Story by Erin McRoy

Christine Cartwright, MSN Registered Nurse and full-time PCT program instructor, says that homemade masks are meant to prevent the spread of germs you might have to others without using the medical grade masks needed by health care workers.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Cartwright
Professor Catherine Cartwright wearing a homemade mask

Homemade masks shouldn’t be used by healthcare workers who are exposed to COVID-19, there is evidence that these masks can help protect individuals from exposure from the droplets containing the virus, said Cartwright.

“Interestingly the CDC years ago showed how to cut up a heavy weight t-shirt to tie around the face that was surprisingly effective,” said Cartwright.

Healthcare workers can use homemade masks to extend the life of their medical grade masks by using the homemade masks as reusable covers, said Cartwright.

Cartwright said that a mask should be removed by the ear pieces and put in the washing machine after use, the wearer washing hands immediately after.

“A mask will NOT BE EFFECTIVE if you reach up to adjust the outside with your hands and then, with those contaminated fingers, touch your eyes or face,” said Cartwright.

Jenny Rowley, a registered nurse and nursing assistant instructor, said that because of mask shortages in the country, the CDC has recommended wearing homemade masks instead of taking away valuable personal protective equipment (PPE) from healthcare workers.

The fabric masks serve the same purpose as the surgical masks, protecting the wearer from droplets that might enter through the nose or mouth, said Rowley.

“They [homemade masks] don’t protect against airborne illnesses … but because of the shortage of masks, a fabric mask is better than nothing,” said Rowley. “It really should be to protect from droplet infection.”

The masks protect both the wearer and those the wearer comes into contact with by catching droplets from a cough that might spread the infection, said Rowley.

Those who work in healthcare or are in regular contact with the public should consider wearing masks while at home with their family, because they are uncertain if they have been exposed to COVID-19, said Rowley.

If individuals are going out in public, they should wear masks, but if individuals are going out for walks, it depends said Rowley, “If you’re going to an isolated area, then probably just bring it with you.”

Rowley added that people often use PPE like masks and gloves ineffectively, “People think they’re protecting themselves by wearing gloves, but they’re not really conscious of what they’re touching while they have them on. So they’re really just contaminating more things.”

 Gloves are meant for single use per procedure before being removed so as not to contaminate other things, said Rowley.

“People wearing them [gloves] in the store, touching fruit, vegetables, milk, opening doors, they’re actually picking up whatever other people have touched and transferring that … It’s exactly the same thing as if they didn’t have gloves on,” said Rowley.

Rowley encourages good handwashing and hand sanitizer as the best way to prevent contamination.

Lila Martinez, professor of intermediate and advanced costuming and sewing, said that fabric for masks can be tested, “If water seeps through it or the inside gets wet, it’s not effective.”

Martinez said that light weight cottons or non-woven polypropylene like shopping bag totes are good choices for fabric.

“Make sure you can breathe through it,” said Martinez.

Those interested in finding supplies to make masks should check online at stores that sell any sewing goods, like Target, Wal-Mart, or Joann’s, said Martinez.

Martinez said even if stores are out of supplies, most people will have something at home that they can use, including scarves, hand towels, pillow cases, or clean socks.

For ties, Martinez said that anything can do from strips of fabric to ribbon to shoe laces.

For those interested in sewing their own masks, Martinez provided some basic instructions:

What You Need:

  • Thread
  • Elastic or fabric ties
  • Scissors
  • Machine or Needle
  • Pins (optional)


  • Traditional pleated face mask:
    • 2 pieces of fabric 7”x9” or one 14”x9” folded in half
    • Ties 15”-20” or 36” strip of fabric for ties


  • Cut two 7×9 inch rectangles of fabric or one 14×9 inch rectangle and fold in half
  • Place the two right sides together with backside of fabric facing out
  • Thread needle with double thread and tie ends
  • Sew along one short side, across the bottom, and up the other side.
  • Sew in elastic/ties. Match them up on inside corners and make sure to catch them in your stitching for reinforcement
  • Pull fabric through opening to turn it right side out
  • You can leave the opening for filter inserts or sew it up if you don’t want a filter.
  • Turn your top seams under to top stitch them
  • Make 3 half inch pleats on each side of mask. Pinch fabric, fold down towards the bottom. Sew along pleated edges to hold in place
  • If you forgot your elastic/ties, you can add them in now


Mask Pattern: Click Here

No Sew Mask, per Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams: Click Here

Quick Ways to Make a Mask: Click Here

Lightweight Cotton Mask: Click Here

Vacuum Filter Mask: Click Here

If they are sewers and want to contribute to the mask making response, here is a link for local supplies/ drop off locations: Local Supplies/Drop Off Locations

CDC Explanation of Using Heavyweight T-Shirt: Click Here

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