Since the White House and the CDC will be urging all Americans to cover our faces when we leave our homes, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a fabric face mask since I can’t buy one anywhere. Sure, a homemade fabric mask won’t protect me from getting COVID-19, but it will keep me from spreading it if I have it and don’t have symptoms. (Since we know people can have COVID-19 without showing any symptoms for days, it’s becoming more important to cover our faces to protect each other.)

Good news is that it’s not hard to make a fabric face mask. If you don’t own a sewing machine, you can still do it. It’ll be more time consuming, but it’s possible. You could consider teaming up with a neighbor who has a sewing machine, too. You could do the first portion by hand and when it comes time to sew the folds at the end, pass the project to your friend who can knock it out in five minutes on a sewing machine.

And if you’re like me — with kids who are bored at home — consider enlisting them to make extra masks to donate to healthcare professionals. Even though they won’t protect first responders at work, healthcare workers can use them when they are off duty.

I bought the hand towels for this example at the Target Dollar Spot, at $5 for two towels. But, this morning I ordered more towels from for my daughter to make masks to donate. Look for fabric at Amazon,, or shop online at a craft store in order to avoid going into the store.

Just make sure that the fabric is tightly woven and that you use a few layers, as per the CDC. An old 100% cotton t-shirt will also work if you don’t have access to the stores.

I learned how to make a fabric face mask from this New York Times article. I’m going to share my experience with you.


Here’s what you need in order to make a fabric face mask:

  • 100% cotton fabric: dishtowels are ideal, if they are tightly woven. They’re 18″ x 28″ in general, but you’ll be able to get a few face masks out of that size. You can also up-cycle sheets or old t-shirts.
  • Strings to hold the mask on your face: One pack of shoelaces per mask or strips of cotton fabric, 18″ x ¾” or use the thick hem of your towel.
  • Needle and thread
  • Sewing machine, if you have one, plus a heavy duty needle for the machine
  • Scissors
  • Pins (or paper clips if you can’t get a hold of any pins.)

If you are making masks to donate to first responders, JOANN will give you free mask kits!

JOANN fabric announced that they will donate ALL of the kits needed to make five masks per each kit if you are making them for first responders as part of their Make to Give Face Masks Program. From their website: “Customers are able to pick up a facemask kit at any open store, free of charge, to create masks to donate to healthcare systems and organizations in need. We continue to add new patterns and ideas to help those who are new to sewing. In just 2 weeks, we have donated materials to make nearly 5 million masks.”

Note: Even though the masks are not regulation, I imagine they are for off-duty responders or they meet the requirements of five layers of cotton.

Email them at for details or call your local JOANN store to see if they have any available. Availability, like everything else, is limited so call first!

Step 1: Wash and dry the fabric on the highest temperature, then fold it in half.


Step 2: Measure and pin two 9.5″ x 6.5″ squares.

You’re creating your mask base with this step. I had enough material from this one piece of fabric to make two masks.

Before I measured my fabric, I cut the thick, hemmed edges off my towel. If your towel has these double hems, you could use them as ties instead of shoelaces in a pinch. (Shoelaces will work better long term, because they will hold up in the washing machine better.)



Step 3: Cut along the lines you measured, through both layers at the same time.


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Step 4: Cut each shoe lace in half, resulting in four equal-size pieces.

You can find flat shoelaces at or on Amazon.

The New York Times article I followed suggested ties should be 18″ in length. When I cut my shoelaces, they were longer than this, so I cut them down until they were 18″ in length.


Step 5: Attach the cut sides of the laces to the corners of your fabric with pins.

Make sure to tie up your strings, as shown. This is super important so they don’t get in the way while you’re sewing in future steps.

Don’t use sewing elastic instead of shoelaces, because elastic has latex, which many people cannot wear — consider this if you’re donating masks. And elastic cannot be bleached, therefore the mask cannot be properly sanitized.



Step 6: Lay the second piece of fabric on top, pattern-side down, and pin the pieces of fabric together.

Keep the shoelace strings in the center, so they don’t get pinned and accidentally sewn.


Step 7: Sew a ¼” border around the perimeter, except for a small opening in the middle.


I’ve marked the stitch lines in red on the image above. Sew ¼” from the edge of the fabric.

Be sure to reinforce the corners where the laces are attached so they are very secure. Do this by going back and forth over the corners a few times.

The purpose of the space is to leave a spot where you can reverse the fabric so the pattern shows. It doesn’t have to be exactly in the middle, but don’t make it near a corner. If you leave 1.5″, that’ll work.


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Step 8: Reverse the mask so it’s right side out.

Your ties should be dangling off the ends after you reverse the fabric. Don’t worry, you’ll stitch over the small opening at the bottom soon!


Step 9: Create three folds (or pleats) in the fabric, holding it in place with pins.

Make three even folds in the mask so that when it’s worn, it will spread across the face while still staying tight at the sides. Do this in the same way you’d make a paper fan and then secure the folds with pins.



Step 10: Sew the perimeter of the mask.

If you don’t have a sewing machine and don’t want to sew it by hand, this is where you’d pass the mask off to your neighbor friend who has one. It’s possible to do this step without a sewing machine, but it’s more time consuming because the layers are so thick.

Make sure you’re using a heavy-duty needle for your machine. Sew slowly in order to catch all the layers, and reinforce the perimeter stitch with a second stitch about ¼” away so your mask is basically indestructible.

And be sure to sew over that opening at the bottom!

Boom! You have a completed, homemade surgical mask to wear to the grocery store or to donate to first responders.


Don’t scroll up! Here are the articles mentioned:

Tips for Shopping at Costco During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Things You Need to Stop Doing at the Grocery Store


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