Sewing Tips

Fast, Versatile Face Mask

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 12″ x 15″ piece of fabric.

  • no pattern to download
  • has an insert area for a standard 3.5″ x 7″ disposable surgical mask
  • can fit over an N95 respirator 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

………………………………………………………………….

You will need:

  • one piece of woven cotton (like quilting cotton) that is 12″ wide and 15″ long (wash and press before cutting out)
  • 5″ piece of wire (10 gauge aluminum is the best, but alternatives are garden wire, twist-ties, pipe-cleaners, cut up soda can, etc)
  • 1/4″inch 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”!

…………………………………………………………..

CUTTING OUT:

To make a single mask, cut out one piece of fabric 12″ by 15″. If you want to make more, start with a half-yard (18″ long) piece of 44″ wide cotton fabric. 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. Trim off the length at 15″. Then cut out 3 pieces each measuring 12″ wide:

Optional: press a 15″ long by 6″ wide piece of lightweight fusible interfacing down the center. This helps give the mask body and MAY provide more protection.

………………………………………

STITCHING:

Finish the 12″ ends of your fabric piece by turning under 1/4″ 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, and pin 2″ in from edges:

Stitch along the top 2″ in from each edge to the pin, with a 3/8″ 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:

Flip inside out and press:

You can save electricity by doing a whole stack of pressing all at once.

…………………………………………………….

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″to 6″ long:

Insert the nose-shaping wire through the filter opening:

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

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

…………………………………………….

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″ down along the unfinished side, and at that point you fold down a triangle of fabric from the corner and finger-press:

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!

…………………………………………………………………………………

Edge-stitch to secure the 3D shape. (Remember you can mass-produce these by stitching from one mask to the next in a chain):

Flip over and overlock the ends (again it saves time if you can do a whole bunch of these lined together on the serger):

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

…………………………………………………….

ELASTIC:

For elastic to loop behind ears: Cut 2 pieces of 1/4″ (or narrower) elastic, 7″ long, 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 two 40″ lengths of 1/4″ or 3/8″ twill tape (one 40″ piece on each side of the face).

………………………………………………………..

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!

………………………………………………………

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.

…………………………………………………..

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

…………………………………………………..

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:

………………………………………………………

Stay safe!

Best, Janet

18 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *