Right now, my husband and I are supposed to be on a lovely river cruise in Europe…. However, we made the right call to stay home instead. The cruise will wait until this is over and it is safe.

Real men wear masks for protection… not just to hide those handsome features

To stay safe, I have spent the last few days making several dozen face masks. I plan on making many more before this is over. Before I started making my own, I watched several videos, read even more patterns, applied my safety professional and quilting knowledge, to come up with a design. I had a few limitations – elastic is almost as hard to find as face masks!

Materials needed for 4 masks: cotton flannel fabric (1/4 yard), cotton quilting fabric (2/3 yard), and lightweight or medium weight non-woven interfacing (1/2 yard 20″ wide), and thread. I strongly recommend using this combination. The cotton quilt fabric cover has some protection properties, but not many because of the woven nature – particles pass through the small holes. A tighter weave fabric like batik works even better. The flannel layer offers another layer of protection. The flannel fuzziness not only is nicer against the face, but blocks some of the openings from the cotton fabric. The non-woven interface, because of the irregular fiber network, blocks a good portion of the openings of the quilt fabric and flannel.

Tools needed: cutting mat, rotary cutter, ruler, iron, ironing board, pressing cloth, pen, and sewing machine. If you have a binding attachment for the sewing machine – even better!

Snipped fabric resists fraying during washing.

Step 1: Prepare Fabric. Every few inches along the cut edge of the fabric, make 1/4-inch strips. This prevents fraying and balling in the washer and dryer. Then, wash the quilt fabric and flannel in hot water with detergent. Then, dry it on high heat. This will remove any chemicals from the manufacturing process that can irritate sensitive skin – for both the wearer and the maker! The washing cycle also shrinks the fabric, so the mask will hold its shape and size. Most importantly, washing removes much of the excess dye to prevent bleeding. Can you imagine wearing the mask while sweating, taking it off and finding you turned into an Oompaloompa? Finally, iron the fabric without starch or sizing. Sizing, starch and other chemicals prevent the interfacing from sticking effectively to the fabric.

Clockwise: Fabric strips, flannel piece, and quilt fabric with interfacing.

Step 2: Cut Fabric. For each mask, cut two quilting fabric strips (width of fabric) 1 3/4-inch to 2 1/2-inch wide for the ties. You can use jelly rolls for this (if you wash them). I use 1 3/4-inch strips because that is the width of fabric the binding attachment for my sewing machine takes. Trim the selvedge edge from each end of the fabric strips. From both the quilting fabric and the flannel, cut one 8-inch by 9-inch rectangle (adult mask). Alternate measurements are small adults (8-inch squares), child (7-inch squares), and toddler (6-inch squares). From the interfacing, cut one 7 1/2-inch by 8 1/2-inch rectangle (for other sizes make the interfacing 1/2-inch smaller than the flannel/quilt fabric piece – 7 1/2-inch square, 6 1/2-inches square and 5 1/2-inches square, respectively). I make masks four at a time as each 8-inch width of quilt fabric/flannel will yield four masks (36-inches of the typical 40-44 inch fabric width).

Fabric tube after stitching (left) and after turning and pressing (right)

Step 3: Apply Interfacing. Center a piece of interfacing on the wrong side of the quilt fabric. Lay these pieces on an ironing board and cover them with a pressing cloth (if you are using double sided interfacing replace the pressing cloth with a Curved Goddess Sheet or other Teflon coated sheet). Using the iron settings specified by the manufacturer, press the interfacing onto the quilt fabric.

Step 4: Make Fabric Tube. Place right side of the quilt fabric (non-interface side) against the flannel (not sure there really is a right side) and align the edges. If they don’t match perfectly, it won’t matter. Stitch the two long sides together (for other sized masks, stitch to opposite sides together). This will make a fabric tube. Turn the fabric tube right side out. Press the tube to set the seams.

Top – pleated mask pressed and basted.
Bottom – pleated mask pressed only.

Step 5: Press Pleats. Fold the pressed tube in thirds lengthwise and finger press to identify where the pleats should be. Pinch the pressed fold about 3/4-inch inward and fold toward bottom of mask. Use clips or pins to keep it in place. Then, do the same with the other fold. Both pleats should face the bottom of the mask. Then, use an iron to press the pleats again. After making several of these, you may be able to “eyeball” the pleats and skip the 1/3 fold step. Take the mask with the pressed pleats and baste the pleats in place on the sewing machine by stitching along the raw side. Again, after you make several of these, you may skip the basting step.

Glued strip ends

Step 6: Prepare Strips. Put a thin line of Elmers glue, blue label, or other fabric safe glue on the wrong side of each end of the fabric strips. Fold the wrong side of the fabric strip in 1/4-inch to make a “finished edge.” Clip or pin the edge. Iron the glued end to dry the glue. I recommend using a pressing cloth to prevent your iron from getting gummed up. I was never keen on gluing before this, but I am a believer now! Then, fold the strip in half to find the middle. Measuring 2 1/2-inches from the middle of the strip and on the wrong side of the fabric, draw a line across the width of the strip with a Frixion pen or other fabric marker. This mark shows where to insert the top of the mask. If you are not using a binding tool, measure the width of the mask – top to bottom. Make a second mark on the wrong side of the strip. The distance between the marks must be the width of the mask. Again, this shows were the mask will be inserted.

Step 7: Assemble Masks. Using the binding tool, sew a bias strip, stopping at the drawn mark. Insert the mask and continue sewing as if you were binding the edge of a quilt. Continue past the end of the mask to continue making the strap. Flip the mask and repeat on the other side to make the second strap. If you are not using a binding tool, fold the strip in half lengthwise and press it. If using a Frixon or other heat erasable marking tool, do not get the iron near the mark. Then, fold each long edge to the middle and press again. This will make a bias strip. Sew 1/4-inch seam along the bias strip, stopping at the drawn mark. Insert the mask and continue sewing to the end of the strip. Repeat on the other side.

Inserting face mask at the drawn line.
Finished end.

Step 8: Finish Ends. Along the width of each strap, 1/4-inch from the end, stitch twice to reinforce the end. This will prevent the strap from unraveling during washing and add a nice decorative touch.

Store the mask in an unsealed plastic bag. This will prevent it from getting dirty. Do not seal the bag as the moisture in the bag could encourage mold or mildew growth.

When taking off the mask, use gloves to untie it and pull the fabric from the front. Do not reach inside the mask to remove it. Wash the mask and your clothing immediately after use to minimize household contamination. Wash gloves and hands as soon as possible. Remember to sanitize door handles, faucet handles and other places you may have touched.

Why didn’t I use elastic? There shelves were bare. In addition, medical professionals provided feedback to our quilt guild that the elastic didn’t fit all faces and caused ear fatigue. The same is true for button style – they are not as adjustable as ties.

Why did I sew the straps to the sides rather than the top or corners? Personal preference and ease of production.

Why didn’t I make a pouch for a filter insert? Masks should be washed after each use. Providing a filter pocket encourages reuse without washing. Plus, medical professionals, who have more exposure, will use these as covers not as a sole means of protection. Non-medical professionals should be using social distancing in addition to masks so more robust filtration may not be needed.

Why didn’t I use a nose clip? Indeed, the use of a nose clip would have provided a better fit, therefore better protection. However, the professional grade clips are flat coated metal , which are not readily available. These clips tend not to irritate the user. Other homemade clips, like jewelry wire or pipe cleaners, can poke through the fabric, especially after washing, rending the mask less than useful.

Why didn’t I use a furnace filter or coffee filter instead of interfacing? Coffee filters were not durable enough. Furnace filters were not meant to be worn near a persons face and are not the same material as the N95 masks. Furnace filters are not meant to me washed and dried like clothes. Finally, furnace filter material is quite robust. This robust nature is difficult for people to breathe through. Therefore, the air will more likely enter and exit via the sides of the mask bypassing the filter. Thus, defeating the purpose of the masks.

If you have any questions, comments or other ideas, please share them!

Most of my masks are being donated. I do sell some to cover the cost of materials, which enables me to donate even more of them. If you are interested in a purchase, please email lsmith@tourmalinethymequilts.com. If you have an organization that needs masks, please let me know. I will work with my guild to add you to the list.

Happy quilting and sewing! Stay healthy.