A quick no-sew craft project for kids turns an old t-shirt into a face mask.

By Naomi Tomky
April 10, 2020
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It's hard not to feel particularly dystopic when suggesting that parents make coronavirus masks for kids as a family arts and crafts project, but these are unprecedented times. After months of recommending the opposite, the CDC changed its guidance this week to recommend that everyone wear a face mask to fight the spread of COVID-19. The big shift that's happened over the last couple weeks, explains Seattle pediatrician Annie Weisner, M.D., Ph.D., is that we know now that both people who don't have any and don't yet have any symptoms. But with few masks available to purchase and everyone stuck at home, the best way to stock up is to make them yourself.

Author's daughter in her homemade mask
| Credit: Naomi Tomky

Why Wear a Mask

"Masks aren't just to protect yourself, but others," explains Rick Wu, a prominent anesthesiologist in Taiwan that has worked on the country's successful treatment and containment of the novel coronavirus. "If you cough, it will spread," he says. "It doesn't matter what type of mask," though, explains Dr. Wu. "If you have a mask on, you can save others, even your family, from the droplets that spread the virus."

Various ways to make homemade masks quickly flooded the internet, but for anyone with cooped up kids and no sewing machine, they all seem like a recipe for disaster—no toddler is keeping a loose bandana on their face. But there's a better way: this will show you how to make face masks for kids and adults from just an old t-shirt and a few household craft supplies.

Credit: Naomi Tomky

What You Need to Make a Mask

How to Make a No-Sew Mask

  1. Measure seven inches along the bottom hem (six for a children's mask)—the length of the mask—and then four inches tall and cut that out of both layers (front and back) of the t-shirt.
  2. Flip the front piece vertically, so that the hem is at the top on that one.
  3. In the front piece, poke two tiny holes like a snake bite in the center underside of the hemming—the piece that will face the back layer of fabric. Then poke two matching ones in the back layer of fabric.
  4. Poke two more holes, one in each upper corner of the back layer.
  5. Thread one pipe cleaner through the corner hole and then into the hem. When you get to the snake bite hole, push the pipe cleaner out and weave it through the holes in the back layer, then back in the other side. Continue through to the far edge, then weave it out through the back corner hole.
  6. Repeat the process with two corner holes and the snake bite in the center with the bottom edge hem.
  7. Fix the hair bands to the ends of both the bottom and top by twisting the pipe cleaners around them, one on each side.
  8. Fit the mask to your or your child's face by pressing the top pipe cleaner gently over the nose so that it hugs as tightly as possible. Adjust the length using the pipe cleaner as needed.

Remember, once your masks are made and worn, it's important to wash your mask after every use: either by hand with plenty of hot water and soap or machine wash in a delicates bag on gentle.

Why You Should Have Your Kids Help

Having the kids help make these washable face masks, as if it were any other arts and crafts, gives them a little more buy-in to the project and uses materials—pipe cleaners and hair bands—that they're familiar with.

Kids are smart and they pick up on little changes, Dr. Weisner says. Having them help with making the mask "directly engages with the changes they're dealing with in a way that has positivity and empowerment." Encourage them to pick a favorite old t-shirt to use for the project to get them excited to wear it.

And even though home-made masks might only 10 to 40 percent as effective as the kind Dr. Weisner wears at the hospital, she says "that's a lot more than zero."

As far as getting kids to wear the masks? "Make sure it's comfortable," advises Dr. Weisner. Check that it doesn't put undue pressure on the backs of the ears and that the ends of the pipe cleaners are tucked in so they don't scratch. If not, it's more likely that the kid might fiddle with the mask, which negates the usefulness—part of the idea of the mask is that they touch their face less, not more. Some kids might be too young for that, but Dr. Weisner says even preschool-age kids will want to do whatever ever their older siblings or parents are—so it's up to you to set the example.

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