Expert Fitting Tips for Sewing Face Masks

Fitting a mask closely to the face is similar to fitting any of your body’s curves. Your pattern needs to establish close-fitting anchors to keep your nose and mouth comfortable and safely covered. If the mask is comfortable, you will not fiddle with it on your face with your hands. Read on for tips to remove mask gaps, reduce mask depth, or increase mask width and length when sewing face masks, whether for personal use or to donate.

There is so much written about the fabrics needed to create a functional mask. For personal use, three tightly woven layers appear to offer highly effective coverage. Having washable materials is essential so the masks can be washed in hot water to kill the germs that have collected on the surface.

Ties or other loops hold the mask in place. Decide if you want them to hook around your ears or around the back of your head. Masks that are held in place with two anchors around the back of the head, one above the ears and one below the ears, are most secure. Ties made in a stable medium, such as twill tape (available in black or white) or grosgrain ribbon (available in many colors), are very adjustable. Elastic offers a quick on and off, but for a very secure seal, it has to be pretty tight. This tends to be uncomfortable for extended wear.

Pleated Masks

Pleated rectangular masks are very easy to construct and can be adjusted by spreading the pleats to cover your nose and mouth, then hooking under your chin. If you have gaps in your mask’s fit, often on each side at the mask’s edge, extend the width of the mask before cutting it out.

Add a casing on each side that contains the ties, which allow the mask to be drawn up more for a closer fit, if possible. If the mask does not expand enough to provide coverage from the bridge of your nose to the turn of the chin, add length before you cut the masks. You can even add enough length to create an additional pleat if needed.

Adding a 3-4” long wire across the bridge of the nose will also make the mask more secure, because you can shape the perfect nose anchor with the wire after putting the mask on.

Shaped Masks

Shaped masks offer a more nuanced fit. There are two types of shaped mask patterns. One has a seam down the center front to create the contours of the face. The other has a dart at the nose and a separate chin piece that shapes the masks in the curve of the jaw. Some patterns even come sized and include a large size for men and a smaller size for children.

Perfecting Mask Fit

Choose your pattern and size and make one. Or, you can make one in each style to assess which shape seems most comfortable for your needs. Then take each one for a couple of test runs and ask:

  • Does it fit closely and comfortable around your face when you are wearing it?
  • Are you able to talk without it moving around dangerously?
  • Can you breathe comfortably?

Your answers might help you decide which one you like best. If both styles fit well, you can use the seamless one for sewing face masks where you are fussy cutting a print and the seamed one for fabrics you have small chunks of.

Further assess the mask you choose to wear by acting on these questions:

Removing Gaps

Is there an area that needs to fit closer? If so, pin out the loose fabric for a better fit. Then adjust your pattern accordingly.

Pin in your needed adjustments where there are gaps.
Pin in your needed adjustments where there are gaps.
Cut and fold the pattern to remove the excess fabric.
Trace a new pattern with your adjustments.

Adding Length or Width

Does it seem too skimpy from the nose to the chin? Is it a width or length issue? You can adjust width issues by shortening or lengthening the ties. But, if the problem is that there is not enough space for your nose to sit comfortably, adjust the curve or dart to create more room in the shaped center. To add general length, simply raise the peak at the nose or lower the bottom of the pattern at the chin as needed.

Add length to the center seam.
Add width across the nose for a roomier fit.

Removing Length

Does it seem too long in the center? Pin out some fabric straight across the width of the mask to see if shortening the pattern will help. If it feels better and you can still talk and breathe comfortable, fold out the assessed amount in the center of the pattern so you do not change the shape of the mask’s edges.

Fold out excess depth in the mask on the paper pattern.

As with all fitting projects, this will be a journey. Try making each change then test the results. If satisfied, adjust the pattern. Trace the pattern on tissue or other flexible paper to make pattern adjustments easier.

There are other elements you might need to consider when choosing the design for your ties or elastic finishes. If you wear glasses or hearing aids, the way they sit on your face and head can lead you to prefer one style or another. Patiently test each type as you narrow down your preferences.

Remember, it is so important to get a comfortable fit so that wearing the mask becomes second nature. When I position my mask and adjust the wire, I find it takes me a few minutes to adjust to the breathing. Then I put my glasses on, and I do not really notice it is there. Work patiently to achieve a great fit when sewing face masks, and you are sure to stay protected with your new custom masks.

Rae Cumbie is the fit columnist for Sew News and

Read Rae Cumbie’s Sew News Columns

Join the conversation!