacing will probably be as effective as the one I used but without the glue an extra chemical would be eliminated so yes, it makes sense. I know, after the fact we all reach 20/20 vision, right?

I used cotton batting because I remember when I was a little kid and N95 masks were not even invented yet, let alone available to the general public, my grandmother used on me a home made mask made out of two layers of cheesecloth with a thick layer of cotton wadding in between. I guess you can say it was not CDC, but grandmother approved? Funny thing is, I do not really remember WHY my grandmother made me wear a mask!

I have designed this mask (and the other one, described in the mentioned article)  to wear when gardening or doing yard work but with this new virus I thought I would present it on my sewing site for wider use. 

The PDF pattern is offered free to all subscribers to my newsletter (details below). For convenience, a printable version of this article which also contains the pattern can be found in my Etsy shop and also in my site shop. Remember, as a subscriber to my newsletter, you can download the pattern for free.

Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means I will receive a commission if you order a product through one of my links. I only recommend products I believe in and use myself. 

Have in mind, this mask is not a surgical mask, nor is it a medical mask but still it might help to prevent infection by viruses and bacteria, which are transmitted from a sick person to a healthy person by airborne droplets. And DIY fabric masks may be the only option available at a time when everyone wants one. However not being designed for medical purposes, its usefulness might be limited and is not proven; you should not rely only on wearing such a mask, or any mask for that matter, to protect yourself and the ones around you, it is important to follow all recommended steps (see below).

You should know you can get only a limited protection from these fabric masks, but perhaps something is better than nothing, right?

You should understand that the use of a face mask is not the only method of prevention, and numerous studies have confirmed that the most effective protection against diseases transmitted by airborne droplets is possible only if all necessary measures are observed

The following are the directions given by the CDC for prevention; here is a link to CDC site. The summary is below:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick; keep your children at home if they are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

CDC has acknowledged (Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of Facemasks) the possible usefulness of home made masks when nothing else is available (nothing certified to use for medical purposes) but has also mentioned that home made masks or other makeshift methods of protection are not tested nor guaranteed.

Along with these methods, the use of a face mask for several hours, especially if you need to visit crowded places, helps to reduce the risk of infection in some degree. 

You can also use a fabric face mask in paintwork and other repair work, landscape, gardening, spraying, working with chemicals at home, etc. 

How to use a fabric face mask

Like any personal protective equipment and device, a face mask must be applied according to certain rules. Compliance with them will help to increase efficiency.

A protective mask should be worn for a maximum of 2 hours, after which it is saturated with moist exhaled air and probably instead of filtering some microorganisms will create instead a favorable environment for the multiplication of bacteria and viruses. 

Some people have noted that bacteria and viruses are unlikely to reproduce on fabric. On clean fabric it is very likely neither viruses nor bacteria would reproduce WELL; I would not bet they would not reproduce at all, unless the fabric was sterilized. But a mask is not clean. It has skin cells just rubbed from your face, fat cells coming from your skin or nose, stuff from your own nose, spit (you speak, right?) and other organic matter which may very well contain living cells (perhaps you bit your tongue? blood cells there); you have it in you, it will get on the mask. Not counting pollen and other pollutants that are coming from the outside. Common sense tells me that you add water and body temperature and this is a good medium for microorganisms, given time. My unprofessional opinion.

However, if the mask becomes wet from coughing, sneezing, or breathing, it should be replaced immediately. 

After use, it should be removed and washed with detergent and then ironed with a hot iron, or soaked in a special antiseptic solution. After changing the mask, hands should be thoroughly washed with soap or treated with an alcohol-based antiseptic gel.

It’s recommended to wear face masks indoors, in places with a large crowd of people, when you are in a room with a sick person. CDC guidance for wearing a mask can be found at this link.

Also, you can’t eat, drink or smoke moving the mask to the side: this will reduce all attempts to defend yourself to nothing and since you will use your hands to handle the mask, the simple act of moving it will negate its purpose.

What rules to apply when making a fabric face mask at home

But fabric masks (if done properly) have also some additional benefits. As a rule, medical three-layer disposable masks are sold in the same size, which may not always be good, given that the size of the head is different for everyone, and the mask should fit snugly to the face to increase its effectiveness. But if you sew the fabric mask yourself you can always make it the size you need. 

The effectiveness of the mask is higher, the closer it fits to the face. If the mask doesn’t fit tightly to the face contaminated air (not only with microorganisms, but also dust and other small particles) gets inside when inhaling, bypassing the filter material.

So the main requirement to the fabric mask is to fit as close as possible to the face. If you make the mask and see that there is a large free volume of air between the inner surface of the mask and the face which quickly becomes warm and moist you should remake it because this is an ideal environment for the reproduction of bacteria and viruses. From a remedy, it will turn into a potential health hazard.

It should also be hypoallergenic, if you suffer from allergic reactions to various chemicals and materials. It will touch your face, one of the most sensitive areas of your body.

The mask must satisfy reliable filtration of the inhaled and exhaled air. It should not allow microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi) to pass through and at the same time not to impede breathing, because sometimes you have to wear a mask for a long time. Certainly we will not reach medical standards, but by using dense materials and multiple layers we can try to do our best.

For kids you can make a fun mask from cotton fabric with animal prints or cartoon characters and turn the process of putting it on into a fun game which is often the key to success. Yes kids do not seem to be affected by the current epidemic to the same degree as adults, but taking precautions is always, always a good idea.

Another advantage of having a DIY fabric face mask? You can use it after the current emergency is over, when swiping the yard, or terrace for example, after the winter – nobody wants to inhale all that dust!

Why would you need to MAKE one, when by now you can probably buy one relatively cheap? For a number of reasons.

  1. Not all masks sold over the counter fit well. This custom made mask (and the others I created) are fitted.
  2. Not all masks have an inner layer of non-woven fabric as a filter. This one does.
  3. Not all masks are looking good; I would rather venture to say that most are quite ugly. This mask you can make from the fabric of your choice, and using techniques described in my DIY kids mask article, you can embellish it as you wish.

By now overwhelming evidence shows us that masks are one of (if not THE) most effective protection measure against spreading the Covid-19 virus. And others, too. The US Centre for Disease Control says: “CDC recommends all people 2 years of age and older wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” (read the full article here COVID-19: Considerations for Wearing Masks).

The Canadian federal health officials also have issued similar guidelines, moreover, in the latest developments a 3 layer mask is recommended (two dense cloth layers and one non-woven filter layer): Non-medical masks and face coverings (this is an official Government of Canada site).

If you prefer a video tutorial or perhaps my written explanations are not enough, please refer to the video below which shows all the steps in detail. Please bear through the necessary initial disclaimers, I wanted to make clear this is not a surgical or medical mask and wearing a mask should not stop you from following ALL CDC rules, regulations and recommendations.

Step-by-step instruction – how to sew a face mask

I started to sew my mask by making a pattern. I wanted to make a mask that protects the mouth, nose and closes the chin also. 

You can find a PDF of the mask in my RESOURCE LIBRARYIf you are already a subscriber you can find a password for the LIBRARY in my emails. 

The pattern includes 3 pieces – one for the mask’s front, the second part for the nose, and the third for the chin. 

Seam allowances are included and they are ⅜” (or 1 cm)

I made the pattern for my face (by trial and error) so if you want to make a mask for your face, you might need to adjust the pattern a little bit for a proper fit. 

I have chosen this 100 % silk fabric which is really dense and stiff, it’s home decor silk fabric, looks a little bit like dupioni silk but more dense. Still I can breathe through it easily. If you don’t have decorator silk fabic you can use 100% cotton but try to find one which is really dense.  For insert I took 100% organic cotton batting. I also used non-woven fusible interfacing. 

Prewash the fabric in warm water and iron it. 

Step 1

I started with cutting of course. 

First cut  3 pattern pieces from non-woven fusible interfacing. I don’t want to make any holes in it from pins so I did it like this: Put the paper pattern under pattern weights – I use my heavy stone figurines for this. I draw the pattern lines around the pattern using a fabric marker. And after that – cut. 

If you are not sure how to use fusible interfacing check out my tutorial How to fuse interfacing – tips and tricks.

Step 2 

The next step – I do exactly the same with my organic cotton batting. 

Step 3

Now we need to cut the fabric. I don’t want to use pins again because I don’t want to make any holes in the fabric. So we are going to cut using fusible interfacing pieces. 

Fold fabric right sides together. We will need to cut 2 pieces from silk fabric for each pattern piece.  Fuse interfacing pieces to the fabric using your iron of course. If you are not sure how to do it check out my tutorial “ How to fuse interfacing”

Now I can insert a few pins around my pattern pieces so the fabric doesn’t slip.

Cutting is very simple now. Of course only if you have good fabric scissors. 

I need to make small cuts in the middle of each piece. I only cut into the seam allowances, ⅛ inch, not more. 

Step 4 

The batting is not fusible, I can’t really attach the batting to the fabric pieces. But I noticed if I iron/press fabric and batting pieces together the batting stays better and doesn’t slip easily, maybe because of some static electricity. Who knows…

Step 5

Now I need to prepare everything for stitching. 

I don’t want to use pins, because I don’t want to make any holes in my fabric

So I use these clips – they call them Wonder clips, they are really wonderful, they keep my pattern pieces very well. As you can see the clip has one flat side and this side should be placed down on a sewing machine. 

Start clipping from the middle of each piece. Connect all parts from the main fabric and from the lining. 

Step 6 

Now it’s time to do stitching. 

Insert a new needle – use the smallest size so the holes in the fabric made by the needle are small. I used size 70/11. Use a strong sewing thread

Stitch using a straight stitch of your sewing machine. Make the stitch length 2.5 mm or even 3 mm, don’t make it too small. 

Seam allowances are ⅜ inch for the main fabric. 

But for the lining, they are a little bit different. The lining must be smaller than the main piece. That’s how linings are. 

So when sewing lining pieces together make the seam allowances bigger just a little. Make them 7/16 inch

Very important: leave 2 inches not stitched in the bottom seam of the lining piece closer to the side (in the part that goes to your cheek). We need that opening for turning the mask right side out. 

Cut the thread tails and also cut seam allowances on the lining piece making them smaller. 

Cut also seam allowances of the curved piece. 

Step 7

Now I need to make a casing for a thin metal insert for better fitting around the nose which increases its effectiveness in protecting against the penetration of microorganisms. So I took one from a used mask. You can do the same. It provides a snug fit to the nose and you can  change the area of ​​contact depending on the size of the nose. In fact any piece of wire, not too stiff, not too soft, will do. Some readers have suggested pipe cleaners (two twisted together and trimmed), the stem from artificial flowers or even garbage bags ties.

Make a small casing for the metal nose insert. I used a piece of ribbon for this. 

Clip it to the lining piece (using Wonder clips) at the distance a little bit more than ⅜” (1cm) from the fabric edge and stitch. Make two seams to form a casing for inserting the metal piece.

Nancy sent me via email the following and I think it is useful: “Another option for the metal nose piece. A piece of 26 gauge cut to 12 inches long. Fold into thirds, making sure the ends are within the folded portion. Twist. The loops can easily be flattened to fit a small casing. A small finger stitch will keep it in place if you don’t close the ends of your metal casing”.

You have to attach the ribbon to the right side of the lining piece which will cover your nose.

Step 8 

Sew the front piece and the lining together, keeping ⅜ inch seam allowances. Cut the curved seam close to stitching. 

Turn the mask right side out. Smooth all the seams. You can iron the mask. 

Finish the opening by hand sewing. I used an invisible stitch. Very easy to do  but if you would like to know more check out my step-by-step tutorial on making the invisible stitch by hand

Step 9

Now let’s finish the sides. First of all  make them straight – just cut them straight.   

I have to sew elastic loops. I can use fold-over elastic, it will be nice finish for the mask. But I think not may people have it at home. So I will show you how to finish the mask with just regular narrow elastic. 

First of all, my sewing machine has lots of decorative stitches. I bet you have lots of them too. So why not to use something. I used this stitch. After that I placed my elastic over and made the stitch again. I didn’t pull elastic in these places. 

Now you have to measure your head and make the mask sit comfortably on your face. 

For this mask i didn’t want elastic to go over my ears. So I made them like this in the image below. 

Now let me show you a few images of me wearing the mask. 

Did you find this tutorial helpful? If so, save this pin (see below) on your sewing board so you can come to this tutorial later when you want to sew a face mask from fabric and follow me on Pinterest for more tips, tutorials, and inspiration! 

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