Sewing Tips

The Origami Face Mask

4/8/2020 Update: some readers expressed concern over the use of fusible interfacing in masks. Even though I explained that fusibles work not by use of solvents with dangerous fumes, but rather by melting and hardening, there has been suspicion. I contacted the Pellon company (since that is the only brand I use) and they immediately responded. While I certainly cannot vouch for unbranded interfacing, I trust Pellon when they say:

4/3/2020 Update: this pattern was originally designed for wearing over medical masks, however now that the CDC has recommended face-masks for all, here are the dimensions to cut for smaller sizes:

  • Large (finished size 7″ nose to chin): cut 12″ x 15″
  • Medium (finished size 6″ nose to chin): cut 11″ x 13 1/2″
  • Small (finished size 5″ nose to chin): cut 10″ x 12″
  • Large (finished size 17.5 cm nose to chin): cut 30.5 cm x 38 cm
  • Medium (finished size 15 cm nose to chin): cut 28 cm x 34 cm
  • Small (finished size 12.5 nose to chin): cut 25.5 cm x 30 cm

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I received a request from reader Laura, asking about masks that can be mass-produced. This got me thinking about the air-pollution masks that my co-workers made out of copy-paper when I worked in Asia. They were simple origami, held together with ordinary staples, and worn using rubber bands. I’ve adapted the design to fabric, and although it’s non-conventional the first time you make it, I promise you that it gets faster each time!

This is an easy-to-make mask using a single rectangle piece of fabric :

  • no pattern to download
  • has an insert area for a standard 3.5″ x 7″ disposable surgical mask (9 cm x 18 cm)
  • fits over a size Medium N95 respirator (80% of medical personnel wear this size which is 7.5″ nose to chin) to prolong its life
  • can insert a wire for nose-shaping
  • uses either elastic or ties, which are NOT stitched on so they can be replaced/interchanged if elastic wears out due to harsh washing in hospitals

  • useful for EITHER medical staff (together with the disposable masks which are in short supply) …or alone for auxiliary staff, patients with compromised immune systems, etc

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You will need:

  • one piece of woven cotton (wash and press before cutting out)
  • 4″ (10 cm) piece of wire (10 gauge aluminum is the best, but alternatives are garden wire, twist-ties, pipe-cleaners, cut up soda can, etc. You can also cut many, many strips from disposable foil pan, and for strength if needed.)
  • 1/4″inch (.5 cm) elastic (I realize this stuff is selling out everywhere, so you can use twill-tape or fabric ties)
  • lightweight interfacing (optional)
  • not required but if it helps, a pencil for marking and pins for holding. These are not used in a factory setting because they slow down the process…you can learn to “make your fingers do the work”!

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CUTTING OUT:
Wash and press your fabric before cutting, even though hospitals will wash finished masks before using. Press, stretching if needed so that fabric is on the straight-grain.

The photos show a size Large, using a single rectangle of fabric 12″ by 15″(30.5 cm x 38 cm)

Mass production hint : A half-yard of fabric yields 3 masks. For making multiple masks, cut 15″ lengths of fabric, and then cut out 3 pieces each measuring 12″ wide:

Optional: press a 15″ long by 6″ wide (38 cm x 15 cm) piece of lightweight fusible interfacing down the center. This helps give the mask body and MAY provide more protection. I have heard some people say that fusibles are somehow dangerous…however the do not contain any solvents that would release fumes. They work the same way that glue-gun “glue”
does: melting and hardening.

Here is a link to recommended face mask interfacings: http://www.fabricpatch.net/face-masks-for-covid-19-relief.htm?fbclid=IwAR2NMxGuhnVB4KMRm-cpdEDsFb2OKE_XU5_l-U8q9FagNuBW7kDW5K43DJU

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STITCHING:

Finish the short ends of your fabric piece by turning under 1/4″ (.5 cm) and stitching OR by overlock. (Mass-production hint: stitch ALL pieces linked together ….first all the top edges, then all the bottom edges, then cut apart):

Fold fabric in half, “right” sides touching, matching up the short finished edges, and pin 2″ (5 cm) in from edges:

Stitch along the top 2″ (5 cm) in from each edge to the pin, with a 3/8″ (1 cm) seam allowance (again you can do this chain-style to save time, and after doing it a few times you won’t need pins):

Clip threads and press seam allowance flat (you can add extra security by tucking a strip of fusible webbing like Stitch Witchery under the seam allowance) :

Flip inside out and press:

Mass production hint: you can save electricity by pressing a whole stack at once.

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ADD A NOSE WIRE:

A wire or strip of metal can be inserted now, which helps make the mask fit more securely over the nose bridge. Cut a piece of garden wire, twist-tie, pipe-cleaner, etc 5″ (12 .5 cm) long and curl in the ends:

Or you can order pre-cut plastic-coated wires from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004HMHZPK/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Insert the nose-shaping wire through the filter opening:

…. so that it touches the top edge, centered:

Topstitch 1/4″ (.5 cm) from top edge, encasing the wire. (Tip: it’s easiest if you use a zipper-foot.)

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SHAPE THE MASK:

This is the tricky part but once you get the hang of it, it goes fast. It’s harder to explain than to actually do! There’s a 1-minute video on my Instagram page showing how to do these folds. (Right-click to open in new window).

Place your mask on a cutting table with the filter-opening facing UP. From each corner, measure 2 1/4″ (5.5 cm) down along the unfinished side for size large*, and at that point you fold down a triangle of fabric from the corner and finger-press:

* For size Medium measure down 2 1/8″ (5.2 cm), for size Small measure down 2″ (5 cm). Depending on the thickness of the fabric you are using, the corner fold-down measurement could be a bit more or less.

HINT: this one from JustGail: you can make a cardboard template of the triangle to use again and again!

Next you’re going to fold down the entire top edge at that same 2 1/4″ point, using the lower edge of the triangle as your guide…..you’ll be folding on this imaginary dashed line:

After folding the top down it should look like this:

The following step is to fold half of that back up again. To do this, look at where the diagonal fold-line intersects the horizontal seam-line (see black circle) and hold your finger there:

…now fold halfway back up to meet the top edge……then you push the fabric in your fingers over slightly until these 2 black lines are parallel:

Pin into place:

I know that may be tricky so you can check out my Instagram for a 1-minute video to show it more clearly!

Repeat with the bottom corner, folding UP the corner triangle:

Using the triangle as a guide, fold UP the bottom edge of the fabric:

Then fold half of it back DOWN, and push the fabric over so that it is parallel to the side:

Repeat with the other end:

It should be 3-dimensional now!

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Hint from reader Ruth: “My trick for quickly folding the corners is to put a piece of masking tape on my table and mark the bottom, top, center point, and fold points on the tape. Then I like the mask up with the tape and have all my measurements right where I need them, no need to mark every mask individually.”

Factory style sewing = no pins! Thanks Ruth!

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Edge-stitch to secure the 3D shape. (Mass production hint: stitching from one mask to the next in a chain, then clips threads linking the masks):

Flip over and overlock (or zigzag) the ends:

This extension will be used to create a casing for elastic:

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ELASTIC:

For elastic to loop behind ears: Cut 2 pieces of 1/4″ (.6 cm) (or narrower) elastic, 7.5″ long (19 cm), and stitch into loops:

Place loop on mask extension:

Make a casing by folding the outside edge inwards (over the elastic) to meet the previous stitching line, and stitch into place, being careful not to catch the elastic:

Alternatively (if you can’t find elastic, or prefer ties to go around the head) use the same instruction with 40″ (102 cm) lengths of 1/4″ (.6 cm) twill tape .

Tip from reader Pat: to keep ties from coming out of the casing, tack down in the center with a few stitches!

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Your mask is now ready for use, either on its own (for non-medical personnel) or with a 3″x7″ disposable surgeon mask inserted:

Alternatively, it can be worn straight over a N95 respirator mask, to keep it clean longer.

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I hope this epidemic helps us all give more thanks to our medical professionals!

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Update 3/24/2020 : Just found out they are still making paper masks in Hong Kong! This article was shared by Michele Noma in the “Million Masks” group on Facebook:

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Update 3/26/2020: Look at this great idea from reader Ericka Norris….a shoelace going through both sides and tying in back! A standard lace for sneakers (trainers) is 54″. You could also do something similar with a piece of 20″ elastic all around!

Stay safe!

Best, Janet

67 Comments

  • Teresa

    I’m sorry if it’s stated somewhere and I’m missing it, but how big should the cut squares be before you start sewing? 12 x ?

    Thanks!

  • Suzanne Godwin

    I hope you will have time to make a You Tube video. I am really confused about the origami part. You say mark off 2 1/4 inches off from the side. Both sides of the corner, or does it matter because of the triangle’s shape? Then you said fold it down at the 2 1/2 inch mark, but I am not sure where that came from. Is it 2 1/4 or 2 1/2? Would love to have a go at this pattern, but not until I understand it better. Thanks.

  • [email protected]

    Hi Teresa! Sorry, typo, I fixed it….you fold down the corner at the 2 1/4″ point, and then use that same point to fold down the whole top edge of the fabric. I updated the photos. Can you let me know if it’s more clear? Thanks!

  • [email protected]

    Hi Suzanne, sorry that it’s confusing. I updated the instructions and photos a bit, can you let me know if it’s more clear? I have no idea how to do a Youtube video BUT maybe I can rope my husband into doing a 1-minute video on Instagram tomorrow to show the folding part. The first time I saw my colleagues in Hong Kong make paper pollution masks this way I was like “What????” But now a decade later it’s still in my head how to do it by “muscle memory”. Meaning it’s easier to do it, than to explain how to do it!

  • Kris Jarchow

    These were a breeze to make. Thank you. Do you happen to have origami way of making surgical caps with no strings???? We have a call for all sizes.

  • Teresa

    Thank you so much for the extra clarification and the video, that really made it clearer! I made a bunch of these today!

  • Arlene McGarrahan

    I really like the mask I made today from your directions. Am curious to know how long shoe laces or fabric ties should be to be used in place of elastic.
    Thanks.

  • Anne Trenary

    I also would love to see a Video, for me to virtually seeing it done is easier for me … my brain works slower these days at the age of 72! Thanks

  • Cheryl

    Will it fit well without the wire? Can you wash it with the wire or pipe cleaner in? Will it hold up? Thanks.

  • [email protected]

    I think all masks fit better with the wire. Yes it is washable! I’ve heard people say the wire will rust but that’s only if it’s left damp for a long time. If the mask is stitched well it should last through 100 washings.

  • Brittany Lynn Washburn

    Hi! Quick question, if I wanted to sew bias tape right onto the mask instead of making a casing for it (facilities are reporting the ties falling out in casing designs), what would be the best way? Fold in, stitch the casing, then stitch the bias tape/ties directly over that? Thank you SO MUCH for all your work on this pattern and your help with this effort!!!

  • virginia

    I am confused in step one. I have a piece of fabric cut out 12 x 15. Directions say cut out 3 pieces 12 inches wide. Is this from the original size of the 12 x 15 already cut? I know its probably not but I’m not understanding about the 3 pieces that are supposed to be cut.

  • [email protected]

    Thanks Virginia for pointing out the confusion. I’ve updated the post. Only one piece of fabric 12 x 15 is needed for a single mask. The other option is to cut multiple pieces for multiple masks by using the entire fabric selvage to selvage. I changed it so that the instructions for multiples are in italic. I hope that helps!

  • [email protected]

    Brittany you read my mind! I’m going to photograph an update with the next batch (hopefully tomorrow morning) using tape stitched right onto the mask. Instead of making the casing, you’ll trim off 1/2″ from the ends, then stitch the tape over that raw edge. Since it’s not going on a curve, I think you can use straight-grain strips of fabric. (I keep reading online soooooo many tweaks that people are doing to all different mask designs…which is really fun for a sewing geek like me to hear!)

  • Marisa

    Hi, thank you for the great tutorial. Can you suggest how much smaller the initial fabric rectangle should be to in order to make a mask for an 8-10 year old child?

  • Pat Kinzie

    About the ties falling out of the casings. I saw somewhere to sew the tie in the middle of the casing to hold it in place. I’m going to do a tack down there. This should keep the tie in place. Just a suggestion . I’ve read. Sew many post I have no idea where that came from😁. I’m making my first mask now. Thanks for this marvelous pattern! Stay safe.

  • Pat Kinzie

    Question, using the serger what setting do you use? 2 , 3 or 4 thread overlock? I haven’t used my serger for a loooong time😁 if you can help I would appreciate it.

  • JustGail

    Thank you for this tutorial! The folding seems much easier than pleating and a separate end piece.

    I saw one mask tutorial that said to cut a strip from foil pans and fold into thirds the long way. I *think* it was cut 1″ x 3″ strip, and fold to end up with a 1/3″ x 3″ strip. That’s for anyone worrried about rust. I hope to H*** that we don’t need them long enough to worry about rust.

  • Ilse

    Thanks, an easy and fast pattern, brilliant! I’m making a bunch for my MIL who needs dialysis 2x week, and she just mentioned they’ve started rationing masks at the clinic.

  • Mary I

    Thanks so much for this pattern! Great instructions – easy to follow & very clever!! I made my first one yesterday for one of our employees. She is very petite so I made an 8″ x 10″ version (first fold at 1 1/2″ instead of 2 1/4″ works) – will know tomorrow how it fits & update with a comment. I’m going to make a regular sized one shortly and might try a version between the 8×10″ & 12×15″ sizes, too. Stay safe, sane & strong.

  • Eileen

    I wasn’t able to find 1/4″ or smaller elastic so I ran 3/4″ elastic through my serger twice making elastic that is close to 1/4″. The elastic will probably stretch out sooner from the needle holes, but I’m hoping it will hold up long enough to get us through this pandemic. Thanks for the design and I have 80 masks in progress.

  • [email protected]

    I wouldn’t worry about rust….the masks get washed and dried so fast that rust shouldn’t have time to form. I’ve found rust on a swimsuit that I didn’t dry 100% on vacation, just put in a plastic bag and in a suitcase. A month later it had a tiny but of rust. But I’m going to add your tip about foil pans to the post! Thank you!!

  • [email protected]

    Oh my gosh you are so welcome! It’s amazing to see so many people jumping in to protect everybody during this pandemic. Plus a lot of makers pulling out dusty sewing machines getting into sewing again!!

  • Maria

    I’d like to use a quilted fabric without a pocket. I’m thinking that I could just cut the fabric to the size and do the origami edges at the four corner. Do you think this will work? Thank you for your help!

  • [email protected]

    Yes absolutely! If you don’t plan on putting in a filter there’s no need to make the pocket. For non-medical staff use, most people do not use a filter anyway. I’ve updated the post to include that . Thank you!!

  • Maria

    Hi again. I made one today but took a long time as I had trouble with this step:

    “Make a casing by folding the outside edge inwards (over the elastic) to meet the previous stitching line, and stitch into place, being careful not to catch the elastic:”

    There was somehow not enough length on the two ends to fold and I had to fold in different ways again and again to see if it makes any difference. In the and, I was able to barely sew one side but had to hand stitch the other side. I wonder if the materials was too thick. Would you mind taking a look at my mask? Please let me know your email address if I may send a few photos to you. Thank you for your help!

  • JustGail

    I’ve made 3 of these so far, and will be sewing more now that I know the sizes needed. The size L for DS’s girlfriend and DH were good for size. The one for DS needed to be larger (he’s 6’3″ and a beard). I cut the rectangle 13″ x 18″ and folded the corners at 2 3/4″ mark. I’m not using elastic due to the reports of ear irritation, and lack of supply. The bias binder attachment is working great for making the ties, and might work to do sew the ties and attach in one step(?).

    If you are using bedsheets to make masks, don’t forget there’s elastic in the fitted sheets that might be salvagable.

    Thank you for this method, and the updates for sizes and adding ties

  • JustGail

    One other thing I did to make this a bit easier – cut triangles the sizes of the folded down corner. Then all you need to do is line up the template with the fabric edges and fold, no measuring.

  • Maria

    @JustGail, Thank you for the idea of cutting corners (pun intended)! That would help.

    @[email protected], Would it possible for you to upload a photo of this procedure so that there won’t be any mistakes?

    Thank you!

  • [email protected]

    I’m jealous that you have a binder attachment! I’ve been eyeing one for my Bernina, but my machine is too old to accept the new attachments. I tried a generic one from Amazon, but sadly it doesn’t fit my machine….

  • Danielle Kramer

    Thanks so much for this pattern. I work in healthcare and this one by far has the best coverage and fit. I find it easy to batch sew each step. Just finished 38 for close friends and family, waiting for elastic to arrive tomorrow. Thanks for putting this pattern out early! And for the small sizes now as well, going to try the small for my friends kids 8 and 10 years old.

  • Grace

    Has anyone done this for tiny toddlers older >2? I’d love to get a measurement for the younger kiddos. Thanks!

  • [email protected]

    It’s difficult to size this down so small because the “wings” on the ends become too tiny to create a casing for the elastic. For the little kids, the Olsen style mask works better. There is a link to it in a previous post about Corona virus.

  • [email protected]

    A standard face mask filter is 7″ x 3″ and slips into the pocket of the size large. For size medium you would cut down a standard filter by 1″, for size small you would cut down a standard filter by 2″. There is a photo in the post showing how to open the pocket.

  • BeverlySweeny

    Is there any way you could put the pattern on PDF format? The link to the pattern is broken but fortunately, found the steps on your blog page. I had started the mask but couldn’t complete last night. Happy for the blog page! I need to get this pattern to my sewing group as many of them still have working pilot husbands with some coming down with the virus. You all need those pilots flying in cargo from around the world! PS..see you are from Boston, my husband grew up in Quincy.

  • [email protected]

    Hi Beverly, there isn’t a “pattern” because it’s just a rectangle of fabric. Somebody sent me a memo that they had written a pdf for the instructions, and now I can’t find out who that was! If I find it I will publish a link to it…..

  • Ginger

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I made it and it was so much easier than other patterns I’ve tried and so much more comfortable to wear.

  • Theresa in Tucson

    You can create a makeshift binder attachment out of a Dritz bias tape maker and tape it to the machine. You can also attach an industrial folder/binder to a domestic machine. Kathleen over at Fashion Incubator has posted four tutorials. Kathleen is a patternmaker with a sewing factory in New Mexico.

  • Ruth

    Thank you for this pattern! I’ve made around thirty now, for friends and family. My truck for quickly folding the corners is to put a piece of masking tape on my table and mark the bottom, top, center point, and fold points on the tape. Then I like the mask up with the tape and have all my measurements right where I need them, no need to mark every mask individually.

  • [email protected]

    I’ve heard that anecdotally (not from any medical source)…but if the pleats go down on the outside then they are automatically going up on the inside, so I suppose it depends if you are using a mask to protect yourself from the outside world, or the outside world from your own (possible) infection? And what about gathered masks? Anyway if you have a link to what doctors have advised I’d love to read it!

  • Cindy Kenney

    I love this mask! It fits well and us easy to make. Thank you. I hope you don’t mind i shared your link on Million Masks a Day Fb group and on an Indian quilter group.

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