Don’t panic, this is not going to be a feminist reworking of Alexander Dumas famous novel. It concerns a contemporary phenomenon – facemasks. Not the politics of wearing them either, rather the making of them.
I have a bag of scraps left over from sewing projects dating so far back that some of them probably count as vintage. I don’t make patchwork quilts or dolls clothes, so there’s never really been an obvious use for them. Until now. Who would have thought a couple of months ago that face coverings would become a fashion statement?
Like most people, when it became obvious that we’d have to start wearing masks in enclosed spaces, I ordered a stack of those blue disposable ones, and immediately took against them. They felt too big for me, yet the shoestring elastic kept breaking. Then one of my sisters posted a picture on our family WhatsApp group of the masks she’d bought from a very well-known on-line boutique for her teenage girls (and herself, of course!) and I thought, I could do much better than that.
I decided I wanted a mask with a centre seam rather than pleats, and looked on-line at the hundreds of patterns free to download. The choice was horrendously confusing, but luckily my friend and fellow writer Mairibeth, who is also a fellow crafter, was ahead of me in the mask-making game. She not only sent me a tried and trusted template, she pointed me in the direction of a particle-filter lining as the essential middle-layer.
I had just finished making a top for myself, and had the (misjudged) notion of making myself a matching mask. I learned quite a lot from that first prototype. First and most importantly, the special lining did not like a hot iron! It didn’t even like a warm iron, and would tolerate only the very coolest setting.
The next lesson was that ironing a curved (princess) seam without the use of a tailor’s ham was a complete footer (which is Scottish for a palaver). So it was back to YouTube, for instructions on how to make a tailor’s ham. I had seen them on the Great British Sewing Bee, but I’d never been convinced that I needed one. Now that I have one, I can’t imagine how I ever survived without it. And the same goes for another investment I made when setting up my mask-making factory, a cutting board and rotary cutter. This combination reduced the process of cutting out multiple layers of lining to a matter of seconds. I increased the patterns size slightly, and made a prototype mask for men.
I was happy with the shape of the finished prototype, but then came the burning issue of elastic (I’m aware I’m starting to sound sad already). After much deliberation I decided on a 6 mm width, which is wider than the hat elastic you get on the disposable masks. Following some extensive research (studying fellow mask-wearers in the supermarket queue) I stitched the elastic to go around my head. It kept the mask snug, but I found it quite uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure how I’d make it adjustable for other people. My next mask had ear loops, but I had the same issue – how to make them adjustable.
Then I thought of those toggle things you get on rucksacks. Could you buy those, only smaller? Of course you can. Threading the elastic through them was tricky. The video involved a needle and made it seem easy, but my elastic was thicker, and required the combination of a needle and a pair of fish-bone pliers!
A dab of anti-fray lotion that had been sitting unused in my sewing box for years, and finally I had the perfect mask – if there is such a thing. It minimised condensation on glasses, it can be adjusted to fit, and you don’t have to wash it every time you wear it – just run a cool iron over it, or if you’re lucky enough to have some strong sunshine, hang it outside for a couple of hours.
I have now made over thirty masks for family and friends, in all colour combinations. It makes me smile to see the remnants from dresses and shirts and skirts over many years transformed into a garment that has become, sadly, de rigeur. Nobody will be happier than me if I never have to make another one.
I have also been doing some other sewing for much cheerier reasons. My second chances, older couple Regency set in Edinburgh, A Forbidden Liaison with Miss Grant will be released on 1st September. I have made some tote bags to giveaway to celebrate, so watch this space for how to enter. You can pre-order the book now, and you’ll find links and an excerpt over on the book page.