Saturday, April 4, 2020

Making More Masks

Organization is one of my strengths. While I much prefer slow sewing, when I need to I can mass produce units efficiently with a streamlined approach. On Friday, I made twenty-one masks for my husband so that he'd have three a day for work. They were the pleated kind and a lot fussier than I'd like. For my sons...

... I decided to make the face mask that Joann's designed with some changes to the sewing steps and by using elastic instead of ties.That's their image at left and here's a link to the video of how theirs were sewn. I forced my youngest son (26) to model a finished mask for you. He thought I should do it and he'd take the picture since his hair wasn't washed but... hmm... I wasn't wearing any make-up. You can see who won that debate.

Here is a link to the free PDF mask pattern that Joann's designed and I used. Be sure that your computer maintains the original size if sewing an adult mask. If sewing a child's mask, you will need to calculate how much to scale it for the age of the child or use these same steps with a similar child's sized pattern (see below). The dot markers won't be needed with this sewing method and the seam allowance will be different in different places. The elastic will be inserted in the last steps instead of in a middle step. Turning the units right side out will be way easier.

 Edit: If you wanted to use ties instead of elastic since there's a shortage, you could make one long one for each side and insert them in the same manner and then tie behind the head. 

Edit: I found this grid for a range of sizes. The ones I made are the equivalent of the largest size and yes, mine could be slightly smaller. 

To start, print off more than one pattern so you can cut out multiples at one time. This piece of fabric is folded once to 15" x 28" and would make two masks as there four parts for each mask. That's not how I cut them out though. Keep reading.

The right and left parts mirror each other. It is easiest to sew them together if they are cut out by placing the fabrics right sides together. As the units are cut, they are also ready to be sewn eliminating the need to place and pin that seam. You can cut out the parts with only two layers placed right sides together or with multiple layers that alternate. An even number of layers is required for each mask to create both a left and a right side in the exterior and in the lining fabrics. Cotton fabric is recommended.

This is the same fabric piece now with four layers that will create eight exterior sections. I first folded the 15" x 56" piece of fabric right sides together lengthwise and then folded the length back across itself creating four layers with two pairs beneath each pattern piece. To cut out (at right) separate the patterns pieces along one side and then pick each one up and cut around the remaining three sides. This is much faster than going completely around each pattern piece one at a time. Remove the pins and pattern and then stack in the same orientation with all the center, top (nose) and bottom (chin) edges aligned.

If you are able to use the same colour of thread for all the masks, that will speed things up considerably. If you have created more than one stack in the previous step begin by orienting them in EXACTLY the same way and then chain stitch the units through the machine one after the other. When you finish stitching one unit, line up the next one and continue sewing without clipping the threads in-between. Use a 1/4" seam allowance for this step (the center seam) and backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam. I stitched from nose to chin on one and then lined up the next one, stitched from nose to chin, lined up the next one, stitched again, and so on until I had a chain of fourteen units. Then I separated and stacked the units in EXACTLY the same orientation. This is critical for the next and future steps.

Lay the stack at left of the machine as shown with the center seam facing the machine and the nose at the top. Pick up each unit from the stack. Open it with right sides up ready to stitch from nose to chin. Use your thumbs underneath to push-pull the seam allowance to the right and then hold the seam firmly with a finger on each side of the seam as you top stitch the seam allowance in place. Be sure to stop with the needle down when you need to shift along the seam. Chain stitch the units, one after the other, through the entire stack. You do not need to backstitch for this step. Separate and stack the units in EXACTLY the same orientation.

Place the stack of units sewn with the exterior fabric to the left with right sides up and the stack of units sewn with the lining fabrics to the right with wrong sides up. Pick up the exterior unit in your left hand, the lining unit in your right hand, and lay the two units right sides together. Begin pinning at the top (nose) by sliding the ridge of the two center seams together until they butt and then pin through the seams. Next, pin one of the ends and once between the end and the center and then pin the other end and once between the end and the center before turning the unit to the bottom (chin) side and repeating those steps. Stack the units to the left in the same orientation.

Continue working your way through the two stacks, joining them together, and stacking them to the left ready to sew. These will also be chain stitched. First sew all of the top edges and then clip the threads between each unit and stack them again in the same orientation. Use a 3/8" seam allowance and backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam. For the bottom edge...

... also use a 3/8" seam allowance and backstitch. Begin stitching at the end and stitch up until the center seam line. Stop with the needle down on the seam line, lift the presser foot, pivot the fabric to line up the raw edge with the seam guide, remove the pin, and continue stitching. As you can see, I used the edge of my presser foot as the seam guide.

Once all the units have been stitched together separate them in this manner. Snip the thread between the first unit and the next. Snip into the seam allowance at the center seam along the edge closet to you, turn the unit and snip into the seam allowance on the opposite edge. Stack the units in the same orientation.

It's now time to turn the units. I didn't think you needed a picture of that. I did this by placing the stack at left on my pressing surface and then took the first unit and turned it right sides out. Next, I pressed the top and then the bottom edges and then hammered (basic household hammer) the bulky points where the seams meet at the nose and chin and then stacked the unit at right repeating these steps until all the units were turned, pressed, and hammered.

This next continuous line of stitching will both finish the two raw side edges and top stitch the top and bottom edges. Begin by using the widest zigzag to overlap one raw edge. When you get to the corner, stop with the needle up, slightly lift the presser foot and turn the unit, lower the pressing foot lining it up with the guide, switch to a straight stitch and topstitch that length, turn again, switch to a zigzag and finish that edge, turn again, switch to a straight stitch and topstitch the final edge. Backstitch when you get to the end. Trim the threads and stack the units with the exterior fabrics facing up. 

NOTE: if you do not want the raw edge finished in this manner, the time to finish this edge would be right after top stitching the center seam of each pair. I felt this method was continuous and less bulky than turning under a raw edge. The only other option I might have used would have been a serged edge.

Use chalk to draw a line 5/8" away from the zigzag finish on both sides of each unit. If you don't have chalk, pick another marker that will wash out otherwise this line will be visible. A thin sliver of soap will work also.

Place the units exterior fabric down at the back of the pressing surface. Pull the first unit forward, flip up the zigzag edge and press a fold on the drawn line. Repeat on the opposite edge and then flip the unit exterior fabric up and place it to the left. Continue through all the units.

Cut two 9 1/2" pieces of 1/4" elastic for each mask. Place the units lining side up to the left of the sewing machine and place the pile of elastics either to the right of the sewing machine or in another convenient location.  Lay the long edge of the elastic against one crease and with the ends extending off the top and bottom edge. Fold the zigzag edge over the elastic and topstitch it into place backstitching at the beginning and end of each seam. The stitching encases the elastic without having to thread it through a casing. If you stop and start stitching right at the edge, it will be easiest to trim the threads. Repeat on the opposite edge and then complete all the units individually.

Fold the two ends of the SAME elastic together by folding the masks and lining up the elastic edges. It was easiest for me to fold the lining sides together. Move the needle on the machine to the right, set the edge of the presser foot on the elastic, and then stitch back and forth across the elastic three times starting and stopping on the same edge - again to make it easiest to trim the threads. Repeat for all the units, Pull the elastic around through the casing so that the seam is hidden inside the casing. Repeat on each edge of each unit and.... DONE!

When putting on the masks, pull the elastic beyond your ears and then settle it forward behind your ears. This will slightly gather the sides and feel more comfortable.

I chose to make the exterior fabrics denim because denim is one of my favourites and I had a lot of  remnants. My stash of quilting cottons was pretty bare since I haven't quilted in well over ten years and had cleaned out almost everything. Thankfully, there were sufficient remnants for these masks. I had barely enough elastic and had to use 3/8" for two of the masks being slightly more careful to stitch the casing without catching the elastic.

The masks could be reversible if desired. My oldest son wanted plain fabrics and my youngest son wanted patterns. One of his masks is lined with the black and white print I used to make pants recently. That gave me a giggle.

I found making these masks quite disconcerting. They made me anxious and I felt like I was on fast forward trying to get them done. At the end of batch sewing, I made this "face" mask for myself from a fabric I bought in Ashland, Oregon while attending a Design Outside the Lines retreat. It reminds me of "my tribe" and of better days I hope to return to soon. Years ago, we talked in chat groups and on blogs about making outfits not orphans and now - to make my masks - I think I'll sew a garment and then make a matching mask from the remnants and I'll be oh so co-ordinated. Too funny!

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - just enough elastic


  1. I'm so glad you're blogging again I've missed reading your posts ❤

    1. Thank you. What a lovely thing to say! Welcome back.

  2. I found your blog two days ago and did a happy dance. Love your creative fabric chronicles. So, I've gone back to the first post from January and am reading three posts a day. Really enjoying them.

    1. Welcome. Thank you for the encouragement.


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