I’ve been meaning to post the tutorial for how I make a Comfortable Pleated and Wired Face Mask, but procrastinated.
Note: There really is a tutorial at the end of this, but first... I need to rant!
Honestly, I thought we’d be able to reign in the pandemic a lot sooner than we have been. I guess I shouldn’t underestimate things like entitlement, impulse control issues, and just... The reflex to resist recommendations?
It’s been wild to watch things go down, as an “Oppositional Defiant” Autistic. All around me, I’m seeing constant, blatant demonstrations of the very things that I - and other autistics - have been tarred with all my life.
Let’s start with “Empathy”, as that’s the biggest misconception about autistics - that we lack it. We really don’t - and most of us are far more empathetic than the average allistic - we just express it in a different way.
... and I sure haven’t been seeing a lot of empathy out there, these days. We’re all in this together, I have no idea why extending kindness and understanding to people - especially teachers and essential workers - is so much to ask.
If I may get up on my soapbox for a minute, I’ve been watching in horror as Ontario - and many other areas - has decided to send kids back to school in September.
I haven’t seen a single word addressing the mass trauma that they are likely to face. If you think that staying home is bad for their mental health, BOY do I ever have some news for you about what’s going to happen when friends and teachers start getting sick, and maybe dying. About how it’s going to be if deaths come faster than time to process their most recent loss.
How is their mental health going to be if they grow up wondering if they killed their friend or teacher? I can’t imagine the guilt. This isn’t going to be pretty.
Impulse Control is another one. Granted, my husband and I both have impulse control issues. “Wanna pip off on our plans and just watch Star Trek and eat microwave nachos for supper?” is a popular one.
... but we’re in a pandemic. People are getting sick and ending up with permanent damage, or dying. People are losing loved ones.
I may want to go skating. I may want to go do any number of things, but you know... I can hold off.
That’s a term many of us autistics are tagged with, and it’s basically the pathologizing of our tendency to question authority.
It’s usually framed in such a way that we’re questioning - or defying - authority as a reflex, or for the fun of it, or just automatically, or whatever - but that’s usually not the case. It’s more about not recognizing the autonomy of children with regards to demands placed on them, or their - our - ability to question when something isn’t right.
I don’t automatically assume those in authority are wrong, or acting in a malicious manner. I don’t “push back” for the fun of it.
However, if a teacher was telling me something that is factually wrong, a world leader is putting people in internment camps, or a police officer has his knee on someone’s neck... it’s easy to see that authority isn’t always right, and should be questioned.
For the pathologizing of it, it’s just that adults don’t like it when kids point out they’re wrong about something.
We’re in a pandemic. It’s a respiratory disease, and after some floundering around as the facts came out - on a NOVEL VIRUS - the experts all agree that we should all be wearing masks to bring this thing under control.
100%. I’m on board. Not going to fight against the authority on this one, as wearing a piece of fabric to possibly prevent sickening, damaging, or killing others is... well, a pretty low bar for basic human decency, to be quite honest.
Coming back to my experiences as an autistic woman, here’s another issue where things have been ... wild... to witness.
The anti-masker movement - which has a heavy overlap with the anti-vax crowd, btw - tends to hold autistic people as one of their excuses for not masking. “Think of the autistics!”
So, while I’m on a big rant, let me address that one also.
First off, “Think of the autistics” never comes up for anything we’d actually like people to think of. If you want to “Think of autistics” ...
- abolish ABA. (It’s abusive. Here’s a post detailing THAT whole issue).
- better maintain lights, automatic doors, and conveyor belts in retail settings
- ban hand dryers. Seriously. That Xlerator nonsense isn’t healthy for ANYONE’S ears, and hopefully this pandemic is finally showing people how gross the idea is, anyway.
- learn that verbal communication is not the only way to communicate. Accommodate those who don’t communicate verbally.
... There are so many ways that society can “think of the autistics”, but it only seems to come up when holding us up to bolster a crappy agenda that most of us want nothing to do with.
Here’s the thing:
The vast majority of us have sensory issues, and it’s something we deal with on a daily basis. Most of us don’t get to experience comfort until we’re adults, on our own, and completely in charge of our own environment - for those of us who have that privilege. Some never do.
We are constantly enduring all kinds of discomfort, usually for no good reason at all. (Do hand dryers need to be that loud? Do theaters really need to be that loud? NO.)
We’re used to it. We don’t ENJOY it, but most of us endure it anyway, or figure out ways to lessen our exposure to the sensory issues. For me, that means sunglasses and many packets of disposable ear plugs in my purse at all times.
... and this is, again, for unnecessary discomfort.
We’re in a pandemic, and people are dying. Trust me, I speak for the vast majority of us when I say that we can definitely endure wearing a piece of fabric over our faces when it comes to NOT KILLING PEOPLE.
Those of us that really can’t, find ways around it. I have not yet seen a single autistic person fighting against masking regulations and recommendations, because
A. We are used to our comfort not being placed at the forefront. This is not new.
B. We have empathy, and we definitely don’t put out comfort over other people’s health and lives.
So, when you see people holding up autistics as a reason that mask laws should be relaxed... please shut that down. We’re already used as boogeymen for vaccines, don’t let us be scapegoated in the name of fighting against masking. None of us want sickness and death on OUR heads.
Anyway, I could rant forever about this, as it has been an EXPERIENCE - as an autistic, as an empathetic person, and as someone who’s had a lifelong interest in virology and epidemiology. (Seriously, from the time I was about 4. I wrote about it earlier!)
This post, however, is about making a Comfortable Pleated and Wired Face Mask.
Personally, I have a bit of trouble with masks, as my nose/sinus/ears is my major sensory sensitivity area, so anything changing air flow, temperature, etc there is difficult for me. Warm air around my nose makes everything feel stuffy all the way from nose to ear, and it’s miserable for me.
... but if I need to go out in public - again - I can deal with it, to protect others.
So, I spent some time playing around with mask styles, coming up with a style that is as comfortable as humanly possible.
This mask style covers most of the lower face for most adults, and is tall enough to allow for a fair amount of bagging in front of the nose / mouth. It’s not super tight in front of nostrils and mouth, which makes it more comfortable.
I use elastics for the ties, for the best fit.
I do a few different styles for fitting the mask on:
Ear Loops - Elastic: This was my husband’s favourite style - before I started buying adjustable ear loops(below) - but it’s a style I can’t wear - my ears aren’t big enough, so this style slips off. I also personally find it annoying to have the elastic behind my ears. He prefers it because he feels that it holds it in a better position on his face, and he doesn’t like the feel of the elastic in his hair
Ear Loops - Adjustable: As an update, we've started using adjustable ear loops, since original posting this tutorial - see the Halloween masks at the very bottom of this post. They're much more comfortable than using elastic, and they're actually really cheap to purchase. We've been buying them through Amazon, and they're available in several colours, and even in multi-colour packs! To use these, just follow the same instructions as the elastic ear loops, just subbing in this product.
Pull On: This is MY preferred style. I can’t even feel the elastics over my hair, and it doesn’t annoy my ears at all. Totally hands-free, no worry about it coming off, etc. I love how secure it feels... but my husband hates this style, LOL!
Ties: I don’t make masks to sell, but I’ve made a few for friends. This is the style I do when I’m not fitting someone in person (ie: anyone other than myself or my husband). It gives the best amount of customization on the user’s end.
I sew 16 or 18 gauge floral wire into the top of my mask. When I wear one, I pinch it down over my nose and mold it to my cheeks. Not only is it very comfortable and secure this way, it also doesn’t fog our glasses up.
I’ve been getting a TON of compliments on our masks, both on base style, and on the fabrics I use.
I already had some cute fabrics on hand from making my Soakers to sell, and since COVID , I made the mistake / brilliant choice of falling down the Spoonflower rabbit hole. (No affiliate relationship to report, I'm just a sucker for cute fabric!)
Check out some of my favourite choices:
That bright plaid fabric is one I set up myself and sell on Spoonflower - it’s a re-creation of the neon plaid spandex print I had for the skirt of my last competition skating dress, back in the mid 90s. I was skating to “Pipe Dreams” by Yakoo Boyz - a techno version of “Scotland the Brave” - and I LOVED it. The fabric makes me so happy, now!
Update: Since posting this tutorial, I've started my own line of fabric print designs, though Spoonflower!
There are fantastic plaids, colourful houndstooth designs, cats, figure skating prints, and autistic pride prints, with many more in the works. Click here to read my announcement with a LOT of details, or click HERE to go to my main Design Collections page on spoonflower.
Of particular interest for this project: All of the prints in my "Great for Face Masks" collection are appropriately sized for not only making face masks, all of them work well for other smaller-type projects, like this sewing project.
That rainbow llamas one gets me a TON of comments. Here's a link to the style!
This is another style that everyone asks about, so here's a link to THAT fabric.
I'll post links to each of the fabrics shown at the end of this post. SO much cute stuff. Some day, I really ought to do my cartoon amoebas design up for their platform...
So, now we have something like 20 masks each. It’s good, because we can cycle them out, and let used ones “time out” for exposure rather than having to wash them every day, etc.
We have a big Roots bag full of clean masks in the car, and then a little bin for used masks next to it. It’s a system that works well for us.
This is getting kinda long, so let’s get to the tutorial!
One last word of advice:
In Fashion Design, we make what we call “Muslins” - it’s a preliminary version of what we’re making - just in a cheap fabric - to test the fit before using the nice fabric
If you’re making the Ear Loop or Pull On style, I recommend using a cheaper fabric, testing the length of your elastics, before making your mask from your good fabric. Just adjust the length of the elastics used, based on your muslin version!
The measurements I suggest should be good for MOST adults... but if you’re making something, it’s definitely good to customize it if needed!
Enjoy my "Comfortable Pleated and Wired Face Mask" tutorial!
Note: This site is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for the site to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites. While I’ll only ever link to items that I, personally, wholeheartedly recommend, I do need to put that disclosure out there!
Comfortable Pleated and Wired Face Mask
For each mask:
- 1 7 x 9" piece of printed cotton
- 1 7 x 9" piece of plain cotton
- Elastic of choice* OR
- Adjustable ear loops
- 1 16 or 18 gauge uncoated florist wire
- Thread to match
- First, determine which style of elastic you’re doing with:
- Ear Loop: Cut 2 pieces of elastic, 7“ each.
- Ties: Cut 4 pieces of elastic, 12 “ each
- Pull On: Cut two pieces of elastic, 10 and 12.5“
- For all styles:
- Lay the printed fabric out, good side up, longest from side to side, as shown.
- Determine which long edge will be the top edge of the mask, place that side facing away from you.
- Place the elastic and affix:
- Pin one end of the elastic to one of the upper corners at an angle - as shown - so that the bulk of the elastic piece is over the center of the mask
- Without twisting the elastic, pin the other end of the elastic piece to the lower corner of that same side, so that the same side of the elastic is facing up.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Pin one end of the longer piece of elastic to one of the “top” corners, at an angle as pictured.
- Pin the other end of that piece to the other top corner, being careful not to twist it.
- Repeat with the shorter piece of elastic on the bottom corners
- Pin one end of one piece of elastic to one of the 4 corners, at an angle, as shown.
- Repeat on all remaining corners.
For all styles:
- Place your plain fabric good side down (if applicable) on the printed piece.
- Holding the elastic in place, carefully remove the pin and re-pin through all three layers.
- Making sure all the elastic is tucked in, place a pin about halfway across the top edge. This is to remind you which the top is.
- Starting about halfway on the bottom edge, start sewing a straight seem (backtracking over the first couple of stitches to anchor it) around the edge of the mask. I like to align the edge of my presser foot with the edge of my fabric.
- Be very careful not to sew through the elastic at any point other than the corners. You may need to carefully reach in between the fabric to coax fabric away from the seam you are sewing at the time.
- As you come close to each corner, drop your machine needle, lift your presser foot, and pivot your mask before continuing.
- As you approach the starting point, stop your seam 2-3" away, backtrack to anchor your seam. Remove from sewing machine, trim your thread ends.
- Trim your corners - being careful to not cut too close to the seam - and set it aside for now.
- Use your wire cutters to cut a 5.5 “ length of florist wire.
- Use your pliers to bend the very end of the wire backwards - as small a length as possible.
- Squeeze the bend to flatten it as much as possible.
- If your wire is bent at all, try to straighten it out as much as possible.
- Set your sewing machine to a wide zig zag and relatively short stitch length.
- Center your wire over the top - complete - seam, hold in place.
- Starting on the inside of one of the wire ends, CAREFULLY AND SLOWLY zig zag over the wire, close to the original seam. Be sure to keep the wire centered under your presser foot, and remember to anchor both ends of the seam with backtracking.
- Trim your thread ends.
- Carefully turn the mask right side out. I like to reach in and grab one end of the wire and gently coax that out - keeping it as straight as possible - before tugging at the elastics to get the corners out.
- Smooth everything out, ensuring that the corners are fully popped out and seams are centered on the outer edges.
- You can iron it at this point if you like - I’m too lazy to, to be quite honest.
- Pleat the mask 2 times - folds pointing towards the bottom of the mask - using whatever pleating technique you like.
- I basically just freehand it on one side, then more-or-less match on the other side. You may be more fastidious with it than I am 🙂
- Iron the pleats if you’re into that sort of thing, and pin into place.
- With the right side facing up, start sewing a straight seam around the edge. I like to do this at about “edge of the presser foot” on the short sides, and a bit closer on the bottom edge.
- As you approach the open section of the bottom edge, tuck the raw edges in, lining up the ends of the seam, and sew it closed.
- As you start the final - top - edge, be sure that the outer seam is centered on the actual edge, and sew a wider seam - edge of presser foot or a bit wider - keeping the wire enclosed and away from the seam you’re sewing.
- End seam at the first corner, backtrack to anchor, and trim your threads.
- Bend mask wire at the mid point of the mask - I like to do this over a finger, to keep the bend rounded.
- Bend back the sides of the wire a bit, to flatten the mask and prepare it for wearing.
- To wear the mask, center it on your face and pinch the wire to mold it over your nose. Smooth the ends of the wire over your cheeks to customize the fit.
For Ear Loop and Pull On Styles:
- Try mask on. If elastics feel too big, pinch an end near the mask to fit, pin in place. Use a straight seam to secure.
- Measure the amount pinched off, remove that from the length called for, when making your next mask.
Links to buy* fabrics shown, in order of appearance:
Finally, an honourable mention for cute fabrics: Cynthia Frenette's shop on Spoonflower. I haven't purchased any YET, but she has a ton of super cute - but sweary! - prints that would be amazing for masks. A few of my friends have masks made of her prints and LOVE them. NSFW, btw.
* No affiliate relationship in place, sharing for your convenience!!
Hope you've enjoyed my "Comfortable Pleated and Wired Face Mask" tutorial!
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Links to My Previous Posts on Autism
I Was Like Your Autistic Kid
The Autism Diet - and Why It's Harmful
How to Make a Comfortable Pleated and Wired Face Mask
One Autistic’s Guide to Thriving During Social Isolation
Is ABA Abusive?
"VAXXED" is Dangerous: A History Lesson
On "Passing", and Allistic Gaslighting
Symbols Matter, Words Matter
Explaining Autistic Interoception
My Thoughts on "Autism Awareness"
Autism Speaks Does Not Speak for Me
Aspergers: You Can't Cure "Awesome"
Interacting with Autistic Children: A Guide for Charity Appearances