D.I.Y. Face Coverings: Tips on making cloth masks from the Public Health Crafter’s Corner

A lot has changed since we published our first Public Health Crafter’s Corner in December (where we featured bedazzled hand sanitizer as a surprisingly prescient holiday gift). Since then, crafting has become a way to fill the many hours at home, and now there is urgent need for homemade cloth masks with the directive to wear face coverings in King County.

Fortunately, making your own face coverings isn’t necessarily hard or expensive. We’ve got you covered–so to speak–with Do-It-Yourself ideas, even if you’ve never threaded a needle or touched a glue-gun.

Bandanas and scarves count as face coverings

Crafting may not be needed if you already have bandanas or scarves. If worn snugly over the nose and mouth, with multiple layers, bandana and scarves serve as cloth face coverings that can protect against the spread of COVID-19.

No-sew options

If you have an old T-shirt or a square of fabric (about 20″ X 20″), some rubber bands or hair ties or yarn, and a pair of scissors, you can make a simple face covering. Here’s the U.S. Surgeon General (!) to show you how to do it (illustrated written directions are also available from the CDC):

CDC also demonstrates a simple way to make a mask from an old T-shirt if you don’t have rubber bands or hair ties. And after you’ve cut out the mask, you’re left with a crop-top, if you’re into that.

A diagram with quick instructions for making a face coverings from a cut T-shirt.

Tips for sewn masks

For those who can sew, YouTube and websites offer a large number of tutorials if you search for “how to make a cloth mask.” Some only require straight seams and others are more shaped or have pleats. Pick one that feels do-able for you! Here are a few links to patterns and instructions:

My mom and I have been sewing dozens of masks for donation, comparing notes along the way. We’ve come up with a few tips, no matter which style you choose to sew:

  • Use a tight weave, cotton fabric. The kind of fabrics used for shirts or quilting work well. Some fabrics are too floppy (like rayon or tencel) and polyesters and other synthetics are too restrictive for breathing. Heavier cottons (upholstery weight, denim, twill, etc.) are also too restrictive for breathing.
  • Prewash and dry the fabric so that it won’t shrink later.
  • If you use elastic ties, be careful not to iron them while you are pressing seams or ironing the mask. A hot iron can make the fibers in elastic singe or melt.
  • You may need to adjust the size from what’s in the pattern because there is so much diversity in people’s face sizes. For the rectangular style (with or without pleats) with elastic straps, I generally cut materials to the following measurements:
    • Children: mask width 6.5″, elastic pieces 6″ long
    • Adult small: mask width 7.5″, elastic pieces 7″ long
    • Adult medium: mask width 8.5″, elastic pieces 8″ long
    • Adult large: mask width 9.5″, elastic pieces 8.5″-9″ long
  • Make two darts in the middle of the mask to give it a slightly domed shape (this is for the rectangular style of mask). This makes it more comfortable to wear. See my illustration below.
Shows how to sew darts into the front of a cloth mask to give it shape.

Old cotton shirts are a great source of fabric! Cut along the seams to open up the sleeves and maximize the fabric you can use.

Shows how to cut up a long sleeved cotton shirt to use for mask cloth.

Donating cloth face coverings

Community-based organizations are in need of cloth face coverings to distribute to people in need. If you can help make some to donate, please contact the King County Regional Donations Connector or the United Way of King County. Students from the Tesla STEM High School are just some of the amazing volunteers donating homemade face coverings! Thank you for helping our community!

For more on the King County Face Covering Directive, including answers to frequently asked questions: kingcounty.gov/masks

Originally posted on May 18, 2020.

Posted by

I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.