Monday, April 27, 2020

Easy & Versatile Face Mask, Updated!

A free printable PDF version of this tutorial is available from Dropbox, HERE. (Version 2a, 5/1/20). If you can't download it email me at, and I will send it to you. 

If you want to make a snug, well fitting, fast mask, consider this one. Like a quilt, it's all rectangles and squares - no pattern to trace. It's built a lot like a quilt, with three layers (but none are batting), and (two modified) bindings on the sides.

My first tutorial for this mask went on my blog in early March. Since then, I've made hundreds more to donate. Other people made it too, and provided feedback. So this new version is faster, more fun, and more user-friendly.

This design is not officially doctor-approved, but it has features that the scientific research says are  important to a mask:
  • Good coverage
  • A snug fit, if you include the nose wire, in a casing on top of the mask. The wire is easily replaced if necessary. 
  • Multiple layers, to increase the mask's ability to trap particles, including one layer of a non-woven material inside, if you like.
  • Breathability, if  you use quilter's cottons; and/or nonwoven polypropylene; or some of the fabrics suggested by research listed on my resource page, HERE

This is not the fastest mask in the world - that would be the Deaconess - but after I ran out of elastic, I turned to this design and found I can churn out about 20 a day.

But the real strength of this type of mask is that the wearer can decide what kind of ties they like best (narrow elastic, wide elastic, woven fabric, tee shirt cord, rope, shoelaces, etc.), and how they want to wear them (behind the ears or the entire head). And then they can very easily change their minds.

As a quilter, I am having a blast using my stash of fun and/or beautiful prints and batiks, and contrasting scraps for the sides and back. I hope you enjoy this pattern and your feedback and suggestions are important to me.  Email me at

Launder fabrics on hot. Press cotton fabrics on high; if using polypropylene, lower iron to "acrylic."

- Featured fabric: One 9" wide x 7" high piece for medium size (10" wide x 8" for large). Featured layer shows on the front. Quilters' cottons are ideal, especially if you have batiks which have the highest thread count!

- Lining fabric: One 9" x 7" for medium (10" x 8" for L). This layer will be against the face. I use cottons here. Flannel is also a good choice.

Optional: Third, hidden layer inside the mask. Most hospitals are not asking for a third layer, but for personal use, you might want it. One 9" x 7" piece for medium (10" x 8" for L). Quilter's cottons are fine. Some research suggests mixing it up - a piece of cotton/poly fabric, thin synthetic chiffon, or even thin silk. Whatever you choose, test it first to make sure you can breathe through it! In this tutorial, I used inexpensive polypropylene (cut from grocery bags, or purchased brand name OLY-fun yardage, which is now out of stock). More suggestions for this layer are on top of my resource page, HERE. Choose whichever highly-rated fabric that you have on hand.

- Binding/casing fabric - More featured or lining fabric; or, for fun and contrast, something completely different. Cut two 4" x 4" casing squares.

- Nose wire sleeve - Approx 2" x 5.5" fabric strip cut on the straight of grain or bias from quilter's cotton; or, a 5" x 2” piece cut from a polypropylene tote bag.

- Ties or elastic. Anything you like; you can always change your mind. My directions for using elastic or making tee shirt ties are in this tutorial.

- With elastic only: Fray Check - Or other fray-stopping liquid (or nail polish, or non-water-soluble glue). Some elastics fray.

- Wire, about 5". Grocery ties are almost adequate - two are better than one. Stronger, longer ties, like those for produce, gardening, or trash bags, are better. Pipe cleaners work, but rust eventually. Since the wires are removable, the recipient can replace them. My favorite: 22 gauge floral wire (center of photo). With any wire, use small pliers to put loops at the end, so it doesn't poke anyone.

- Small binder clips or sewing clips To minimize holes in the mask. I am using 3/4" metal binder clips. My silver ones open more easily than my black ones (but that could be unique to the brands I bought).
I am also using my dwindling supply of sewing clips, which are cuter, far more expensive, open more easily, and break more easily than metal binder clips. These are now as hard to get as toilet paper and elastic, because of the demand from mask-makers. 

Cut the Fabric

1. Cut the three large panels for the body of the mask: One featured side (pretzels), one lining (green) and optionally, one hidden piece (purple polypropylene in these photos.) And cut the two 4" binding/casing squares.

2. Place featured and lining panels good sides together. If you will have a third layer, place it behind the pair. Line up edges and corners, and pin or clip together. Stitch horizontally across the top and bottom, with a 1/4” seam allowance. Sides remain open.

3. Turn good sides out.

4. At the ironing board, push out top and bottom seams (I use the edge of a thin metal ruler), then press. If polypropylene is inside, set iron to "Acrylic."
Topstitch the upper and lower edges, 1/8” in. If you're mass producing, while topstitching, you might also want to add the sleeve (for the wire) along the upper edge. (And then along the sleeve's lower edge.) Directions for making the sleeve are toward the end of this post, under "Add a sleeve..." But if this is your first time making this mask, you can wait to the end before adding the sleeve.
5. Press the two casing squares (left) in half vertically, wrong sides together, good side out (right). Here, raw edges are pressed to the right.

Pleat it
I have a relaxed attitude towards pleats. Precision matching on each side not as important to me as the overall height of the sides. When you wear the mask, all the pleats in the central area will open, and only quilt police can detect disparities at the far ends.

6. This is like folding a paper fan, but slightly offset each fold. In the photo below, in my hand, the left corner, before the first fold, will be the top right corner of the mask. The first flap (between that corner and the first fold) should be about 3/4"-1".
Now, working down the side, make a couple more folds. With a medium mask, I can fit in a total of three or four  folds like these; with large, four or five folds.
Here's what I'm aiming for (on a different, large mask), and sometimes looking at the side like this helps me achieve it. The corner on the far left points left; the corner on the far right points right. It's okay if some of the folds are backed by other folds.
For your first masks, you may need to clip the pleats at this point, or just hold them securely.  Either way, put it on or near a grid or ruler. 
With a large mask, aim for 3.5” high or less. With a medium size, go for 3” or less. My theory is that the shorter the side, the better the fit (because the mask curves more.) Practice helps, but it can still take me a couple of tries to get the fold right. And then, to compound the brain exercise, you’ll have to do a more-or-less matching set of pleats on the other 

7. When the height of one side is right, you can go to step 8 right now, without even clipping the folds in place; or, if you prefer, fold the other side now, so the pleats more-or-less match.

8. Center one mask end on top of the folded casing, lining up all the raw edges (on the casing and the mask body) on the far right. Double check that the binding square has raw edges right.
9. Wrap the two casing ends forward around the mask. It should look something like this. You don't have to use clips if you just hold on tight! I needed the clips to take this picture!
10. Place into the sewing machine, and stitch about 1/4” in from the right edge. Stitch from top to bottom. No need to backstitch.
 Here's the seam in green thread.
11. Evaluate the right edge. If there’s more than 1/4” beyond the seam, and/or if it’s messy, use pinking shears or regular scissors to neaten it up and trim the seam allowance closer to a scant 1/4”.
Here it is, all neatened up.
If you don’t have pinking shears, another option is a zigzag to cover the edges. The cleanup means that when you or your recipient sends an elastic or cord through the casing, it won’t bring along a big clot of stray fibers with it!

12. Pull the folded edge of the casing all the way out to the right. Check the back to make sure that none of the inner layers are accidentally exposed because they didn't get caught in the seam. (If you find a gap, you’ll have to unsew the step 10 seam, trim the edges straight, then do step 10 again.)
It's pulled out as far as it can go. There are two slightly angled flaps.
Although this is the inside of the casing, which will not show in the finished mask, we must stitch the flaps’ long edges down. If not, when you send a tie through - or when your recipient does - it will get stuck under a flap, which is incredibly frustrating!

13. Slightly slant the flaps just enough to move the top corners just below the folded edge. Not having those corners protrude will give it a neater look on the front.
14. Sew the raw edges down, forming a U. Start at a in the diagram above, 1/4”down, and 1/8th” to the right of the raw edge. Backstitch a few stitches to the top of the flap. Sew down to b. Swivel and stitch across to c. Turn. Your presser foot will try to push the d corner up. Fight back, by using a finger to push back directly in front of the foot. If you have to stitch a tiny pleat into this edge, between c and d, to keep the corner below the fold, do so. End at d, with a couple more back and forth stitches.

The stitching at the base of the U serves no purpose except to travel from one flap to the other. Here’s a finished U. The upper horizontal green line is the base of the U; the line of stitching under it joined the casing to the mask.
15. Still working from the mask's front, pull the fold down and inward, just past the seam ridge underneath.
 I usually don't pull it taut - instead, I try to leave a little room to get a cord through.
16. To fasten, start sewing at the top, 1/8th inch to the right of the fold, with a few back and forth stitches. Stitch down to the bottom, ending with some more back-and-forth stitches.
Here’s the reverse side. The lower stitch line is the last seam you sewed.
18. Repeat steps 8-16 with the other end.

Add a sleeve for the nose wire

You can do this any time in the process. I often do it last, but when mass producing these masks, it’s easiest and fastest to do it after Step 4.

A wire allows the wearer to shape the mask over their nose, It makes a huge difference in achieving a snug fit. And because the sleeve is open on the sides, a broken or rusted wire can easily be replaced.

I make almost all my sleeves out of polypropylene fabric cut from a tote bag or from my OLY-fun bolt. Not for any scientific reason - I just love that it doesn’t ravel (much), so I don’t have to turn the short edges under; and the texture is different from cotton, making it a snazzy accent -  it looks almost like leather, or a grosgrain ribbon. Here's my method:
N-1. Polypropylene: Cut 5” x 2” strip. Fabric: cut 5.5" x 2". A bias strip curves a little better, but straight-of-grain works too.
N-2. Fabric only: Fold the short ends inward 1/4". (No need to do this with polypropylene.)
N-3. Fold in half the long way, to create a crease in the middle. Unfold.
N-4. Fold both long edges inward.

N-5. Fold along the middle crease.
N-6. Option for fabric only: Sew up the short sides to seal them (so someone doesn't accidentally slip the wire between fabric layers and get stuck on the short seam allowances). In the next photo, I used white thread to seal the ends.
N-7. Find the center of the mask and the strip by folding both in half and placing pins. Clip or pin the sleeve to the mask.

N-8. Stitch two straight lines, one along the top of the strip, and one along the bottom. Backstitch at both ends of both these lines. Here I used large pink stitches, but you should use a normal or tight stitch.
If you like, you can topstitch the entire top edge of the mask (instead of just the strip), by starting to the far left, just after the binding ends, and finish at the opposite end, just before the binding starts on the right.

N-9. Hold your wire next to the sleeve.  Cut it so it's the same length or a tiny bit longer. Use small pliers to shape the ends into a loop, for safety.
N-10. Slide the wire into the mask. Tell the wearer (or yourself) to try on the mask, and press to shape the wire to their nose.

Just for fun, when I use polypropylene, I sometimes cut my piece from a polypropylene tote bag's handle - it already has nice folded edges on top and bottom. I space my two stitching lines 1/2" apart, and then trim the excess along the bottom of the sleeve with a pinking shears. Too cute!

Choose straps & configurations
Arrange the straps and/or elastic any way you (or your recipient) likes, including:
- Short loops over the ears;
- Behind-the-head stretchy straps;
- Behind-the-head non-stretchy ties.
For me, this decision depends entirely on my supplies, especially of....

1/8” - 3/8” Elastic - The new toilet paper! In short supply, especially 1/4”. 

For ear loops: Test for size by sending a 14” piece of string or yarn through each casing (tie it to a safety pin and work the pin through.) Tie ends to the approximate length that goes around the ears, plus a couple more inches for a knot. That’s your raw estimate of elastic length.  For adults I don't know, I cut 12" per side (and send the mask with the elastic only loosely tied, so they can tie it tight to the length they need.) Cut two elastic pieces and drip Fray Check on the ends. Take the string out, and send each elastic piece through the casing, again by pinning it to a safety pin that you can feel and inch through.
Once it’s through, use safety pins to close the loops’ ends, try it on, and fine tune the overlap. Then, use extra strong thread (if you have it), hand-stitch from the center outward in both directions.
For behind-the-head straps made from narrow elastic, follow the procedure in the section below. 

Wide elastic - More than 3/8”- Too wide to fit behind ears. But you can send it around the back of the head. Below, we’re looking at the back of a mask. 
Thread the elastic down through down one casing and up the other, so cut ends are on top. The wearer slips the bottom loop behind their neck, pulls the mask up over their nose, then pulls the top ends together to tie or fasten on back of the head, possibly resting on ears.
It’s no fun to tie wide elastic, so after you (or the recipient) determines the fit, they can hand stitch the ends together, or knot them tightly, safety-pin or even staple them together.

Again, if you’re making the mask for someone in your household, you can estimate length by sending string through the casing and measuring. For adults I don’t know, I cut one yard of elastic; 20”-25” for kids and smaller people. 

Make tee shirt cord

Also known as "tee shirt yarn." Cut it from old (or new!) shirts. Cheaper than elastic, more available, comfortable, colorful and non-allergenic (elastic can trigger latex allergies; tees don't). 

T-1. Cut off a tee shirt's bottom hem (which itself can be used as a behind-the-head strap). Use a ruler and rotary cutter to cut off a 3/4” or 1" strip from the shirt body; or mark a 3/4” or 1" strip and cut through both layers with scissors. Here it is partially cut. 
The strip looks unassuming enough; but when you pull on both ends.... magically turns into a wonderful, stretchy cord that's ultra-comfortable behind the ears!
If you want more information and tips on tee shirt yarn, look for them on Youtube. There are easy ways to cut a single shirt into a yards-long continuous piece. 
For ear loops: (Above) Cut short pieces, about 15” each, thread them through the sides; then tie into knots. No need to sew ends together; just keep the knots. (When worn, slide knots below the ears; if they’re directly behind the ears, they slip off.)

For head straps: Make two pieces approximately 25” long, or one piece about 50” long. Thread as shown below. The bottom pieces can be tied together in a knot permanently, which will go behind the neck. The top ends are separately knotted and tied in a bow on back of the head.
If you prefer non-stretchy ties, there are zillions of tutorials online. You can use straight-of-grain cotton quilting fabric, bias-cut cotton fabric, cotton or polyester clothesline, twill tape, anything you like - providing it can be laundered repeatedly in hot water. 

Almost finished! Now, if possible, try it on. You may find you need to take a dart under the chin. You may also find that long ties make the mask fit better than over-the-ear loops. Try different things to custom-fit the mask to the wearer!

Need a Dart or Two?
When you try it on - especially if you used ear loops instead of tying behind the head - you might find a gap under the chin. It's easy to fix this with one dart centered under the chin, or two smallish darts on both sides of the center. I sew them through all the layers. For one central dart, fold the mask in half, wrong sides together, as shown, to find the center. Stitch one little seam, backstitching at both ends; it's the single line of stitching to the bottom right of the red happy face mug below:
The reverse side of that same dart looks like this (in red thread). 
Or, make small two darts the same way, each 1.5" to the right and left of center. Two darts are less conspicuous than one. 

And finally,

  • My tutorial for a fun to make, roomier mask is here.
  •  My Covid resource page, with information for maskmakers, databases of groups looking for donated masks, and links to many different tutorials, including hospital-approved patterns, is here
  • Suggestions? Information? Photos of the masks you made from my tutorials? Please email me at: Cathy.perlmutter 


  1. Thanks, Cathy! I will try to make one tonight!

  2. Thank you, a million thank yous, Cathy. You jumped in to this venture and have been relentless. I will give this newest version of the mask a try. I appreciate your well written pattern, all the great photos, and the fabulous fabric. It is like a peek into your fabric stash. Stay strong, stay healthy, mazel tov!

    1. Jane, thank you always for your kindness and understanding. I am looking forward to your feedback on this tutorial!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful, easy to follow pattern. I've tried 3 different patterns so far. This makes so much sense. I'm going to try it tomorrow.

  4. Thanks.I'll try to make one next weekend.

    1. Thanks so much, Rosa, looking forward to your results.

  5. Thanks so much for posting this, Cathy. Your version incorporates a lot of the best ideas out there into one design. Much appreciated.

    1. Thanks, Maria, I was aiming for a "Best of" agglomeration! Of course, the knowledge is shifting under our feet as new research and more experience comes in....

    2. This is exactly how my friend described your pattern to me, Cathy, and I wholeheartedly agree! For wearing over an N95 mask I'm going to make them just like this, using the continuous loop elastic tie. For others I will try making with three layers of fabric as I'm doing using another pattern, where the two inner layers form a central opening for added filtration layer. Thank you very much!

    3. Liz, which filter pattern are you using?

  6. Great tutorial, and wonderfully illustrated with some great tips. Thank you!!


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