How to make a cloth mask
These instructions are designed for inexperienced people who have basic hand sewing skills.
If you are an experienced sewer, there will be some steps you might skip or combine. This method is for handsewing. If you are experienced, and making this on a machine, we suggest cutting the outer fabric at 8.5", and not making the side seams. You will need tape or a small piece of material to finish the right and left mask edges after making the pleats. If you are less experienced, and making this on a machine, you may need to make the pleats (step 5) by hand, don't break your needle on the multiple layers!
1. Cut 2 tightly woven pieces of fabric, the outer 16" by 9" (40 by 22 cm), the inner 13" by 6.5" (32 by 16 cm). For example, the outer could be cotton muslin, the inner non-woven industry-grade spunbond polypropylene. A spreadsheet showing sources of this material can be downloaded here.
2. Sew 1/4" hem along short edges (right and left) of the outer, larger piece.
Sew 1/4" hem along bottom and top long edges of the outer, larger piece.
3. Lay the smaller piece (b) over the larger piece (a), centred.
Purpose-made flat bendable nose wires are now available for purchase. Alternatives are plastic twist ties (use two), florist's wire or paper fasteners (metal strips) are used to make a moldable section for the bridge of the nose. Coffee clips are double twist ties, they tend to be longer and stronger and work very well. Pipe cleaners (chenille stems) can be used but tend to crumple when machine washed. Place the metal strip in the middle of the cloth as shown.
4. Fold both pieces of cloth together in half, over the nose wire, which should be lying flat on the material with its top edge right in the fold.
Sew a horizontal seam to hold the metal strip in place.
Sew a stitch at each end of the metal strip to hold it in place.
Sew 1/2" seam along top and bottom of fabric. Leave the edge at the bottom hemmed (done in step 2) but unseamed (not closed) at the moment.
5. Make 3 half-inch pleats, facing downward on the outside, in the fabric. Sew in place. These stitches pass through 12 layers of material and a vertical needle position with a single pass at each stitch will be needed (ie, pass the needle vertically from the back of the material to the front, and then as a separate stitch, from the front to the back)
6. Sew the bottom of the middle layers (ideally polypropylene) in place by topstitching across the bottom of the mask. The mask will no longer lie flat, it will take on a curved shape.
A dart in the bottom of the mask may improve fit under the chin (see photo).
7. Sew buttons on each corner, on the outside of the mask. With the metal strip at the top, the folds on the outside of the mask are directed down.
Loop together elastic bands to make straps that attach on the buttons, and go from side to side at the top, and at the bottom. Use as many as you need for a comfortable fit. The bottom strap sits behind the neck, at the base of the skull. The top strap sits at the back of the head, about half way up. The top strap will be longer than the bottom strap.
You can make earloops (using shorter straps from elastic bands) if you prefer.
You can, of course, sew in elastic for earloops or for over-the-head elastic as an alternative to our ‘easy-sew’ idea of buttons and elastic bands. For earloops, premade products that include a small bead or plastic to make them adjustable are now available. Round elastic or quarter-inch elastic also works well. For over-the-head elastic round or quarter-inch (or wider if you prefer or it is what you have on hand) can be used. Caution: no removable parts for masks for small children.