How to make and donate protective masks for healthcare workers

woman wearing a face mask

Calling all crafters.

From costume shops to nonprofits, organizations across the state are stepping up by crafting and donating homemade protective masks in an effort to help equip local hospitals and healthcare providers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic — and now, so can you.

stack of masks on a desk

Clarence Brown Theatre costume shop’s protective masks from recycled fabric. (Photo: CBT Twitter)

On March 23, the costume shop of the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Clarence Brown Theatre began constructing masks from quilters cotton and muslin left over from unused fabric purchased to create costumes for productions this past season.

“Our hope is that these masks will help to save on the stock of surgical masks and N95 masks for those who need them most,” said costume shop cutter and draper Kyle Schellinger in a statement on the CBT website.

The masks are intended for medical professionals and non-medical staff who are not “frontline workers,” but whose day-to-day work involves intermingling with the public. Since beginning the project, their team of faculty, staff, and graduate students have created more than 200 masks.

“We are proud and pleased to be able to serve and assist our medical community,” said CBT managing director Tom Cervone, “and hopefully add a bit of fashion along the way.”

Nonprofits are also helping to address the medical supply shortage in a big way.

Last week, Healing Hands International donated more than 7,200 N95 face masks, 37,800 surgical loop masks, 500 isolation gowns, and 304,000 nitrile gloves to several hospitals in the Nashville area.

storage room with boxes

Healing Hands International is helping local hospitals with medical supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Healing Hands International)

“Our healthcare workers and hospitals are under a great deal of pressure and in need of supplies,” HHI President Art Woods said in a release. “It is our prayer that this will equip them on the frontlines as they battle this virus.”

If they can do it, so can you.

Officials with Vanderbilt University Medical Center have released instructions on how to make hand-sewn face masks from the safety of your own home to donate to local hospitals.

“VUMC has an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) currently on hand to protect its employees and patients from COVID-19,” officials state on the VUMC website. “However, the global supply for this equipment continues to be uncertain and we are actively taking steps to secure more supplies.”

While VUMC officials said hand-sewn masks are not necessarily a CDC-recommended way to defend against coronavirus, cloth masks can work well for other conditions, which can help conserve existing respirator mask supplies. Masks will be donated to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, the Vanderbilt Adult Hospital and the Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital.

Masks can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Entrance A at Vanderbilt One Hundred Oaks. Those interested in donating masks can email

You can make two sizes: adult or child. Adult-sized masks will be the greatest need. Instructions from VUMC are listed below:

What you will need:

  • Tight-weave cotton fabric or quilting cotton that has not been used, was purchased in the past year and has been washed without fragrances or dyes
  • Rope elastic in 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch width
  • Sewing machine or needles and thread

One adult mask requires two 9”x6” pieces tight-weave cotton and two 7” pieces of 1/4 inch elastic. Therefore, one yard of 44” wide fabric yields 12-15 masks. You need 7.5 yards of elastic for 25 masks (14 inches per mask).

How to make the masks:

  • Put right sides of cotton fabric together horizontally.
  • Starting at the center of the bottom edge, sew to the first corner and then stop. Sew the elastic with the edge out into the corner. A few stitches forward and back will hold this.
  • Sew to the next corner, stop, and bring the other end of the same elastic to the corner and sew a few stitches forward and back.
  • Now, sew across that top of the mask to the next corner. Again, put in elastic with the edge out.
  • Sew to the next corner and sew in the other end of the same elastic.
  • Sew across the bottom, leaving about 1.5-2 inches open. Stop and cut the thread then turn inside out.
  • Pin three tucks on each side of the mask, and make sure the tucks are the same direction.
  • Sew around the edge of the mask twice.

See the full announcement on the VUMC website.

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