2020 Face Masks – My Journey Part 1: The Beginning
Badass Face Masks

2020 started out like almost any other year.

My year’s start was a little different. I was focused on starting a coaching business, newly self-employed. Optimistic.

Then, the Pandemic hit.

Things got weird. Fast.

Lockdowns. Questions about safety – what works, what doesn’t.

Masks? How much do they help, and how?

And then, there was a mask shortage.

And lots of folks started making masks to sell, or donate, or just to wear.

I don’t really remember how it happened, but someone mentioned to me that I could probably sell masks. Or, at least make them.

And honestly, I’m pretty much the kind of person that if I can make it I will.

So, I set out to make my own masks first. And then if I could get a reasonable design, see if I could sell something on Etsy.

I mean, if we have to wear masks for the foreseeable future, why not have some fun with it? Why not treat it as an accessory to be proud of?

Or at least something to enjoy wearing and inject a little personality into it.

You know, like socks. Only more visible… usually.

This is the story about my mask style trials.

The “Ninja” Mask

I’ve been fascinated by Japanese martial arts for a while.

I’m NOT a ninja.

But, I’ve played one on a video game….

Add to that my current fascination with the video game Thief. And, my desire to cosplay Garrett.

It is natural that my first attempt at mask making would be a “ninja mask”.

Why? well, first, sometime in the last decade or so, I had downloaded a pattern for a mask like that. Well, kinda. I mean, I think it was more for anime cosplay.

But, it was something to try.

I like it. But. It’s hard to get the fit just right.

The first one I made is too tight around the neck. I mean, it’s wearable. But If I had to wear it for much more than 1.5 hours, I’d probably go nuts. So, it’s fine for a shopping trip.

Ninja Mask DIY
Ninja Mask Second Attempt

So, I made another one. It’s bigger, so more comfortable.

Both made out of 4-way stretch cotton/spandex jersey knit.

Also, the original pattern was more angular around the nose and chin, and less curvy.

I’m probably going to work on a less angular one. I tried one modification and it was too loose around the nose so would slip off. 

Stay tuned if you’re interested… (I’ve had a request for a fitted mask like this).

The original pattern seems to be Kakashi’s mask (Annie-Mei on Cosplay.com Pictures).

The Under-the-Ear Non-stretchable Mask

I’m not going to say this was a complete failure.

But it is not a viable design… well, for sale anyway.

First, there’s some engineering involved to get an under-the-ear tie behind the head mask to fit over the nose and not fall down.

My trials covered the neck. But with some effort, I probably could have figured out a non-neck covering fashion.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t want to wear a neck covering in summer.

Under the Ear Mask - Non Stretch

Plus, this design, like the Ninja mask, has issues with mouth accessibility.

The Ninja mask can be pulled down to reveal the mouth much easier than a non-stretch one though.

So, this idea went out.


The Ear-Loop Fitted Mask

So, after trying two different under-the-ear models, I tried a fitted mask that could be made with ties or elastic loops.

For my initial trials, I used a pattern downloaded from the internet which comes in 3 sizes.

(The original pattern was the Fu Mask pattern from freesewing.org. Evidently, that pattern is no longer available through them, but they do have a different pattern I haven’t tried.) 

I discovered that even the small felt too big for me. So, as I refined it and played with materials, I finally came up with something I deemed “OK”.

Plus, I had to make it asymmetrical because that’s how I roll. My friend said it reminded her of “the Phantom”.

I’ll take it.

The Fabric Trials

In trying to find the fabrics that worked best (digging into my stash), I tried several combinations of fabrics.

Knit Fabrics

The first was a double layer of 10 oz cotton/spandex jersey knit (4-way stretch) from SY Fabrics. This is a great fabric for fitted t-shirts and as it turns out ninja masks.

It’s still easy to breathe through when doubled.

I used a 7 oz cotton/spandex jersey knit as well, and it’s even easier to breathe through. It’s just a little lighter than the 10oz. (I use this for light-weight Tshirts)

Later in my journey, I tried a cotton knit that I had stuffed in my stash. It was MUCH Less breathable than the above when doubled. Which is fine, cause I wouldn’t know where to get it again if it worked awesomely. lol.

I also tried stretch microsuede from SY Fabrics as one of two layers (the second layer was the 7 oz cotton/spandex jersey.

The microsuede is far less breathable. And while I LOVE the way it looks, and it is a very thin and lightweight fabric. It is not that breathable. I recommend this for … clothes. So far, I’ve made a bunch of dance pants and tops out of this fabric. and it works pretty good for that.

Woven Fabrics

The obvious choice for masks is a nice medium density woven cotton. So, for my masks, I would use something similar for the backing. I’ve used cotton muslin, cotton broadcloth, and poly/cotton broadcloth.

However, for the front (outside) of the masks, I wanted to use fabrics… that … weren’t cotton.

I still needed it to be washable.

So, the first up was Bridal Satin.

Can one breathe through Bridal Satin?

Yes. Certainly not as well as quilting cotton.

But it’s usually shinier.

So, I did a bridal satin with a lace overlay.

I also tried a satin-brocade which worked fine.

And I tried Charmeuse satin.

All the satins I used worked. And were pretty (in my opinion). But non were anything I’d try exercising in. But they were relatively breathable, even with the second layer of cotton or poly/cotton backing.

I have also tried leftover faux suede which was my favorite to breathe though. And a wool trouser weight fabric which was my second favorite to breathe through.

I don’t know where to get the faux suede that I used up. But a not-as-polished-looking version can be bought at SY Fabrics.


Fabrics that were breathable but I never pursued.

Stretch Velvet. And Panne Velvet (stretch).

Yeah. Surprisingly they could have worked. And maybe someday if we still need to wear masks, I’ll do a few in that.

Unviable Fabrics

So, I spent a BUNCH of time taking swatches and corners of fabric that I had lying around my sewing room (and I have an abundance of it).

There were some fabrics that I never tried or even tested because they simply aren’t viable.

Here were a few.

Velvet Mask Attempt

Fabrics that Were not Breathable (enough)

Technically, some of these could have worked. In some cases.

Lycra Spandex

It’s kind of breathable. But not really.

Sure, it is fun, and boy could I have made some fun Ninja style masks, but not if you still needed to breathe through it.

Upholstery fabric

Yeah, I had to try it. The very dense faux microsuede looks awesome. But isn’t breathable. I suspect that other fabrics in my stash would be more breathable, but would also look like you’re wearing a settee.

Cotton Twill

Pant-weight. This seems like it should be viable, and I imagine that wearing a mask-like that would feel like having an anxiety attack. No-go.


Also, I had this polyester sueded, satin backed, I don’t know what kind, but looks and feels awesome fabric. (It was a fashion fabric technically, that I had used for roman shades…) It’s not at all breathable, but I used it on part of some masks that didn’t need to be breathable.

Fabrics that are “Too Breathable”

This might be obvious. But if we are to cover our mouths and noses to keep our vapor inside, a fabric that is really breathable will let more particles through.

Unfortunately, this meant Lace, Fishnet, stretch mesh, Chiffon, and burnout anything was completely off the table.

That didn’t prevent me from overlaying some of those fabrics onto viable fabrics.

Other things I learned while making masks

1/8″ elastic is more comfortable around the ears than 3/8″ elastic.

Yeah, but I had 3/8″ elastic laying around. So I had to try it.

Nose wires help. They help mold the mask to the contour of the nose.

They complicate the design and construction though.

They are washable. But with enough bending could break.

Some nose-wires snag satin.

I have at least 3 masks that have little tiny snags from trying to insert the nose wire.

How disappointing! Getting the mask-like 95% done and ruining it. Well, it’s still serviceable. But not as pretty. I wear my own “Seconds”. 

Some people have longer faces (Nose to chin). Some people have wider faces (Ear to ear). There is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to fitted masks.

And. I have far more ideas than time. 😅

I use a lot of products for my DIY. As such I may recommend products or companies. In some cases, I may get a small commission when you click on the links or use the provided coupons (at no cost to you). As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. You can read the full disclaimer here.

Ready for more face mask journey?

Read Part 2 of my Face Mask Journey – My products

Learn to sew. Go at your own pace. Learn helpful techniques and tips to make sewing more enjoyable.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *