Homemade pandemic mask patterns for the Covid-19 outbreak, & useful links

There has been too much confusion around whether we should be wearing masks while in public during the pandemic. I’m in the “Yes” camp, and I’ve noticed that all the doctors I’ve talked to are in the Yes camp too, no matter what politicians and public officials have been saying. Interestingly (and unsurprisingly) governments are changing course on this. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has now reversed its original position and is recommending that all members of the general public wear masks, and the White House will do the same. Asian countries were way ahead of us on this (and on testing and contact-tracing too, but that’s another issue).

Obviously staying home is better than going out in public with a mask; we shouldn’t let a mask give us any sort of false sense of security, especially with homemade masks. But when we do have to leave home, a homemade face covering is better than none, both for others and for ourselves. A nurse friend says: “Masks keep droplets in. Half of covid-infected people don’t have symptoms and can pass it on. Everyone should be wearing a mask to keep their droplets in and protect others.” I’ve been wearing a mask when out in public or around elders indoors since the pandemic started, because I have not been tested and can’t know if I am an asymptomatic spreader, and because I want to help normalize the wearing of masks, and also because I have an older mother to look out for and would like to avoid getting sick or transmitting the virus to her. My sister, an ER doctor in Seattle with a specialization in epidemiology, has sent me various sewing patterns for DIY homemade masks, so obviously she agrees.

Below in the body of this post I’ve printed out a pattern for a DIY fabric mask below that my sister kindly provided instructions for. It’s a homemade fabric mask-with-filter that she adapted from various patterns she found online.

She also likes this mask pattern from Texas A&M because it’s no-sew. “No sewing required! Made with a MERV 13 air filter, pipe cleaner (or wire or sheet metal) for the nose clip, and a stapler. Fits tightly. They even show how to bake it in an oven bag to make sure it is decontaminated before wearing.”

Here is another n95-style option, and the article says these masks are as good or better than N95s, but they may be harder for some people to sew, and the materials may be a bit hard to access.

Here’s an easy Japanese-style no-sew mask, and another version of that same easy no-sew fabric mask. To these you might want to add a makeshift filter by tucking flat facial tissues, baby wipes or non-woven filter inside, then disposing of the filter portion later, and washing the cloth mask.

This pattern for a DIY surgical mask includes some interesting warnings and information.

Please note this warning about using vacuum hepafilter material: it contains glass microfibres.

Whichever you pick, any moderately good mask design is way better than nothing.

At the bottom of this post there is a list of links to all the mask designs, as well as a list of useful articles on epidemiology, masks, aerosolization of virus etc. It’s being updated constantly.

Plague doctor mask, 17th C. Sadly the beak masks didn’t work, but modern masks do.

But before we get started, just a few remarks. I am partly writing this post to try and counter all the irresponsible dissing—by individuals and public figures who should know better—of people wearing masks in public. It’s long past time to knock that off, get over it, wear masks and start protecting each other. And if joggers would stop huffing and puffing right past people—hogging the middle of the sidewalk no less—I’m sure we would all appreciate it. Cyclists too. Heavy breathing spreads droplets and aerosols, and they do not know if they are asymptomatic carriers or not. It seems that at least 50% of those carrying Covid-19 do not know it.

Because It’s Time to Face Facts: Masks Work: Official advice has been confusing, but the science isn’t hard to grok. Everyone should cover up.

Why wear masks?

Simple masks, even if they’re not as effective as a (properly fitted) N95 or PPE equipment, can help protect you & others in a number of ways:
—they prevent you from getting droplets on your face;
—they prevent you from spreading droplets into spaces via coughing, sneezing and even hard breathing while jogging etc. Even talking, especially if loud, spreads aerosols, not just droplets (most of us spit more when we talk than we think, and even aerosolize);
—they help stop you from constantly touching your face;
—they may shield you from some degree of the aerosolized virus you may encounter (and if everyone wore masks, there’d be much less virus in the air and on surfaces).

Bad government communication

Government authorities likely started this denigration of mask-wearers because they got caught short of sufficient masks to supply hospitals, let alone the public, and they likely (and understandably) wanted to try  to discourage a run on masks. They needed to make sure that N95 and other hospital-grade medical protective gear were reserved for health care settings only. Whether that’s the real reason or not, public officials have unfortunately been stating that the public doesn’t need to wear masks. (The BC and Canadian governments are still doing this as of April 2, 2020.) This was not only negligent; it backfired. It damaged the credibility of government, agencies and public health officers because it sounded like the nonsense it was. Many have written about this unfortunate move, a move made in many jurisdictions including here in B.C. Most notably the New York times wrote “Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired“—”To help manage the shortage, the authorities sent a message that made them untrustworthy.”

In Canada we saw this unfortunate tweet by Jennifer Keesmaat, the former Director of Planning of the City of Toronto, a tweet I predict won’t age well. By the time she tweeted this, it was already known from studies in China and elsewhere that the bulk of transmission of Covid-19 derives from spreaders who are asymptomatic. The idea of “if you have symptoms stay home” sends a dangerous message that having no symptoms means you’re not a spreader. Meanwhile, many people already had masks at home (I had several of these myself) and we can’t give those old masks away to health care workers due to sanitary concerns, so why tell people not to wear them? Why harangue those who want to protect themselves and others? If all the super spreaders were wearing masks, even homemade ones, it would decrease the spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths. Just because you feel fine doesn’t mean you’re not harming others. I mean for the love of god, people.

Fortunately, the US Center for Disease Control is now considering recommending the general public wear face coverings in public, as reported in the Washington Post.
Also see: “Calls grow for Germany-wide use of face masks: Regional officials urge federal government to make usage mandatory to counter Covid-19.”
And see: “Not wearing masks to protect against coronavirus is a ‘big mistake,’ top Chinese scientist says.”


On the question of aerosols and whether Covid-19 is airborne

There has been much dispute over whether Covid-19 is spread via aerosols. Google it and you’ll see. Examples: “Is the coronavirus airborne? Experts can’t agree” and “Experts tell White House coronavirus can spread through talking or even just breathing” etc. Wired did a review of this issue that you might find interesting: “They Say Coronavirus Isn’t Airborne—but It’s Definitely Borne By Air—The word “airborne” means different things to different scientists, and that confusion needs to be addressed.”

Let’s not take chances. After the SARS outbreak, Canada conducted an inquiry and its final report recommended Canada follow the “Precautionary Principle” which includes erring on the side of caution and prevention. (We have not followed its recommendations this time, sadly.) Most doctors I’ve talked to, and many reports suggest, that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 may not be airborne as an aerosol as much as measles is, but it can hang suspended in air for a while, long enough for people to pick it up. Wearing a mask both stops you from spewing both droplets and aerosols, and will protect you to some degree from whatever degree of aerosolized virus you might encounter in the air from, say, someone recently having sneezed or coughed in your vicinity, or from open-mouthed cyclists/joggers huffing and puffing right past you, etc.

DIY mask pattern

As stated above, most homemade masks won’t be quite as good as N95 masks. (By the way, N95 masks are called that because they prevent 95% of transmission of particles up to about 0.03 microns, IF fitted correctly.) However, this DIY mask is much better than nothing, and its advantage is that it can be repeatedly washed. Even better, this particular pattern is more than just cotton; it contains a double layer of fabric that forms a pocket inside which you place a makeshift non-fabric filter, thus giving you 4 layers. Most members of the public don’t wear N95 masks correctly anyway, so they would not be 95% effective for most of us. If my sister thinks this design is not terrible, I’m okay with it. If we find ways to improve it, I will amend these instructions over time. If you have better ideas, please leave them in the comments.

OK, without further ado, here it is. You can also view a more printable version of it on my sister’s own site. (PS She set up her “donteatmagnets” site because she was tired of kids coming in to the ER having ingested magnets which can damage or even perforate their intestines; quite topical, given this Covid-19 related magnet story.) Sorry if the photos aren’t clear; she’s a doctor, not a photographer, Captain. Actually she’s a decent photographer, I just wanted to make that Star Trek joke.

At the bottom of this post, I also detail a second method, a non-sewn mask that my friend Lisa devised for those of you without sewing machines. If you’re in a pinch and need to cover up and there’s nothing else, try it!


1. One piece of cotton fabric measuring 8” x 15”. Non-directional print is easier. Some fabric is better than others; some say dish cloth fabric is best but it may feel heavy. See this source.
2. Two pieces of 1/4” or 1/8” width elastic, 7” long. I prefer 1/8” width as it seems to sit better around the ears but it may not be as durable with multiple washings. It partly depends how soft the elastic is. If you can’t find elastic, you can also use elastic head wraps or stretchy hair ribbons (try a dollar store). You can also make straps out of strips of your fabric to tie behind the head. This takes longer to make and to put on, but I actually prefer this design for comfort.
3. One 4–5.5” twist tie or piece of thin, flexible wire. 1 mm jewelry wire works.
4. Some sort of filter to insert. This can be a store-bought mask filter, but could also be a dried baby wipe, cloth diaper inserts, or even folded facial tissues.
5. Fabric marking tool (optional).
6. Pins
7. Scissors
8. Sewing machine, threaded.


1. On each end, fold a roughly ¼ inch flap over towards the unfinished edge, and iron. Fold it over again, and iron again. This will create two finished edges.

2. Sew each of the 8-inch width edges separately, securing the folded edges on each side.

3. Insert the twist tie or wire into the loop created in one of these edges, evenly spaced from both sides. Sew lines vertically to hold in place.

4. Fold the main piece of fabric in half, right sides together, while tucking the elastic inside, and pinning it so that the ends just poke through the two edges of the unfinished side. The elastic should make a semi-circle loop on each side, inside.

5. Sew along the side, including over the two elastics. I like going back and forth over them a couple of times to secure them well. Then turn 90 degrees and sew along the finished bottom edge 1¼ inches on each side, leaving an opening.

6. Turn the pocket right-side-out.

7. Iron three pleats into the mask. You could get very scientific about this, but I just grasp with my fingers and thumb on each side, and make three even-ish puckers so that the final mask is a width of about 3 inches. After doing this once or twice, I don’t measure anything. After all, I’m not wearing this to the ball! Iron them from each side to hold the pleats in place.

8. Stitch along the now 3” sides to hold the pleats. Sew with the grain of the pleats.

9. Insert a dried folded water wipe, baby wipe or other filter fabric into the opening. Expand the mask when inserting the wipe to make sure it fully covers the area. This creates 4 layers and a non-fabric layer for improved protection. Change this after each use.

10. If the mask is for you, test the mask for good fit!

WARNING: Just make sure you don’t touch the outside of the mask and then the inside and then put it back on; ie. don’t touch the inside. After use, air out non-fabric masks; with fabric masks, remove the disposable filter material and dispose of it, and wash and dry all non-disposable parts.

Lastly, a non-sewn mask by my friend Lisa (and you could add a filter to this by folding filter material inside – even several facial tissues might help a bit): “Fold a cloth in half, attach rubber bands either end with pins or using a loop knot. Loop over ears. This is a double ply thick dishcloth-like cotton handkerchief (for sweat) from Japan. I think a dish cloth would be similar.”

And this easy, no-sew Japanese mask is also great.

Mask Patterns

Texas A&M no-sew N95 style DIY mask: https://today.tamu.edu/2020/03/30/aggie-engineers-create-step-by-step-method-for-making-protective-medical-masks/

My sister’s mask pattern – https://donteatmagnets.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/how-to-make-a-simple-mask-with-a-pocket.pdf

No-Sew Pleated Face Mask with Handkerchief and Hair Tie – https://blog.japanesecreations.com/no-sew-face-mask-with-handkerchief-and-hair-tie

Another version of the above: https://blog.fatquartershop.com/free-face-mask-sewing-tutorial-with-hair-ties/

COVID-19 Mask Alternative from U of Florida – https://anest.ufl.edu/clinical-divisions/alternative-n95-mask-production/

What Are The Best Materials for Making DIY Masks? https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/best-materials-make-diy-face-mask-virus/

Useful links

(I’m actually pasting links and not just hyperlinking, so you can cut and paste this whole list:)

!! White House to urge Americans to wear face coverings in public to slow spread of coronavirus – https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/04/02/coronavirus-facemasks-policyreversal/

Wear a F____g Mask – https://wearafuckingmask.com/sfw/

CDC considering recommending general public wear face coverings in public  – https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/cdc-considering-recommending-general-public-wear-face-coverings-in-public/2020/03/30/6a3e495c-7280-11ea-87da-77a8136c1a6d_story.html

Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired – To help manage the shortage, the authorities sent a message that made them untrustworthy. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/opinion/coronavirus-face-masks.html

It’s Time to Face Facts: Masks Work – Official advice has been confusing, but the science isn’t hard to grok. Everyone should cover up – https://www.wired.com/story/its-time-to-face-facts-america-masks-work/

They Say Coronavirus Isn’t Airborne—but It’s Definitely Borne By Air: The word “airborne” means different things to different scientists, and that confusion needs to be addressed. https://www.wired.com/story/they-say-coronavirus-isnt-airborne-but-its-definitely-borne-by-air/

Aerosol emission and superemission during human speech increase with voice loudness – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-38808-z

Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions: Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19 – https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2763852

Not wearing masks to protect against coronavirus is a ‘big mistake,’ top Chinese scientist says –  https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/not-wearing-masks-protect-against-coronavirus-big-mistake-top-chinese-scientist-says

Substantial undocumented infection [asymptomatic spreaders] facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) – https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/03/24/science.abb3221/tab-pdf

Coronavirus: Will Californians be required to wear face masks in public? Public health officials are not suggesting taking masks away from hospitals facing shortages, but said even homemade masks are better than nothing. https://www.cbs8.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/will-californians-be-required-to-wear-face-masks-in-public/509-7b4be274-d520-44df-922e-de73079fb048

Calls grow for Germany-wide use of face masks – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/31/calls-grow-for-germany-wide-use-of-face-masks-covid-19

Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic? – https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/0921A05A69A9419C862FA2F35F819D55/S1935789313000438a.pdf/testing_the_efficacy_of_homemade_masks_would_they_protect_in_an_influenza_pandemic.pdf

A choir decided to go ahead with rehearsal. Now dozens of members have COVID-19 and two are dead – https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-29/coronavirus-choir-outbreak

Lessons not learned from Canada’s SARS Inquiry: the Precautionary Principle, by Laila Yuile – https://lailayuile.com/2020/03/31/lessons-not-learned-from-the-sars-inquiry-the-precautionary-principle-be-expressly-adopted-as-a-guiding-principle/

Tweet from former Toronto Director of Planning that won’t age well – https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/cdc-considering-recommending-general-public-wear-face-coverings-in-public/2020/03/30/6a3e495c-7280-11ea-87da-77a8136c1a6d_story.html

MIT Will Post Free Plans Online for an Emergency Ventilator That Can Be Built for $100 – https://scitechdaily.com/mit-posts-free-plans-online-for-an-emergency-ventilator-that-can-be-built-for-100/

Ink demonstration for hand-washing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OevwVVN0bs4

Leave a comment