How to make an easy fabric mask - updated!

Updated: Apr 15

On April 5 2020 I ran my first Facebook live online workshop to make these easy surgical-style fabric masks.

I learned a few good lessons for next time - have samples already sewn ready for each stage (only demonstrate tricky sewing), have a timeframe for the workshop (half an hour or so) and double check that the templates you uploaded to the group are the right ones!

So if anyone wants to see a long and rambling live workshop on how to make these masks, feel free to drop in on the Collaborations group attached to my Dusty Disco Ball Facebook Page. I'm going to presume you don't want to do that but you still want to make masks.

Here is a short step-by-step tutorial.

I've also refined the way that I make the masks so I'll add in those tweaks as I go.

This is the mask that I've been making - a pleated surgical style mask with an internal pocket for a tissue or toilet paper filter.

The elastic is in one piece that goes behind the neck and over the head so it doesn't hang on the ears. You can also take off the head strap so that the mask sits around your neck in between uses.

I have found this mask comfortable for short trips to the shops, though I still need to work out how to stop my glasses fogging up! Apparently wiping shaving cream on your glasses helps - I'll have to see if it works (*update: nope!).



Quilting weight cotton fabric 38cm x 20cm (15 x 8 inches)

Contrast fabric 5cm x 24 cm (or 24 cm length of 1 inch wide bias binding)

1 paper clip for nose bridge

80 cm Narrow elastic

Scissors or rotary cutter

Sewing machine and thread (but this mask could also be hand sewn if needed)

Safety pin or elastic threader

Step 1: Cut out main body of mask on fold so it measures 38cm x 20 cm. If you want a different fabric on each side, cut two pieces with an added seam allowance at the fold line and stitch together to make one piece.

Step 2: Mark up each side as below - the coloured lines indicate pleats and the solid black lines are fold lines for sewing.

I always mark the centre of the two pleats (see the video below) with a mark like this -----/------ so I have a centre line to help make the pleats.

Step 3: Make your pleats by bringing the coloured lines together using the marked centre as a guide. If you do this the same way each time, it's pretty straightforward. A great tip that I got from from another sewist is to use masking tape to hold the pleats down so that they stay put while you stitch. if you don't have any masking tape handy, just pin them.

Step 4: After the pleats are secured with masking tape or pins, iron or finger press the small 0.5cm seam (marked on the pattern in black) on the outer edges of the mask. Once this is done on both sides, sew close to the edge around the whole mask, securing pleats and the small seams.

Step 5: Finger press or iron the next 2 cm fold (marked on pattern in black) on both edges. Fold the mask in half with the folded edges lined up and right side outwards.

Top stitch 4 cm close to the fold on both sides of the lower edge. This creates the pocket for the tissue or toilet paper filter. (Another option would be to put right sides together, sew 4 cm along the fold line on either side and then turn the mask so the right side of the fabric is outside again.

Step 6: Adding the elastic casing is probably the fiddliest bit. If you are using bias binding, cut two pieces of bias to the equivalent of the length of the mask sides + an added 1cm extra on both top and bottom. Fold the 1cm ends in and press so that you have a bias rectangle that is the length of the side of your mask (see photo). Then iron in half so that it's ready to sew on.

If you are not using bias binding, you will need to make something equivalent with the additional fabric piece. Cut your 5cm wide piece into two lengths equal to your mask sides + 2cm. Iron or finger press a 0.5 cm fold on either side of the 5 cm piece. Fold in the 1cm ends and press. Your fabric piece will look now similar to the bias rectangle (see photo).

Step 7: This can be done two ways. If you are confident in adding the elastic casing in one step, fold the bias or fabric piece in half and stitch to the side of the mask.

If you are less confident with bias, sew in two steps. With right sides together, sew one edge of the bias to the side of the mask. Fold the bias around to the back (with the back edge slightly over the stitched join) to encase the edge and stitch along the front seam secure the bias at the back. This is called 'stitch in the ditch' and the pin in the second photo shows the ditch line. The process is essentially the same with the fabric piece.

Step 8: Now for the nose bridge. Open out your paper clip and centre it on the top edge of your mask for measuring. Using pins, mark the length of the extended paper clip on your mask. Stitch 5mm from the edge between the two pins. This will create a small pocket for you add the paper clip from the inside through the pocket opening, and easily remove it for washing.

Step 9: Thread your elastic through the two casings in one big loop using either a safety pin or elastic threader. Pin the ends of the elastic together and try on the mask for size. At this stage you can insert the paper clip, mould it your nose bridge and adjust the elastic to a comfortable length. Stitch the ends of the elastic together using a straight or zig zag stitch back and forth several times. Pull on the elastic to hide the stitching inside the casing.

Step 10: Done! Add the tissue or toilet paper filter to the centre of the mask and it is ready to use. This mask will absorb moisture after a while which renders it much less effective so change the filter and/or mask regularly if you are using it for a prolonged period. It isn't a medical grade mask but will assist in preventing the spread of particles. Use good hand hygiene before putting the mask on and after removing it.

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