On Friday, Pennsylvania officials said residents should all wear a mask when we leave the house. The CDC issued similar guidance later the same day, reflecting a rapidly growing consensus that covering our faces can help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

While high-quality N95 respirators and disposable surgical masks should be left to health-care workers who desperately need them, officials now recommend cloth masks that can be made at home with some fabric and basic sewing materials.

Because the virus is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets — such as from sneezing or coughing — homemade masks might help catch those droplets when we’re around others. Wearing a mask is more about protecting other people from you than protecting you directly. (Many people may have mild or even no symptoms even if they are infected and contagious, so habitually wearing a mask could keep you from unknowingly passing the virus along to someone else.)

Here’s a template and step-by-step guide to making your own mask, based on the guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and CDC. And if you don’t have materials like a needle and thread, we have options to help.

What you’ll need

  • Fabric. You’ll need enough to make two 12″-by-6″ rectangles (the size of the template below.) Use a tightly woven fabric. Cotton-blend t-shirts and pillowcases are good bets.
  • Scissors to cut the fabric.
  • Something to tie the mask on. This could be elastic, strips of fabric, or something such as shoelaces.
  • Needle and thread. If you don’t have any, there are still options.

We have a template to help

Here’s a PDF of our template. Print it out — make sure to print it at 100% scale on letter-size paper — and use it to help as you make the mask.

» Download our template here.

A version of this template is available on page A17 of the Sunday, April 5, edition of The Inquirer.

What type of ties do you want?

There are three main ways we recommend tying the mask to your face, and you’ll want to plan it out before starting.

Ties that go around your ears. These are loose ties that you tie together behind your ears each time you put the mask on. This is simplest to make and requires the least work up front, but you’ll need to tie the mask each time you wear it. You can’t simply slip it on.

Ear loops. Elastic may be better than fabric for this style, since you’ll need the ties to be short and tight enough to stay securely wrapped around your ears, but not so short and tight that they pop off.

Ties that go around the back of your head. You’ll want the ties to be long enough to go around the back of your head horizontally, but short enough that the fit won’t be too loose.

Building the mask

Step one: Cut two pieces of fabric

You want two rectangles, 12 inches wide and six inches tall.

Our template is already the right size, so you can just cut out our template, then cut the fabric to fit.

Step two: Sew the fabric rectangles together

Sew the pieces together as tightly as possible. Go along all four sides, about 1/4″ to 1/2″ from the edge.

Using the template: Place the template on top of the two pieces of fabric and sew all three layers together along the dotted line.

Step three: Cut fabric or elastic ties

Cut the ties to the right size. If you’re using fabric ties, you may want to cut wide strips that you can then fold in to hem. That would help keep them from fraying and falling apart when washed.

Step four: Sew the fabric ties to the mask

Tightly sew the ends of the fabric ties to the corners of the mask. On the template, sew the ties to the marked boxes.

For ear loops, create one loop on the left and another on the right, attaching one end at the top of the mask and one end at the bottom.

For ties that go around the back of your head, sew each of the four ties to different corners, long enough so that you can tie them behind your head when you put the mask on.

For ties that connect behind your ears, simply sew each of the four ties to different corners.

Step five: Sew around the entire edge again

Do another pass around entire outer edge of the mask, ensuring a tight seal between the two pieces of fabric and also securing the ties even further.

On the template, sew along the second dotted line.

That’s it! Remove the template, if you’re using it, and your mask is ready to go.

Three ways to upgrade the mask

We’ve shown you how to make a simple mask, based off of advice from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. But if you have a little more skill, here are three ways you can upgrade the mask:

  • Flip the mask inside-out instead of leaving the raw edges. Having the frayed edges inside could help keep the mask together and not degrade while being washed. It also looks nicer. To do this, first sew the ties to one layer, then layer the second layer on top of it. Then sew the two fabric layers together, leaving an inch or two of space instead of completing a full rectangle. Flip the mask inside-out through that rectangle, then sew around the outer edge again.
  • Fold horizontal pleats. This allows the mask to better fit the curvature of your face, similar to how surgical masks work. The New York Times has a guide to making a mask with pleats and that you flip inside-out.
  • Use a third layer. Experts recommend having two layers of material, but some designs use a third, disposable layer to help filter air even further. Those can include materials such as Swiffer disposable dusting pads, coffee filters, paper towels, or something similar, said Suzanne Willard, associate dean of global health at Rutgers School of Nursing, who herself makes masks with disposable liners.

What to do if you don’t have sewing materials

Remember, homemade masks aren’t perfect. So don’t worry about doing everything exactly as we suggest — the point is to create a covering that goes over your nose and mouth.

Instead of sewing, you can use something such as safety pins or some clips to keep the fabric and ties together. Or staple everything together.

Don’t have any way of connecting the fabric and ties? The CDC has no-sew options at bit.ly/2UJMOD3. Or scrap the mask and use something else. A scarf or bandanna can be used if you can’t make or buy a mask, the Pennsylvania Department of Health said.

Some things to remember about your homemade mask

  • Disinfect the mask between every use. The easiest way is to wash it with the rest of your laundry, in hot water and with soap or detergent, and then run it through the dryer. You may want to make more than one mask, depending how often you go outside.
  • Take the mask off carefully. Wash your hands before taking the mask off and assume the virus is collected on the front of the mask. Don’t touch the front directly, and instead take the mask off by the ties. Remember not to touch your face. Wash your hands after unmasking.
  • Masks don’t provide perfect protection. Wearing a mask does not give you more freedom to come in contact with others or otherwise engage in risky behaviors. Continue to stay home as much as you can and maintain physical distance from others when you do go outside.
  • The mask should fit snugly around your nose and mouth. For an even better fit, you can sew a bendable piece of metal, such as a paperclip, to the top edge of the mask. That helps create a custom fit around the nose.
  • Do not touch the mask when in use, which risks transmitting the virus to your face.