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Masks for our Health Practitioners

I hope you are keeping well! As I write this post, the kids are disagreeing loudly over something trivial and the dog is barking madly at his reflection. The washing machine sounds like it's about to launch into orbit and the pressure cooker is making a strange sound. Yet it seems so normal in comparison to the surreal reality we seem to find ourselves in right now. It grounds me, to focus on the many blessings I still have. A home, with electricity and running water. Food and the ability to cook for others. Healthy, active children. Access to nurses and doctors, who fight daily for us to stay healthy. So I'd like to help support them, in sewing as many masks as possible for them, until the COVID-19 pandemic passes, or more suitable masks become available again.

There are definitely divided schools of thought on whether or not these masks have a point, but when my good friend and fearless warrior nurse told me that they are in desperate need of any kind of protection, I got the sewing machine out. Any barrier is still better than none.

Face mask pattern by Three & Me

While I can find my away around a sewing machine, I am definitely not a seamstress. So if my terminology isn't always spot on, that's why! The flip side ... if I can do it, I bet you can too. It's not too difficult. And you'll likely have all the materials at home already.

I looked up and sewed a number of different patterns and did a whole lot of research to figure out the face mask design, to best meet these criteria:

1. it must be easy to sew

2. it must be quick (this pattern takes 30- 45 min once you get into the swing of things)

3. it must be sturdy enough to be reused

4. it should be made of tightly woven, non-stretch cotton fabric, which can be sterilized at high temperatures

5. it should have a pouch for a removable, protective filter insert (supplied in hospitals)

6. it doesn't need to be pretty- just effective... this is not a fashion statement ;)

7. due to the shortage of 1/4 inch elastic, I had to modify the design to use t-shirt ties instead. The added advantage is that they can resist sterilization temperatures, during which elastics will likely loose their form.

For more information on the best materials to use, please read this article.

Okay, less talking, more action.

You will need:

  • non-stretch, tightly woven cotton (I only had plain on hand, but you can use any combination of colors!)

  • cotton t-shirt fabric

  • printer

  • scissors

  • basic sewing machine

  • iron

  • pins

Make your t-shirt ties first.

Use a new M or L t-shirt or t-shirt fabric or wash a used t-shirt on a sterilize/ hot cycle and dry.

Cut (don't tear) 1,5 inch wide strips from the bottom of the t-shirt and work your way up horizontally towards the collar. They don't need to be perfect.

Holding the short ends, pull the strip and watch it curl up into a sturdy rope.

They should be at least 16 inches long.

These are soft, tie easily, stay in place and will withstand high temperatures.

I tried 1/4 inch woven ribbon, but it tore out easily from the mask.

Now for the mask:

Download the free printable pattern here.

The reference square should measure exactly 1x1 inches once printed, for sizing to be accurate.

Cut out the pattern.

Place the pattern onto your cotton fabric and cut out 4 equal copies.

Use pins to secure the paper onto the fabric, if you need to stop it from moving.

I cut out 2 at a time until I had 4 equal parts.

Fold back 1/2 inch off the 2 right hand shapes, pin and iron. This will be the entry point for the disposable filters, and these edges need to be hemmed so that they don't fray.

Once ironed, sew the hem, in a simple straight stitch. I zigzagged over the cut edge, to make it clean and more functional. Double back on the ends.

Do this for 2 of the 4 shapes.

Place 1 hemmed piece onto 1 un-hemmed piece to give you 2 equal sets.

Sew the rounded edges in a zigzag stitch, doubling up on the ends.

(I used straight stitch on a previous sample, but that meant having to iron the seams on the inside of a curved surface, to reduce bulk, which took way too long and was very frustrating. It needs to be easy so we can get as many of these made in as short of a time as possible).

It doesn't have to be perfect. Trim off loose bits.

Take 1 of these connected pieces, with the seam facing down, and pin 4 t-shirt strings to it, about 1/2 inch off the top and bottom edges.

Move all the string ends into the center of the fabric, so that you don't inadvertently sew over them.

Place the second connected part on top of the first one, this time, with the seam facing upwards, towards you.

You'll now have both the seams on the outside surfaces, with the strings tucked between them.

The filter entry seams should be on the same side!

Start at the bottom right hand corner of your project, where the filter entry point will be, about 1/2 inch above of the first string.

Sew over the string end in zigzag stitch, doubling back, to make sure it doesn't come loose.

Continue sewing all the way around the mask edges, with a 3/8 inch seam.

Use a plain stitch unless you're securing the string ends.

Then change to zigzag and double back over them, so that they are secure.

Stop sewing about 1/2 inch after you've crossed over the last string, to allow for the filter opening.

This is what mine looked like.

Function over fashion here!

Pull the strings out of the filter opening and work all the fabric through, thereby turning the mask right side around. If necessary, use the end of a chop stick to push the edges out neatly.

Iron the mask on hot.

The mask should flatten out neatly. The side where the filter inserts, will be slightly shorter.

Don't worry about inserting any filters, tissues, wipes etc. Your health care workers will add their own. The image below is just showing where the filter will go, not for you to actually do it. ;)

Face Mask Pattern by Three & Me

This is what it will look like, tied behind the head.

Do not insert any wires at the nose. A lot of patterns include these, but these may break down during washing, sterilization and pressing.

While these masks are not the ideal solution to prevent the entry of harmful microbes, they are still a better barrier than none at all. With 2 layers of tightly woven cotton and a removable filter in between, these re-usable masks should help our amazing nurses and doctors stay as safe as possible, while they care for us, now that disposable face masks are in short supply.

If you need a place to drop off your masks, you are welcome to contact me or reach out to your closest hospital, doctor or nurse. Many organizations are collecting masks right now so please search in your local area for drop offs. Apps like Nextdoor and Facebook, will also have local contacts for you.

Happy sewing. This is a small gesture to support those, who are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic bravely and fearlessly for us all.

Please stay home. Stay well. Wash hands. Say prayers. Reach out to those in need. Share limited supplies. Together we can get through this!

With much appreciation always,



1 Comment

Sabrina Plantenberg
Sabrina Plantenberg
Mar 27, 2020

I love that you are trying to help and appreciate you using your creativity to support our healthcare workers. Please read this article: I think its important that people understand the facts and are not misinformed no matter how good intentioned. The scholarly article concludes--

This study is the first of cloth masks, and the results caution against the use of cloth masks. This is an important finding to inform occupational health and safety. Moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection. Further research is needed to inform the widespread use of cloth masks globally. However, as a precautionary measure, cloth masks should not be recommended for HCWs, particularly in high-risk…

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