Adventures in mask-sewing

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not been wearing a mask out for my bi-weekly shopping trips. I think part of not getting into that habit feels a bit like defeat (it ain’t). Like this terrible pandemic is winning (it’s not). Like I’m somehow weaker for needing one (I am, but it’s not even all about me). I have been carrying a scarf to don if I ever felt I really needed it, but have mostly been too caught up in my own anxieties to think about it once at the store, which is pretty silly considering one of my anxieties about going out in a pandemic world is my smoker’s cough. I carry my handy water bottle everywhere and I’ll remember to pop  a halls in my mouth before entering to prevent the throat tickles, but putting that scarf on? Nope. It just never occurred to me even though it was right there in the pocket of my purse or coat. And I’ve felt icky about myself and like a bit of a freak about it all. All of the covid-related feelings are pretty terrible to to begin with, so it was damned well time to figure out some kinda mask-type system.

I’ve also been a bit miserly about the whole thing: no chance was I about to throw down $30ish quid for a simple tool for the making of which I am bestowed all of the resources and skills in an environment over which I have full(ish) control…mostly. I realized about a month ago that my stash of garment-making elastics is just nowhere to be found. I found the box that I was convinced housed them, but it’s currently occupied by a bunch of other sewing notions that are entirely useless for this particular project unless I wanted to give our masks an alluring beaded trim or a jaunty feather affixed to a rhinestone studded vintage button.

All y’all belly and/or burlesque dancers needin’ fancy masks for The After? Get at me.

I do have a decent stash of bias and other tapes that could be used for straps, but fucking about with two straps at the back of the head did not seem conducive to actually wearing the masks once they were made. The option of using hair elastics that went around the ears made my brain and jaw and hair and teeth and ears hurt just thinking about it. I really wanted something that was effective, easy and comfortable.

I began perusing mask pattern options anyway and finally settled on not following this one.  More on the not following later. The reasons for selecting this particular pattern are many, but these are the big boxes it ticked for me:

  • It’s fitted and scaled for multiple sizes.
  • The PDF includes an ever-so-handy scaling box so you can quickly measure that and rest assured that measurements are not lost in printer translation. This is a real thing and I really appreciated that the author/designer included that.
  • The author also includes the instruction to cut the pattern out of something sturdy, like card stock (which is what I used – thanks, Cheri!) if you plan to use it multiple times. Amazing. Print once, then make a more resilient pattern for each size you need. I really appreciate this attention to detail a whole lot, too.
  • It’s pretty straightforward and uses materials and resources readily available to many folks. It could be hand sewn, if need be.
  • It has instructions for housing a bit of flexible wire to keep the mask fitted to the nosy-cheeky part of the face and that housing stays open so the wire can be removed for washings.
  • It provides the option of stuffing in a filter and that in no way alters the way this goes together.
  • The ties are a damned stroke of genius and made of one continuous length of knit fabric that goes over the ears and across the back of the head, then through a casing that brings it back down the length of the sides of the mask so it can be tied at the nape of the neck. One tie. No elastics. No ear fuckery.  Material that is readily available. Sold.

Ok. I can fault the author one thing and that’s that it looks like it all goes together six steps, but it’s really more like 20+. It can still be put together by anyone with basic sewing skills and the video is ever-so-helpful in that.

If I was going to go to all the trouble of clearing my table and pulling out the machine and the scissors and my nemesis, the iron, it seemed silly to make just one or two, so I ended up making four in total and I’ll probably do another session and make another handful because I don’t see us coming out of mask-wearing any time soon and having extras on-hand to give away or have readily available because we’re both masters of losing our shit (please refer back to the lost elastic) is not a bad thing.

Only three pictured because Rob is out getting provisions as I type this and he is wearing his ever-so-cute polka-dotted mask, which is shown in the main pic.

it occurs to me that they look like upside down bra cups.

As I mentioned, I did not quite follow this pattern and that’s because I’m a very lazy stitcher who doesn’t want to do any more cutting or ironing than is necessary. I’m also a terribly imprecise cutter when it comes to these small, single pattern piece things. I just get meh about it. I didn’t even pin my pattern to the fabric. I just weighed it down with a can of evaporated milk and went along my hateful little cutting way. As I did not want to fiddle about with cutting tiny strips of fabric and then pressing wee seams into them, I opted instead to use extra-wide, double-folded bias tape for the wire housings. Two extra steps gone! Boom!

That choice worked a charm and also led to the other lazy decision of including the stitching of the bias tape to the mask by way of incorporating it into the top-stitching of the upper part of the mask, thus eliminating more pinning and the worry that I would not be capturing all three layers in my seams. So it all came together like so:

checkout that dope recycled vintage sheet liner. sexy. thanks, Chantilly!


Now that choice led me to the realisation that, because I’m not a trustworthy cutter, pressing the end of the main fabric all the way in, as instructed in step 3, was an effort in futility, so I only pressed under once, thus capture that edge in the top stitching, then pressed once everything was together so I could be sure that everything would line up in the end. I would have been highly frustrated if I had had to re-press, let me tell you.

Even if I greatly dislike wearing a mask, I enjoy not feeling like a freak. The bridge wire rather brilliantly keeps my glasses from fogging, which was a real concern and they are far more breathable than I’d imagined. Overall, an afternoon (I think about 3.5 hours for the four masks?) well-spent.


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