Making Masks at Home

MAKING MASKS AT HOME: As recommendations from the CDC are evolving for the use of face masks, here is a easy version you can make at home for personal use: 

Rev. Bobbie Groth, a vital Interfaith Cabinet member of 25+ years collaborated with Dr. Mike Kaplan and Gabriel Green, a healthcare worker, to create a tutorial for a mask that adds a protective layer to a fabric mask. The key is the MERV 13 filter material you put inside the fabric layers to block the viral microns.  The filter material is harvested from furnace filters that can be purchased at Menards and shipped to your home. This step-by-step guide was to encourage people who can sew to make masks independently, and thus protect the supplies of professional grade masks for hospitals. These masks are durable and sanitizable.

Recommending that you always follow the CDC's guidelines:

  • DO NOT purchase N95 masks as these are vital to our healthcare workers right now.
  • Wearing protective masks is NOT a substitute for SOCIAL DISTANCING.


1. 100% Cotton WOVEN fabric (not Jersey or stretchy)--cotton fabric used for quilting, making dresses, shirts, or bed sheets will do. (NOTE: If you are using home leftovers from another project, make sure it is breathable--too high of a thread count = too hard to breathe. Also, 100% cotton woven material is easiest to work with: the filters are very slippery, and polyester or cotton with a sheen is very hard to work with and will take longer).
2. M13 hospital grade filter material (NOTE: you can buy this online by the yard from wholesale suppliers, or harvest it from home furnace filters of that grade. This material is very costly: home furnace filters will produce waste in the harvesting process; between the first and second weeks I bought the material on line, the price went up ten dollars a yard due to increased demand.
3. Thread (NOTE: cotton thread seems to work best).
4. Approximately 26 inches of 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 inch elastic per mask (NOTE: elastic was in short supply when mask- making began, but now it is possible get on line. If it becomes hard to find again, it is also possible to use 1/8 or 1⁄2” elastic, or 1⁄4” hair ties, hairbands, or cord elastic knotted at ends, or even fabric or seam-binding straps.)
5. Sewing machine (NOTE: these instructions are written for sewing machines with zigzag stitches. NOTE: making masks is very hard on your sewing machine due to the nature of the filter fabric. Plan on cleaning and oiling your machine at least once a day! You will probably also want to have it professionally cleaned every month if you are making lots of masks)
6. Scissors and/or rotary cutter (NOTE: do NOT use your good fabric scissors, or good fabric rolling cutter to cut out the M13 filter pieces—they will be destroyed in short order! Use those on cutting the fabric. Use an expendable pair, although it also needs to be sharp, on the filter material.)
7. Pins (NOTE: 1 3⁄4 quilting pins are the easiest to use if you have them)
8. Medium weight wire for nose clips (stiff enough to hold its shape, flexible enough to shape by hand— I use 17 gauge steel electric fence wire bought at a farm supply store in rural areas, or online).
9. OTHER: Yard stick and ruler, permanent fabric marking pen.


Search for and buy MERV 13 FILTER FABRIC/material OR search for and buy MERV 13 hospital grade boxed furnace filters, and harvest the furnace filter material. (NOTE: If buying furnace filters, the easiest to harvest with the biggest yield are “Honeywell BestAir 20x25 4” High Efficiency MERV 13 Pleated Air Filter”. This size will make about 21 medium sized masks. They yield approximately 3 1⁄2 yards of material, after cutting off edge damage, which can be cut down to 42 seven by nine inch rectangles. TWO pieces of filter material are required to yield an N 95 mask, so this size furnace filter can be used to make about 21 medium masks. They are available in many hardware stores, and also online from several companies, notably Menards in the Milwaukee area.

2. IF STARTING WITH FURNACE FILTERS, HARVEST THE INTERNAL FABRIC: WEAR GLOVES It will take you a little time to get the filter material from the first furnace filter you buy, but it gets easier the more you do it! Removal directions below:
a. Carefully remove the inner filter from the box or frame of the furnace filter. (An Exacto knife can be helpful) b. Remove the front and back cardboard strips by pinching the filter and gently peeling away the cardboard. (I found using a long, very thin strip of metal very helpful in doing this)
c. The sides and the back are removed in a similar way except that you will grip the filter right against the sides or top/bottom and rip the material away from the adhesives (you won’t be using the very edges of the filter material as it comes from the box anyway, as it is too thin there—an Exacto knife can be useful here)
d. Trim uneven (ripped) edges of filter material off so they are even.
e. Discard or recycle all but the filter material you have taken from the filter

f. Once the filter is separated from the cardboard, the wire backing must be removed. Be careful when starting at one end, and lift the material off the ends first. The material will peel away from the metal grid as you work your way cross the mesh. I found that a very quick upward jerking motion in a small area at a time worked best. Once you start this, you will see that it’s not too hard to do.


a. 100% cotton woven fabric (if available) TWO PIECES PER MASK (one for front, one for back) b. Filter material TWO PIECES PER MASK—TWO LAYERS necessary to make an N95 mask These measurements for each size of mask include 1⁄4” seam allowance:

Medium: 7” x 9” (seven inches high, nine inches long)
Large: 7 1⁄2 x 9 1⁄2 ” (seven and a half inches high, nine and a half inches long) Child/Small: 5 1⁄2” x 6” (five and a half inches high, six inches long)

c. When cutting out multiple masks, you can use a hard-edge yardstick and permanent fabric marker to mark out a gridwork of the mask size you are making on the fabric and the filter material. (NOTE: do NOT use your good fabric scissors, or good fabric rolling cutter to cut out the M13 filter pieces—the blades of either will be destroyed in short order! Use those on cutting the fabric. Use an expendable pair or scissors, although it does also need to be sharp, on the filter material.)


Layer 1: Cotton fabric rectangle, printed (design) side down Layer 2: Filter rectangle #1
Layer 3: Filter rectangle #2
Layer 4: Cotton fabric rectangle, printed (design) side up. Pin in place. (NOTE: the filter material is slippery. Starting on one corner, line up the mask fabric and filters, and pin diagonally in that corner. Proceed around the perimeter of the mask, lining up the fabric and filter pieces and pinning. Place pins about 1 to 1 1⁄2 inch in from each side—this helps stabilize the fabric and filter layers, which will drift due to sewing foot pressure)


If you have a serger, you can simply serge around the perimeter of the pieces. If you do NOT have a serger, use your zigzag stitch, (or on machines with more stitches, your blanket stitch) to sew around the perimeter of the mask first lining up the sewing machine foot with the outside edge of the fabric and sewing all the way around, then going around a second time positioning your machine foot so that the zigzag or blanket stitch goes over the outside edge of the mask and essentially creates a serger stitch for you. Do not sew over pins at any time!! Remove all remaining pins when you are done.


Using a permanent marker or fabric pen (if you have very dark fabric you will need a permanent marker that shows up), fold the mask in half and mark the center TOP of the FRONT of the mask(s) with a dot or short line, then straighten out and turn over and mark the BOTTOM of the BACK of the mask(s) with an “M” for medium, or an “L” for large, or an “S” for child/small, depending on the size you are making.


Without something to keep the mask at the bridge of the nose, the mask will continue to slip forward and impede the safety of the wearer, additionally, there may be air gaps to the side where virus can get in. Therefore:
a. Cut a 4 inch piece of strong wire (I use 17 gauge steel electric fence wire bought at a farm supply store in rural areas, or online).

b. With a pair of needle nose plyers, curl each end towards the middle so that the resulting piece looks like this:

c. Mark the center of the wire, and match it up with the center mark on the front of the mask. Using zigzag stitch on “0” length of stitch, center the sewing machine foot over the outside curve on the right, and tack down by zigzagging 5 or more times. Cut threads. Move sewing foot to left side of nose clip, making sure to keep it exactly straight, and tack the left side down. Turn the mask halfway around to the right, and centering the sewing foot directly on the shaft of the wire between the two curves, set zigzag very close together (but not “0”) and run a line of zigzag down the central length of the nose clip. Clip threads.


a. Starting about 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the mask ON THE INSIDE, finger fold TOWARDS THE BOTTOM OF THE MASK and pin a pleat about 3⁄4 inch wide leaving about 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch of the edge of the mask below the pleat. Finger fold and pin a second pleat of about 3⁄4 inch wide, starting about 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch from the TOP EDGE of the mask—make sure this pleat also folds TOWARDS THE BOTTOM OF THE MASK. Be sure the second pleat is right up against the first pleat. You are trying to reduce the height of the mask from 7” to about 3”, while still leaving room to machine sew the elastic straps on. These pleats will allow the wearer to open their mask so that it forms a pocket around the mouth and nose.

b. Using straight stitch or triple stitch, stitch the pleats down on each side of the mask, about 1⁄4 inch in from the side (this will be within the margin of the zigzag edging).


a. Cut one 15” and one 11” length of 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 inch elastic for each mask being made. b. Sew one end of the 15” length of elastic to each TOP, OUTSIDE corner of the mask.
c. Sew one end of the 11” length of elastic to each BOTTOM, OUTSIDE corner of the mask.

(NOTE: this mask pattern uses the above elastic formation only because wearer feedback confirms that behind-the-ear loops fall off a lot and quite often gap, both problems exposing the wearer to environmental virus contamination, or necessitating the wearer to touch their face often to put it back on, disrupting work and raising the risk of hand-to-face contamination. In addition, many wearers expressed being unable to tie masks on with fabric ties, due to physical constrictions of occupation or age. If elastic is completely unavailable those strapping options might have to be used despite their drawbacks)

Your mask is ready to wear! If you are giving masks to others, print off the following pages and include with each mask!!