Making Masks

With some misgivings, I finally made a mask this morning. Will we become a nation of mask-wearers in a better-than-nothing attempt to ward off infection? Or will homemade cotton masks be misused to make matters worse? Will a false sense of security lull people into thinking they can make a quick dash to the liquor store without consequence? On the other hand, how guilty will I feel if I don’t contribute my skills and materials to The Cause?

These thoughts run through my head.

I made the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, no-elastic-needed, adult version (see instructions below). I do have some elastic, but I also have a stash of bias binding from god-knows-when. The ties seem like they’d be easier to fit and might discourage taking the mask on and off.

Finished mask
Luba tribal mask, D.R. Congo (Zaire)

My eyes wander around our great room, which is lined with African masks. They are sacred objects, meant to go with costumes and drums and dance. They help induce a trance. And the trance calls down the spirit a village desperately needs. Are homemade masks better thought of as talismans and a warning for others to stay away?

One of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe stories is “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842).

The red death had long devastated the country… But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his crenellated abbeys. 

Masque of the Red Death

It’s a lurid tale of hubris amid a horrific plague. Prince Prospero holds a fabulous masquerade, locking the doors against the dangers outside. But of course, the pestilence Red Death is already among them.

He had come like a thief in the night.

Masque of the Red Death

I’ll make more masks. If I give them to someone, I’ll have to create a set. A mask must be carefully removed and washed after each use. Otherwise, we’re no smarter than Prince Prospero.

Wine poured.




  • Tight-weave cotton fabric (i.e. quilting cotton)… Wash and dry fabric without fragrance or dyes prior to sewing.
  • Options for Ties
    • Bias Tape (either ½ or 7/8 as available) OR
    • Make ties from strips of fabric indicated above (cut strips 2 ” wide by 16″ long)

One adult mask requires two (2) 9”x6” pieces tight-weave cotton and four (4) 16” pieces of bias tape or fabric ties (64” total per mask). Therefore, one yard of 44” wide fabric yields 12-15 masks. You need 21-1/3 yards of bias tape for 12 masks.

  • Place right sides of cut cotton fabric together (Be sure any fabric design is placed horizontally.)
  • Starting at the center of the bottom edge, sew around the edges of the fabric leaving about 1.5” to 2” open. [1/4″ seam]
  • Stop, cut the thread. Turn inside out.
  • Pin three (3) ½” tucks on each side of the mask. Make sure the tucks are the same direction.
  • Make ties using Bias Tape or Fabric.
    • Bias tape: stitch closed. OR
    • Fabric: Fold in half, turn under 1/4 ” on each long side, iron in place. Stitch long edges closed.
  • Pin one tie at each corner.
  • Sew around the edge of the mask twice, catching the bias tape as you go.

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