Handmade: Help ease critical shortage of face masks

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

As COVID-19 continues to spread across more than 160 countries, your sewing skills are desperately needed.

Medical professionals everywhere are faced with a growing shortage of surgical (N95) masks needed to protect them from patients who have the coronavirus.

While there are a number of patterns available on the internet for making these much-needed face masks, I've included instructions here for the pattern I designed last week. It's made with a double-layer of fabric. These homemade masks are handwashable, and, therefore, reusable. Persons/organizations receiving such masks should laundry them before use.

Jocelynn Brown models one of her handmade coronavirus face masks.

Although they're far from the N95 masks, they don't meet any CDC guidelines, but may offer some protection from the virus, with the idea behind them being -- they may be better than nothing at all.

Alexandra Bourque, one of three co-owners of Brightly Twisted, 1418 Michigan in Detroit, said they've given out patterns to help instruct people on making masks. "And," she said, "all of our seamstresses are making them, and I'm making them. We're just making them out of cotton canvas material." 

But while many sewing enthusiasts are jumping on board to help produce masks, Bourque said she's heard, "a lot of hospitals won't take them." However, she's had not only nurses reach out to her company for masks, but flight attendants, as well, who say "they haven't been given anything (protection)."

One of Jocelynn Brown's handmade coronavirus face masks.

I learned this week that there's now a shortage of narrow elastic on store shelves because so many individuals are making the masks. (And, I must say, it's been wonderful seeing the sewing community come together for this cause.) However, fabric ties can be used in place of the elastic loop that fits around each ear to hold the mask in place.

For information on where and how to donate your homemade masks, contact local hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. They may be more than willing to accept them. 

Also, you may want to consider donating a mask(s) to a friend, neighbor or relative with an existing condition for wearing when they need to go out to pick up essential items such as groceries, prescriptions, disinfectants, etc.

Jocelynn Brown's handmade coronavirus face masks are displayed with an antique sewing machine.

Washable Face Mask

Level: Intermediate

Estimated time: 20 minutes

Tools: Scissors, measuring tape, sewing machine, straight pins, ink pin, piece of cardboard, iron, ironing board

Supplies: Small piece of 100 percent heavy cotton fabric with tight weave, thread, 1/8 inch wide soft-stretch elastic


Cut cardboard to measure 7 1/4 by 11 1/2 inches for template.

Lay template on fabric and use pen to trace around it. Then, carefully cut around traced line.

Cut two 8½ inch pieces of elastic.

Fold fabric in half width-wise with right sides facing.

**Neatly position end/tip of one piece of elastic between fabric layers, snug against fold.

Now, stitch that end of mask closed with ¼-inch seam allowance, making sure to secure elastic in place as you sew. Back-stitch over end of and continue sewing.

About an inch before reaching bottom edge, reach beneath top layer of fabric to find other end of elastic and position end/tip in place near bottom, leaving enough fabric/opening for 1/4-inch seam across bottom edge. Back-stitch over end of elastic and continue sewing.

Then, with needle in down position, turn fabric and stitch a couple inches. (The center along bottom edge will need to be left open to turn mask right side out.)

Repeat steps from ** (see above) on opposite side/end of mask, making sure to leave about a 2-inch opening.

Turn mask right side out, and gently tug each piece of elastic to pull corners out.

Now, pin and/or press two or three narrow (horizontal) pleats across center of mask.They should be pressed/folded in same direction. Also, press opening with raw edges turned up inside mask for even bottom.

Top-stitch ¼-inch seam allowance around entire mask starting at top corner of one side, securing pleats in place and making sure to stitch opening at bottom close.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or