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DIY: Make a fabric mask

A simple sewing pattern that requires only basic machine skills

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This week the federal government and several provincial governments suggested that Canadians wear fabric masks when visiting spaces where social distancing is difficult, like grocery stores or pharmacies. The CDC says fabric masks are not as effective in stopping the transmission of COVID-19 as N95 masks, which should be reserved for health-care workers, but help people who may have the virus and no symptoms from spreading it to others.

If you decide to wear a mask, this pattern is easy to sew and involves only basic machine skills.

Step 1: Gather your materials

  • Fabric: I repurposed a pillow case for my first masks and picked up a bolt of fabric at a local store (see below for some Atlantic Canadian fabric and notion stores offering curb-side pick up and home delivery). Preferred fabrics include poplin, shirting, sateen, and percale in 100% cotton. Avoid porous fabrics like flannel and T-shirt material. Before cutting, wash and dry your fabric in hot water to avoid shrinkage later.
  • Spool and bobbin of matching thread
  • Pack of pins: Ensure they’re iron safe so the heads don’t melt onto your fabric
  • Ruler, at least 18 inches
  • Scissors
  • Iron and ironing board (see below for my no-ironing board tip)
  • Sewing machine
  • Two pieces plain white paper or loose leaf
  • Adhesive tape

Step 2: Iron your fabric

This is a tempting step to skip, but as any avid sewer will tell you, ironing your fabric between steps will help your pieces fit together properly.

If, like me, you don’t have an ironing board, place a thick towel or blanket (folded in at least two layers) on your kitchen counter or table.

Step3: The first cut

The fabric for the face portion of your mask should measure 8.5 inches by 16 inches. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to tape two pieces of paper together. Standard printer paper is 8.5 inches by 11 inches. Lay one piece over the other, slide the paper to the appropriate length, and tape it in place.

Now pin your pattern to your fabric and cut around it. You will need one piece for each mask you make.

You will need four ties for each mask. The easiest way I found to cut the ties  is to cut a piece of fabric measuring 8 inches by 18 inches. Using your ruler and a straight edge (I used a yardstick) make small dots with a pen or marker on the fabric indicating each side of each strip, then cut along the dots. You’ll fold this material in so the dots will be hidden.

Step 4: Iron and prep

Iron each of your five pieces flat.

Fold the face piece in half crosswise. Pin the open top edge closed. Fabric has a right side and a wrong side. This is most noticeable with a patterned fabric. The right side is the one on which the colour or pattern is most vibrant. Start with the right side facing in. You’ll turn the mask right side out after sewing.

Place each tie strip in front of you horizontally. Fold the top edge 1/3 of the width of the tie, and pin it in place. Do the same with the bottom edge. Fold with the right side out, as we won’t turn the ties inside out.

Gently iron each pinned tie. Avoid pulling your pins loose.

Remove the pins and fold the tie in half widthwise, pinning every few inches.

Step 5: Time to sew

I prefer to sew my ties first to help stay organized. Ensure you back stitch at both ends of the tie to ensure your stitches don’t unravel in the washing machine. Sew the length of each tie. You can tuck the ends in and sew the ends if you like.

Next, sew along the first third of the open top of the mask, backstitching at the beginning and end. Leave an open gap of about 3 inches and sew along the second third. Remember your backstitching.

Clip any loose threads.

Step 6: Assembly

Tuck and pin the ties into your mask leaving only about a half inch sticking out of each corner. Sew the sides of your mask carefully. Ensure you don’t catch any of the middle of the ties into your row. Remember to back stitch at the beginning and end of each row.

Step 7: Turn your mask right side out

Carefully turn your mask inside out using the gap you left in the top. The easiest method I’ve found is to reach a finger in and slide out the ties first. Slowly pull the ties until the mask pops right side out. Ensure none of your corners are tucked in and iron the mask flat.

Step 8: Pleats

The pleats help your mask fit the shape of your face and chin.

Lay your mask flat on a table. Turn it so the gap you used to turn it right side out is at the bottom.

Pin horizontal folds into the mask at each third. The folds should overlap about a half inch. The open side of your folds should point down. This is to avoid anything that’s floating from settling in the folds.

Sew along each side of the mask, backstitching at the beginning and end of each row of stitching.

Step 9: Wearing and caring for your mask

There’s still a small gap in the bottom of your mask. If you like, you can sew this up by hand, or use it to insert a cut piece of filter material. There’s little data on their efficacy, but coffee filters, blue shop towels, and t-shirt material have all been suggested as disposable filter options.

Once you put your mask on, avoid touching or adjusting it.

When taking your mask off, touch it and as little as possible and wash your hands immediately. Wash you mask in the washing machine and dry in the dryer or on a clothes line before wearing it again.

Where to find fabric locally

Patch Halifax
2571 Robie St., Halifax, N.S.

Mira Stitchin’ Post
3850 Gabarus Hwy., Marion Bridge, N.S.

Island Fabric Outlet
56 St Peters Rd., Charlottetown, P.E.I.
(902) 569-3432

The Fabric Cupboard
22 Brandon St.
Moncton, N.B.

Fabricville – online ordering only

East Coast Living