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Home Hacks: DIY Reusable Cloth Masks

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

We're posting a series of Home Hacks to our blog here and to the Buy Nothing Project page on Facebook. Each Home Hack offers a way we can make do with what we have in our homes to delay or avoid trips to the store. Today we have a tutorial from Rebecca for the DIY reusable cloth masks she's making for our community, using materials from home and sourced safely and without human contact through her local Buy Nothing group.

This photo above is a slideshow that includes sequential images of the construction process - Click the arrows to the side of each photo to navigate through them all.


I've been making stacks of these reusable cloth masks using fabric I had at home (thread, an old flannel sheet, old t-shirts, pipe cleaners from my kids' arts & crafts drawer) and some supplies given to me by neighbors in my local Buy Nothing group (densely-woven cotton fabric from quilt stashes and sheets, steel wire, more pipe cleaners, more thread). Each mask has 2 layers of fabric (3 if you count each overlapping inner piece as its own layer), a sturdy bendable nose bridge, an inside pocket to hold a disposable layer of non-woven melt-blown filter media that you replace with each wear (see the articles below for options), and 4 ties that go around the back of your neck and up over the crown of your head. These masks were designed to work well if you are also covering your head/hair to cut down on vector surface area, so they do not loop around your ears. These are designed to be machine washed on hot and dried on high heat, and should hold up for some time - Just remember to throw out that disposable layer of filter media after each wear and before washing, and to add a fresh new filter layer before each wearing. These are decidedly not equivalent to the PPE and N95 masks needed by people on the front lines, but I wanted to engineer something I could make on my basic sewing machine, using materials I already had and things I could easily find online, now that our local shops are mostly closed. I read as many sources as I could, consulted with an ER physician I know, and settled on this design, but there are many others. Please do your own research and pick a mask that you will wear, properly and securely fitted to your face and head.

Here are some of the resources I used to design this mask and to decide on non-woven melt-blown filter layers for my own mask - I'm going with blue paper shop towels for now: Washington Post article

Remember: a DIY mask does not offer anything close to full protection to you or those around you! While there's not much evidence yet, scientists and public health experts believe DIY masks primarily help to reduce the spread of droplets when YOU breathe, sneeze or cough. Wearing one of these is less about protecting yourself and more about making YOU less likely to spread this novel coronavirus to OTHERS. Social/physical distancing is still of the utmost importance, and you should only be out when absolutely necessary. A mask doesn't make it okay for you to ignore public health orders to stay home, or to increase your trips to the store or other essential locations. Also, wash your hands!

Here's how I make my masks - I'm not up for creating my own video tutorial, but this one from Missouri Star Quilt Company is similar and walks you through many of the same steps. If you'd like to see how I make these, click on the photo at the top of this post - there you can scroll through a slideshow of mask-making images by clicking on the arrows at the side (and by hovering your cursor toward the bottom of each slide, you can read a brief description of each image).

Materials needed:

NOTE: Pre-wash your fabric in hot water and dry it on high before cutting.

  • 1 piece of densely-woven cotton or cotton/poly blend fabric, such as a cotton sheet cut into a 9" x 7" rectangle for the front (facing the world side) of your mask.

  • 2 pieces of flannel or more cotton or cotton/poly blend fabric, cut into 9" x 5" rectangles for the inside (touching your face side) of your mask.

  • 1 piece of scrap fabric 1-1/2" x 6-1/2" to hold the nose bridge.

  • 1 pipe cleaner, 12" long

  • 1 piece of thin wire approx 7" long, optional: You can skip this and simply use pipe cleaner. I like the extra hold this wire brings to the nose bridge, which is good for big noses like mine. I'm using 28 gauge dark annealed steel, since it's very soft and easy to work with, and it's available at hardware stores and online; any thin wire will work

  • 4 Ties: This can be 1 pair shoelaces at least 30" long each or 2 pieces of 1/4" elastic approx 15" long each or 4 pieces of cord, bias trim, or other material to form ties, each 15" - 18" long. Cut ties to work for the individuals who will wear your masks if possible. For instance, when I use barrel cord locks, I cut the two bottom ties at 12" each, and the two top ties at 15" each to fit around my family's heads with ease and plenty of room for adjustment.

  • 2 heavy-duty barrel cord locks, optional - I'm using these because they're great for adjusting ties to fit securely and easily, and work with shorter ties

  • wire cutters

  • scissors

  • pins

  • thread (all-purpose poly thread is the strongest)

  • sewing machine if you've got one, or a hand sewing needle and a thimble

Step 1: Cut your fabric pieces. The 9" sides of each piece will be the top and bottom edges of your mask; the shorter sides will be the left and right sides. Step 2: Sew a 1/4" hem along one of the 9 inch sides of each inner fabric piece (the 9" x 5" pieces)

Step 3: Make the nose bridge

  • Bend the pipe cleaner in half

  • If you're using the optional thin wire: Wrap the folded pipe cleaner with the thin wire, forming a coil around both sides of the pipe cleaner. Trim the wire ends and tuck them into the pipe cleaner so they don't poke your nose later.

Step 4: Fold the scrap of fabric along its long edge and stitch a 1/2" seam to form a sheath for the pipe cleaner nose bridge.

Step 5: Insert the pipe cleaner nose bridge into the sheath and stitch both ends closed. Trim excess fabric from ends and long side, leaving about 1/4" of fabric along the long seam.

Step 6: Stitch the nose bridge sheath into place, centered along one of the 9" sides of the back face of the front fabric (the 9' x 7" piece)

Step 7: Set the front piece flat, right side facing up. Set the inner pieces on top of the front piece, right sides facing down and with their 1/4" seams to the center, rough edges aligned with the top and bottom edges of the front piece. The inner pieces will overlap each other a bit; for right now, it doesn't matter which is on top of the stack. Pin through the center of the left and right sides of this stack.

Step 8: Flip this stack of fabric over and stitch a 1/4" hem along both the top and bottom edges. Mind that you don't run over the nose bridge with your needle - your sewing machine will not enjoy that!

Step 9: Set the stack down with the inner pieces on top and fold them out of the way along these new seams, exposing the right side of the front fabric.

Step 10: It's time to place the ties! Pin the raw end of each tie (the end you want hidden) into one of the 4 corners, where the front fabric meets the inside fabric. You want the length of the tie running straight along the new seams on the top and bottom, with the end lined up against the outside raw edge of the right side of the front fabric. Pool the excess of each tie in the center, so that it won't be caught up while you're stitching the next seams. See the slideshow above for photos of this.

Step 11: Fold the inner layers of fabric back into place on top of the right side of the front fabric, so that the pile of ties is caught between the layers of fabric. Pin the layers in place as desired, making sure that the ties are only touching the left and right sides at the corners, where you want them to be stitched in place. Fold the top inner layer down first, then fold the bottom inner layer up into place.

Step 12: Return to the sewing machine and add a 1/4" seam along the right and left sides of the stack of fabric.

Step 13: Reach between the inner layers to reverse the fabric, bringing the right sides and the ties out. You can pull on each tie to help bring its corner out. Flatten everything with your hands or press with an iron if you'd like a very neat and tidy mask.

Step 14: Topstitch a seam along the top of the mask, in a straight line from left to right, just below the nose bridge. Topstitch a straight seam along the bottom of the mask, about 1/4" in from the edge.

Step 15: Time for pleats! Use your fingers to create a shallow pleat that runs from right to left, parallel with the top edge of the mask, and a bit down from the top of the mask. Pin it in place on the right and left. Fold a second pleat into place below this, and pin that in place. Stitch a 1/4" along the right and left sides of the mask to hold these pleats securely in place. Add a bit of topstitching over each corner of the mask to insure that each tie is held securely in place (a bit of zigazag stitching works perfectly)

Step 16: Add barrel cord locks if you're using those to secure the ties. However you fasten the ties, the upper two meet to form a connecting pair around the crown or back of your skull, and the lower two meet to form a connecting pair around the base of your skull.

Step 17: Your mask is ready for its disposable layer of non-woven melt-blown filter media. Open the inner pocket and insert the filter of your choice, making sure to extend it over the entire interior. Make sure it's snug against your face all the way around, and that the ties are secured so they won't slip during wear. Covering your head with a securely fitted scarf or cap may give the ties something to hold onto.

Remember: your mask is not a guarantee of safety for you or those around you, it's just one tool that may reduce the spread of this novel coronavirus. You must keep a safe distance from others, wash your hands, and follow all public health orders. While wearing your mask, treat the outside as a "hot/dirty" surface - If you touch it, consider your hands contaminated and clean your hands appropriately ASAP.

Here's how I deal with my family's masks: Before we leave, I open our washing machine and pour in some detergent for a small load, and I set an open paper bag by our front door. When we return, we each remove our masks, being careful not to touch our faces. We remove the disposable filter layers and put those directly into our outdoor trash (I have a bag inside our trash can to collect these so they're not loose in there).We put our fabric masks into the open paper bag, which we carry to the washing machine. It's easy to empty the masks into the machine, wash our hands very well with soap and hot water, then close the machine and turn it on to HOT wash. And then we wash our hands again. We dry the masks on HIGH HEAT. Sunshine is also a powerful disinfectant, so when the sun starts to shine here near Seattle, we'll hang our washed and dried masks outside for some sunlight exposure.

You'll want to come up with a system that works for you, just make sure that you remove and dispose of the inner filter layer after each wear, wash the mask in hot water and dry it with high heat.

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1 Comment

Laurie Senit
Laurie Senit
Nov 18, 2020

Check this out! Free stuff!

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