Homemade Face Masks: A DIY Guide For All Levels Of Crafty


**Post updated April 29, 2020 with new research (below)

Get ready to smize. Or practice, rather. Then just do it.

I tried the smize for the first time when I was taking those selfies. I have a ways to go, clearly (maybe the center one is on point?).

The smize — smiling with the eyes (in theory it’s supposed to be sexy and playful, but that’s not what we’re going for here) is what we need to bring a little humanity to the Coronavirus Swerve, since we’re now adding face masks to our social distancing routines (you’ll notice people spelling it “smeyes” — since #thatmakessense — but it’s early days, and let’s not be judgmental). Nods and hand waves are also seemingly appropriate ways to take the edge off the seeming coldness of the Coronavirus Swerve. Some people simply say “thank you” or “hi”.

But now that we’re all wearing face masks, I hope, the smize is your friend. It’s one of those gestures that will keep us a little more sane as we’re trying to be kinder and gentler with each other. On the bright side, we only need to use makeup on half of our faces now — no seriously — when you have on makeup under your mask, it just makes keeping the mask clean that much harder. So unless you have a conference call, keeping it simple with only the eyes is a good way to go.

Just in case you don’t know why we’re ALL donning face masks now when we venture out of the house…keep reading.

(*But if you’re just ready to figure out how in the heck you’re gonna make a face mask, skip on down to A Quick Guide To Homemade Face Masks below).

Why Wear A Face Masks During The Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic? (For Those Who Need Convincing)

In the beginning (like February) most of us were adamant about not wearing face masks, likely associated with the concerns about laypeople hoarding them (so that healthcare workers wouldn’t have them), as well as people touching their faces to adjust them (possibly infecting or re-infecting themselves) and the way that bacteria can breed in warm, wet environments. But in reality, as research scientist Jeremy Howard points out, the early guidance not to wear masks was strictly a policy issue — resulting from supply issues in the U.S.

Another of the major hindrances to the debate over face masks in the west (aside from the lack of masks) has to do with psychology and national character. In Asia, wearing masks is pretty commonplace — primarily due to the pollution, and secondarily, to prevent contagion when individuals are sick, as many began doing so during the SARS outbreak. Because studies from SARS (classic COVID) show masks’ efficacy in reducing transmission (even by a little), and current evidence out of Hong Kong, Singapore and China, among other Asian countries illustrates, this practice works, the CDC “aggressively” reviewed guidance on wearing masks for regular citizens, and finally gave us the nod last Friday.

That being said, masks are not a panacea for decreasing the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the primary concern about having enough medical-grade masks for healthcare workers, followed by other essential workers (NYC was one of the first municipalities providing their transit workers with upgraded masks), is the concern that face masks might provide the public with a false sense of security.

So to be clear, wearing face masks must not replace physical distancing measures, hand-washing, staying home, avoiding touching your face and staying as healthy as possible overall.*

Some of us, or maybe our neighbors on the Next Door app, argue that we don’t have any symptoms or that we’re “American” and this is a free country, so we don’t need to be told what to do. Masks are not about restricting our personal liberties, but about acting for the common good. Now that we have more transparency on symptoms and testing, it’s clear that at least 25% of infected people don’t show any symptoms and are contributing to the spread. We also know now that the virus “sheds” (meaning it can be transmitted) for around 48 hours before symptoms begin. Combine that with a high false-negative rate for those who do have symptoms, and it’s clear that in addition to physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and staying home, we should be taking every step we can to protect ourselves and our communities.

I’m a staunch supporter of everybody wearing masks.

Masks are not particularly stylish — yet (I’m pretty sure we’ll get there in a week or two, once we’ve simply gotten used to wearing them), and we in the U.S. have yet to wholeheartedly embrace them culturally.

In Asia, during an outbreak everyone is encouraged to wear masks; it’s a stigma not to wear a mask. People also randomly wear them when they are sick in general. Here — until recently — it was stigma to do so. Experts say that if everyone wears a mask during a pandemic, then not only does it decrease the spread, but it shows solidarity — we are ALL experiencing this pandemic together. We are ALL keeping each other safe. Any of us could be infected and that does not mean we are lesser humans if we are. “When we both have a face mask, I protect you, you protect me,” said a Czech actress in a widely shared video. The approach is about crowd psychology and protection. If everyone wears a mask, individuals protect each other, reducing overall community transmission. The sick automatically have one on and are also more likely to adhere to keeping their mask on because the stigma of wearing one is removed. A face mask on the wearer says “I protect you; I care about you”, and seeing a face mask on someone else conveys to our neighbors “we’re being protected; we are cared for.”

Masks are also an important signal that it’s not business as usual during a pandemic. They serve as a visual reminder to improve hand hygiene and social distancing. They may also serve as an act of solidarity, showing that all citizens are on board with the precautionary measures needed to bring infections under control.

By Knvul Sheikh, The New York Times

A Quick Guide To Making Face Masks At Home

One go-to article I highly recommend is A User’s Guide to Face Masks. It has everything you need to know about face masks. Number one: don’t mess with your mask (aka touch your face) while wearing one. For those of us living in apartments, the mask goes on before we leave our flats. Read about face mask hygiene here, and the dos and don’ts of wearing a mask here.

So we’re all desperate to make our own masks. But finding supplies is difficult. If you’re concerned about the best (read:most effective) materials for making masks, listen to this “Masks For All” segment from the Brian Lehrer show or read this article about best materials from the Times or this one about mask types here.

If however, you, like the rest of us can’t wait until the end of May for Amazon to deliver elastic, then grab a dish towel, your child’s too-small flannel shirt, or a pillowcase, and get to “sewing”. I myself have a few fabric masks on-hand, but I also have a bunch of scarves. Goose will start sewing masks next week, and in the interim she’s been wearing bandanas and some of my scarves, plus I bought a couple kid-size face masks from Etsy (look for sellers who are doing a 1-for-1 buy, donate). When tying a scarf around your kids’ face, it’s OK to tie it a little tight — by the time you get on your way, it’ll loosen up — I mean, don’t hurt them! We want it tight enough that they won’t mess with it. Read about kids wearing face masks on HuffPo or on The NYTimes.

You can use rubber bands, hair ties or shoelaces in place of elastic, and some patterns show how to sew masks without elastic ties anyway. A reader in our TME Facebook Insiders group also shared this article with us: Which DIY mask pattern should you use?

**Update: news about old research demonstrates that a layer of pantyhose over a face mask can make them up to 50% more effective. Read about it here. All you need is pair of nylons, and you’ll cut the legs into 8-to10-inch rings, then pull that ring over your head, on top of the mask. Tip: go for larger size hose.

So You Can Sew? Here’s How To Make Face Masks With Fabric & Patterns

Homemade face masks help #SlowtheSpread of COVID-19. Our DIY guide has easy no-sew patterns, sewing w/ fabric, kids' masks + notes on effectiveness. #MaskUp

Easy No-Sew Face Mask Instructions

How To Make Face Masks For Kids

Homemade face masks help #SlowtheSpread of COVID-19. Our DIY guide has easy no-sew patterns, sewing w/ fabric, kids' masks + notes on effectiveness. #MaskUp

Improvise Homemade Face Masks With Scarves & Bandanas

If you’d like to use what you already own, or need fabric for a no-sew mask, go for a scarf or bandana. If you need a scarf, Ten Thousand Villages has beautiful ones (and buying one will support fair-trade workers in countries that will be acutely affected by the pandemic), or you can shop below. We chose scarves and bandanas from retailers contributing to the COVID-19 response. Scarves definitely provide a wear it now/wear it later approach.

Homemade face masks help #SlowtheSpread of COVID-19. Our DIY guide has easy no-sew patterns, sewing w/ fabric, kids' masks + notes on effectiveness. #MaskUp

A final note about wearing your mask outdoors. There is A LOT of debate about the virus being emitted as aerosols or droplets. Because these studies are conducted in labs, in highly controlled environments, this argument will continue until there’s evidence that can be agreed upon by scientists. Science writer Roxanne Khamsi addresses the conflict here, read about the exercising outdoors with a mask conflict here or listen to the Brian Lehrer interview with Khamsi on the Masks For All? segment. Basically, we don’t have evidence on the extent to which we may come into contact with the virus outdoors, especially depending on the weather and circumstances.

So, in addition to the fact that we shouldn’t touch our masks once they’re on (for the same reason we shouldn’t touch our face), it’s best to keep our masks on from the time we leave the house or apartment until we get back home; don’t just pull it up and down based on encountering others or going in and out of stores/the car etc.,. Wearing it on our chins, and taking it on and off to talk on the phone are also no-nos.

Hopefully at least one of these options will work for you and your family. Remember it’s vital to keep our masks clean and dry — clean and dry for all fabrics during this pandemic. I’ll leave you with these cute drawings of Masks of the Upper West Side for inspo. Wash your hands, and stay safe and be well.


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Lex is our resident nerd, watchful editor & Chief Innovation Officer. Voted most likely to win BIG on Jeopardy!, she keeps us ahead of the curve, whether in mapping out strategy that has us dropping content at the moment you’re Googling for it, or branching us out into new channels/ media & letting us know what trends are giving. If you sit in on any meeting, you’ll often hear the phrase, “Ok, so Lex was right…” With her own personal style (boots, dresses, scarves), she doesn’t consider herself a fashionista, but she is keeping us #well #sustainable #empathetic #inclusive #current #DownToEarth & #OpenMinded; her wisdom ranges from yoga home practice & Feng Shui-ing an apartment, to living overseas & crushing analytics.

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