Begun 29 May 2020 
Updated 9 August 2020 
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The tutorial below aborted when I got a better idea that could be expressed in fewer words,
so I'm using this file as a place to dump assorted thoughts about masks
and keep project blogs.

The Very Common Pleated Mask.

Making a simple mask

Like most people who sew, I've been looking at a lot of mask patterns lately.

I have found one that I think an absolute beginner could make without using a sewing machine, if he uses a handkerchief, bandana, or scarf instead of starting with yard goods.

The pattern calls for a piece thirteen inches wide and fifteen inches long, but one that I made from a bandana twenty-two inches square fits well. It wraps around to the back of my head, but that just makes it filter better.

This mask deals with the leaks inevitable in home-made masks by pushing the edges out so far that it's easier for your breath to go through the cloth than to escape unfiltered. That makes this single layer a better filter than the double layer created by tying a hankerchief around your face, and it's *much* more comfortable.

The pattern calls for elastic, but any sort of ribbon, tape, or string that's long enough to tie around your head works at least as well. Shoestrings are good for this sort of thing.

Pins to keep things from shifting around while you are working on them are helpful. Straight pins are easiest to use, but you probably have safety pins, and those will work.

You do need a needle and thread. Most homes have a needle somewhere. If you can't find yours, grocery stores sell mending kits and threaded needles.

I would use a thimble, but you'll be taking so few stitches that there is little risk that your finger will get sore. If it does seem at risk, stick a piece of adhesive tape or a snip from a bandaid on the spot. If that isn't enough, stick a slightly-larger piece on top.

And you need something to cut the thread with.

minimum needs for making mask

Five items are all you need: Handerchief, string or elastic, pins, threaded needle, and scissors or a very-sharp knife.

You will make a "casing" on one side of the handkerchief and put elastic or a tie in it.

I will give instructions for making a casing with elastic already in it, using a pre-threaded needle, then discuss variations.

The Pattern:

Handkerchiefs are never perfectly square. Fold the handkerchief at a corner to determine which side is shorter, then form the casing in the shorter side.

Lay the the elastic parallel to the shorter side with both ends sticking out. If it refuses to stay put, stick a couple of pins in it.

Fold the shorter side down over the elastic. Use pins to make the elastic stay put inside the fold. If there are pins already in the elastic, pull them out and re-stick them through the folded cloth. Make sure the elastic is in the crease of the fold.

Now to sew. It takes skill to sew a secure seam by hand, but all we want is to keep the fold folded, so basting will do fine. Try to keep your stitches not more than a quarter inch long.

Use the hem to guide your stitches, but don't try to push through six layers -- stitch just inside the hem, where there are only two layers of fabric.

Begin by sticking the needle straight down in the corner where two hems meet, near-missing the hem in the fabric underneath.

(If you are left handed, read "left" where-ever I say "right".)

Move the eye-end of the needle to the right, so that it rotates around the point where it pierces the cloth. Keep rotating until you can see a bump where the point of the needle touches the handkerchief. This bump should be close to the hem. If the bump is more than a quarter inch from the place where you first stuck the needle, pull the needle back a little. Now push down slightly with the thumb of the hand holding the fabric, and push forward with the needle to make the point come through.

Push the needle through the cloth until there is enough needle sticking out to take hold of, then shift your grip to the point end of the needle and pull it out of the fabric. When all of the needle is out of the fabric, shift your grip again so that the eye and the thread are pinched between your thumb and fingers. Gripping the thread will keep it from pulling out of the needle while you draw it through.

Pull until only a short piece of thread is sticking out where you first stuck the needle. I would leave half an inch; you will want two or three inches. Advanced students may leave enough thread to thread a needle and hide the end inside the hem. *Really* advanced students have already hidden the end inside the hem, and they have secured the thread with a couple of back stitches instead of the "bar tack" I am about to describe.

Now stick the needle in where you stuck it the first time and take another stitch in the same place. (This makes a "bar tack".) Pull through until you see the end of the thread that you left sticking out move, or the cloth puckers to show that the end isn't going to move.

Thread loves to tie itself into knots while being drawn through. Keep a sharp eye on the shrinking loop, and if it twists, pause to pull it straight. If a snarl is too small for your fingers, put the needle through the loop and use it as a handle. You can use the needle as a pulley to keep the thread straight while you pull the loop in with your other hand.

If thread is twisted, it is more likely to snarl. Pause now and again to let the needle dangle while the thread untwists itself.

Advanced: drawing thread over a candle stub or other bit of hard wax before you start to sew will untwist the thread and make it inclined to stay untwisted.

Take a third stitch. This time it should be impossible to move the end . You have secured the thread. Take one more stitch just to be sure, then put the needle in one-eighth of an inch from the place where you have been coming up.

Make more stitches close to the hem, each one to the left (right, if left-handed) of the stitch before, until you get to the other side. (This is called "running stitch".)

Check to be sure all stitches are tight but not puckered, then make another bar tack like the one you began with, and the mask is finished. Well, you probably want to trim the dangling ends of the thread to a quarter inch long. If you are using a knife or a razor blade for this purpose, fold the thread over the edge and saw slightly. Thread is easier to cut when it is under a little tension.

If you have used elastic, pin the ends together with a small safety pin and try the mask on. Loosen or tighten as required. Leave the elastic secured only with a pin in case you need to adjust it again.

If you have used string, ribbon, or tape, tie the string around your head just above the ears. If you have trouble reaching back, pull the string so that the ends are unequal and the knot falls in a more-convenient place.

Alternate suggestions:

Threading tape or elastic into a casing:

It's easier to make an empty casing and thread the elastic or string into it afterward -- particularly when you want a tape to fill the entire casing or squish to fit it.

If you have no bodkin or tape threader, a large safety pin will work.

First secure the pin to the thing to be pulled through the casing. The obvious way is to stick the pin into it. If it's elastic, stick the pin through about the width of the elastic from the cut end. If it's tape or ribbon, fold a couple of inches back and stick the pin through the fold.

If it's a shoestring, poke it through the hole in the hinge of the pin. Tapes and ribbons can also be threaded through the hinge. If rolling the end of a ribbon up doesn't make it small enough to go through, you can put a loop of string through the hole and use the loop to pull the ribbon through.

Poke the safety pin into the casing, then use your other hand to push gathers onto the pin. Grasp the head of the pin through the fabric with your other hand, and use your first hand to pull the gathers off the hinge end of the pin onto the string. Repeat until the pin comes out the other end.

Threading a needle

The coarser a needle is, the easier it is to thread and the harder it is to to push through cloth. Choose the finest needle that you can thread easily -- or the coarsest among the few you have.

Put on the strongest reading glasses you have. (If myopic and young, take off your glasses and hold the needle close to your eyes.)

Hold the needle in your favored hand and pinch the thread between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Let only a very short bit extend, so that the thread will be stiff and unable to dodge away from the needle. Bring the eye of the needle and the thread together. When the thread is inside the needle's eye, push the eye between your forefinger and thumb so that you can get hold of what's sticking out and pull the thread into the eye.

If the thread hits the eye and accordians up, the end of the thread is bushed out. If it approaches the eye, then dodges around, there is a invisible fiber sticking out of it. In either case, snipping a bit off the end of the thread should correct it.

If the thread is bent, put the needle down, lick your index finger, pinch the end of the thread, then pull the thread out of the firm pinch. This will straighten the thread.

If you substitute a bit of wax for the damp index finger, the fibers will also be glued together to prevent bushing out.

Advanced stitching

When the thread is long, keep the free end and the working end of the thread as near to equal as you can without risk of catching the free end in a stitch. If the free end does get caught, pull it out, then shift the needle to keep it from happening again.

When the thread is long, you can speed up stitching by taking two or more stitches before pulling through. At each stitch, pull through a stitch-length of thread. If you feel resistance, it's time to pull the rest of the loop through. Watch the loop carefully; if it starts to twist, put the needle through it and use the needle as a handle to pull it straight. When the loop is pulled through, let the needle dangle to remove twist.

With practice, you can make two or more stitches at a time. When the point of the needle comes up out of the cloth, angle it down again to make another stitch. The guys on 18th Century Woman used to call this "rocker stitch" because the needle rocks up and down. I call it "pleating the cloth up onto the needle".

bandana with shoelace
shoestring pinned into casing

TUT1555.JPG 910486 6-06-20 11:53a close-up of first stitch starting TUT1555h.JPG 72452 6-06-20 11:54a close-up of first stitch starting h327

TUT1557.JPG 622007 6-06-20 11:59a second stitch of bar tack TUT1557h.JPG 112762 6-06-20 11:59a second stitch of bar tack h435

TUT1558.JPG 593391 6-06-20 12:03p third stitch of bar tack TUT1558h.JPG 92117 6-06-20 12:04p third stitch of bar tack h381

TUT1559.JPG 434856 6-06-20 12:08p fourth stitch       TUT1559h.JPG 71683 6-06-20 12:09p fourth stitch h263

TUT1560.JPG 365607 6-06-20 12:12p starting the running stitch TUT1560h.JPG 105705 6-06-20 12:13p starting the running stitch h496

TUT1562.JPG 148881 6-06-20 12:19p running stitch in prog   TUT1562h.JPG 76267 6-06-20 12:20p running stitch in progress h413

TUT1564.JPG 831425 6-06-20 12:24p running stitch completed TUT1564h.JPG 146156 6-06-20 12:25p running stitch completed h579

TUT1565.JPG 712583 6-06-20 12:28p ending bar tack TUT1565h.JPG 65910 6-06-20 12:30p ending bar tack h275

TUT1566.JPG 77241 6-06-20 12:48p the trimmed ends TUT1566h.JPG 69590 6-06-20 12:49p the trimmed ends h396

furoshiki and shoestring

A better way to make a mask out of a bandanna

The mask in the picture was made from a "furoshiki", a hemmmed piece of quilting cotton twenty-two and a half inches square.  I wanted it to keep the sun off, and all my bandanas are somewhat sheer.

Fold a bandanna in half crosswise.  (Determine which side is shorter, and fold parallel to the shorter side.)

For style points, make the fold a little off center so that the two flaps are not the same length.

Stitch half an inch from the fold.  Use long stitches that will be easy to remove before you wash the bandana.

Thread a shoelace, ribbon, or other string through the casing you have just made. If it's a shoestring, one can put it into the casing before the casing is stitched, as suggested in the aborted tutorial.

I find twill tape narrower than half an inch difficult to tie and untie.

Tie the mask on, put on your glasses, and tug up over the nose and down under each eye to shape the mask to your face.



If you don't know how to thread a needle, you can buy a packet of threaded needles at a supermarket.

You can thread a string through a casing with the aid of a large safety pin.  Poke the string through the hole in the hinge of the pin, poke the pin into the casing, and push gathers onto the pin with one hand and pull them off the pin onto the string with the other hand until the pin emerges from the other side.


Project blog for the "taxicab" niqab


Friday, 26 June 2020

The 'taxicab' scraps on a card table

Yesterday I pawed through the box of linen scraps and took the offcuts from my taxicab jersey out. Pity the jersey itself is worn out, but if I wear a jersey, I'll also be wearing bandaids, so my white gauze niqab will do fine.

The "taxicab" linen is a tad sheer, so I plan to use the same pillowcase scheme I used for the gauze niqab. A 13" x 15" veil is a tad narrow and a lot long, and the gardening niqab I made by folding a 22" furoshiki in half is plenty long, so I'll cut a 14" x 22" piece to be the veil. I think I can just get it in one piece from the bias-edge scrap left from cutting my taxicab scarf.  (The scarf is still around, and in fairly good condition.)  Then I'll cut two strips to piece together for the sash. 5" like the pattern?  3", which would come out half again as wide as the 1" twill tape I used for the gauze beta, which works fine?  I don't have to decide quite yet.

Sudden thought:  a linen brow-band will help keep sweat out of my eyes.  But I can't wear a mask on my real bike, and I don't sweat on the "pedal-powered wheelchair" bike.

The tapes from which it hangs:  I think I'll use white quarter-inch twill for the short tabs on the corners, and make a narrow tube of taxicab linen for the center tape that keeps the weight of my veil off my sore nose. And merely baste the sash until I've worn the niqab in the garden a couple of times, so that I can adjust the middle tape if needed.

Off to draw threads and cook lunch.

The thread drawn fourteen inches from the straight edge crossed the bias edge just at twenty-two inches.

Then I cut two three-inch strips and seamed them together on the bias edges.  I thought that a seam slanting across the headband would be less conspicuous than a straight-up-and-down seam, and have fewer layers in any one place.  For me, flat-felling a bias seam and getting the straight edges perfectly in line is a bit fraught, so I made a lap seam. Since the fabric is linen, pinching a crease in worked -- I was even able to pinch the crease out, after it had been sewn in and pressed with a presser foot. But I basted the turn-under anyway. Then I pinned, held it up to the light to see that it was straight, basted running stitch down the middle, and machine-stitched along both edges with ecru thread.

Then I decided that the seam was too wide, picked it out, pinched and basted narrower turn-unders, drew a wash-out line on one piece, pinned the seam, and took a nap.

In the afternoon I basted, stitched, and picked out the basting.

I also pinched a quarter-inch turn-under on the edges of the sash. I think I pinched the ends of the veil in the morning.

With luck and a bit of diligence, I should wear that veil in the garden tomorrow.


Saturday, 27 June 2020

After cutting the sash and veil, I very carefully and with a great sense of virtue folded the remaining scraps neatly, put them back into the linen box, put the box back on the shelf, and laid the scraps of the yellow jersey and the pattern for the bra I plan to make of them on top of the box.

All without cutting a one-by-five strip to make the nose tab from. But when I took the box down this morning, I found a pair of strips that were already thread-straight and an inch wide, so I didn't have to unfold all those bits and pieces.

I think I'll slip-stitch the folds of the strip together instead of top-stitching by machine. I also think that I'll put the corner tabs a seam allowance from the stitching line. A quarter of an inch, stiffened by seam allowances, should support itself just fine.

Sigh. It's perfect weather for sewing outside, but the gauze veil is translucent and the furoshiki veil isn't comfortable, and I'm not all that hipped on sewing with a veil on anyhow. I'll pull the rocking chair up to the patio door. And renew the 45 SPF lipstick on my nose and chin now and again.

Measuring against the gauze niqab, I think that three inches will be ample for the middle tab. I'll take two inches off for the corner tabs, or maybe three-fourths for each tab -- there is supposed to be no space between the sash and the corners of the veil, and three eighths is an ample seam allowance.


Monday, 29 June 2020

tabs basted and sides sewn up

The corner tabs are one inch and the middle tab is three inches. I basted the tabs in place, then sewed the side seams.

The next step requires me to heat up the iron.  You'd think I had to heat it on a wood-burning stove and didn't have whole-house air conditioning, the way I put off steps that require an iron.


Friday, 3 July 2020

I basted the niqab together in the hotel room yesterday evening. I hope I remember what I did on Wednesday -- particularly the mistakes -- when I feel like writing tomorrow or the next day.


9 August 2020

I didn't, but here's a picture of the finished veil:

Taxicab niqab complete

It could stand to be a good bit shorter.


The Pleated Mask

14 August 2020

After much fumbling, I found that the pattern for the pleated mask that looks like what the surgeons on MASH wore is very simple.

One begins with a nine-inch by seven-inch piece of fabric that is finished on the long edges. I did that by cutting a nine-inch by fourteen-inch piece of gauze and sewing the long edges together, then pressing the seam open and flattening the cylinder with the edge of the seam allowance in one crease.

Optional: Make the top hem wide enough that you can insert a piece of metal to shape the mask to your nose. One way: stitch across the hem where one end of the metal will be, stick the metal in through the open end of the hem, stitch across at the other end of the metal. Second stitching probably quicker to do by hand than by machine. (I'm not speaking from experience here because I shape my masks to my nose by putting my glasses on over them.)

Then press the fabic flat, then fold it in half with the finished edges matched, press in a crease.

Then unfold it and fold each finished edge in to meet the crease, press in two more creases.

Use these creases to form three pleats about a quarter inch wide. Pin the pleats at the ends and in the middle.

Variations start here.

The pattern I downloaded from Parkview Hospital said to bind the ends with the middles of two 32" pieces of tape. This leave a bit of excess tape on the tie around the neck, but it does obviate specifying top and bottom. I used 34" pieces because the tape had never been washed. Those pieces are 32" now.

I couldn't quite make out Parkview's binding instructions, so I sewed the tapes to the wrong sied by one edge, with the other edge sticking out a smidge less than a quarter inch beyond the raw edge of the mask.

Then I turned the tape to the right side, with the fold along the stitching, and sewed the other edge down.  


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