Called to Sew – Face Masks

This tutorial was created on March 21, 2020 during the Coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak. It is a global pandemic that has halted life as we know it around the globe. People are scared. People are sick. People are dying. People are in their homes trying to slow the spread to help our health care systems not become overwhelmed.

Many are wondering what they can do to help – and then the call for people with sewing machines to make face masks came.

When I created my Send Me to the Woods fabric collection, I started thinking about projects I would create and share when it came out.

Never in a million years did I think it would be face masks, at the request of hospitals and other caregivers, during a pandemic. But I think there are a lot of “not in a million years!” things happening these days so let’s step up, press the pedal and help!


Homemade fabric masks are not ideal. They do not stop the spread of small particles, like the COVID-19 virus. It is no substitute but better than nothing.

In a 2013 study, quoted with some interesting graphs here ( – Best Materials for DIY Masks) researchers found that while the N 95 and surgical masks stopped 97% of 1-Micron particles, cotton and cotton blends stop between 69-74%. The DIY masks are not sealed to the face, so I assume the effectiveness is a bit less because of the air leaks – I think I’ve seen 50% quoted but can’t remember where.

But again – better than nothing.

According to WHO (the World Health Organization):

  • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

Read the article and watch the videos they released regarding the novel coronavirus (now called COVID-19) in 2019 > 

This post and these instructions should in no way lead you to believe that fabric masks are the perfect safeguard against COVID-19.


On March 18, 2020, Providence Health Plan in the Seattle, Washington area started the 100 Million Mask Challenge: Volunteers Making Masks to Combat Shortage. They supplied volunteers with very specific medical grade material that is not available commercially. Find out if others are doing the same before sewing your stash! On March 19, 2020, Citing shortages, Deaconess Health System in Indiana, including Henderson’s Methodist Health, has asked the public to sew face masks for staff fighting coronavirus. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE >  By March 20, 2020 my Facebook feed was full of friends sharing the call and my Instagram was filling up with sewists getting down to work making masks and also spreading the word. Also on March 20, 2020 there was an article at talking about it and sharing a variety of initiatives that are happening. CLICK HERE TO READ IT > 

I got calls from two friends who know I sew asking me to help. They offered to help pay for supplies. We are all in this together.

I imagine that within the next few days or weeks many others will be asking for help too. From hospitals afraid of supply shortages to nursing homes to friends and family that with compromised immune systems or those caring for loved ones with the virus.

I searched the web and tried a few different mask patterns – looking for something that would be easy to mass produce quickly.

I decided to use the method shared by Deaconess Health System. While I like video tutorials, I find it hard to remember all the steps! I sit and constantly hit pause, take notes, and go back to double check what I’m doing as I start something new.

Here is their video tutorial and I also created written steps as well as a PDF you can download and print if you prefer. No strings attached – I’m giving access to the pdf without asking you to sign up for my email list (but I’d love it if you do) – I just want as many people to have this info as possible.


2 pieces of fabric/mask

  • ADULT: 6″ x 9″
  • CHILD: 7.5″ x 5″

2 pieces of elastic/mask (1/8″ or 1/4″ flat works best)

  • ADULT: 7″ (in the video they recommend 7″ but for my face it was a little loose, I’ve seen others suggest 6.5″ and that works better for me. I will be using 7″ for men’s / neutral fabrics and 6.5″ for feminine fabrics)
  • CHILD: 5 – 5.5″ (if you are making it for a child in your life use their head to determine a good size)

Cord elastic but make sure you put a knot at each end so the elastic doesn’t pull out after sewing. It’s much harder to secure than flat elastic.

Ribbon or fabric straps

4 pieces, 18-20” each, should be more than enough for an adult. Try one and see what you think – these would be more for personal use than donation as the ribbons might get too tangled in the wash for a facility to have time to deal with.

Use 1/4″ seams unless otherwise noted.


If you are using directional fabric, be sure the pattern is going across the length of the 6″ x 9″ piece as shown in the tree fabric. If I cut it the opposite way the trees would be going sideways across the face – not ideal!

Right sides together, sew along the long side of the fabric.
Turn around and sew on the other long side, leaving 3-4″ for turning the mask right side out later.


Take the elastic (or ribbon, etc – I’ll use the term “elastic” from here on on out save time) and put it in between the two pieces of fabric.

Clip or pin so the elastic close to each seam.

Sew the full length, going back and forth a few times over the elastic to make it secure.
Repeat on the other side.


Turn the mask right side out through the opening in one of the long sides and push out corners.

PRESS, making sure the opening is pressed to match the sewn portion. (You will topstitch to secure the opening in the next step)

Without pleats your mask is about 7″ high. The goal of adding pleats is to decrease the height at the sides (to 3.5-4″ for adults and 3-3.5″ for kids) and allow the mask to be adjusted to fit an individuals face.

Since my goal is mass production as quickly as possible, I didn’t want to have to measure and mark each mask to make the pleats. I wandered around my sewing room looking at all my tools and found the perfect solution – my Sewing Gauge!

Not only will the sewing gauge measure quickly but I can use it to fold the fabric down over the metal to get a quick and consistent fold.

For the Adult size mask I start by placing the gauge 1.5″ up from the bottom on one side.

Fold the fabric down against the metal of the gauge and then fold back up to create a pleat that is about 1/2″.

Place a pin to hold the pleat and do the same on the other side.

Repeat the process for a second pleat, about 1.5″ up from the bottom fold of the first pleat. (This is where it isn’t an exact science. Measure it but then look at your mask and decide if you want to move the pleat up or down a little for it to be evenly placed on the mask.)


Topstitch all the way around the mask, 1/8″ from the edge.

Start in on a long side, a few inches from the corner, so your presser foot doesn’t get stuck on any bulk from pleats or corners.

When you go over the pleats, backstitch to secure well.



Whether you are going to do everything yourself or enlist help from others in your home, there are ways to make the process go faster than sewing each mask from start to finish before beginning the next one. Here are my suggestions – if you have others, please share them in the comments so we can all be as efficient and helpful as possible. It’s sewing, assembly line style!


Cut a batch of fabric at once. Anyone you can train to cut a straight line with a rotary cutter can assist with this.

Cut the elastic or ribbon. This is a great place for kids to help! Put a piece of masking tape on a table the length you need. Show them how to line up the elastic on one end and then cut at the other. Give them a bowl or other container to put the cut pieces in so they don’t end up everywhere or lost your fabric stash.


Sew like a quilter and use a “daisy chain” approach. Create sets of two pieces of fabric (with right sides together) and sew down one long side on each. Cut apart and then sew the other long sides, remembering to leave the 3-4″ opening for turning. Anyone who can sew a straight line can assist!


Put someone in charge of pinning the elastic or ribbons into the masks while someone else stitches them in place.


This is a great job to give someone who you don’t want cutting or sewing – it’s an easy job that can be done in front of the tv or while sitting and chatting.


Once everything is right side own, turn on the iron and get them all pressed!


Pin all the pleats at once.


The final step is top stitching!


If you or your friends or family will be using the face masks you make, make sure they wash them after every use or at least daily, if used. (disclaimer: this info is what I’ve read in my research online but I’m an artist, not a disinfection specialist.)

Fabric masks should be washed in hot, soapy water. Do not touch your face or eyes while washing and be sure to wash your hands again thoroughly when you are done washing your mask(s) and have left them to dry or put them in the dryer. (follow fabric manufacturers instructions for care)


(found in comments on Facebook)

“If you are reaching out to a hospital, here is a short list of issues that you should resolve **before** so you know what they will accept. I made this list after some research and speaking with 2 docs and a NP.

  • Which model/style will they accept
  • Two layers of fabric or more/what kind of fabric
  • Pocket for a filter
  • Elastic around ears or around head
  • Are ties ok (ties will tangle in washing and will often ball up making a mass of crap that will be thrown out)
  • Should they be pre-washed (generally seems to be a “no” as they will sterilize them upon receipt)
  • Where/to whom to deliver them.
  • Will the recipient know what to do with an ad hoc delivery of “6 masks” or just throw them in the trash? Or do they prefer a large batch at a time”

I, like everyone else I know, am ready to have this experience in the rear view mirror.

But while we are in it, and we are in it together, let’s find ways to help. This may or may not be your way to help but if it is, I hope these directions help you.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Connect with the ones you love.

– Tara Reed

Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. – Mister Rogers

P.S. has a few other ways to make masks including a few no-sew options if that is helpful!