The Handbook
The Handbook

One of our favourite features from back in May 2020, eight months on and we’re still wearing face masks (a sad thing) but thankfully not this one (a good thing)…

Fashion is a fickle master; pity the magazines who went into the year predicting that this, that or the other would be ‘totally on-trend in 2020’ or the fashion houses planning big catwalk displays only to be upended by coronavirus (okay, you don’t have to pity Victoria-furlough-Beckham, but the rest of them deserve our sympathy). Well. it turns out that this season’s must-have item is dirt cheap and (horror) you can make it yourself. Or, rather YOU can make one yourself, I on the other hand, can’t.

1 – Acquire A Sewing Machine

First you need a sewing machine. So far so good, I have one that I gave to my wife about a decade ago in a gesture that was widely misinterpreted (mainly by her) as somehow vaguely chauvinistic. As a result, it’s never been used.

If you haven’t got a sewing machine, it’s probably because you’ve not got a partner as amazing as me, but it’s also perfectly possible to use a needle and thread…

2 – Set Up The Sewing Machine

Right, this is bloody hard and unnecessarily complex. Involving a confusing series of physics-defying actions to create a seemingly pointless cat’s cradle of thread, the piece de la resistance is threading the needle, which is not only tricky to access but if, like me, your foot slips onto the stop/go pedal is absolutley deadly.

Screaming over and plaster applied, it’s another half hour before the thread is ready to go…

Time taken: 1 hour 29 minutes
Time it should’ve taken: 3 minutes

3 – Get Your Bits Together (As It Were)

I decided to emphasise my masculinity so went for some pretty Cath Kidson  fabric, buying a yard each of two separate patterns. This is about ten times more than you need, it turns out.

I also purchased some thread and non-woven interfacing. The latter is to create a makeshift filter. I decided to use a pipe cleaner to create a snug fit over the nose. My daughter’s had a pack of colourful pipe cleaners for months and given how filthy our pipes still are, I’m guessing she’s not using them anyway.

Also I got some elastic for the ear loopy bits. Which I didn’t use, but you probably should.

My daughter's had a pack of colourful pipe cleaners for months and given how filthy our pipes still are, I'm guessing she's not using them anyway...

4 – Find A Pattern

Facemasks come in two styles. The surgical style ones, which look a bit like folded table napkins, and the face ones that make you look like Shredder off of Teenage Ninja Turtles. I plumped for the latter.

I went for this one, found online after copious Googling. The first thing I noticed when I printed it off was that the two inch marking wasn’t two inches. Unless my ruler was wrong, which I hadn’t considered until now. Wood does shrink, doesn’t it? We’ve got a door that used to close perfectly but now doesn’t.

Anyway, I didn’t consider that, but as the 2″  marker was only 1 3/4″  long I then had to re-draw the pattern 1/8th bigger than the pattern suggested. I also added a further 1/4″  around the edge, per the instructions.

This set the whole thing off to a shaky start…

Time taken: 45 minutes
Time it should’ve taken: 0 minutes (maybe 1, for the printing)

5 – Cut The Pattern

The pattern should be the simplest part of the operation. Just cut it out and draw round the piece of paper on the cloth, then cut it out. Repeat until you have four. Should be simples, right?

The problem is that you need to have two ‘front’ pieces and two ‘back’ pieces that are mirror images of each other but with the design (in my case polka dots). For some reason this fact eluded me and as a result I ended up cutting out about nine separate pieces, getting them all muddled or back-to-front and starting again.

You also need do do the same with the interfacing as this will be sewn into the design.

Time taken: 1 hour (including head scratching confused face time)
Time it should’ve taken: 5 minutes

There seem to be two speed settings. 'Off' and 'Usain Bolt'... I now understand why the majority of Ferrari crashes occur between the showroom and customer's home...

6 – You’re SEW Ready Now

If it was tricky getting to this stage, it’s going to get way trickier. Placing back-to-front-together (eh?) and pinning all the fabric together (oh, I forgot to add pins to the ‘things you will need’ list, go and buy pins now if you’re actually following this list), pricking myself about fifteen times in the process.

Then it’s time to start up the sewing machine…

There seem to be two speed settings. ‘Off’ and ‘Usain Bolt’. Controlled by an accelerator pedal under the table, the machine rattles along at breakneck speed as I try and feed the material through in time, steering it as the line of stitches veers almost uncontrollably from one end to the other. I now understand why the majority of Ferrari crashes occur between the showroom and customer’s home.

At each end of your stiching you need to press the reverse button to sort of double stitch a patch to ensure it doesn’t all come undone. I only learnt this once I’d finished sewing and the whole thing needed to be unpicked and redone. Again.

Finally, after a while, you become adept at controlling this break neck operation while sparing your thumbs from a high speed skewering. Repeat this whole process twice, creating the inside and outside of the design.

Time taken: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Time it should’ve taken: Roughly 30 seconds per half

7 – Sort Of Sew The Bits Together

Five hours into a 10 minute process I obviously got cocky, presumably buoyed up by my success so far. Ignoring the advice in the instructions I was following (oh yes, just ignore this whole article and follow these instructions instead, I should’ve told you that right at the beginning. If you’ve found my article via Google, I implore you to go away and find a real tutorial right away), but at this point I decided to go off piste.

I decided to attach my two parts into one, sewing them all together and leaving me with what looks like a fabric version of one of those origami fortune tellers you used as a child.

Thinking it looked a little odd I continued sewing until it resembled a deflated football. And was entirely impossible to turn inside out. This then required about 45 minutes of unpicking every stitch until I was back at the fortune teller stage…

Time taken: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Time it should’ve taken: Roughly a minute

8- Now It Looks A Bit Like This. Not Sure Why…

It’s not really clear what I’ve created so far. It’s taken a good six hours of my day to create what? A hat for an elf? No matter. This is a marathon not a sprint. The Marathon de Sabres of sewing…

Time taken so far: 5 hours 54 minutes
Time it should’ve taken so far: 11 minutes

Around sunset the army flew a helicopter over. Presumably looking for my creativity. It was more interesting than sewing, so took a pic...

9 – The Ties

Night has fallen and I’m still going. At this point I chose to modify the plan for no obvious reason. Elastic ear loops are very easy to sew in, plus I had 5′ of the stuff bought off of Amazon.

But instead I decided that rather than using elastic it would look ‘way better’ to create ties out of the same material. Huge error.

I cut the ties rather too narrow (about an inch wide and about 2 feet long) and then folded them over twice on themselves to ensure no frayed edges, pinned them with about 50 pins and slowly sewed up the middle of each tie. This was painfully slow and also hadn’t taken into account the fact that my thumbs are like magnets for pins.

Time taken: 2 hours. I can’t explain how it took so long
Time it should’ve taken: 5 minutes

11 – Sew All The Other Bits Up

Yeah, by this point I’m basically beyond caring. If I see a potential seam I’m gonna sew it. Going round the edges of the mask I make sure that the four ties are all securely sewn into the material and that each edge is sewn up. Then I force it into shape and, presto, it’s done.

Oh bugger, I totally forgot the pipe cleaner! Oh well, who cares.

Time taken: 1/2 an hour
Time it should’ve taken: 5 minutes

12 – The finished product

And finally, it’s finished! After eight hours and 24 minutes of intensive sewing I’ve created something that’s half passable. True, the raw materials cost more than almost every facemask currently on the market, and it took around twenty times longer than it ought to have done. And close-to it looks a bit pants. And, to be honest, even with the interfacing it would be dubious use against COVID-19.

But the point is that it was created with my own hands and largely against the advice of the instructions. So it may look a shambles, be expensive plus ineffective at its one job, but that makes it all worth it.


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