COVID-19: Everything you need to know about making a homemade face mask

Wearing a face mask will become the new normal for many Kiwis after the announcement of several new COVID-19 cases and new lockdown regulations in place across Aotearoa. 

Last week, many pharmacies sold out of disposal masks as the public rushed to stockpile, after Health Minister Chris Hipkins said the Ministry of Health had updated its advice on the use of masks by the public as part of the Government's ongoing response to the pandemic.

Now masks are compulsory for flights out of Auckland and encouraged elsewhere, after the Government's Tuesday evening announcement of further COVID-19 cases in the Auckland community, triggering an Auckland level 3 lockdown and level 2 lockdown for the rest of the country. 

In an address to the country on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked that Aucklanders "please cover your face when leaving your home to access those services operating at level 3". 

"While we're not mandating their general use at this stage we're strongly encouraging their use in the general Auckland region...You can fashion your own face covering if needed," she said.

If you have some fabric and a sewing machine, there's no reason why you can't whip up a mask at home. 

Kiwi fabric and haberdashery store Spotlight has put together several step-by-step tutorials along with some free patterns for you to easily create for your next supermarket outing. 

There are two patterns you can download at home:

The fabric experts have also provided some answers to your frequently asked face mask questions, so you can look chic while staying safe. 

What should my mask be made of? 

When choosing which fabrics to use for creating your mask, using a blend of breathable materials across three layers is ideal.

Layer 1 is the base layer

This is what will be against your face, so make it soft. Any soft cotton-based fabric is the best way to go. Cotton is perfect for the base layer on account of its moisture absorbing qualities - cotton, cotton poplin, cotton flannel even cotton jersey. If you're using fabric from home why not try old brushed cotton pyjamas, T-shirts or leggings.

Layer 2 is the middle layer

This will act as your filter layer. You’ll want to use a more breathable fabric like a cotton-polyester blend such as broadcloth, tightly woven cotton poplin or even printed poly cotton. You can also easily use your two outer layers to create a pocket for your own filter. Filter fabrics can include pillow protectors, enviro-cloth or light-weight fused interfacing. Note: these are not considered medical-grade filters and will not substitute for medical PPE.

Layer 3 is the outer layer (furthest from your face)

This is the layer that is furthest from your face and it is the layer that everyone sees – so why not make it all about you. It should consist of a light-weight fabric such as polyester, nylon or even a blended fabric. You could even upcycle old clothing like sports or running gear for their water-resistant and moisture-wicking properties.

What pattern or shape should I use?

You do you! This is all down to personal preference. 

But remember to always make sure:

  • Your nose and mouth are completely covered
  • Your mask extends down to the tip of your chin
  • Your mask sits close to your face to avoid letting too much air in at the sides

Is a DIY face mask safe?

A DIY face mask can supply ample safety provided it fits securely over your nose and mouth and has no accessible areas. Holding the mask in place with ear loops is acceptable, provided the fabric spans across the entire cheek. You can also use elastic or a tie for a more secure fastening around the back of the head.

Can face masks be washed and reused?

Disposable face masks are single-use, but homemade DIY face masks are washable and reusable – guaranteeing you'll never need to worry about stores running out of stock and concerning yourself with how to source a face mask in a hurry. 

By making DIY face masks yourself, you also get to champion self-expression with the use of fabrics that suit your personality and style. This could be anything from vibrant floral prints to your favourite cartoon characters to a face mask in your favourite solid colour.

What can I use instead of elastic for the ears? 

You can use a range of different alternatives to elastic, it all depends on how long you plan to wear the mask and what is comfortable for you. Make a basic tie out of the same fabric or substitute with grosgrain ribbon, hair ties, cotton tape or knitted jersey.

Ear loops or head straps?

Most commercially available masks are made with ear loops, however these can become uncomfortable if you wear them all day. Head straps or tie-up ear loops are great alternative and can be made with ribbon, cotton tape or bias binding.

Can I use fabric I already have or even upcycle something? 

Using fabric from your home stash is a great option. You could try cutting up a pair of running shorts for a water-resistant fabric layer – make sure you wash them first – or a reusable 'green' shopping bag if you're after a sturdy alternative to enviro-cloth.

Do I need a sewing machine to make a mask?

You can sew masks by hand, but keep in mind the kind of needle you are using when working with layers of thick fabric. Spotlight recommends using an all-purpose, polyester thread for strength and longevity. Keep in mind that hand-sewing may not afford the durability of a machine-sewn mask, especially when standing up to constant washing.

Can I decorate or embellish my mask?

Go for it! Whatever your style, make it you and make it yours! Just remember to not overload your mask or it could get heavy and uncomfortable to wear. Oh, and try not to block your nose/mouth area – it might prove a little hard to breathe comfortably.