I took this selfie last week outside my nearest local supermarket which doesn't deliver or do online shopping.  I needed groceries. While I was at it, I also tested out what turned out to be my favorite mask design.

As an early user of face masks, I thought people might give me strange looks or perhaps increase their social distancing even more! But actually, the first person in the parking lot to spot me, muttered - "Forgot my mask!" - and promptly returned to his car to retrieve his. Inside the store, I was one of 4 people to wear one out of perhaps 20 - 30 people.

Clearly the message is getting out about the growing evidence of many asymptomatic people in the community, who are unknowingly, virus spreaders.  Masks may not be universally mandatory but they are becoming so in more and more countries.  Taiwan and South Korea's early and exemplary responses to the virus threat also included masks - widespread mask usage in parts of Taiwan started as early as January. South Korea eventually took over control of masks inventory and rationed it to ensure all its citizens could have proper masks.

Masks are another layer of protection - we still need to wash hands frequently, stay home as much as possible, maintain physical distancing and so on.

This Japanese scientific experiment shows micro-droplets hanging in the air when two people are merely talking to each other.  Let alone sneezing or coughing!  Ewww.  Utterly gross.

Scientists have not yet determined if viable viruses can survive and be transmissible in such aerosols.  But there is mounting evidence for aerosol transmission. Still, best to keep your distance and wear a mask!

Homemade masks may not be as good as the N95 masks which frontline medical staff desperately need, but they are still worth using by the general public when in stores etc.

If anything, wearing one not only reminded me to keep my distance when I have to be out for essentials but also not to touch my face. Homemade masks will have to be kept hygienically clean - so handle carefully as if it might be contaminated and wash them after every use.

Protective masks are nothing new. One of the strangest has to be the beak-like mask worn by plague doctors centuries ago. The beak part was filled with aromatic herbs as people back then thought it was bad air which caused the disease. Filter masks, medieval style!

Plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, circa 1656

An early forerunner to our modern filter masks was the simple thick gauze one used by Sino, Japanese and Russian doctors and nurses fighting a past pandemic, the Manchurian pneumonic plague (also known as the Third Plague, ) in 1910-11. The pneumonic variant of the plague is airborne.


We've seen pictures of Asians routinely wearing masks before. This is not a cultural trait but one which comes from memories and experiences of past pandemics, especially recent outbreaks like that of another coronavirus, SARS, in 2003 and a serious flu pandemic in 2009.

We are now going through the same experiences of people at the time of 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic when millions died worldwide. Today, it is our international traveling which spread the virus so quickly and widely. Back then, it was the return of thousands of US and Canadian troops in the aftermath of World War I which did the same thing.

Closures, public health campaigns, mandatory mask usage in some places, trying to keep vital workers safe and so on were the measures we recognize today. Then as now, there were people who didn't follow public health advice and people who took it very, very seriously as you can see from these archival photos from Canada and the US below.

Alberta, Canada telephone operators during the Spanish flu epidemic
© Glenbow Archives

Philadelphia Street Car, 1918

A street car conductor in Seattle in 1918 refusing to allow passengers aboard who are not wearing masks

California Family Via History Hustle 


I looked everywhere for a pattern with the following features:
  • free
  • easy to sew
  • economical to make
  • good fit 
  • washable and reusable
  • multi-sized for adults and children
  • had pockets for a nose wire and filter
  • uses common inexpensive tools and supplies

After much searching,  I found a fantastic pattern set on Joanne of Craft Passion's blog. There are 4 sizes - Men, Women/Teenager, Kid (7-12), Kid (3-6). This design uses far less fabric than some of the others I have seen, like the pleated ones here. The top stitching detail added to the design's attractiveness. Hey, if you have to wear a mask, wear one with style!

They are free for personal, non-commercial uses.

You can use pre-washed 100% cotton which should suit quilters everywhere. Something sturdier like denim or twill is also fine. Polyester fabric as the outer layer is also a good idea as it is water resistant - think about those micro-droplets!

Don't have lining fabric and the fabric store is closed?  Consider bedsheets and pillowcases!

Her patterns and full sewing instructions are here.

Full video of her instructions here.

I recommend you download what you want and just print the pattern out. Using North American letter-sized paper gave me the right scale without any further adjustments.  (Do not click on Fit to Page!) Premium printer paper was much sturdier than ordinary paper so worked better as a template.

You may well have to fuss around to get the sizing correct if you chose to use your electronic die cutter like the Cricut or Silhouette. Neither cuts fabric easily. The task will be a lot quicker if you use just scissors or a rotary cutter with the paper templates.

I downloaded the pocket set with seam allowance as well as the pattern set without seam allowance. The latter works as a template for marking the sewing lines.


You can adapt her pattern to suit your needs as I did.

Nose pocket

Not strictly necessary, but the nose wire part does help a mask fit around the nose a little better.

I did alter the bias fabric for the nose wire pocket. I made it longer and wider - 7 inches x 2.5 inches. This better accommodated a doubled length of craft pipe cleaner which I got from the Dollar store. I used a doubled length of 20 G craft wire to pull it through the pocket.  You won't need the wire if you make the pocket with enough room. Just poke the doubled up pipe cleaner through.

The pipe cleaner is padded with chenille. Bonus - it is also washable. The doubled up length gave the internal wire more strength as it has to be molded across the nose for a better fit. No need to trim it either!

18 G wire also works but I didn't find it that comfortable unless it was wrapped extensively with something like masking tape. Anything thicker will be difficult to bend without tools.  A thin bendable non-tarnish metal strip is another alternative if you can find it. I briefly considered heat molding a strip of plastic. Too much work trying to fit to each person's nose!

Cord, Tape or Elastic

Elastic cord is the way to go if you are making masks for children as there is no tying involved and no risk of cord entanglement. You can make elastic ear loops but this might prove uncomfortable for long stretches of time. Too loose and the mask will not fit properly.  Going around the back of the head is better.

Other cords you can use include thin shoelaces, bias tape, twill tape, perhaps thin paracord.  Or knit an I-Cord using crochet cotton. Whatever you choose has to be machine washable and survive bleach in the wash if you prefer to use it.  So leather is out!

Avoid using rat tail cord - the knots you tie will slowly slip. Been there, done that.

If you have enough fabric, you can sew up simple ties - cut 4 strips 2" x 20 " or use 4 x 20" bias tape.

I don't have much on hand.  All I had was a spool of 1 mm waxed cotton cord so I used it for now. (The stiffening wax disappear in the wash and the cotton becomes softer.)

If you use skinny elastic cord instead of the cotton cord shown here, you need only tie it once to fit. After that, you can easily put on and take off the mask due to the stretchiness. 

Notice that the cord is threaded through the mask such that the tying is done at the bottom. I found this gave me a snugger fit than when it was threaded the other way. You do have to tie it as tight as you can (without cutting off circulation) for the mask to be as effective as possible! Note : the cords sit above and below the ears.

Update :I did manage to find a packet of bias tape deep in my sewing supplies. This is how my mask looks with bias tape ties.

I have been trying many sources to get more sewing supplies like bias tape and elastic- the popular online ones like Walmart or Amazon are out of stock or will take too long to come. So many people are now making masks.  Try Etsy - there are many suppliers there - and help them out too. I just bought some bias tape from a Quebec supplier. You can choose the country of the supplier - I chose a Canadian one which lowered the shipping cost and also shipping time for me.

Can't sew or don't have time?  There are also many mask makers on Etsy.


Two layers of cotton will protect you to some degree in a viral pandemic- 50% efficiency compared to that of surgical masks according to this study. A lot better than none at all, right?  But you can certainly increase that efficiency by adding a filter in between the layers. It won't be N95 grade but it will be better than just 2 layers of cotton.

Joanne demonstrates the use of 2 types of filters in her tutorial.  The first one is a surgical mask, which as we know, is in short supply as with many other PPE (personnel protection equipment) and desperately needed by frontline medical staff, paramedics, hospital cleaning crews and so on.  So no go there.

The second option is to use a non-woven material.  Indeed multi layer non-woven material like polypropylene and polyester blends have been shown to be good filters for very small particles.  But don't use Wet Wipes as Joanne did (see Cautions below).

A good type of non-woven material is the cloth used in some vacuum bags.  However, it is tough for any of us to get hold this 0.3 micron polypropylene material as many manufacturers are now using all available sources to make urgently needed medical protection garments.

Luckily, my friend, Paulette, sent me this Business Insider article on how Suay, a Los Angeles based upcycling sewing company, discovered blue shop towels in homemade face masks can filter particles 2x to 3x better than cotton!  They are running a GoFundMe community project to produce masks for the first responders in their area. They have released their own mask design - download them here

One of the 3 designers explained "We spent a few days researching and brainstorming any material that could filter: coffee filters, batting, window shades, Swiffer, interfacing, etc., all the way to more technical materials that are available to specialized industrial sectors like aviation, oil refinery, medical fields."

They actually bought a particulate counting device which could measure down to 0.3 micron for their tests.  Interestingly, they discovered HEPA filters did a great job but were too suffocating to wear. There is another health concern about using HEPA filters (see Cautions below).  But what worked surprisingly well was two layers of the blue shop towels, a  polyester hydro knit.  You can easily get these from any hardware store. Or online from Amazon etc.

Their tests showed that 2 layers of blue shop towel in a cotton mask brought the filtration rate up to 93% of particles as small as 0.3 micron (the lowest limit of their machine) compared to up to 60% in plain cotton masks.  The Covid-19 virus is about 0.125 micron in size.  However, it is not so much getting the actual pore size of the material exactly down to that of a virus size that matters. It is the mesh-like function of the 2 layers together which makes the blue shop towels work.  The N95 mask works well because it is made of a special mesh which traps very small particulates like viruses.

So I liberated some blue shop towels from my husband's stash to use as filters for my masks!

First, a wash test.  I found the towel shrinks considerably in the wash.  But it is still durable and definitely softer after the preliminary washing. So I pre-washed several pieces.

I then made a simple paper template by tracing partly around a finished mask.

Trim the template's bottom edge to make sure it fits inside the mask:

I actually stacked 3 layers of washed blue shop towel before cutting out the filter shape. The filter is firmer and easier to handle and is still breathable. But by all means use just 2 if you prefer. Another option is 1 layer of 100% cotton and two layers of the blue shop towel. The fabric will add some firmness to the filter and reduce scrunching up in the wash.

A quick zig zag stitching around the edges and the new filter was finished!

Fold the new filter and insert it into the pocket and reach in from the other opening to pull it through.

A simple implement like a ruler or wooden skewer can be used to flatten it out inside. Viola!

I did not test how durable these filters are with repeated washes. But as insertable filters, they are easily replaced.

If you don't like the removable filter option, then just make up and sew two layers of blue shop towels with the front and back layers.  Notice that the blue shop towel layers do not reach the sides of the masks?  This makes the sides less bulky plus reduces the wastage of blue towels as I can get 1 layer out of one blue shop towel.

New : Adding a nylon stocking helps boost the performance of handmade masks by sealing the gaps.


Now production line this and soon you will soon have many masks for your family, friends and for anyone who cannot sew. There is a great community need for homemade masks. The lack of proper masks for frontline medical staff is so dire, some are even resorting to using a home made one on top of their single use N95 masks to make them last longer!

Check with your local hospital and organizations to find out how you can donate to your community.

Some examples for Canadians :

The Michael Garron Foundation Hospital in Toronto needs 1000 homemade masks a week for approved visitors, discharged patients reintegrating back into society and for the vulnerable in the community. You can send them in, too. They sanitize before distribution.  My local hospital now has a volunteer group to make and donate face masks.  Check with your local hospital.

The rapidly growing CanadaSews Facebook group helps connect those who can sew across the country with those who request them. The Globe and Mail reports that they "crucially organize teams, material allocation and drop-off locations in partnership with individual UPS stores to reduce face-to-face contact."  Important : they will only accept masks using either of 2 patterns in their files section.


Soap is very effective against the virus. So just as you wash your hands thoroughly when you get home, you can soak and scrub the used mask in hot soapy water for a few minutes.  Rinse, wring out and hang up to dry. Or toss it into your regular laundry pile for another wash and dry.   Or put the masks directly into a hot wash and dry cycle.

The pipe cleaner and filter might get dislodged in the wash - both are easy to reposition.

You can also use your homemade masks for sanding projects or perhaps during allergy season!


Joanne, the mask designer,  just dried a Wet Wipe and inserted it as a filter. Wipes are typically made from non-woven sheets of materials like polyester and polypropylene. While these foundations are fine to use as filters, wipes have other ingredients in them as they are made for different purposes - cleansing, moisturizing, anti-bacterial, medicinal etc. All are meant for unbroken skin applications so inhaling some of these might not be a good thing. The FDA recommends you use wipes only for their intended use.

Many DIYers are turning to HEPA filters which do a great job of filtering out very tiny particles.  However, one doctor warned against using them as these are made from tiny strands of glass (fiberglass).  Fine to use a HEPA filter bag in a vacuum or air purifier. Not so good to actually cut them up and then have pieces close to your mouth and nose. See this study on respiratory and skin health among glass microfiber production workers.

Another concern I had in my search for free mask tutorials by many well intentioned people, was the suggested sprinkling of citric acid powder between mask layers. This is risky as you could be inhaling this powder which may cause coughing, shortness of breath or a sore throat - this study showed bronchoconstriction in the lungs of animals.  Breathing it in isn't a normal use of citric acid.  Citric acid is found in the citrus fruits we eat. The manufactured form of citric acid is widely used in household cleaning solutions, as a flavoring and preservative in food and drink and in cosmetics.


No doubt our world and our lives will change with the passage of this pandemic.  It will be interesting to see if masks will become universally accepted and used in the future just like Asians have and continue to do  - even during flu season - out of consideration for the well being of others.

This pandemic will end eventually as all pandemics do. The question is - will we be more prepared for future pandemics? How Do We Prevent the Next Outbreak?

I know I should not have used the term "Spanish" for the 1918 outbreak of avian flu. Scientists are no longer using place names for outbreaks which can occur anywhere in the world. This one didn't begin in Spain. Rather Spain, being neutral during the First World War, was the only nation to report on the illness. News elsewhere was suppressed out of concern for morale.

One heartening change is the widespread reporting of the combined effort of scientists, doctors and technical experts as they work on understanding more about this new virus and finding solutions to beat it.  At least 20 worldwide teams are currently working on finding a safe vaccine against it.

Scientists and public health officials are even stepping into social media, where there is a lot of misinformation and false beliefs, including some harmful ones, to better inform the public. One conspiracy theory falsely claims the 5G network spreads the coronavirus!

The scientific discoveries, medical advances such as antibiotics and vaccines and public health improvements have helped us over the centuries to overcome or control disease outbreaks such as the bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera, polio and a whole slew of childhood diseases and infection. For e.g. In Europe, in the mid -18th century, parents lost an average of 3 - 4 children!

I highly recommend Scientific American. Their readable and free newsletter brings you up to date with the latest scientific discoveries like this recent one : Map Reveals Hidden U.S. Hotspots of Coronavirus Infection (By adjusting for population, researchers have identified rural areas in several states that could be disproportionally affected by COVID-19)

Just out from Scientific American : When Can We Lift the Coronavirus Pandemic Restrictions? Not Before Taking These Steps

Stay safe and stay well! And keep busy.



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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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