Covid-19 Prototype Mask instructions

A close-fitting moisture-resistant protective washable mask for use in settings when disposable masks have become unavailable. Designed by Drs Mike and Carolyn Bell based on the evidence available and the ideas of those designers and crafters listed on the this page.

DISCLAIMER We offer no assurance that any mask made to these instructions will offer any guarantee of protection against acquiring Covid-19 or any other infection. They are a strategy of last resort. Properly certified equipment should always be used wherever possible. Use at wearer’s own risk. Pandemics make their own rules.

MATERIALS (must be breathable and comfortable, wire must be strong enough to hold its shape well)

Close woven cotton/polycotton for front and back of mask – prewashed so it doesn’t shrink. 4 pieces 6 inches by 8 inches

Non-woven water-resistant liner with small pore size e.g.  Weed control fabric or shopping bag. 2 pieces 6 inches by 8 inches.

9 cm length of garden wire for nose fitting with a material shield e.g. plastic ends or foil wrap.

Thread – strong cotton/polycotton

Ties – shoelaces/ribbon – 36 inches per side to give approx. 18 inches per tie.

A sewing machine – set to a small stitch size to make secure seams.


To make your own pattern trace round a DIY store dust protection mask which fits you well then draw a line 3/8 inch outside that and 6/8 inch at the ear flap.

The pattern piece is 7 inches tall by 5 and 3/4 inches wide.

You can also use a pattern in the public domain: this pattern is very similar although the depth in front of the ear is perhaps too long.


Overview: The mask shape is made up from 2 (one piece plus its mirror image) pieces sewn together in a curve to give a 3D blunt beak shape. You need 2 cotton pieces for the outer layer, 2 cotton pieces for the inner and 2 pieces of the non-woven liner. Basically once you have sewn the pieces together to make the beak shapes you sew the top and bottom of the pieces together, fit in the wire when you topstitch the top seam and turn over the side edges to make a channel to thread through the tie.


Cut out your pieces. Place the lining on top of the outer pieces so that it is sewn together with them i.e. outer and liner is treated as one piece in subsequent steps.

Outer pieces with liner in place. They are placed right sides together then stitched
two mirror image pieces for the inner layer
outer layer sewn together with liner

Make the outer and inner ‘beaks’. Place right sides of your pieces together and sew the long curve to join the pieces together. The seam allowance is 3/8 inch for outer and 4/8 for the inner layer of the mask (as it sits inside the outer layer it needs to end up slightly smaller than the front). Clip the curves to make them sit well. You now have two beak shaped pieces to join together.

Inner layer
outer layer with liner

Join the outer and inner layers together at the top. The pieces are joined with right sides together. Start by pegging (or pinning) at the centre seam then work put from there to the edges pegging as you go. Then tack and machine the seam.

Inner and outer layer placed right sides together (cotton wool is simply to hold the shape for this illustration)
Inner and outer layers tacked together (cotton wool is simply to hold shape for this illustration)

Join the bottom of the mask together. Again right sides together, peg the centre seam first, then the rest, then tack and machine. 

Top seam tacked, bottom seam pegged
Top and bottom seams tacked, cotton wool showing the essentially tube structure

Turn the resulting ‘tube’ inside out. This is fiddly but persist! Gently push the mask into shape and gently press, especially at the top and bottom seams.

Fit the wire at the centre of the top seam. Slide the encased wire into the centre of the top seam and tack in place to hold it steady.

Top stitch the top seam moving out to accommodate the wire. This strengthens the structure and holds the wire in place.

Top stitch the bottom seam. Your mask is almost made.

Sew ear sides. Press the sides of the mask and double over like a hem to make a channel for the ties to fit into.

Thread through the ties. You may need to use a skewer to help push it through or attach a small safety pin to ribbon and tease that through the channel.

YOUR MASK IS MADE. Put it on. Tie the top tie above your ears, the lower one at the back of your neck.  Check for fit. If it fits well you should see the material around your nose and mouth move in and out as you breathe – breathe quickly to see this clearly as in the video.  If you don’t see this check that you have adjusted the nose wire well and look for any gapes. If necessary take a tuck in the material where the gape is to close it.

Obviously if you have made the mask for someone else you should wash it in a hot wash cycle and pack it with washed hands into a sealed bag.


1. Some people use elastic round the ears instead of ties but elastic will not survive hot washes.

2. You can add an extra layer with open sides to take a filter insert. I find the filter does not stay well in place though as it tends to sag down with time.

3. If you have strong bias binding you could use that to both edge the seams and as ties. In that case when joining the ‘beaks’ together put wrong side to wrong side, cover the seam edges with the binding, fitting in the wire at this stage. No need to turn inside out. This will make the mask slightly bigger so if using this method you will not need the seam allowance in the pattern.


This method uses no pinning or tacking in construction to reduce the number of holes in the material. It also avoids having to turn the mask inside out (tricky) which again is potentially damaging to the material.

1. Cut out outer layer pieces
2. Cut out nonwoven liner and place on top of outer pieces
3. Place outer pieces right side to right side and machine the long curve 3/8″ seam allowance
4. Cut out inner layer pieces, place right side to right side, machine long curve 4/8″ seam allowance (to make the inner beak slightly smaller than the outer. This seam could also be French seamed for better sealing)
5. Turn the stitched outer layer inside out to its final orientation, trim curve of inner layer
6. Fit the layers together wrong sides touching
7. Peg the top seam and sew
8. Mask taking shape with top seam sewn
9. Peg and sew bottom seam. You now have a mask which needs its edges bound
10. Make binding from a rectangle of strong cotton folded in half with its edges tucked in. Ideally this should be cut at 45 degrees to make a bias tape
11. Peg this binding to the mask edge
12. Machine the binding to the mask
13. Machine binding to the bottom seam too
14. Slip the nose wire into the top binding and place centrally
15. Stitch at each end of the wire to keep in place
16. Make short bindings for the side seams
17. Sew on the side bindings then thread the ties. leave movable or stitch to hold in place
18. An alternative tying method giving the wearer only one bow to tie
19. An alternative binding method is to bind the sides first
19a. Then machine the top and bottom bindings to the mask along one edge. Insert wire at the centre top and hand stitch to secure
19b. Finally fold over and hand sew to the inner layer. Fit the top ties in at each end and stitch down. Feed the lower tie (double length) through the binding channel
20. Completed mask with draw string lower tie for an adjustable fit

WATCH THIS SPACE! – the prototype will be modified as new ideas come in.


A good video to watch is SEWING WITH SARAH SEWING THERAPY but note that she incorporates the non-woven layer as a inserted filter. She has just (March 27) updated to a slightly different design.

Another good source with videos is ex-nurse Cindy Raine of The Fabric Patch, Washington, who explains the choice of materials very well. Please note her clear disclaimer at the beginning of her first video.

Covid-19 mask info

Types of masks for Covid-19

Return to Covid-19 mask proposal