Sew A Mask!

I recently gave a fabric mask making class on Zoom. Here are the steps to make a simple protective face mask for an adult. (Child sizes are suggested, but they will vary based on the age/size of the child. Generally just a bit smaller than an adult size.) Your first mask should take less than 90 minutes, but after that, you’ll be able make one in less than an hour! If you’re using a sewing machine, it should take about 15 minutes. Directions and photos are for hand sewing, but I’ve noted machine directions as needed.

You’ll need:

-two pieces of cotton fabric cut to 6″ x 9″ (child size, cut 5″x8″)

-four 16″ long pieces of 3/8″ ribbon, OR four 16″ long pieces of jersey knit t-shirt material, 1″ wide, OR two 6″ to 7″ pieces of 1/4″ or even 1/5″ elastic (for child, use 14″ strips OR 5″-6″ elastic)

-needle and coordinating thread OR sewing machine


-pins and/or clips (I find pins are easier for the inside, and small sewing clips or small binder clips for the top stitching. I use them in the later photos.)

-iron and ironing board

1. Begin by pinning your straps to the right side of your fabric. Place each strap about 1/2″ from the long edge, and about 1/4″ over the short edge and pin. Repeat for all four pieces.

1a. If you’re using elastic, pin it to the fabric in the same place, but don’t pull on it. You still want the elastic to be lose at this point. Make sure to sew the elastic several times so it is secure. This is easier with a machine, but still possible by hand. Continue with all of the other steps as indicated.

2. Next, place the second piece of fabric down on the straps so the right sides are together, and pin almost all the way around, leaving a small opening about 3″ to turn the mask right side out.

3. Double your thread on your needle, make a knot, and begin to sew a running stitch* (start where the X is in the previous photo) all the way around, using a 3/8″ seam. Make sure the loose strap ends are tucked in to the middle of the fabric so you don’t sew over them. Add an extra few extra stitches for the straps to make sure they’re secure. If you’re using a sewing machine, be sure to back stitch on the straps. Stop at the last pin, leaving an open space. Knot your thread, or backstitch on the machine.

*3a. A running stitch is the most basic hand sewing stitch and just right for this project. Just weave up and down through the fabric about 1/8″ inch at a time. Don’t pull the thread, but make sure there is no slack in it and that the fabric is flat and does not pucker.

4. Carefully snip just the corners of your mask, avoiding the stitching. This will reduce bulk and make it easier to turn the mask.

5. Turn the mask right side out and carefully iron it flat. Make sure that the open seams line up as they fold, so you can’t see where the stitching is, and pin or clip the open space.

5a. OPTIONAL STEP: Add a nose wire for a tight fit around the nose. A 4″ plastic coated twist tie wire would work well here. My method is to tuck the wire in the open seam of the front side of the mask. Wiggle it around to center it, and use clips to hold it in snugly in the seam. When you sew, you will sew very close to the wire to “lock” it in place. If you’re using a machine, you might want to use a zipper foot to get very close to the wire.

6. Now make the pleats. This is hardest part of the whole project! Fold the top side down about 1 1/2″ and then fold back about 1″.

7. Clip in place. Make sure the right and left sides of your pleat are even.

8. Fold over again to make your next pleat and clip in place. Repeat until you have three even pleats. You may need to try a few times to get them even, it happens!

9. I usually use a medium iron at this point on both sides to kind of set the pleats in place. I find it makes the next step easier.  Starting from the open space, use a double thread to sew (top stitch) all the way around the mask with the same running stitch as before, using a 1/8″ seam allowance. If you have added a nose wire, make sure the wire sits snugly in the folded seam and stitch closely. When you get to the pleats, sew down, up, then down again to make sure they are secure. It will be a bit tricky to do by hand, but shouldn’t be difficult. If you’re using a machine, go over the pleats slowly to make sure they do not shift. Top stitch around twice.

10. Iron again to flatten your pleats, and you’re done!

If you’re donating this mask, please wash it (I put masks in a mesh laundry bag in the washing machine so they don’t get lost or tangled up), and place it in a small baggie with a label. You might want to note if it is a child/adult size, and if it has a nose wire.

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