Face Mask Resources for Complete Beginners


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Recommended mask-making tools

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Cotton

dark blue floral face mask and matching cotton fabric
Fitted ‘Olson’ style mask made in 100% cotton.

The most popular material is tightly woven cotton.

“Tightly woven” means there aren’t big gaps between the threads. 

If you’re making a ‘fitted’ or ‘olson’ mask, I recommend using mid-weight cotton that has ‘body’, not a light and floppy fabric.

This will help the mask stay away from your lips, making breathing and talking easier.

For US buyers, Fabric.com has a massive range of cotton fabric. For UK/European buyers, Minerva Crafts has the biggest selection.

What fabric does the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend?

WHO recommends 3 layers:

  • A water repellent outer layer.
  • A polypropylene filter insert. This is a spun bond non-woven material. I have more info on this in another post.
  • A water-absorbent inner layer to capture your droplets.

Here’s their explanation in video format:

Elastic

3 types of elastic for face masks
From left: fold-over elastic (good for elastic around head), 1/4″ braided elastic, and 1″ braided elastic being cut down.

For elastic around the ears, thin elastic is better. Wide elastic won’t go around the ear easily. 

Look for:

  • Rounded elastic (Amazon).
  • Soft braided elastic that’s no bigger than 3/8” (Amazon). 
  • If you can’t find the right size, you can cut braided elastic to the right width. 
  • Or cut up 1” strips of stretchy fabric (t-shirts count!) and pull the fabric so the edges curl in. This is a very soft alternative to elastic. You don’t need to finish the edges because knit fabrics don’t fray.

Ties

3 tie options for face masks
From left: cotton twill tape, and bias binding in 2 widths.

Here are some options:

Pony beads

There’s a great hack that uses pony beads to make adjustable ear loops (Amazon link).

This means you don’t have to worry if your ear loops are too big or small. They’re adjustable! I highly recommend this.

Here’s how to use them:

Nose wire

A nose wire creates a better seal at the top of the mask.

This makes it harder for your breath to escape through the top. If you wear glasses, this means no fogging!

The University of Florida Health recommends 16-gauge craft wire. If unavailable, use 20-gauge (Amazon links).

They recommend cutting and bending the ends of the wire with jewelry pliers (that have tapered round ends) and a cutter (Amazon links).

If you want to pad the wire with something soft, try putting it in terry toweling (Amazon).

Aluminum strips (Amazon) are also popular. You don’t need to worry about cutting and bending the ends of these.

Thread

Black and white thread for face masks
My Gutermann 1000m / 1094yd threads.

Black and white thread will get you through most projects.

Polyester ones are stronger than cotton.

The Gutermann brand (Amazon) is well known for having good quality, strong thread that doesn’t lint much. This is what I use 90% of the time.

Poorer quality threads are covered in fluffy lint. 

If you’re planning to wash your masks on high heat, don’t worry, the Gutermann ‘sew-all’ polyester threads can be washed at 95 degrees.

I would avoid the big serger / overlocker threads – they’re too big to fit on domestic sewing machines. 

1000m / 1094 yard thread will sew a lot of masks. A small 100m thread will run out fast.


Tools for first-time sewists:

If this is your first time sewing, you’re probably missing the sewing basics. Here’s what you’ll need for masks:

Fabric scissors or a rotary cutter

rotary cutter, cutting mat, and fabric scissors
From left: rotary cutter with green cutting mat and replacement blades, tiny golden scissors, and Fiskars fabric scissors.

These are 2 different tools used to cut fabric.

Rotary cutter & mat

The rotary cutter is great for fast, precise cutting (Amazon link).

You’ll need to buy a cutting mat (Amazon) so the blade doesn’t cut your table.

If you’re making a lot of masks, you’ll need replacement blades at some point too.

I use and recommend Fiskars rotary cutters (Amazon).

For the cutting mat, I just bought the biggest and cheapest one I could.

Fabric scissors

It’s nice to have scissors and a rotary cutter, but if you have to buy just one, go for a good pair of fabric scissors (Amazon). No extra accessories required.

I have owned these soft-grip Fiskars ones for years (Amazon).

The handles are soft with a comfortable contoured shape; great for long periods of cutting. I don’t like the bare metal ones.

The blade is long for big, smooth cuts.

When I need to sharpen my fabric scissors every few months, I use this Fiskars ‘SewSharp’ sharpening tool (Amazon).

Tiny scissors

small golden fabric scissors in a bird shape

Tiny scissors are great for trimming threads and clipping small notches (Amazon link).

Your normal fabric scissors are too big and clunky for these jobs.

It’s much easier to make small, accurate cuts with tiny scissors. I highly recommend these!

Pins or clips

red sewing clips and pins
Red sewing clips (left) and pins (right).

These will hold the fabric together while you sew. 

Sewing clips

Clips (Amazon) are nice for lots of situations, but they’re especially good when you’re working with thick fabrics. A normal pin can struggle to get through thick materials.

And they’re great if you don’t want any holes in your mask

For my sewing clips, I just bought a cheap pack of 50 for about £2.50 / $3 and they’re fine 2 years later.

Glass head pins

If you can only buy one option, I would choose pins (Amazon).

These work well for most sewing situations. 

Buy the glass head versions (Amazon). The pins with plastic hearts and circles at the top will melt when ironed. 

If you’re worried about pins leaving tiny holes in your mask, just make sure you pin inside the seam allowances.

Avoid those super cheap boxes of 1000+ pins. They’re terrible. They’re thick and struggle to get through fabric, they make bigger holes in the fabric and cause snags. I learned this the hard way!

I use and recommend Clover pins (Amazon).

Seam ripper

white seam ripper tool

This is a MUST buy.

At some point, you’ll sew something wrong and need to take out the stitches.

A seam ripper is the easiest and safest way to break stitches and pull thread out (Amazon link).

I just bought a few cheap ones years ago and they work fine.

Sewing machine needles

3 packs of schmetz universal sewing machine needles
Schmetz universal needles

Most people are making masks using light to medium weight cotton, so a size 80/12 universal needle is perfect (Amazon).

Schmetz is a good brand to buy from. They’re famous for making consistent, high-quality needles.

If you’re making a denim face mask, use a size 90/14 needle (Amazon). These are designed for thicker fabrics.

Measuring tape

yellow flexible measuring tape

Another MUST.

You’ll need a long, soft tape measure to measure your body and long pieces of fabric (Amazon link).

You can get these cheap, but expect the measurements to be a little off, just to warn you. 

Fabric marking tools

3 fabric marking tools: chalk and pens
From left: pencil, white fabric chalk, and air erasable fabric pen.

You’ll need fabric marking tools to draw around your mask template.

Fabric chalks are nice because you can brush off the mark when you don’t need it anymore (Amazon link).

Fabric marking pens are tricky – sometimes your marks don’t come off easily and stain the fabric, and sometimes they disappear too fast. I prefer chalk. If you do buy pens, test them on a fabric scrap first.

If you’re using light-colored fabric, a simple pencil is fine. Just draw lightly, so it’s not hard to take off.

Safety pin

silver safety pin being held

If you’re making a mask with side channels, you’ll need to feed the elastic or ties through.

Have at least 1 safety pin around for this task (Amazon). 

Iron

purple iron

There’s a lot of ironing in sewing.

Just use whatever you already have at home.

I bought a cheap Russell Hobbs iron (Amazon) for £15 / $20 (!) in 2017, and it’s absolutely fine for my sewing projects.

Basic sewing machine

purple iron and cream sewing machine

For mask-making, you just need a basic machine.

As long as it can sew straight lines, you’re fine!

If you don’t have one, I recommend getting one with: 

  • Adjustable stitch length and width.
  • Adjustable zig zag stitch.
  • Some ‘overcast’ stitches will be nice for finishing raw edges.
  • A buttonhole stitch.
  • It should come with basic accessories like a zipper foot.

Brother and Janome are trusted brands with lots of options (Amazon links).

I have been warned against Singer machines by technicians and sewing machine salespeople. Apparently they aren’t made well.


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