Seven Ways to Make a Face Mask Ear Guard

Hello again! It’s Stephanie from Stephie B’s Designs here with you again. It’s only a been a few days since my last post, but we felt this was a relevant and important one that needed to be published as soon as possible.

Cloth face masks have become a part of all our lives right now. You may be wearing one to work for hours on end or for only a few minutes during an “essential goods” run. No matter the case, several issues have come to light concerning face masks that I would like to help with today.

  • Elastic loops are tearing up the wearer’s ears so the point where they bleed. This is often referred to as “ear fatigue.”
  • Masks are often too big for the wearer it has a hard time staying in place.
  • Masks cause the wearer to touch their hair/face more than they should to keep adjusting the ties.

No good on all accounts! Masks should help alleviate stress, not cause more of it. But, the sewing community, health care professionals, and everyday heroes have come up with a few solutions to help solve these problem with things many of you already have laying around your home! Woohoo!

Today’s post will show you seven, yes SEVEN!, of those solutions that can be used with face masks made with either elastic bands or those made with ties.

Five of these seven can be made with NO SEWING or sewing skills at all, and the other two only require you to sew on a button. Easy day!

Here’s what I’ll be discussing below:

  1. Headbands
    1. A tied headband (no sewing)
    2. A button headband
  2. Behind the Head Ear Guards
    1. A button tab
    2. A snap tab (no sewing)
  3. Other Options for Behind the Head Ear Guards
    1. Ribbon (no sewing)
    2. Paperclip (no sewing)
    3. Safety Pin (no sewing)

Headbands

A Tied Headband

This is quick, easy, and is the method I will be using when I’m shopping for my essentials.

Materials Needed

  • Fabric (old shirts, sheets, pillowcases, bandannas, or other fabric you have on hand; woven or knit, it doesn’t matter)
    • You’ll need a strip at least 30″ long so keep that in mind when selecting your fabric
    • I HIGHLY recommend KnitFabric.com for any type of fabric you want (including quilting cotton for masks).
  • Scissors OR rotary cutter and self healing mat

The Steps

Lay out your fabric on a flat surface. If using a t-shirt as I’m doing, cut off the bottom hem.

Cut a strip of fabric. I recommend at least 3-4″ wide (or the width of four finger) and about 30-36″ long. If it’s too long, you can cut off excess later.

If using a fabric with will fray, I recommend either finishing the raw edges or doubling the width so you can fold so the raw edges are against your head .

If using a t-shirt or pillowcase, cut one side to open the loop.

Place the headband on the top of your head. (Please excuse the goofy expressions on my face in some of the photos below!)

Grab your mask. Feed the ends of the headband through the elastic bands (or tied ties) and position the mask up to your face. You’ll be adjusting the exact location later, this is just a rough estimate.

Tie the ends of the headband behind your head/under your hair.

Adjust the elastic/ties and the mask so it sits correctly and comfortably on your face.

Cut off the excess headband tails if desired.

That’s it!!!!

A Button Headband

A button headband has two sewn-in buttons by each ear where your mask loops/ties around the buttons. This prevents the elastic from rubbing your ears raw and holds the mask in place.

There are a million headband patterns out there; this method will work with pretty much any of them, including headbands you may already have at home (like the one I used for this tutorial).

A few we’ve written here on Peek-a-Boo Pages that are worth looking through are Twist Top Headband, Woven (braided) Headband, Flower Head Wrap, Big Bow Headband, and Five Spring Headbands. So many options!

Two I recommend for this project are the Tied Headband that we just talked about, the Woven Tie Headband (made about an inch thicker than the pattern calls for; this can be tied at the top or under your hair) and the Athletic Headband (a thick, stretchy headband, perfect for moving and working all day).

Both the Athletic Headband (check out these athletic knits) and Woven Tie Headband can be hand sewn, and since they each use different fabric types, you should be able to make them from old shirts, sheets, pillowcases, bandannas, or other fabric you have on hand.

Side note… I mentioned this above, but I have to talk about them again. If you’re looking for some A.MA.ZING fabric for your headbands or masks or anything, start with KnitFabric.com (formerly Peek-a-Boo Fabric Shop). They’ve been my go-to for several years so, and I order from them several times a month.

Ok… back to it!

I recommend making a headband that is either thick or wide so it can hold the weight of the elastic pulling on it. My headband is only about 3/4″ wide, but it’s thick/dense, so works perfectly.

Materials Needed

  • Headband
  • Two buttons, the bigger the better
  • Pen or something to mark your headband
  • Sewing machine with button foot OR a thread and needle

Wait… did you notice my awesome little Mason Jar pin cushion?! Check out the blog and come back. I’ll wait. 🙂

The Steps

Measure 3-4 inches from the center back/bottom and mark. Repeat with the other side.

I could have raised the buttons on my headband about an inch and it would have felt better, but each headband will sit on your head differently and require different button placement.

Hand sew or use your sewing machine to add the button.

I recommend putting the headband on and checking the button placement before sewing your second button.

That’s it!


Behind the Head Ear Guards

The following ear guards are meant to keep the pressure from elastic bands off your ears by holding the bands in place behind your head.

However, these may not work for everyone. They worked well for me, but my husband said very quickly after trying one that they actually pulled down on his ears and felt more uncomfortable than wearing the bands by themselves. I may end up making him a longer one.

The good things is that these only take a few minutes each to make, so if you want to try one just to see, you won’t be wasting much time if they end up not working for you.

Button Tab Ear Guard

I made two versions, one that you don’t need to sew – aside from the button – and one that you can finish with a sewing machine.

If you have fabric that frays (woven cotton; from a sheet or pillowcase for example) you’ll need to fold all the edges under. I’ll be going over how to do that in the second version, with the colorful pink tab.

Materials Needed

  • Fabric/Material
    • Grosgrain ribbon, fabric scraps, leather, a crocheted strip, or anything you can find that you think would work
    • You need a strip 6-8 inches long by about 1 inch wide.
    • (It’s worth repeating!) I recommend KnitFabric.com for fabric.
  • Two buttons, the bigger the better
  • Sewing machine with button foot OR a thread and needle

It may be helpful to have someone assist you in measuring how much you need by holding the mask up to your face, pulling the elastic loops securely but comfortably behind your head, and measuring the distance between the loops. You’ll add about 2 inches if you need to fold it under (ribbon, woven cotton/sheets/pillowcases).

If using fabric/material that won’t fray, all you need to do is sew the buttons on the ends. Done! But if your fabric/material is thin, I recommend following the steps for the version below to reinforce the ends where the buttons will be.

The Steps

Version 1 –

If you’re using ribbon, fold the ends under 1/2 inch two times to prevent fraying and add stability.

Add a button to each side, sewing in place by hand or with a sewing machine.

To wear, loop the elastic band (or ties) around one button, place around your head, then secure the second elastic band around the other button.

Version 2 –

Cut you fabric your desired length (I chose 8 inches) buy roughly 2-3 inches (I chose 2 1/2 inches).

Again, if you can measure how much you need by putting on your mask and measure the gap between the elastic loops behind your head, you’ll get a better measurement. But do what you can do!

Turn the piece over, so the right (printed) side is facing down, then fold the top and bottom (long) edges to the center. Next, fold in half along the center line where the two raw edges meet. You’ll have a long, thin strip.

Just as with version 1, fold the ends under 1/2 inch two times to prevent fraying and add stability.

Press with an iron if desired but it’s not necessary.

Optional: Topstitch around the four outside and folded edges to secure in place, as I’ve done.

Add a button to each side, sewing in place by hand or with a sewing machine.

To wear, loop the elastic bands (or ties) around one button, place around your head, then secure the second elastic band around the other button.

Snap Tab Ear Guard

This is very similar to the button ear guard, but is made with plastic snaps instead of buttons. And, just like the button tab ear guard, can also be used with masks that have ties.

The construction of this snap tab is almost identical to the button tab, but you need an additional 2-3 inches of material since you will be folding the ends over to snap.

Materials Needed

  • Fabric/Material
    • Grosgrain ribbon, fabric scraps, leather, a crocheted strip, or anything you can find that you think would work
    • You need a strip 6-8 inches long by about 1 inch wide.
    • (Last time… but I’ve gotta say it!) Check out KnitFabric.com for every sort of fabric you need. They have it all!
  • Two sets of plastic snaps (KAMSnaps, Dritz, etc.)
  • Plastic snap hand tool/pliers or press
  • Optional: awl to poke holes

If you’re using ribbon, fold the ends under 1/2 inch two times to prevent fraying and add stability.

Add the first prong through the folded layers. The cap part of the prong will be seen from the outside, so press the prong through from the “top” (the folded parts being the “bottom”) as shown in the image below.

If using fabric scraps (like version 2 of the button tab above) fold in half, then in half again forming the long thin strip (I did not make this version for the snap tab).

Repeat with the other side.

Measure 1-2 inches away from the edge of the tab and place the corresponding snap to complete the pair.

Repeat with the other side.

Done!

To wear, snap one end around the elastic loop (or tied ties), place around your head, then secure the second snap around the remaining elastic loop.


Other Options for Behind the Head Ear Guards

These don’t need much explanation, so I’ll move through them quickly. 🙂

Ribbon

Cut a 20-24″ piece of ribbon, loop through the elastic bands (or tied ties) and tie.

Paper Clip

This was a little tricky to get on – you have to put the paperclip on before putting on the mask.

Safety Pin

Use this one at your own discretion and never with children. It poked my finger and the back of my head as I was putting it on, but it works, and is an option if need be.

One more tidbit before I go.

Before I started using the tie headband, my face mask was too large. My solution? Pinch the elastic to the desired fit, then put a few stitches in the elastic behind the ears to shorten it. Problem solved! If you don’t like any of the ideas above, maybe this is the simple solution for you. 🙂

And that’s it! That’s all I have! I’m sure there are a million other ways to protect your ears from the elastic during ear, but for now, I think you have plenty to choose from.

Please stay safe, healthy, and happy. We’ll make it through this one day at a time.

18 Responses

    1. Hi Stella, I’m so glad you found my tutorial! I have since come up with several more ideas, but these have been tried and tested for a few months now so I’m glad I was able to share. I’d love to know which option you decided to make! Stay safe.

  1. Hello Amy,
    I love your ideas to protect the back of the ears!
    I would, however, like to recommend that you have your models wear the masks correctly. The pleats should always face downward. This prevents droplets/particles from accumulating in the folds.
    Thanks,
    Diane
    RN, BSN, MSN

    1. I believe you are referring to the inside folds (the side against the face), not the outside, correct? Also, I was making masks for our local hospital. They had a pattern that showed 9×7 fabric with 3 folds, but it seemed to me that 3 folds were too much and 2 folds worked better. Thank you for your service.

      1. Thank you for the feedback! I’m not certain what folds I was referring to that you mention, though! After quite a few with the three folds, I too, found two folds to be much easier to make and sew. Thank you as well for your service! 🙂

    2. I love that you are noting this. It’s my pet peeve and. . . some of the purchased surgical masks I’ve seen are actually created with the nose piece on the “bottom” forcing people to wear them upside down. Argh!!

  2. Hi,
    Any ideas if my mask it too small? I have a homemade cloth mask buy my ears bend little bit because A the elastics is too small or the width of the mask is too small. The width for me is fine but the elastic is too small. I can not adjust it.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks for the help

    1. Hi Susan! Unfortunately the masks are not one size fits all, but they are constructed so quickly (for good reason) that they have to be made that way. Thus, masks that are sometimes too small. I recommend using the headband tricks here within this blog. They will keep the elastic – too big or too small – off your ears. I hope that helps!

    1. Hi! Thank you for your comment. I fully agree that masks should be constructed using 100% cotton. No doubt. Headbands, snap and button plackets, and any other ear guard you opt to use can be virtually anything – the flexibility is great. I think the misunderstanding with my recommendations within this tutorial is when I referred in several spots to the company KnitFabric.com – not using knit fabric for masks. I hope that help clears up any confusion! Good luck and happy sewing. 🙂

    2. The efficacy of any mask first comes from wearing one of any kind. Giving people options for the fabrics they have on hand, especially during a pandemic lock down, can be the difference between having one, and not having anything. I wouldn’t call that ‘promoting,’ so much as recognition. There is always a better choice, when you actually have a choice. Let’s be grateful that makers realize this, and provide information for all situations, that are keeping us all as safe as possible.

  3. Thank you for these wonderful ideas. Ears really do get so sore with those elastic bands. I can’t wait to see how a couple of these options work. You are the greatest for sharing them.

    1. Thank you Pam! I definitely saw the need and wanted to share these ideas with as many people as I could. I hope the help ease ear fatigue and therefore encourage people to use their masks. Good luck and stay safe!

  4. I spoke to a nurse friend about this prior to sewing masks and she said she and her coworkers would prefer no elastic but rather ties on each corner like actual surgical masks. They took longer to make but I wanted to make sure they were useable so they wouldn’t end up getting discarded. Don’t forget that if you’re donating masks, some masks are going to male physicians and they aren’t going to want a headband.

    1. Melody, you are absolutely correct. The requirements vary drastically from one hospital to another, so unfortunately mask makers are working as hard as they can to make the best masks to suit everyone’s needs. Male physicians – and many female! – would prefer to use something other than headbands – so very true! Thankfully, amazing and crafty people around the world have come up with so many other ear guard ideas and suggestions – some of which are written about here. Hopefully everyone will find what works best for them so they are comfortable while wearing their masks for five minutes or an entire shift. Happy sewing!

  5. Thank you for the ideas!
    My daughter is just finishing up her exams and then will be working as a PSW. I was trying to find an ear guard when I came across your ideas!
    Thanks

    1. Congratulations to your daughter Roxanne! What a fantastic accomplishment; you should both be very proud. I’m sure she is going to do some amazing work and help a lot of people. I’m very happy to hear that you found my tutorial helpful, and hopefully one or more of these ideas will help make her time wearing a mask more comfortable.

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