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How to Help + Alternatives to Elastic for Fabric Face Masks

We’ve learned a lot more information about mask making and wearing in recent weeks. Since writing this post, I have narrowed down my favorite method for making personal face masks. This post has some helpful tips for alternatives to elastic for face masks.

Elastic is also more readily available and you can also find info about my favorite comfortable elastic here.

One thing I love about this sewing community is their good hearts and wanting to help put the sewing machine pedal to the metal for a good cause wherever possible to help. I’m sure you’ve seen lots of information about making fabric face masks – we’ll talk about that.

But first: How is everyone holding up under a life of new circumstances. My guess is we’re all doing the best we can. 

I’m trying to just allow myself to feel what I feel, to take life one day at a time, and to not get weighed down by unrealistic expectations. And to allow everyone to process this situation in their own way.

Don’t be hard on yourself. Do the best you can and give yourself (and others) lots of grace.

Charity Sewing + Fabric Face masks:

Handmade face masks using a clean cotton sheet

Here are a few resources for making personal fabric face masks as well as masks for donating to causes in need.

Sewing for a good causeBefore I do, I just want to add, this isn’t something you have to do. If this project makes you feel productive and energized like you are helping with this collective cause: go for it! If this adds stress to an already stressful situation, then it’s okay to let others pick up the cause right now. For example, if you’re trying keep your act together while you figure out how to manage entertaining kids at home, and the only minimal sewing time for you right now needs to be a stress reliever, then that is your primary goal right now. I’ve shared 10 of the best practices and lessons I’ve learned how to pace your charity sewing and a big one is no guilt.

We’re all processing this differently – nothing productive comes from comparing (or judging) how others are doing the best they can. Remember – lots of grace for ourselves and each other right now. 

And if you’re feeling unsure about making masks, but still want to put extra sewing time to good use, remember there are still other charitable sewing needs that may also be exacerbated in this unusual time of stress. I have a list of charitable sewing ideas here.

Tips for Fabric Face Masks:

If you ARE making fabric face masks, as with ALL charitable sewing contributions, before you start, make sure you know the needs and specifications of the entity receiving the donation. While handmade masks are obviously not medical grade, other first responders, care facilities, non-essential health services, etc may use them in times of desperation, to allow the medical grade supplies to be saved for more critical needs. Or make one for yourself or a friend in need.

I am making a few masks today both to have on hand and to donate to a specific request in my community. I dug through all of my sewing notions and miraculously found some elastic! My first masks I lined some with cotton flannel and leaving a gap to insert a filter if needed.

UPDATE: I now make all of my masks out of two layers of quilting cotton as it has been proven effective and is a little more breathable – especially for summer.

Be sure to prewash your fabrics before you start cutting, and I recommend a Free and Clear detergent if that’s available.

image source Made Everyday

I used this tutorial from Dana at Made Everyday. She has a simple PDF printable pattern. Simple Simon & Co has 5-minute version made with a serger.

image from May Chappell

Lee Monroe has been helping make and collect masks in her community. She has mask tutorial of her own with step by step photos and offered to share some helpful tips for making ties for when you can’t find elastic. 

Some hospitals/clinics/etc. are requesting masks without elastic as the elastic does not hold up as well to the high-heat washing and sterilization. Here are some alternatives for you:

Elastic Alternatives – Making Ties and Straps by May Chappell

Hello! It’s Lee from May Chappell and I’m excited to be back over here with you. Amy and I were chatting about how the sewing community is coming together to provide much needed masks during the pandemic. The mask making has quickly led to a shortage on elastic…I’m here to show you a few ways to make ties. These are a few of my go to options!

Alternatives for ties for fabric face masks

 

Most straps are made with bias strips. These are fabric strips cut along the 45° angle instead of along the straight of grain. It’s ideal to cut bias for straps and ties. However, if speed and ease is your game, then cut along straight of grain. I did for all of these samples. 

Making Bias Strips Using a Bias Tape Maker:

This little tool is a game changer. It allows you to quickly press the fabric to make a tie. The only con is that it makes a specific size. Cut your strips four times the finished size you want. You’ll need the proper bias tape maker for that size.

The bias tape maker will fold the two edges to the middle. You’ll take this and fold it in half again, then press. 

This is the goal. You can get here using a bias tape maker or you can go old school and just fold with your fingers. This proves time consuming and dangerous for your finger tips. Here’s a way to create bias tape using long straight pins

In order to finish the ends, fold in the edge for a clean finish.

Stitch along the open edge to finish the tie.

Using a Serger: If you’re making utilitarian straps that don’t need to look perfect, then you can use a serger. Cut your strips two times the finished size you want. If your finished size is narrow, you might want to add extra and set your serger to trim it off. For example, for these to finish 5/8”, I cut them 2”. Then I pressed in half to 1” and set my serger to trim to 5/8”. To finish the ends, fold in twice and stitch. 

A lot of sewing machines offer overlock stitches; check yours out and use an overlock stitch for this method. You’ll want to cut to the exact size as your machine will not trim.

Using a Ribbon: You can also source an existing material such as twill tape or ribbon. There are a few things you’ll want to consider. What material is the ribbon? This one is a cotton blend twill tape. If I’m not sure about the material, I run a test. If I know the finished product will be washed in hot water and dried on high, then I do that to the ribbon a few times. It’s better to test in the beginning then to be sorry later. I knot the ends for a neat finish, but you could also stitch it. 

 

Thanks for letting me come over here! You can find me on Instagram and Facebook. Keep stitching and wash your hands!

xx Lee

       
Thanks for sharing your expertise, Lee!

Dana from Made Everyday has quick and easy, no-sew instructions for making ties from knit fabrics for super soft ties.

Reader Cyndi sent in another suggestion for making straps using a Self-Binding foot on her Singer Featherweight. If you have a self-binding foot on your machine, that may be a great option too!

 

DISCLAIMERS:

  • Make fabric face masks at your own discretion.
  • This information is in no way meant to replace medical expertise or medical grade supplies.
  • Before you begin any charitable sewing, make sure you have the specifications required from the entity where you plan to donate.
  • I am most definitely NOT an expert in anyway, on any of this. Just trying to help where I can. As are we all.

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35 Comments

  • Reply
    Diane
    March 26, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    Wise words! I’m going to stick with making NICU quilts. One day, I’ll be able to deliver them again.

    • Reply
      Teresa Nielsen
      April 21, 2020 at 10:28 pm

      I have heard you can use ace wraps but how do you cut them?

  • Reply
    kathleen
    March 26, 2020 at 7:47 pm

    Thanks so much for the links to the articles on best fabric types for the job. Interesting and helpful!

  • Reply
    Susan Salo
    March 27, 2020 at 6:45 am

    Our hospital requested no elastic as it doesn’t hold up to washes. I used t-shirt cut in 1″ strips from bottom to top. Then you grab an end in each hand, pull the ends tight and it rolls automatically. I’m sorry, I’ve lost my reference to this method.I love May’s idea of using pins. Thanks for the ideas.

    • Reply
      E McNally
      March 27, 2020 at 7:15 pm

      I like simple bias cotton twill tape for ties with a small knot tied on the end. They are flexible and stand up to washing. This is what I’ll use if I run out of elastic.

  • Reply
    Karen Cermak
    March 27, 2020 at 8:39 am

    My only concern about using ties instead of elastic is this is going to be one hot mess when they are washed, especially if they are washed in bulk.

    • Reply
      Amy
      March 27, 2020 at 1:33 pm

      I can see that as an issue too. Some hospitals/offices are requesting only ties because the elastic also wears out after numerous washes. There’s definitely no perfect solution.

  • Reply
    Cyndi
    March 27, 2020 at 10:06 am

    I often use my Singer Featherweight machine, and experimented with using the bias binding attachment foot. It makes short order of turning in the edges of a 1″ strip of fabric and stitching it. Check my blog post on my email listed in my details to see what it all looks like.

    • Reply
      Lexi Tejeda
      April 5, 2020 at 10:16 am

      That’s great Cyndi. You are so smart. I have a FW (it’s older than I am as well) and will try this. I’m sure I have the attachment.

  • Reply
    Jacqueline Roark
    March 27, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing this information! How did you modify Dana’s pattern to include the pocket? I may be overlooking a step, but I am not seeing a modification listed.

    • Reply
      Amy
      March 27, 2020 at 3:34 pm

      Good question. She shared it in the video of how to make the mask with the knit ties.

  • Reply
    Barbara
    March 29, 2020 at 6:56 am

    I am making 1 each of 3 versions of the mask and will see which I like the best and continue from there.
    I received Issue 85 of Love Patchwork and Quilting yesterday, and yay for you Amy. I’ve been following you
    for years and I feel you are a wonderful, wonderful person.

  • Reply
    Judy
    March 31, 2020 at 10:32 am

    is it possible to cut wider elastic into smaller strips to use?

    • Reply
      Jane A Becker
      April 2, 2020 at 8:26 am

      I did it using my my roller cutter to cut down my elastic into thinner strips and “it works” for the moment, but I have no idea yet if it will hold up over time.

    • Reply
      Evie
      April 16, 2020 at 10:58 am

      I tried this. While it appears to work at first, once the elastic is fully stretched, the edge starts to unravel. ☹️

  • Reply
    Heather B
    April 3, 2020 at 11:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing! Here is some more information from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

    • Reply
      Amy
      April 4, 2020 at 9:59 am

      Super helpful! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Sandy Johnson
    April 4, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    Use shoe strings for ties

  • Reply
    Diane M Foos
    April 4, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Thank you, Amy. You have some good ideas and I’ve looked at many patterns

  • Reply
    Shirley Rozier
    April 4, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    I read where they tie all the straps together to keep them from being a tangled mess in the washer. I haven’t tried it, so not sure how it will work but worth a try.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Matuska
    April 4, 2020 at 11:36 pm

    If you kinda roll the straps and tie a knot, sorta like wrapping an extension cord, then they won’t get all twisted together.

  • Reply
    Nancy Adams
    April 8, 2020 at 7:48 pm

    That’s what I’ve been doing, but sometimes it unravels and other times it is just fine. Cutting the inch wide elastic to be all the same width was difficult also.

  • Reply
    Kelly
    April 9, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    I used 2 then ribbons attached on one side and 2 buttons on the other side. Pull the ribbon around the back of your head and wrap around the button 3-4 times for a secure, adjustable fit, especially when making them to mail for family members. Maybe not the thing for hospitals, but for personal use, this is easier than trying to tie a knot on the back of your head.

    • Reply
      Amy
      April 9, 2020 at 2:12 pm

      That is a great idea!

  • Reply
    Lynn Dueck
    April 16, 2020 at 10:31 am

    I found that if you wash and dry them with towels, you get less tangles.

  • Reply
    Candace Allan
    April 17, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    Use a net laundry bag for the tangle solution! I use them for lots of snag or tangle items. Cheap at the dollar stores. Thanks Amy for the pattern– I just delivered 10 of them to my church food pantry volunteers! So easy to pleat if you use horizontal striped fabric! I made ties from my stash: shoelaces, heavy twill ribbon trim, and selvages from string quilt block stash. Sometimes it pays off to hoard the right things. LOL!

  • Reply
    Vera
    April 18, 2020 at 9:32 am

    I cut 1/2″ strips, from the length of my fabric. Then I tape an end to a 2-liter bottle and wrap my strip, folding it in half as I go. Secure the final end with some duck or masking tape. Fill the bottle with hot tap water and let it sit overnite, then dump the water (Hi there, potted plants) Unwrap the strip with a perfectly pressed middle crease. Fold the raw lengthwise edges to the center inside fold and re-wrap around the bottle, tape the ends, add hot tap water and wait. It provides near perfect 1/8″ tape with no burned fingers or ironing boards. My little crafters even keep their bottles covered with of ready to go tapes on display until ready to craft again. Try this, sorry it takes more time to explain than to actually do a strip

    • Reply
      Amy
      April 18, 2020 at 10:08 pm

      That is such an awesome tip!!

  • Reply
    hopflower
    April 24, 2020 at 8:04 pm

    I have to say, Amy, that that is one powerful team-up you mentioned in your post. Utah and the Church of Latter Day Saints! Your people always step up to help others. I have known many members of our church, and every one was a credit to it. Thank you.

  • Reply
    JoZart
    April 25, 2020 at 7:38 am

    I would like to add an idea that I have just thought of. With elastic in short supply why not use “pony tail elastic rings” ( we call them hair bobbles in England) with a link of cord, ribbon or tape at either side. Just sew each side of the ribbon to the sides of the mask. The same idea would work with a shorter amount of elastic to provide stretch sewn to ribbon either side. Just pass two pieces of ribbon through either side of the elastic ring giving two ends each side to attach into the mask. Hope you understand this, but I can email a pic if not.
    Jo in liverpool England.

    • Reply
      Amy
      April 25, 2020 at 9:38 pm

      HI Jo in Liverpool! That is a great idea!

      (PS I love Liverpool! I lived in Anfield for 6 months 25 years ago – there’s a little piece of my heart in Liverpool).

  • Reply
    Amy
    April 25, 2020 at 10:03 pm

    Helpful suggestion from reader Eda Herbert:

    I found the best material for ear loops is a pair of yoga type pants. They have a little Lycra which provides nice stretch. I cut 1 inch strip across the leg of the pants. Then make a casing on each side of the mask and put 8-9 inch long strip through the casing and end w/ a fisherman’s knot. This is adjustable, soft, comfortable, washable. (The fisherman’s knot was an idea I saw while going down mask rabbit trails.)

    • Reply
      Monica Horn
      June 28, 2020 at 5:10 pm

      Hi! I googled Fishermans Knot and after looking at it, do you mean “Slip Knot”? I went with the slip knot because it makes the ear loops easily adjustable. I hadn’t thought of that before reading your comment, so thank you for sending me on the right path!!!

  • Reply
    Jasmine
    April 27, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    Elastic can be found here:

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/793184027

  • Reply
    Leesa
    May 15, 2020 at 8:06 pm

    I had the same problem. The elastic is weak after cutting and ravels and pulls loose.

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