DIY: Making your own face mask

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the need to start an article with a disclaimer, but I do today. Pandemics and viral infections are deadly serious, and I lay no claim to being any sort of expert in how to protect myself (or you) from airborne, or otherwise, virus. I do know enough to know when it’s time to seek out superior wisdom though, as should you. In this case, I looked here for design input on how to make a mask, and here for information about what fabrics are actually useful for the purpose of personal protection. The latter source is comprehensive, but the takeaway is that a 100% cotton t-shirt is an acceptable compromise between stopping virus and allowing you to breathe (both factors are important).

Given that a t-shirt is the most acceptable and available fabric to make a mask from, I dug out a white Uniqlo t-shirt in quite a heavy fabric. White tees are stain-magnets, so it’s not uncommon to have one available for upcycling. One size large should make about 8 face masks, so it’s good value. And that’s really all you need, apart from a sewing machine and some thread. You could even hand sew them at a pinch.


I used a pretty thick 100% cotton Uniqlo shirt, as a good compromise between protection and breathability. Given how easily white t-shirts are ruined by stains, most should have one they can donate to the cause!


Start out by cutting a 22 by 21 cm square. Where the larger measurement is up and the shorter is across. This is to get the flex of the fabric in the right direction. If you feel how a t-shirt stretches, you’ll notice it flexes more outwards (to allow for a big dinner) than in length (which is less required).


Once the rectangular piece is cut, you can zig-zag around the edges to make it tidy, though you could skip that bit as t-shirt fabric isn’t too prone to fraying and you’ll be folding two edges anyway and can easily fold the top and bottom ones to make it tidy. Sorry, confusing instructions at step one! So, fold, pin and sew the top and bottom. Just enough of a fold to let you sew it.


Then comes the more fiddly bit, folding the pleats. You want three of them, evenly spaced, as shown on the photo. Pin them in place as you are satisfied with the size and spacing.


Once done, sew a single seam over them to lock them in place. If you make sure you sew in the direction of the pleats you won’t get stuck in them.


The final step here is to fold the pleated edge inwards about 1cm, pin in place and sew along the edge of the fabric. The idea is to make a channel inside the fold so that the elastic can be put inside in the next step.


The basic mask is now finished and can be tried on for fit.


Just the fastenings left to do. This can be done using elastic if you have some available, or you can just cut strips of the t-shirt to let you tie it in place.


Cutting strips of t-shirt fabric is an ok option, just needs to be handled more gently if you want it to last. Make sure you cut horizontally along, so you get the stretch.

To get the elastic or strips of fabric through you can use a safety pin, or darning needle (easiest). Once threaded through, check mask for fit and adjust fastenings for size. Sew or tie them in place and hide the splice inside the seam for comfort and tidiness. And you’re all done!

Use a darning needle or safety pin to thread the elastic or strip through.
Once tried on for size, tie in place, or sew elastic ends together, and hide the knit inside the seam for comfort.


Now, that was making one from t-shirt alone. As shown by science, a single layer of t-shirt gives almost as much protection as a double layer, so there isn’t much gain in going the extra mile and doubling up. The extra mile though, that is what we do around these parts, so I couldn’t help myself from making a second mask. For this one, I added a layer of tweed for a more swaggy look. You could do the same with other fabrics, but it’s a good idea to test whether you can breathe through it first.

To do this I cut a square of tweed the same size as the t-shirt (I added a cm to make it 23x22cm,), laid one on top of the other and sewed almost all round the edge, leaving a gap so it could be turned inside out.

Tweed and t-shirt pieces have been sewed around the edges, leaving a 5cm gap to turn inside out.


Turning it inside out. Once turned right side out, it was ironed nice and tidy and topstitched the top and bottom edges (we need to keep the thickness of fabric down). From there on out the process was the same as above. The thicker combination made it more time-consuming and required more effort, but sometimes it’s just worth it.



One comment

  1. Haha! When I saw the title I thought, “I wonder if this will involve tweed?” Fortunately I got a FFP3 mask through work. Yours is more stylish 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.