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Sewing PPE Face Masks: 5 Things They Forget to Say

Updated on April 1, 2020
Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren has sewed for over 50 years. She shares tips to make worthwhile projects easier.

Making a PPE Face Mask

Using a sewing machine to create masks for our brave health care workers and first responders during the 2020 pandemic.
Using a sewing machine to create masks for our brave health care workers and first responders during the 2020 pandemic. | Source

Volunteers Step UP to COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic is scary. In the United States, we hear first-hand accounts of our brave healthcare providers and first responders risking their own health with insufficient PPE (Personal Protective Equipment.) Now many of them are re-using face masks. This breaks all accepted medical protocol and can spread disease among patients.

Many videos appeared teaching the public how to sew a face mask for contribution to our medical personnel or for our own use.

But, these videos leave out steps that would make it easier to produce these PPE masks.

Loops Better Than Ties

I am sewing for a local doctor. She can use my clean, but not sterilized, masks for low risk cases.

Her staff requested masks with elastic loops for around the ears.

This makes total sense. A mask with 4 tie strings must be tied. That takes time and may not result in a great fit. Meet their needs.

Don’t do tie strings if you have elastic available for ear loops.

Fabric Size

A video which I studied repeatedly for a side-gathered mask instructed you to cut two rectangles measuring 6 inches (15.25 cm) by 9 inches (21.5 cm.) The latter 9-inch side is the width of the mask going across the face.

You will eventually be creating three tucks on the shorter sides to create the three-dimensional fit around the chin, mouth and nose.

A “tuck” is a fold creating a small overlap. Think of a pleated skirt or a paper fan.

Well, I am an experienced sewer. Over half a century of experience sits in my hands and brain. I find the 6 inch size to be quite challenging and thus time wasting. Getting three evenly (or close enough to that) overlaps and pinning through the resulting four layers of fabric is harder than it needs to be.

Unfortunately, I did a heap of cutting first, so I was stuck with the 6 inch height for a while. I muddle through, growling a little.

However, my next batch was cut at 7 inches (18 cm) by 9 inches. This made the sewing more efficient and the mask more comfortable for the wearer.

Cut the fabric in 7 inch by 9 inch rectangles.

Seam Size

Some videos suggest the first seam attaching the rectangles face-to-face should be one-quarter inch. Experienced sewers should be able to go smaller. Perhaps one-eighth of an inch or somewhere between one-quarter and one-eighth.

A small seam allowance won’t be critical because after the rectangles are turned right-side out, you will be overstitching along the sides.

Don’t waste fabric in seams. Go as narrowly as possible.

Tucks, or Pleats, Make a Comfortable Fit

These masks are a three-tuck version.
These masks are a three-tuck version. | Source

Iron

Ironing is not mentioned in the instructional videos, but it will make things better in three ways:

  1. Flattens the edges- very useful
  2. Maximizes the mask size
  3. Improves the ease of making the three tucks

I do not rush to do ironing in my sewing, so if I am recommending it – it must be dramatically useful. It is!

After turning the rectangles right side out, of course, use a pencil or ruler to push the two surfaces as flat and large as possible. Then mist lightly with water and iron the edges flat.

Then, as you are folding the tucks mist and iron each fold before pinning. It makes it easier to get the size of each tuck more even. Also, it makes pinning easier.

Iron the turned-out mask AND the tucks.

Double-Overstitch

I had thought the fabric masks that we volunteers are making would be thrown in the trash after a single use with a single patient. This was the way masks were used in the world before the COVID19 pandemic.

However, if these PPE masks are going to be worn, washed, and re-worn for days or

weeks, they must be sturdier. That is why I recommend going twice around the perimeter with overstitching. Make the mask able to bear hand washing without coming apart.

Overstitch the perimeter of the mask two times around.

Twice Around the Edge for Stability

Go double around the perimeter of the face mask to make it last through many washings.
Go double around the perimeter of the face mask to make it last through many washings. | Source

The Five Extra TIps Re-capped


  1. Don’t do tie strings if you have elastic available for ear loops.
  2. Cut the fabric in 7 inch by 9 inch rectangles.
  3. Don’t waste fabric in seams. Go as narrowly as possible.
  4. Iron the turned-out mask AND the tucks.
  5. Overstitch the perimeter of the mask two times around.


Use My Tips with This Mask Making Instructional Video

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Maren Elizabeth Morgan

Comments

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    • Maren Morgan M-T profile imageAUTHOR

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

      11 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Dolores Monet - all very good points!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      11 months ago from East Coast, United States

      I made a heap of masks in the spring with elastic ear loops, elastic worn around the head, and ties. I like the ties best because you can wear the mask flopped over, tied around your neck, then just tie the top when you go into a store. I also like to use natural fabrics like cotton or linen as they are best for breathing and you don't sweat like with synthetics.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      15 months ago from Houston, Texas

      We are fortunate and have a good neighbor who sews. She has made cloth masks for us and several of our neighbors. Your instructions are great for those who wish to make their own face masks. Thanks! Stay safe!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      15 months ago from United States

      My husband will be getting a mask from work, but I ordered one for myself. I hope the person on Etsy makes a mask as nice as yours are.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      15 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A great idea and informative.

    • Isivwe Muobo profile image

      Farrah Young 

      16 months ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      These are great tips. As someone who sews, these tips are self-explanatory and come in handy for making my own masks.

      Thanks for this piece.

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