No-sew face mask made from an old t-shirt (better than a bandanna, not as good as an N95)

  WHY DO THIS? To comply with health rules about wearing at least a simple fabric face covering when in public, (but not using up the professional surgical masks or respirators, needed by health care professionals), you can make a face mask from an old t-shirt without needing to use a sewing machine or even a needle and thread (also known as a Quick Cut face mask).

The face covering at this page will not be at all as effective as a surgical mask at blocking bacterial and viral aerosols, and it will not fit as well. But it will cover your face better than a bandanna and is much more comfortable than the no-sew masks you may have seen that use rubber bands behind your ears to hold them on. (At the end of this webpage is a link to a tutorial on how to sew a face mask.)

The New York Times reported: “Guidance on whether to use a face mask has been evolving. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that healthy and sick Americans wear basic cloth masks in public

— a result of new concerns that the coronavirus is spread by infected people who have no symptoms.

It is still most important to limit trips outside and wash your hands frequently. Civilians should not use medical-grade masks, which are in short supply and must be reserved for health care workers on the front line.

But wearing a mask can help limit the spread of respiratory droplets, which in turn spread the new coronavirus.”

   

When the City of Cupertino, California instituted an order requiring face masks when out in public, it included these notes:

“A Halloween or plastic mask does not comply with the order.
A ski mask with holes for the nose or mouth does not comply with the order. . .

Children 2 years old and under cannot safely use a face covering. There could be a risk of suffocation for children so young.”

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You will need an at least recently washed tshirt (we are using some from a small collection of old ones we did not throw out, worn when painting or working on a vehicle). And you need to find a pair of scissors that can actually cut fabric. (Children’s scissors usually are not sharp enough.)

I suggest that you read through this entire sequence

before you start any of the steps.

– – – Take a look at the waistband of the tshirt. It has a finished edge that can become the band / strap across your face above your nose and tied behind your head. The waistband and the back side of the t-shirt will be enough fabric to make the face mask, cut in one piece that does not need any sewing. (Note that trying to use just a t-shirt sleeve will not give you enough fabric for many people’s faces.)

Since cotton t-shirt fabric does not unravel, but only curls up a little at the edge, (and is free if you have old t-shirts) it is recommended in other tutorials for making a mask, but many of them have you cut the shirt up without using the waistband as part of the mask. By using the waistband you have a nice, solid, strap that will stay flat across the front of your face. (People who have used this tutorial say that the slight curling of the other fabric edges on the finished product is not a problem.)

I suggest using the back side of the shirt, as any logo on the front side would be upside down or only partially visible when you are finished and a pocket on the front side would be awkward to work around. Be sure you choose one that is not full of even tiny holes. Use a cotton t-shirt, not one of your polypropylene (synthetic) base layers you wear to stay warm while camping.

Lay out the tshirt on a flat surface (table, desk, floor), with the front of the shirt down. Your first scissors cut will start at the outside center edge of the waistband at the front of the t-shirt.

Notice how the back of the shirt is folded up slightly so you don’t cut through both the front and back at the same time.

tshirt flat on floor

– – – You will cut just through the waistband on the front of the t-shirt,

scissors cutting into fabric edge

   
   

– – – Next you will make 2 cuts along the edge of the waistband. Be sure to not cut into the waistband or any of the existing stitching for the waistband. Notice below that all the existing stitching for the waistband stays intact as you cut:

scissors cutting a waistband off a t-shirt

The yellow line below shows where you cut along the edge of the waistband from the first center cut you made, and out to the far edge:

yellow line drawn on t-shirt

If the t-shirt you are working with has seams along each side (where the front and back were originally sewn to each other), it makes it easier, as you will cut along the edge of the waistband out to each seam. Or you can imagine a seam at each side of the shirt if that helps.

Cut along the edge of the waistband, along the imaginary yellow line shown above,

scissors cutting waistband partially off

After your first cut along the edge of the waistband,

next you will cut along the edge of the waistband from the first center cut you made, to the other far edge (or seam):

scissors cutting t shirt

Your cuts do not need to be perfectly straight, you just need to cut loose a little over half of the waistband for the two straps, leaving about half of it still attached to the t-shirt.

   

– – – Next you will cut the rest of the back of the t-shirt into a very large rectangle, using most of the back of the shirt, (cutting off the sleeves and the neckline, but being sure to keep the 2 straps you made from the waistband).

scissors in place at end of cutting

To help you picture where to cut the rectangle out, the leftover section of the t-shirt you cut off will look a lot like this when you have cut the entire back side of it off.

Notice where you cut near the sleeves and neckline.

cut up t-shirt

– – – At this point your project should look like this:

rectangle of fabric

or it might look like this:

t-shirt as a face mask unevenly cut

   
   

– – – You now need to adjust the width and then the length of the fabric, because this is likely too wide and too long for most people’s faces.

You need to hold it up to the face of the person who will be wearing it and decide how much more fabric to cut off along the edge of the waistband (the waistband that you are turning into a strap that will go above the person’s nose, behind their ears, and tie at the back of their head).

Tie it around their head and maybe put safety pins to mark where the width should be, (or you can use chalk).

The fabric rectangle that is becoming the face part of the mask needs to be the right width for the strap to go comfortably behind the ear:

this might not be comfortable:

side view of face mask on head

but this might be comfortable:

side view of face mask strap behind ear

   
   

(Even if you have EMT type first aid shears with blunt ends,
you should not be risking cutting the fabric when the mask is on the person’s face.)

two pairs of scissors, one with pointed ends and one with blunt ends

   
   

When you cut the fabric to adjust the width, again on a flat surface, I suggest that you cut only small strips at a time, and keep re-fitting at the ears as you go along, rather than guessing that one large piece of fabric cut off at once will be the correct size:

small strips of fabric to side of rectangle

– – – When you have the correct width,

you will make one last set of cuts creating 2 strips of fabric that will become the lower ties to hold the mask around the neck. Cut about half way up (depending on the size of the head of the person, please try to measure it, but it does not need to be exact) with each new fabric strip about as wide as the waistband strip that became the upper ties.

cutting a side strip

– – – When you have made the mask a width you like, and completed the two lower straps,
put the too long mask on the face of the person you are fitting it to, tying the upper straps behind the head,

holding straps out to the sides

then tie it behind the neck and look for a length to cut it to. (A couple of the first people who tried this project were glad they made it a bit longer than they initially thought they should, because it feels like a better fit.)
man wearing a too long face mask

   

Once you have determined the length, cut it across, (cut below the second pair of straps).

Again, your cuts do not need to be perfectly straight.

cutting fabric

The finished project looks like this from the front (or see below for more pictures of simple cloth masks made using these instructions) :

face mask made form a tshirt front view

Notice that every mask should be worn covering not just your mouth, but your whole nose and not just the tip of your nose.

and it looks like this from the rear. You can tie the 2 sets of ties in a bow or a square knot.

back of head with 2 ties

           

a narrow band of sunset clouds

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has a page on how / when to wash masks:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wash-cloth-face-coverings.html

a narrow band of sunset reflected on the water

Please see the Centers for Disease Control

Considerations for Wearing Masks

Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html

           

thin line of various colors of rocks

           

Here are the beta-testers for this webpage. Most had never “sewn” anything before and just tried to follow the instructions, then gave me great feedback.

Marc Anthony Urbano was first to try:

Marc Anthony Urbano with homemade face mask

Stacey Thai, the second beta tester, created her mask without coaching, and gave it a little bit more of a stylish cut that fits closer to her face:

Stacey Thai in a homemade face mask

Stacey Thai in a homemade face mask

Jose Almonte was the third beta-tester:

Jose Almonte with a homemade face mask

           

           

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The New York Times step by step tutorial on sewing a face mask is at:
https://www.nytimes.com/article/how-to-make-face-mask-coronavirus.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_NN_p_20200403&instance_id=17311&nl=morning-briefing&regi_id=77117662&section=topNews&segment_id=23741&te=1&user_id=06d6d324540b9d275e642e069124fab6

You might be wondering where you can find a needle and thread. You could dig around in the suitcase and/or briefcase you take on trips and see if you saved one of the sewing kits hotels offer, many have pre-threaded needles.

2 mini-sewing kits

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Currently enrolled De Anza College students have free access to the New York Times.
Go to the college library database page: https://www.deanza.edu/library/articledata.html and click on The New York Times. At the next screen, log in with your Portal IDs. On the next screen, create an account.

           

fog over colors blue and green in a narrow photo strip

Here is the link to more things to do during the coronavirus stay-at-home time (brainstormed by my students and me).