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How to Sew Face Mask Pleats and Other Tips for DIY Face Masks

Sewing pleats can be tricky if you’ve never done it before, as well as if you are relatively new to using a sewing machine. This sewing tutorial shows how to sew face mask pleats – without breaking sewing machine needles. It also includes a quick step by step to photo tutorial to simplify mask making for visual learners. Find more sewing tutorials.

how to sew face mask pleats

The internet is flooded with face mask patterns and tutorials right now, but one thing I found missing was instructions for newbies on how to sew those face mask pleats. I’ve been sewing since I was 12 years old, but this was still tricky for me, until I found a trick that makes the process much simpler!

While pleats are the focus of this post, I also included a general step by step photo tutorial for visual learners showing a couple other things I did to make the process simpler.

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How to Sew Face Mask Pleats

Standard pleated face mask tutorials tell you to pin the pleats and stitching.

For me, that doesn’t work very well. I’m kind of clumsy, and I wind up getting my pins bent and the fabric falls out of the pleat.

Pleats are important in creating a snug fit for rectangle based face masks. Stitch them wonky – like I did my first couple of tries – and you don’t have a snug fitting mask.

DIY Pleated Face Mask Video

I know some of you prefer videos, so I also made a step by step video tutorial. You can watch it below:

Closed captioning is available in the YouTube version of this pleated face mask tutorial.

The Secret to Sewing Pleats Easily

How to easily sew pleats

First, my secret, so you don’t have to stay here any longer than necessary:

Sew the pleats in the correct order.

  1. Sew the top pleat.
  2. Stitch the bottom pleat.
  3. Secure the center pleat.

Repeat for the other side. Remember that all three pleats need to face the same direction. So if you’re stitching along the edges on a sewing machine, you’ll be stitching upwards facing pleats on one side and then downward on the other – because you flip the fabric around to stitch. They will all face the same way across the mask.

Why does order matter in sewing face mask pleats?

Face mask pleats are thicker than your typical pleats, because you are doubling up fabric and then by the time you pleat it you have six layers of cloth PLUS an additional six layers of seam allowance to stitch through. That’s a lot of cotton.

That’s a lot of fabric to pin and stitch across.

Luckily, face masks only have three pleats, so you can stitch them one at a time in a way that keeps them from pulling apart and breaking needles (needles are most likely to break while moving from thinner fabric onto bulkier fabric.

So you mentally divide the side of your face mask in three. Fold the top third into thirds and start with the top pleat, because it’s easy to control. Stitch it securely in place.

Then move to the bottom pleat, because it’s nice to have that central space to work around. Mentally divide the remaining fabric in half and fold the lower half in three to form your bottom pleat. Stitch it securely in place.

Finally pleat the remaining central fabric and stitch the central pleat. It is now easy to sew, because it’s effectively fenced in by the first and second pleat.

Now, let’s talk about how to sew the entire mask in case you need that also.

Standard face mask tutorials call for two 6×9 inch rectangles (cotton fabric works well, especially a tight weave) and two 7 inch lengths of 1/4″ elastic to sew the mask. I wound up going up to 7×10 for a couple of people with large faces, and kids could benefit from slightly smaller masks – say 5×8 inches. The CDC has a tutorial with a 6×10 rectangle and 6 inch elastics (no pleats, but a similar design – they just kept things super simple).

NOTE: You can now buy adjustable elastic cords, and I’ve switched to using those since they allow the same mask to fit more people and face shapes.

I do recommend checking out the CDC cloth face coverings tutorial; they have three different versions, all very simple, and two of the three don’t require sewing. I’ve had people ask specifically about pleated face masks, and that’s where this tutorial comes in.

Once the rectangles are cut, here are you sewing steps:

Step By Step Face Mask Tutorial

step by step face mask tutorial
  1. Attach elastics, allowing for seam allowances.
  2. pin layers together, with elastics on the inside. Stitch starting at the lower right side, ending at the upper right side with an opening to turn fabric.
  3. Trim corners to reduce bulk.
  4. Turn right side out. Grabbing the elastics makes this step go a little quicker. Top stitch all the way around, closing the opening on the right side at the same time.
  5. Mentally divide the fabric into thirds. Fold the top third into your first pleat. Stitch across the top pleat. I just realized that this photo shows the bottom pleat, which is actually also fine so long as you stitch the top one next. I found it easier to start with the top, though.
  6. Mentally divide the remaining fabric into halves. Fold the lower half into your second pleat and stitch across that.
  7. Fold the remaining center fabric into your final pleat and stitch.
  8. Repeat for the other side. Make sure all your pleats face the same direction!
  9. You finished sewing your face mask!

Remember to remove face masks by the elastic straps (not the front) and put them straight into the laundry when you get home.

How to Make Sure Your Face Mask Fits

If the face mask seems a little large (and you don’t have time to make a smaller one) try twisting the ear elastics a time or two. This is a tip I learned from my 4’11” nurse sister-in-law.

You can add a wire pocket to ensure a sold face mask fit over the bridge of your nose. The wire is kind of a pain because ideally it should be removed for washing, but pipe cleaners do work well as the wires if you choose to add this.

One of my sisters pointed out that fashion tape works much better – and is, in my opinion more comfortable. It is single use, but relatively inexpensive.

Glasses are meant to be worn over face masks, and I actually find mine very effective at also creating a seal over the top of my mask.

Face Mask Comfort Tips

I know they look like muzzles, but if you get claustrophobic (like me), then a face mask bracket can really save your sanity. I recommend one that is made out of silicone – and maybe bring a spare so you can swap out if it gets too much condensation on it.

I like to swap out face masks pretty regularly, which is thankfully affordable when you sew your own masks.

How to Wash Your Face Mask

Wash your face mask in a mesh laundry bag to keep the ear elastics from stretching out.

Thankfully soap and water is an incredibly effective coronavirus slayer, so you don’t have to use extra high temperatures. You can, but the elastic will wear out faster if you do.

Let me know if you have questions or find anything in this tutorial confusing!

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MaryAnne at Mama Smiles
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MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

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