Please Note: Chicago Canvas is in no way suggesting a homemade mask is better than a FDA approved N-95 mask or better. Initial suggestions from the CDC suggestions any mask is better than none. This information is meant to be used in cases where traditional masks are unavailable.
Around the country, people who can sew are being asked to make homemade face masks for area hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities caring for coronavirus patients. While a homemade face mask isn’t ideal, shortages have made them better than using nothing.
UChicago Medicine and many other hospitals accept donations of face masks that have been made following certain guidelines. Wash your hands before you handle the fabric and other crafting supplies. If you have a fever or other symptoms of COVID-19, do not participate. If you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus, you should not make the masks.
You might live in a state, town, or city where residents are being asked to wear a homemade face mask when they’re outside or in a public area. The CDC recommends them in grocery stores and pharmacies. If you need a homemade fabric face mask, you need to know how to make them.
Start with a sterile surface that you’ve wiped with a disinfectant wipe or spray the work area with the CDC’s preferred mixture of one gallon of cool water to 1/3 cup bleach. One of the chemical ingredients in bleach loses its effectiveness when it’s exposed to temperatures of 70 degrees F or warmer. When you’re sanitizing areas, also take the time to clean equipment like scissors and the surfaces the fabric will touch on the sewing machine.
The Best Materials for Making Face Masks
An independent test suggests that canvas is one of the best materials for makeshift masks.
The material used to make homemade face masks must be 100% cotton. It cannot be a stretchy material, such as the cotton fabric t-shirts are made of. Chicago Canvas has several cotton materials that work well to make homemade masks.
Canvas drop cloths work in a pinch, though many feel that cotton duck canvas is your best choice. You can also use colored cotton canvas if the plain color isn’t appealing to you. Color really isn’t as important as having a functional mask when other face mask supplies are low. Natural duck canvas is affordable and comes in 5 or 10′ widths, so you can get a lot of fabric for less. Imagine all the masks a full roll of canvas could make!
We recommend cotton duck fabric. It’s smooth, comfortable, and doesn’t rip or tear easily. Get it in rolls of up to 50 yards if you want a lot of material or purchase it in running yards. Make sure you’re choosing a canvas that is not primed. Some canvas materials are primed for use for painting. You want natural 100% cotton canvas when you’re making homemade face masks for coronavirus.
Test the fabric out before you use it. Take a piece of the fabric and fold it in half. If you can’t see through it, but you can breathe through it, it’s a good choice. Ask Chicago Canvas & Supply for samples or reach out to our fabric specialists at (773) 478-5700. We’re happy to help you decide on the right canvas for the homemade face masks you’re making.
Wash the Material First
Before you get started, wash the material in hot water with laundry detergent. Use a vinegar rinse rather than a fabric softener, which might be irritating to someone with sensitive skin. Place the fabric in the dryer and dry thoroughly at the hottest possible setting. You need the material to pre-shrink as the final mask must fit snug around the mouth, but it needs to allow the person wearing it to talk to co-workers.
Gather Your Supplies
While the material is washing and drying, gather the supplies you need. You want a sewing machine, thread for the sewing machine, pins, a metal ruler, and fabric shears/scissors. A steam iron helps you form the lines that will help when you’re forming pleats. Freezer bags to put the finished masks will also be useful as you can note how many are in the bag and what sizes the masks in that bag are. Use a permanent marker to do this so that the ink doesn’t rub off.
Making the Masks
Once the fabric is washed and dried, cut the material into the pieces you need to sew the mask. Use the metal ruler to get straight edges. If you’re making 20 masks, you’d need to multiply the per-mask fabric components by 20 (or, 40 squares, 40 short strips, and 80 long strips). The pieces you need for one mask are:
- Two rectangles measuring 7.5 by 5 inches for small masks, 9 by 6 inches for medium masks, and 10 by 7 inches for large masks.
- Two 6, 7, or 7.5-inch strips (again for small, medium, or large) x 1.5 inch strips
- Four 15 by 1.5-inch strips
If you have bias tape, you can use that instead of cutting the four strips of fabric that each mask requires. The materials mustn’t be metallic. They are not comfortable when you’re wearing them for extended periods.
Once the pieces are cut, it’s time to start assembling and sewing. Wash your hands regularly during the process. The cleaner your hands are, the safer it is for the professionals who will be using them.
#1 – Make the Mask Section
Take two same-size rectangles and lay them together. Sew each side about ¼ inch in from the edge. Turn the fabric rectangle so that the shorter sides are vertical. Take six pins and create pleats along each of the short edges.
To create the pleats, fold the fabric rectangle in half. Press with an iron to create a center seam. Fold each half into half to create another seam. Use those lines to form evenly spaced pleats and pin them into place. Once that’s done, remove the pins.
#2 – Add the Side Binding
Take the two shorter strips and fold one so that ¼ inch stands up. Sew the other side to the short edge of the rectangular face mask. Bring the other folded side around the back of the mask and sew it again. Repeat this on the other edge with the second short strip. Make sure the corners are sewn. Trim any excess.
#3 – Add the Ties to All Four Corners
Take the four long straps and fold a small section on each long side. Put them together and sew the long end to form a straight hem. Do the same with the ends. You don’t want any loose fabric that may fray. Sew each of the ties to a corner of the mask. These ties go above and below the ears and around the back of the head once the face mask covers the mouth and nose.
#4 – Look Them Over
Look over each mask after you make it. Make sure there are no exposed edges. While canvas is a strong material, you don’t want to have left edges that haven’t been sewn. If you do, there is a small chance they’ll fray. Medical professionals do not need to have masks that are fraying when they’re dealing with a contagious virus. Take the time to check them over. If you’re not sure how to hide the fraying, add an extra strip of bias tape or another binding strip.
Options That May Make Face Mask Construction Easier
If you want to avoid sewing the ties that go around the back of the head, purchase stretchy elastic bands. Cut them into 6.5-inch lengths. You’ll sew the elastic straps to each corner of the mask to wrap around the ears. Do this before the second step. You’ll cover them with the short binding strips for extra security and to hide the rough (unsewn) edges.
If you need visual assistance, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in New Hampshire has a printable PDF with links to instructional videos. Many hospitals are referring to the Dartmouth guide as the instructions are easy to follow and there are the videos to help out if you learn better by watching someone else.
To make things even easier, the CDC has come up with a video for homemade face masks that require no sewing. You need a square of 100% cotton. Reach out to Chicago Canvas & Supply for suggestions on the right cotton canvas for your homemade face mask. Sign up for our email newsletter to get discounts and access to exclusive promotions.