How to Sew a DIY Protective Face Mask

Item # X-HT-300465

We have had so many customers calling and emailing asking us to create a face mask DIY and how-to video to help fight the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). We heard you. But we didn’t want to rush into an ineffective and poorly made design. Since PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) isn’t our area of expertise, we wanted to take the appropriate time for research and development.

Sew a DIY protective face mask.

A Note About Breathability

At Sailrite®, we specialize in canvaswork and marine fabrics. The term “breathable” for a marine canvas fabric does not mean the material is easy to breathe through. “Breathable” in this context means the material will not build moisture and condensation on the inside when used for full boat enclosures and boat covers. We do not recommend using marine cover cloth canvas for face masks. For face masks, you need a material that is easy to breathe through when the fabric is doubled and held tightly against your face.

A Note About Handwashing & Sanitizing

It’s important to wash your hands repeatedly throughout the mask assembly and sewing process. We recommend disinfecting all tools, materials, supplies and your workstation before beginning this project. When the mask is completed, you can wash it to ensure you have a clean, sanitized mask prior to wearing it. When wearing your finished mask you should wash your hands immediately after putting your mask on. Then refrain from touching your face at all while wearing the mask. Once you have returned home from your public outing, immediately throw away the filter layer (discussed below) and launder your mask.

To wash your mask after each public outing, first remove and dispose of the inner filter without touching the mask surface. Then place the mask in your washer with like colors, add detergent and wash on hot. You can also place the mask in a delicate laundering mesh bag. Make sure to wash your hands after touching the mask. Do not touch your face or other surfaces when handling the mask. To dry the mask, hang it away from human contact or put it in the dryer on a short cycle. Do not use fabric softener. When it is dry, insert a new filter without touching the outer fabric.

Our Face Mask Design

A face mask is effective if it can successfully trap particles in the air. Our mask design takes note of the N95 mask design, which has a special filter to trap 95% of airborne particles before they can reach your mouth and nose. The filter material we recommend you use for DIY masks is polypropylene Melt Blown Face Mask Filter Material with a Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) of at least 95%. The BFE is the effectiveness of a material to filter bacteria. In regards to the level of protection this specific filter material offers, what we’ve chosen to use within our reusable masks has passed Level 1 certification for ASTM filtration efficiency.

Please keep in mind that these DIY face masks do not meet the same safety standards as genuine N95 masks, nor have they been tested by any safety organization. However, after multiple design concepts, researching proper mask materials, and test fitting our masks on a variety of face sizes and shapes, we believe that our Contoured Face Mask design is as effective at filtering airborne particles as any homemade design can be. It is entirely up to the user to wear the mask properly, dispose of the filter after every public use, and dispose of or wash the mask daily.

While there are many types of reusable masks out there, we have chosen one specific method. These masks are made from two layers of Spun Bonded Polypropylene Non-Woven Material for Masks. Sandwiched in between these layers is a filter made from Melt Blown Polypropylene. This is the same basic construction as an N95 mask. The filter material is inserted into a slit at the bottom of the mask and can be removed and switched out after each use. This makes the mask (minus the filter) machine washable. Our Spun Bonded Polypropylene Non-Woven Material for Masks actually gets stronger when it’s washed. Nevertheless, we recommend disposing of a mask after roughly a week of use.

Our mask uses grosgrain ribbon to secure around the head, not the ears. We recommend washing and drying the mask after each public outing. To sew these masks, use Coats and Clark Dual Duty XP® General Purpose Thread and a #12 needle. You can also use a reusable outer material such as a washable cotton or a synthetic fabric for your mask. Sunbrella® recently stated that certain of their upholstery fabrics — Canvas, Spectrum and Cast — can be used for the outer layer of a DIY face mask due to the fabrics' weight and weave. However, Sunbrella fabric is harder to breathe through than the Spun Bonded material. We still recommend using the Spun Bonded material for the inner mask layer that touches your face. You will still need to use the Melt Blown Face Mask Filter Material as your filter layer, discarding the filter and washing the mask after every public outing. Sunbrella fabrics are bleach cleanable.

NOTE: Sailrite makes NO CLAIM that this face mask will protect you from contracting coronavirus/COVID-19. Sailrite is not an authorized medical or health safety authority. Use at your own risk.

Important Information About Mask Design & Supplies

    To create a mask that best fits your face shape, we have created the Mask Calculator as part of our Sailrite Fabric Calculator resource (fabric-calculator.com). We will show you how to customize the mask design to fit your unique face shape in the instructional video. We also offer a printable mask template in three standard sizes: small, medium and large.

    Optional: To create a nose contour for a better fitting mask, you can use gardening wire. If possible, use wire with a rubber or plastic coating that will prevent the wire from poking through the mask. Our Metal Nose Stays (#122497) are a great alternative to gardening wire. They are flat and fit nicely in the nose bridge of the mask design. Both rubber-coated gardening wire and our Metal Nose Stay are washable so you can wash and reuse your mask.

    To create the best fit, grosgrain ribbon works well and can be tied around your head. You can add barrel lock closures to the grosgrain ties, which cinch very nicely to the back of your head for a tight fit. You can also use 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch elastic around your head, not around your ears (not comfortable for long-term wear).

    Spun Bonded Polypropylene Non-Woven Material for Masks is sold in 5-yard and 10-yard packs. This allows you to make masks in bulk that you can use for yourself or give to your friends, family or your community. Here’s a breakdown of how many masks you can make per 5 yards of Spun Bonded Polypropylene Mask Material:

  • Small Mask Size: 70 masks from 42-inch Spun Bonded. 100 masks from 60-inch Spun Bonded.
  • Medium Mask Size: 54 masks from 42-inch Spun Bonded. 81 masks from 60-inch Spun Bonded.
  • Large Mask Size: 48 masks from 42-inch Spun Bonded. 64 masks from 60-inch Spun Bonded.
  • If you use cotton or synthetic material, stay away from stretchy cotton fabric. Fold your chosen material in half and hold both layers up to the light. If you can't see through the material easily, but you can still breathe through both layers, then it is acceptable to use as a mask. Be sure to add the opening slit for the filter layer.

Flat vs. Contoured Masks

Why did we choose to make contoured masks instead of flat ones? Allow us to explain below.

Flat, pleated masks are designed to protect the environment from respiratory droplets expelled by the wearer. These flat masks can protect the wearer from larger particles and splashes. However, because flat, pleated masks do not fit tightly and there are gaps along the sides, top and bottom, this means that smaller particles may move around the mask through the gaps and potentially enter the nose and mouth of the wearer.

Tight-fitting, contoured masks (such as the N95 respirators and our mask design) are designed to protect the wearer from respiratory droplets in the environment. They are designed to fit tightly against the face and to not let small particles reach the wearer’s nose and mouth. Because these masks are so formfitting, if you are making your own, you need to choose an outer material layer that is breathable.

How to Sew a Contoured Face Mask

Materials for making a contoured protective face mask.

Materials List:

  • Spun Bonded Polypropylene Non-Woven Material for Masks (#122502, #122503, #122504, #122505)
  • Melt Blown Face Mask Filter Material (#122475, #122476)
  • Grosgrain Polyester Binding 1" (#105420, #105421, #105422, #105423, #104220) — 8 feet per mask
  • Coats Dual Duty XP® General Purpose Thread — 2 spools needed to make masks from 5 yards of Spun Bonded Polypropylene Non-Woven Material for Masks
  • 2 YKK® Barrel Lock Cord Closure 5/32" Side Slots (#122197, #103973)
  • Metal Nose Stays for PPE Masks (#122497) or rubber covered flexible tie gardening wire (found at most hardware stores) — optional

Tools List:

  • Scissors OR rotary cutter and cutting mat
  • Sailrite® 1" Swing-Away Binder (#100103)
  • Pen
  • Wire cutters
  • Sewing machine
  • Sailrite® Edge Hotknife (#103800) — optional

Instructions

1. The first step is to download and print the template that best fits your face size. Choose from Small, Medium and Large template sizes. Once you have your template printed, fold it in half on the fold line and cut it out. Note: When printing the template, make sure your print settings are set at 100% or the template will not be the correct size.

Cut the face mask template.

2. Cut two rectangles of the spun bonded polypropylene mask material. Fold the material in half and trace the folded paper template on top of the mask material, aligning the folded edges of the template and the material. Cut out the doubled material. Repeat for the second mask layer. Note: To conserve polypropylene mask material if making masks in bulk, trace the paper template onto the material in a way that wastes the least amount of material. If comfortable, skip the tracing and use a rotary cutter and cutting mat to skillfully trim out each mask shape, working around the template.

Cut out the mask material.

Mask layers shown splayed open after cutting.

3. Set your sewing machine stitch length to approximately 3mm or 4mm. Fold a mask layer in half and sew down the center of the mask with a 1/4-inch seam allowance, reversing at the beginning and end to lock your stitches. This creates a vertical pleat down the center of the mask and shapes the mask to the face. Repeat for the second mask layer. To speed up time when making masks in bulk, do not cut your thread after the first mask. Place the second mask under the presser foot after sewing the first one and continue sewing. When finished with successive mask layer(s), carefully cut the masks apart and trim all loose threads.

Materials for making a contoured protective face mask.

4. Next, sew the grosgrain binding onto the bottom edge of each mask layer. Use a 1-inch binder attachment, paying attention that your mask material does not curl up in the binding (a skilled seamstress can work without a binder). To speed up the binding process, do not cut your thread between mask layers. When you’re finished with your first layer, line up your next mask layer and immediately feed it through the binder. When finished with both layers (or keep going depending on how many masks you’re making), carefully cut the masks apart and trim the binding at the edges following the angle of the mask edge.

Sew grosgrain binding to bottom of each mask layer.

5. Match up your two mask layers with the right sides facing in and seams facing out. Starting at one top corner, sew a 1/4-inch seam allowance across the top of the mask. Reverse at the beginning and end to lock your stitches.

Sew top of mask layers together.

6. Turn the mask right side out and try to flatten the seams to one side so they look nicer. Sew a sleeve at the center top of the mask for the wire nose piece to slip into. Sew a sleeve 3 inches long at the mask’s center point with a 3/8-inch seam allowance. Reverse at the beginning and end to lock your stitches. Cut a 3-inch piece of gardening wire and feed it through the sleeve. Some people find the wire nose piece uncomfortable. This is an optional part of the mask design. Note: If using the Metal Nose Stay, insert the flat metal piece into the top of the mask before sewing the sleeve.

Sew nose piece sleeve and insert gardening wire.

7. You will need to leave the bottom of the mask mostly open for filter insertion. However, you need to bar tack both bottom corner layers together at the binding. Sew vertical bar tacks on each bottom corner.

Bar tack bottom corners of mask layers together.

8. Set the mask aside and sew the mask straps. Insert binding into the binder attachment as done in step 4. Reversing at the beginning, sew the binding until you’ve sewn 18 inches of binding. Next, feed one short edge of the mask into the binding/binder and continue sewing. Sew another 18 inches past the mask. Note: To save time if making masks in bulk, you can use a hotknife to cut the straps apart after you’ve completed step 10. If taking this approach, you do not need to reverse sew when sewing the binding straps.

Materials for making a contoured protective face mask.

9. At this point, you can cut your binding and repeat for the second mask side. Or, to speed up the sewing process when sewing multiple masks, do not cut the binding. Sew another 18 inches of binding. Insert a short edge of a new mask and continue sewing in this fashion until you have a string of masks. Reverse sew where the straps will ultimately be cut apart.

10. Follow the same procedure for the second side of the masks. Cut the string of masks apart.

Finished mask without filter layer.

11. At this point, you can add the optional barrel lock closures. Take your top two straps and fold them together lengthwise, making the straps skinnier. Feed them through the barrel lock opening. Once the top straps are done, repeat for the bottom two straps.

Adding barrel lock closures to mask straps.

12. Take your paper template, folded in half, and trim 3/4 inch off the top and outside edges of the template. Lay the folded template on top of a doubled layer Melt Blown Face Mask Filter Material and trace the shape. Cut out the filter material. With the filter layer folded, sew a center seam as you did for the spun bonded polypropylene mask layers in step 3. This will create a vertical seam in the filter material and will help it shape to your face inside the mask.

To insert the filter into the mask, open up the bottom of the mask wide like a balloon and press the filter layer into place. Close the mask outer layers together and your mask is ready to be worn. To wear the mask, slip it over your head, adjust the wire nose piece so it is formed to your nose snugly, and either cinch the barrel locks tightly against the back of your head or tie the straps tightly. Remember to discard the filter material after every public use and wash your mask.

Insert filter into mask.

The Spun Bonded Polypropylene Non-Woven Material for Masks is sold in both 5-yard and 10-yard increments. So we calculated how much it would cost per mask to make 5 yards' worth of masks. The cost per mask — without the filter material, barrel lock closures and optional wire nose piece — ranges between $1.80 to $1.94 depending on which width of Spun Bonded you purchase (60-inch or 42-inch width) and your desired mask size (Small, Medium or Large).

Finished face mask.

If you'd rather watch video instructions on how to sew your own protective face mask, please watch the video below.

We hope this protective face mask DIY has been a useful resource for protecting yourself and your family during the COVID-19 pandemic. As previously stated, Sailrite is not a medical or health and safety resource. These masks have not been tested or approved by any health organization. From countless hours of research, testing and development, we believe that this design is the best homemade version of an N95 type mask using materials available to the public.