It’s going to be a while. With the pandemic still running its course and flu season approaching, we’ll need to wear face coverings for an indefinite period of time. Cloth face masks have been recommended for non-first responders, but some features can be added to neck gaiters to make them more protective. Here’s how to hand-sew a neck gaiter with multiple layers, a nose wire, and elastic bands, using a t-shirt and other items you may already have in your home.
Notes: This post supports general health guidance to wear a face cover while in public but offers no professional advice. It was last updated on December 30, 2020. For more information, see “Disclosures and Disclaimers.”
Materials, Supplies, and Tools
- A used, stretchy cotton t-shirt
- A ruler and a marker
- A cutting mat and a rotary cutter
- A needle and thread (double-threaded and double-knotted at least 4 times)
- A twisty tie or nose wire and 2 hair ties or elastic bands
Used t-shirts (versus brand-new fabric) are great because they have 2 parts that require no sewing: the hem (or bottom) and a side (seamed or folded).
Straight (versus curved) t-shirts are easier to cut, but the cut piece of fabric does not have to be perfectly symmetrical since it will be folded up.
Choose a marker that will not show through the fabric, such as chalk, and a matching color thread.
Notes: I used a curved t-shirt with a side seam due to availability and a black marker and white thread for visibility. I also used a nose wire and elastic bands from a surgical face mask that I wore and washed in a wash bag with bleach and hot water. However, information on the safety of this practice to minimize waste has been lacking. It has been recommended to reserve surgical face masks for first responders and if surgical face masks are used, not to reuse them as surgical face masks.
Cutting the Fabric
Turn the t-shirt inside out and lay it flat on the cutting mat so that the hem is on top and the side seam is to the left (or right if left-handed).
Using the ruler and the marker, measure out and mark 18 inches from the top and 9 inches from the left (or right if left-handed).
Using the ruler and the rotary cutter, cut out the 18-inch by 9-inch piece of fabric. When opened up, it should be 18 inches by 18 inches. Fold it back up.
From the remaining t-shirt, cut out a 4-inch by 7-inch rectangle. This can serve as an extra layer.
Into the open end of the hem, insert the nose wire. Using tweezers, carefully guide it in until it is centered (about 2½ inches from each side).
Lay the 4-inch by 7-inch rectangle over the nose wire and sew in the rectangle and nose wire. (Note: I used a back stitch-type method.)
Sew an elastic band at the corner of the hem and side seam (about ¾ inch to the front and ¾ inch to the back).
Sew the open side closed, using a zigzag-type stitch method.
Sew the other elastic band to the other corner.
Fold the bottom of the gaiter up and tuck the rectangle inside. Adjust as evenly as possible. It does not have to be perfectly symmetrical because it will not show.
Turn the gaiter right side out. Pull over head, neck, and face. Secure the nose wire over the nose bridge and the elastic bands over the ears. Each elastic band can be tied into a small knot for a tighter fit.
Storing & Washing
Hand-sew more gaiters by repeating the steps above. After use, store them in a wash bag. After a few have been collected, zip up the bag and wash it in the washing machine and dryer. Avoid overfilling.