A photo tutorial for the fabric face mask pattern designed by me and Cassian.

This pattern makes a two-layered pleated fabric mask intended to fit any adult. There is an optional nose wire which improves the fit and reduces glasses-fogging, and three different choices of fastening style.

We designed these masks with gradual trial and error, after experimenting with some other patterns. The tutorial is aimed at people who can sew a straight line (by hand or machine), but might have never made pleats or other complex construction before - that was me before I started making these masks.

1. Preparation

Start by deciding what type of fastening to make. There are three options:

  • Option A, Ear loops. Easiest to put on and off, can feel less secure and less comfortable when worn for a long time.
  • Option B, Head straps. A bit awkward to put on and off, good for adjusting the fit and positioning, good use of old bra straps!
  • Option C, Tie ribbons. Most versatile for tying around the head or into ear loops, can come untied when worn for a long time, may fray or degrade with wear and washing.

Most of the construction is the same for all the fastenings, they just take slightly different materials.

You'll need some equipment:

  • A sewing machine (optional but recommended).
  • An iron (optional but recommended).
  • Scissors.
  • A hand sewing needle.
  • Some pins.
  • Pen, pencil, or tailor's chalk.
  • A ruler or tape measure.

Gather your materials. For one mask:

  • A 36cm × 20cm rectangle of fabric. The best fabric is high thread count woven cotton, like the type used for quilting. Whatever colour or pattern you like.
  • Some thread. Whatever colour you like, to match or contrast your fabric.
  • A 9cm length of non-rusting wire (optional but recommended). 4mm flat aluminium jewelery wire is ideal.
  • One of:
    • For Option A, Ear loops: Two 19cm lengths of elastic. About 5mm wide elastic ribbon is ideal. Whatever colour you like, to match or contrast your fabric.
    • For Option B, Head straps: Two reclaimed adjustable bra straps at least 40cm long. About 5-10mm wide straps are ideal. Whatever colour you like, to match or contrast your fabric.
    • For Option C, Tie ribbons: Four 45cm lengths of ribbon. About 5-10mm wide is ideal, and preferably with a ridged texture to hold knots better. Whatever colour you like, to match or contrast your fabric. To stop the ribbons fraying, singe the ends by waving them momentarily in a candle or lighter flame. Synthetic materials might not cope with hot wash or dry cycles, so beware.

Fold the rectangle of fabric in half along the long edge, with the good side of the fabric on the inside. The fabric in these photos is reversible, but if yours only has the pattern on one side then put that on the inside.

If you have one, iron the fabric in this folded shape, it will make the next steps easier.

Add a few pins along the sides to keep it together and flat. For the rest of the instructions, the folded edge will be the top and the open edge will be the bottom.

1b. Remove cat from workspace

2. Fastenings

The mask is currently inside-out, so the fastenings are going to be attached on the inside. It's difficult to describe the process but there are diagrams!

Option A, Ear loops

Each ear loop is going in between the layers of fabric, and with just a small amount sticking out at the top and bottom where it will be attached.

Slide one piece of elastic in through the opening at the bottom. Then push one end of it out the side, near the top corner. Leave just a couple of millimetres space from the top edge, and about 5mm of the elastic extending out of the side, then pin in place.

Grab the other end of the same elastic, and push it out of the side near the bottom. Try to make sure that the elastic is flat and not twisted, it will make for a neater and more comfortable ear loop.

The fabric will crumple because the elastic is under tension, but that's okay as long as the ends of the elastic are in the right places. Again leave 5mm of the elastic extending out of the side, but this time leave about 15mm from the bottom edge (you're leaving space for a seam), then pin in place.

Repeat the same operation with the second elastic on the other side. When you're done you'll have a horrifying crumpled mess like this (don't worry, it will make sense again later):

Option B, Head straps

Each head strap is going in between the layers of fabric, and with just a small amount sticking out at either side where it will be attached.

Slide one strap in through the opening at the bottom. Then push one end of it out of the side, near the top corner. Leave just a couple of millimetres from the top edge, and about 5mm of the strap extending out of the side, then pin in place.

Grab the other end of the strap, and push it out of the other side near the top in the same way, and pin in place. Make sure that the strap is flat and not twisted, otherwise it will be difficult to wear. The middle of the strap will be bunched up inside, that's okay as long as the ends are in the right places.

Slide the next strap inside and push one end out of the side near the bottom. Try to make sure the two straps are the same way up and not flipped, otherwise it will be difficult to adjust. Again leave 5mm of the strap sticking out past the side, but this time leave about 15mm from the bottom edge (you're leaving space for a seam), and pin in place.

Repeat with the other end of the strap on the other side, making sure not to twist it. When you're done you'll have a lumpy mess like this (don't worry, it will make sense again later):

Option C, Tie ribbons

Each ribbon is going in between the layers of fabric, and with just a small amount sticking out at each corner where it will be attached.

Slide one piece of ribbon in through the opening at the bottom. Then push one end of it out of the side, near the top corner. Leave just a couple of millimetres from the top (folded) edge, and about 5mm of the ribbon extending out of the side, then pin in place.

Do the same with another piece of ribbon at the other top corner. Then with a third piece, push the end out of the side near the bottom corner. Again leave 5mm of the ribbon extending out of the side, but this time leave about 15mm from the bottom edge (you're leaving space for a seam), and pin in place.

Do the same thing on the other side with the last piece of ribbon. When you're done you'll have a jellyfish like this:

3. Side seams

The rest of the construction is the same for all the options. With your fastenings pinned in place it's time to sew the sides. It just needs a straight line of plain stitches down each side, but it's a good idea to double back at the top and bottom so that the fastenings get extra reinforcement.

So the line of stitching starts slightly below the upper fastening, goes up to the top edge, then all the way down the bottom, then back up again and ends slightly above the lower fastening.

Start a centimetre or two below the upper fastening, and sew a straight line over it until you reach the top edge. Then turn around and sew a straight line all the way back down to the bottom edge.

If you're making Option A the fabric might be crumpled by the elastic and difficult to keep flat in the sewing machine. Use your free hand to spread out the fabric on either side of the foot so that the part being sewn is always flat, and let the rest of the fabric take up the crumples.

Then turn once more and sew back again until a centimetre or two above the lower fastening. When you're done you'll have a straight line of stitching with two sets of loose threads, one near each of the fastenings.

Do the same on the other side. Then tie off the loose threads and cut the excess off. These don't need to be sewn in because they're going to be hidden inside the finished mask.

Now turn the whole thing inside-out through the bottom. Everything will hopefully look a lot more understandable now, and you'll have one of these:

4. Nose wire

Skip this step if you don't have any wire.

Lay the length of wire at the middle of the top edge, and mark both ends on the fabric.

There's going to be a line of stitching along one end of the wire pocket and the whole bottom edge, but leaving a gap at the other end. For extra reinforcement it's a good idea to go over the the end twice.

So the line of stitching starts at one bottom corner of the wire pocket, goes up, then back down, then all the way along and finishes at the other bottom corner.

Start at the bottom corner of one of the markings for the wire, and sew a straight line up to the top edge (probably only a couple of stitches). Then turn around and sew a straight line back to the same place.

Then sew all the way along, parallel with the top edge, until you reach the other end of the wire pocket. Stop there, leaving the end open for the wire to go in. When you're done you'll have one side and the bottom of the wire pocket stitched, with loose threads coming from each lower corner.

Now put the wire into the pocket. Slide it in through the bottom opening, and then shuffle it into the pocket through the open edge. You'll close the end when sewing in the loose threads.

5. Bottom seam

To finish the bottom, both raw edges of fabric need to be folded inwards together. It can be fiddly, but it's easiest if you start folding in the middle and then work out towards the sides. Ironing the side seams flat first can also help (although don't do that if you used synthetic ribbon!).

Aim for about 5-10mm folded over, it doesn't need to be very precise as long as it's enough to pin in place and not so much that it interferes with the fastenings. Once the edges are folded and straight, pin in place all the way along the bottom.

Now sew a straight line all the way along. Try to stitch about 1-2mm away from the edge for the neatest result.

6. Pleats

Pleats are scary if you haven't done them before, but there are lots of pictures and diagrams to help! There will be three pleats on the finished mask. Some patterns use lots of repeated measuring and ironing to get them perfectly lined up, but we found it more intuitive (and much less faff) to just approximate them by hand. It's not the end of the world if they aren't perfectly centred or exactly the same size, you won't be able to tell when the mask is on anyway.

To make each pleat, a pair of points on the fabric are brought together to touch, making a loop in between them. That loop gets flattened down so that there's a zigzag in the fabric, and then sewn over in place. If it helps, you can mark the six points on the edge of the mask before you start so that it's easier to keep track of what you're doing.

Start with the middle pleat, it will be easier to get them all centred that way. Pinch the fabric so that the middle two points along the edge are touching.

Flatten down the loop between them so there is a flat zigzag in the fabric, and pin in place.

Now you have one pinch in the middle of one side of the mask.

Run that fold along to the other side of the mask, keeping it as straight as possible.

With the fold on the other side, flatten it and pin in place.

Now grab the next pair of points on one side.

Bring the points together, making sure that the loop of excess in between goes in the same direction as the already-pinned pleat.

Flatten the loop to make a zigzag and pin in place.

Now the process continues in the same way. Follow the newly-pinned fold along the mask to the other side, flatten it there and pin. Then bring the last pair of points on one side together.

Bring them together to make a loop, flatten into a zigzag, and pin. Then follow the fold along to the other side, flatten again, and pin. Each side should have three matching pleats in a row.

And the whole thing will look roughly mask-shaped now.

Now the pleats are in place, they just need to be stitched down. Sew a straight line down each side of the mask, about 5mm from the edge, straight over the pinned folds. If you're using a machine it's easiest to sew with the folds laying down in the direction of stitching.

With thick fabric it might get tough to sew through all the layers of fabric on a machine, but just go slowly. If it gets stuck or bunched up, pause and lift the foot to adjust it before you carry on.

Do the same thing on both sides of the mask. Once that's done, you're finished with all the main seams.

7. Finishing

The only thing left is to sew in the loose threads - a few stitches in place is fine. For the ends at the open side of the nose wire pocket, make sure to go upwards so that the open end gets sealed and the wire won't be able to slip out.

Once the loose threads are dealt with, you have a finished and usable mask!

Our masks

We developed this pattern when we started making fabric masks to give to our neighbours, which we post about on tumblr. The pages there have more details about why people should wear masks, including lots of scientific sources and information.

I have given this work a Creative Commons license that means anyone has permission to use, share, and modify it - as long as you credit me, don't sell it for money, and use the same license rules on your own versions. Please feel free to make your own masks or improve on this pattern for your own purposes!

Fabric mask tutorial by Jay Avery is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License - view here.

Creative Commons Licence