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How to Make a Washable, Surgical-Type Mask Cover With Multi-Sized Patterns

I wanted to make reusable masks to protect my husband, who is in a high-risk group for COVID-19. Then more family members wanted one.

This article will show you how to sew your own washable, surgical-type masks to help protect your loved ones and slow the spread of COVID-19.

This article will show you how to sew your own washable, surgical-type masks to help protect your loved ones and slow the spread of COVID-19.

The US and much of the world faces a profound shortage of protective gear for healthcare workers. Surgical masks are a necessity for people helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The surgeon general has requested that the general public not use surgical masks and respirators that are needed by medical workers. Masks are important both for protecting caregivers at home and for use by people self-isolating with less severe cases of COVID-19, however, so they do not spread the virus further. They are also needed by people doing essential work keeping services available. Because people can have the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, it is also helpful for anyone in public to wear some sort of face covering.

Some medical facilities have already run out of personal protective equipment and are reusing disposable masks and making makeshift masks from bandanas and scarves. Research has found that using masks in an influenza pandemic cuts down on the transmission of infection. (1)

CDC Recommends Everyone Wear Masks in Public

The CDC recommends that everyone wears a mask while interacting with people not in your household. This does not reduce the need for social distancing, but it will help people with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to not inadvertently spread contagious droplets to others. It also will stop some contagious droplets in the air from contacting people who do not have COVID-19.

Please note that homemade masks are not going to stop as many particles as medical-grade masks. There is a severely limited supply of medical masks for medical personnel right now, so any masks that can reduce infection in the general public without the use of medical masks are important. Any chance to reduce infections is better than none. You can help flatten the curve by wearing a mask. Note: The CDC does not recommend masks for children two or under.

This article will show you how to make your own mask—either by hand sewing or with a sewing machine—to help cut down on the rate of infections across the country.

Here are just some of the different patterns and sizes of masks I've already made.

Here are just some of the different patterns and sizes of masks I've already made.

What Materials Are Best for Homemade Masks?

While N95 masks do better at catching viruses than surgical masks, and surgical masks do more than homemade cloth masks, any type of protection is better than none. (2)

Researchers have found some materials used for cloth masks protect you from more particles than others, but some of the most protective materials are very hard to breathe through for any length of time. The best filter material was a piece cut from a HEPA vacuum bag, but it was quite hard to breathe through, so people were not as likely to be compliant. It was difficult to use for anyone with respiratory problems. Since using the mask continuously while you need protection is imperative, a number of materials were tested both for effectiveness and ease of use breathing. (3)

Cloth masks made from cotton jersey (T-shirt material) or pillowcase material (think quilting cotton) may only protect a third as well as commercial surgical masks.

Masks both help you to not breathe in virus particles in the air, and, if you are sick, prevent you from spreading the virus. Since some 25% of people who are infected with the coronavirus have few if any symptoms, wearing a mask whenever you are in public keeps you from spreading the virus even if you don't realize you are sick.

Recent advice on cloth masks gives some ideas to make homemade masks more effective.

  1. Use more than two layers.
  2. If you make an open side you can put a surgical or dust mask inside the outer layers.
  3. Add a lining.
  • Use a piece of non woven knit shop towel cut to the same pattern as the outer layers.
  • Use a piece of non woven fabric. This could be non woven interfacing (I'd avoid the iron on type) or non woven cloth such as Oly. Again, cut it to the size of the outer piece.
  • You could also use felt or polyester batting, although they add to the thickness of the mask.
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Read More From Feltmagnet

Tee shirt fabric and bandannas are better than nothing, but neither have the tight weave that trap airborne particles as effectively. Adding an effective liner will protect others when you breathe out, and you when breathing in.

These Masks Can Be Used By You or Loved Ones, or Donated to Medical Professionals

This tutorial shows how to make cloth surgical-type masks that can be washed and reused. Whether you want masks for yourself, for a sick loved one, or to donate to healthcare givers as a stopgap measure until medical surgical masks are available again, these patterns can help.

Some of the patterns are sized to make a case to cover a protective mask, so it is safer to reuse it when necessary.

I wasn't sure what to use as a metal nose clip that would not rust, so I tried to make a mask that didn't need to have a nose clip.

After trial and error, I found that cutting out and then sewing together a V of fabric at the top and bottom of the mask pieces and then adding a dart on either side of the nose area made the mask fit more closely around the nose and under the chin.

Supplies Needed to Make Reusable Masks

Most of the supplies you need to make masks may already be in your house if you are interested in sewing crafts. If you are new to sewing, the supplies are easy to get. You can make masks by hand-sewing if you do not have access to a sewing machine.

  • Cotton fabric. Cotton fabric with a tight weave is best, but you can use T-shirt material, pillow case material, or dish towel fabric. Just be sure to use new fabric. (3) I think quilt fabric is an excellent choice, and it gives you a wide range of colors and patterns. If you are a quilter, this is a great reason to dig into your stash. You can also use cotton flannel for the inside of the mask.
  • Elastic for straps. Round elastic or 1/4 to 1/2 flat works well. (Cut 1/2 inch elastic down the center to 1/4 inch. If you cannot get elastic, you can use grosgrain ribbon, bias tape, or a folded and sewn strip of the fabric you are using to make your mask. I've read about people using hair elastics as well.)
  • Flannel, fleece, polyester quilt batting, filter material or a preformed mask for the center layer of the mask.
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread for hand sewing.
  • Scissors and pins
  • An iron is useful but not essential.
  • Ziploc bags for each finished mask.

Use a different pattern or color for the front and back of the mask. This lets you be sure which side of the mask may have been contaminated once you have worn it.

Wash your fabric before sewing your mask. Since you are making it to be washable and reusable, you don't want the fabric to shrink and change the size of the mask after you first wear it.

Downloadable Patterns and Double Checking Measurements

Above and below are patterns you can download and print.

Since not everyone has access to a printer, I also am providing patterns photographed on my cutting mat. The grid is half inch, and the pattern is butted up to the inch measurements around the corner of the mat. (Note that the patterns on the grid start at the one inch mark.)

This allows you to sketch a pattern onto heavy paper, cardstock, cardboard, or any other sturdy material you can trace around.

You can use the set of patterns shown on a grid, which show a ruler on the bottom and left side of the cutting mat, to double check the patterns you download and print to make sure the cutting size is correct as printed.

Be Safe While Constructing the Mask

Before you begin working on the masks, make sure your hands are recently washed. If you can, use a fresh pair of gloves. If you are working on a mask for anyone but yourself, wear a mask while you make masks. Your first mask will be great for this purpose, and the masks you make after your first try will look better now that you know the procedure.

Don't worry too much about the looks of your first one, as long as the mask fits and covers your nose, mouth and chin—as it will protect you as well as more polished ones. Remember, any mask is better than nothing.

Position the Pattern on the Fabric

Fold your fabric so it is doubled. Lay the side of the pattern so the horizontal line with a bent arrow at each end is right along the fold (a standard symbol for placement on a fold). There should be about a half inch of material above the pattern.

Pattern placed on folded material.

Pattern placed on folded material.

Cutting the Pattern Out

If your fabric is folded or wrinkled after washing, iron it out if you can. Taking it out of the drier immediately will keep it from wrinkling. If you have washed your fabric by hand, hang it or spread it flat on a towel to dry smoothly.

Cut the fabric out using the pattern as a guide. If you cut the fabric without pinning it to the pattern, there will be fewer holes in the mask. If you need pins, try to insert them into the front and back mask pieces in different spots.

I found outlining the pattern onto the fabric with a sharpie or finepoint pen helped me cut accurately.