To mask or not to mask? That is the question. A ‘do-it-yourself’ face mask.

It is well understood that our healthcare professionals should be wearing face masks to reduce the risk of COVID-19 contamination.  However, should the general public be doing the same?  In the absence of the highly protective P2 or N95 masks, would a cloth face mask provide an extra layer of protection against infection?

There is a general absence of evidence for or against the use of masks at home or out in public in this current health crisis.  There is certainly a lot of conflicting advice.  Some in the government have suggested that wearing a mask may actually make you touch your face more.  Local GP Dr Olivia Bell decided to seek advice from an infectious diseases specialist and has decided that fabric face masks are worthwhile now that the Corona Virus has arrived in our Shire.  (Above- Local GP Dr Derek Bell is our mask model.)


Olivia, why have you chosen to use fabric face masks?

Wearing a fabric face mask provides a physical barrier to stop my fingers touching my nose and mouth.  It also reminds me when I do touch my face, to help break the habit.  Wearing a fabric face mask also reminds me when I do touch my face, helping me to break the habit.  Of course if you think it would likely have the opposite effect in you, don’t wear one, of course.

Wearing a fabric face mask also reminds others that I might be contagious, even if I don’t have the symptoms yet.  Remember that the Coronavirus can be contagious for a day before any symptoms occur. A mask reminds others to keep their distance, so I am less likely to get infected too.

I am making well fitting fabric face masks for my family to wear and am encouraging others to consider doing the same.

Does a fabric face mask stop the tiny virus particles?

No. The Medical P2 masks are designed to stop the tiny virus particles.  However, there is a general shortage of these masks and the available P2 masks are being utilised by our healthcare workers.  I would certainly rather the fabric mask than nothing if someone was going to sneeze on me though. However, if I was sneezed on I would take it off as soon as possible, treat it as contaminated and then wash my face and hands! This is especially useful for parents when at home, as our own kids are definitely the most likely to cough or sneeze at us.

Does a cloth face mask have any advantages over a surgical mask (if the public can access one)?

The advantage of a cloth mask is they won’t run out and it’s re-usable.  Once made, fabric masks can be washed in hot soapy water or a standard hot laundry wash, dried and re-used.   Very much in keeping with the Bellingen Shire ethos! Add it to your reusable shopping bag.

NB: Just remember to treat the mask as contaminated with virus after you have worn it. Have a bucket of soapy water ready for a soak until you are ready to wash them (or a plastic bag if you are out). Take it off by holding the elastic to remove it, so you are not touching your face. Then immediately wash your hands or use hand sanitiser. Never put a dirty mask back on.

Olivia has very generously shared her pattern for her fabric mask.

“There are lots of patterns out there, and you-tube videos on how to sew them. I instead designed this one because it is simple to sew, gives excellent coverage and fit, is comfortable, and seals over the nose because of a piece of wire in one seam. The pattern is based on the hospital ‘Duck-Bill’ masks used for protection from respiratory infection, sewn from 2 layers of tight weave cotton fabric. The final photo shows the made mask with the respiratory mask.

I used one layer of flannelette inside as soft for comfort, and a cheap tight weave poplin or scraps of quilting type cotton for the outside.

Please Note:   It will never work as well as a professional medical mask – if you have access to those, please use them. But for the rest of us, this does have its place,” says Olivia.


Duck Bill Style Fabric Face Mask

With wire to secure nose curve.



Sewing machine, or enthusiastic hand sewer!

  • Straight stitch for seams
  • Edge stitch (can be ‘zig zag, blanket edge or overlocker or your other preferred edging stitch)

Approx 80cm Elastic

  • I am using elastic that is 2mm flat braided elastic, but use what you have
  • Cut off 2 x 4cm lengths for loops
  • Remainder for securing mask to head, may need adjustment per person.

20cm Wire

  • I am using copper wire coated with plastic because it won’t rust, it is called ‘earthing wire’ from Norco.

Minimum 21 cm by 27 cm of inside fabric, dense weave cotton

  • I used flannelette for comfort.

Minimum 23 x 27cm of outside fabric, dense weave cotton

  • I used poplin or patterned cottons.

Note: I find it easier to use long strips of 21cm width and 23cm width and make multiple masks at a time. (The minions fabric just makes it easy for you to see in the photos)


Fabric Requirements

Face Mask Pattern


Additional Requirements

  • Fabric Scissors
  • Fine scissors
  • Wire cutters
  • Cotton thread
  • Measuring tape or ruler.
  • Print out of pattern



With insides facing (i.e. pattern of outside fabric against the other fabric), line up the top edge of the two fabrics

Straight stitch 1-2mm in from the edge, (more if you allowed larger hem allowance). Does not need edging.


Step 1



With insides facing, line up the bottom edge of the two fabrics

Straight stitch 1-2mm in from the edge, (more if you allowed larger hem allowance). Does not need edging.

Note that the two pieces won’t sit flat because of the extra outside fabric we need for the wire.


Step 2



Turn fabric inside out, so pattern for mask outside is now visible.

Fold the bottom seam flat.

Let the top seam fold through the extra outside fabric.

Ironing here makes it easier.


Step 3



Fold the extra outside fabric over to be flat with the top seam, creating a tunnel through which we will put the wire later.

Sew straight stitch along the edge of the tunnel, which will be about 1cm down from the edge of the mask to hold the tunnel down.

Step 4



Fold the mask.   It helps to use the pattern for this  part.

With the bottom edge outside fabric against the table, create the V fold against the pattern.

The top (wire pocket) edge should be about 1cm down from the bottom edge.

We want a V fold of 2.5cm depth to allow good fit over our mouth.

Pin in place if you prefer for easier handling


Step 5



Put the pattern shape over the mask, ensuring the wider part of the pattern is along the seams and the narrower part along the V fold.

Cut to shape, no hem allowance required.

Edge stitch (zig zag, machine hem stitch or overlocker) directly over both edges to hold.



Step 6



Cut 2 lengths of elastic, about 4cm long to form a 2cm loop

Sew one to each end of the mask on the corners.

This makes it easier to fit and replace the elastic that goes around the head

Step 7



Measure 72cm of elastic.

Thread one end of elastic through one loop, then the other.

Tie to the other end of elastic, so you now have two lengths of elastic that will fit behind your head

Step 8



Measure 20cm of wire.

Using fine scissors, cut a small slit in the top layer of the wire tunnel fabric, about 2cm in from the edge.

Feed wire through.

Step 9






  • Helen Howard says:

    Would health centres/ workers in the shire benefit from locals making these for them to wear over their medical masks if they are running short? From what I’ve read on a site from America they can allow the medical masks to be used for longer.

  • Mikela Swenson says:

    nice pattern. I made a form-able nose piece out of strip of aluminium drink can. score middle with ball point pen and scotch tape edges so don’t get cut. make a slot for it in the mask very comfortable.. form to nose. I like that the strap isn’t on ears (ouch after a while and over thears doesn’t hold to face tight enough. Thanks!

  • Jennie Beswick says:

    I use two bread ties inside mine. I would not recommend putting them in the dryer but washing machine is fine.

  • Hello
    I want to know how do I get the pattern to make the mask.
    Thank you Doria

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