I make my masks with a casing on the sides and a drawstring made from tshirt yarn that goes around the back of the head/neck with a bead slider for adjustment. I find this is a simple and comfortable way to do it, with no pressure on the back of your ears, and no use of elastic (which stretches over time and can be difficult to source while people are madly making masks). The tshirt yarn is a perfect fit for a “pony bead” to use as a slider, that won’t shift on it’s own but isn’t hard to slide when you want to. If you’d prefer to use ear elastics or fabric ties, please feel free to modify the pattern/instructions to do this. If you are sewing elastics/ties on instead of making a casing, use the dotted line to cut the sides of the mask patterns as you won’t need the extra for the casing fold-over.
Sewing the mask without a pocket:
Cut 2 of the mask pattern from your outer material and 2 or 4 from your inner lining material (depending on if you want a 2 layer or a 3 layer mask – I’d recommend 3 layer). Place the 2 outer material pieces together, right sides touching and sew along the curved side leaving a 1cm seam allowance. Place the 2 or 4 inner lining material pieces together, with right sides touching and likewise sew those together along the curved edge – I find if I leave about a 1.5cm seam allowance this makes the inside of the mask sit neater, while not requiring a separate pattern for the inner lining. But it also works sewing both the same. Turn the outer lining pieces out the right way. Separate the inner lining pieces to expose the centre seam. Pin the outer lining seam against the inner lining seam at the top and bottom of the mask to make sure the seams are together. Then sew around the mask leaving 1 end open for turning. Turn the mask and fold in the open end seam allowance. Sew a top stitch around the whole mask. Fold over the ends of the mask about 2cm to make the casing for the drawstring and sew that down over the top of the topstitch.
Note, if you find your sewing machine struggles to sew through all the layers for the folded over casing (since you’ll be sewing through 9+ layers!), try a fresh needle suitable for heavier fabrics, and start sewing just past where the seam allowance is, so you’re not going through all those layers too. You can also reduce the layers in the casing portion by doing the pocket method which then has 1 fewer layer of fabric in the casing.
Sewing the mask to have a pocket:
Cut 2 of the mask pattern from your outer material, 2 full size pieces from your inner lining material, and 2 pieces of a shorter lining using the dotted line on the pattern. Hem the straight edges of the 2 shorter mask pieces. Place the 2 outer material pieces together, right sides touching and sew along the curved side leaving a 1cm seam allowance. Place the 2 longer inner lining material pieces together, with right sides touching and likewise sew those together along the curved edge – I find if I leave about a 1.5cm seam allowance this makes the inside of the mask sit neater, while not requiring a separate pattern for the inner lining. But it also works sewing both the same. Repeat for the 2 shorter inner lining pieces (also using the larger seam allowance). Turn the shorter and outer lining pieces out the right way. Place the longer lining pieces good side up, the shorter lining pieces good side up and the outer pieces good side down. Pin the seams of all 3 piece together at the top and bottom of the mask – so that the right side of the outer fabric is against the right side of the shorter inner lining. Then sew around the mask leaving 1 end open for turning. Turn the mask and fold in the open end seam allowance. Sew a top stitch around the whole mask. Fold over the ends of the mask about 2cm (to sit just in front of, not sewn, the pocket opening) to make the casing for the drawstring.
Adding a nose wire
There are a few ways to do this, I’ve tried a few ways to test them out. The easiest way is to sew the wire into the seam allowance on the outside fabric side, using a zigzag. Just make sure the wire can’t slide sideways (eg if your wire ends are looped, a tight zigzag should stop it slipping) – or when you do the top stitch, include a vertical line of stitching to keep the wire in place.
To make a removable wire, sew a casing from ribbon/bias binding and sew that to the inside nose of the finished mask, leaving one end open to slide the wire in/out.
What wire to use
Some people use pipe cleaners or twist ties – but the wire in those is very thin and won’t be durable for long-term use, so I wouldn’t recommend them – they are also not galvanized, so they will rust eventually! Remember that wire will snap after it’s bent multiple times, and the thinner the wire the fewer times it can bend without snapping. Some people use a flattened out paperclip, again these can eventually rust, but they are at least thick/strong enough to hold up well in use. What I use is garden tie wire, which is about 1mm thick and galvanised – so it’s cheap, durable and won’t rust! (also it’s one of those handy things to just have around for all manner of uses, so go get some! :D)
The way I do it
The method that (through some trial and error) I personally think works best for how it sits in the mask and durability (even if it takes a little longer to do) – is to cut a piece of wire, fold over the ends using pliers (stops them poking into you or poking through the fabric). Then make a casing from 10mm wide bias binding (or ribbon, but the bias binding I think is best) a few mm longer than the wire – sew down each side, insert the wire then sew the end closed. Sew that onto the seam allowance on the outer fabric side of the mask before turning it right way out. I pin where the wire is so I know as I’m top stitching (You don’t want to hit the wire!) then as you do the top stitch, be careful not to sew over the wire! I find this way the wire is padded against your nose from all the seam allowance layers, it’s easy to sew in because you’re sewing the casing on not trying to sew the wire itself on, and it’s an extra layer between the outer fabric and the wire for extra durability so the wire isn’t rubbing against the fabric to wear through.
Disclaimer – I cannot guarantee fit nor effectiveness. These masks will not protect you against covid-19, nor will they protect others from catching it from you. You must still practice social distancing, wash your hands and stay home where possible!
If you can sew your own, please do!
Here’s some of my mask-making tips:
I’ve tested out a few free patterns and the ones I personally found the best fit for me and those I’ve tried them on (other than my own pattern of course) are these. (No affiliation, just ones I’d googled, tried and liked)
When making masks, I suggest making a test one from just 2 layers of some fabric you don’t care about, just to test the fit. Check a few patterns and see which fits you best. Then make your proper masks using that pattern.
Most guides recommend using 3 layers of a tightly woven cotton for the mask. Eg not something loose weave like muslin. Standard quilting cottons are likely to be best. Some guides say to use a water resistant outer layer, but just remember you need to be able to breathe through it, and when they say “water resistant” they seem to be meaning a polyester fabric (which isn’t actually water resistant in any real sense – so I think they instead mean to use synthetic fabrics). I have also seen some articles talking about some types of chiffon fabric being good as an outer because the static helps make a barrier – you’d definitely want a couple of cotton inner layers though, as chiffon is thin.
Extra filters – Some people use extra layers inside as extra filtering. Obviously whatever you use needs to be safe and something you can breathe through. I’ve seen people recommend coffee filters. I don’t know how effective that is.
You can add a metal nose piece to help the mask fit across the nose better so it doesn’t leave as much of a gap. Make sure to use wire/metal that won’t rust. Many of the DIY guide include how to add a nose piece. I’ve included how I do it in the guide. If you’re not sure if you want a permanent one in there (eg if you’d like to be able to remove/replace it) – try sewing a piece of ribbon on the inside (lining) of the mask after sewing it up – leaving one open end to act as a casing you can slide the nose piece into, and remove if needed.
With testing a few mask designs and tie options, I personally find the drawstring and bead method to be the most comfortable and easy to use. I found fabric ties fiddly and elastics have to be the right size or they can be too tight or too loose (and can hurt behind your ear). So even if you use another mask pattern, I’d suggest trying the drawstring sliding bead tie method I use (I didn’t create the idea, it’s one I saw someone else using). I found using “tshirt yarn” for the drawstring tie to be the best – it’s soft and usually has a slight stretch. Some people use paracord. I found ribbon or twill tape to be too slippery to hold position. The tshirt yarn fits a “pony bead” (large opening plastic bead) well, which means you can use the bead as a slider to adjust the fit and it should stay put without even needing to tie the strings. I find I don’t need to tie the ends off (the bead doesn’t seem to loosen on its own) but make sure the strings are long enough to allow for tying as well.
A tip for threading the pony bead – thread one end into the bead first, then open the yarn up and lay the other end against the unrolled yarn that is going through the bead, roll it back up and pull the yarn through the bead. I found that the easiest way 🙂
Other DIY mask guides with the drawstrings tend to have the tie up at the base of the neck. I personally find that the top of the head is better for the ties as the base of the neck seems to catch your hair more. So that’s why I do mine at the top. But you can put it wherever works best for you. Another advantage of the drawstring method is that you can later change the string if you decide you’d rather ear elastics or something else.