by Margaret Cabaniss
Update: This tutorial has been super popular, and several readers have been kind enough to share their tweaks and results. I’ve included their alternative suggestions below where applicable. Enjoy!
My brood of nieces and nephews is growing at an alarming(ly adorable) rate, so when Christmas came around, I was looking for gift ideas for them that wouldn’t either (a) break the bank for me or (b) add to the tsunami of toys that their mothers are constantly fighting against. While putting together my SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide, I was particularly smitten with these felt superhero masks (from the “Opposite of Far” etsy shop): They seemed like the perfect thing for the 3-to-7-year-old set I was shopping for — and because I already had some felt on hand, I decided to try creating something similar on my own.
I knew I would need a good mask template first, so I went poking around online to see what others had done. I loved the masks that Ambrosia Girl designed for her sons’ superhero birthday party, and she was kind enough to share her templates online. (Update: Some readers have told me that Ambrosia Girl’s link no longer exists; if you can’t find it on her site, you can use the PDF here.) While Jenn kept her masks simple, with a single layer of felt and pieces of knotted elastic — perfect for an afternoon party, where you need to make lots of masks for lots of kids — I thought I’d try tweaking them a bit to see if I couldn’t make them a bit sturdier and (hopefully) longer-lasting in the kids’ dress-up boxes.
The final design took a little bit of fiddling (and a last-minute assist from my mom), but once I got going, they came together relatively quickly. What you’ll need:
- 1/3 yard wool or craft felt*
- coordinating thread
- medium-weight fusible interfacing (Update: I’ve heard from a couple of people that their masks turned out fine without the interfacing, so if you want to save yourself a step, feel free to skip this one.)
- mask template: two copies each of either the straight or curved mask (I made straight masks for the boys, curved masks for the girls)
- clear packing tape
- scissors (I highly recommend these small Fiskars spring-action craft scissors for this particular job)
- 1/2 yard of 1/8-inch elastic
- optional: iron-on appliques to decorate your masks (I got the gold stars above for a few bucks at the fabric store)
*A word about the felt: Since I was cutting out lots of masks at once, I liked having a piece of felt wide enough so that I could stack the patterns widthwise all the way down. You really only need about 8″x12″ of felt for each mask, though, so you can get as little as 1/8 yard here, if you want. And while it may be tempting to pick up those 8.5″x11″ sheets of cheap craft felt instead, the quality of even the synthetic stuff off the bolt will be better and give you a nicer-looking finished product (and actually cost you less in the long run).
For the interfacing:
The masks are made by sewing two pieces of felt together (which gives it extra weight), with a piece of interfacing in between (which gives it a little extra structure). Cut a piece of interfacing that is roughly the area of one of your mask templates (about 4″x10″), then follow the instructions to adhere it to one side of your felt.
A word of warning: Because the interfacing will be cut to the same size as the finished mask this way, it does mean that you could see little bits of white peeking out along the edges of your mask when you’re done. If you take your time cutting in the next step, it’s not a huge problem — and for a five-year-old’s play mask, I wasn’t too concerned anyway. But if you want to be exact about it, use an extra copy of the mask template to cut out a separate piece of interfacing, trim it slightly inside the lines, and then carefully attach it to one of your mask pieces once they’re cut.
Cut your felt:
After lots of trial and error, I’ve discovered that the best way to cut felt is to hold your pattern down with packing tape. The felt has a tendency to move around on you if the template is only pinned, but by covering your entire pattern and the surrounding felt with tape, the two are held securely in place until you’re finished cutting — and because the tape never touches the felt underneath the template, it won’t hurt your finished product. (Update: A reader in the comments says that printing the pattern on freezer paper, then ironing the paper to the felt, works great, too. Thanks for the tip, Ainsley!)
So: Trim your two mask templates so that you have a little extra paper all around, then cut two pieces of felt slightly larger than the templates. Use the packing tape to attach one template to the front of each piece of felt (one with and one without interfacing on the back), making sure the tape covers your entire pattern.
Start by cutting your eye holes: Bend the felt in half, cut a slit in the middle of the eye, then open it back up and carefully start working your way around the circle. Once the eyes are cut, you can move on to the outside of the mask. (Oh, and ignore those small circles indicating where the elastic should go: We won’t need them.)
These short, spring-loaded scissors really help here, as cutting through interfacing, felt, paper, and tape around some of those tight corners can be a bit tricky. Curved scissors work nicely, too. Once you cut your two mask pieces free, you may notice a few uneven edges, but don’t worry: We’ll clean those up later.
Cut your elastic:
Measure your kid’s head around his eye line to figure how long to make your piece of elastic. The elastic will stretch comfortably about 1-2 inches (much more and it’ll start pulling on the mask), but you’ll need an extra half-inch for the seam on each side. So: Since the masks are 8 inches wide, and the average head size I was working with was 21 inches, that made my piece of elastic 12-13 inches long. If you’re not keen on doing the math, or if you want to leave some room to grow on, you can always make ties out of ribbon or string instead: Just cut two 10-inch pieces, one for each side, and continue on the same way.
Sew the mask:
Line up your mask pieces as best you can (with the interfacing on the inside, of course) and pin the pieces together. Sandwich a half-inch of each end of the elastic between the two layers of felt so that they’re roughly level with the top of the mask’s eye holes and pin it in place. Working slowly, stitch around the eye holes, as close to the edge as you can safely get it (1/8 inch or so), and then repeat for the outer edge of the mask. (Update: For a quick, no-sew version, you can use hot glue all the way around.)
When you’re finished sewing, use your scissors to clean up any wonky edges on the mask that may not have quite lined up. Finish off with whatever embellishments you want to add.
To my great satisfaction (and relief), all the kids seem to love their masks. The best part was tailoring the colors and shapes to each of their personalities: Addie’s hot-pink-and-gold-star number suits her supergirl self to a T, while John, who is currently on more of a Lone Ranger kick, loves his all-black mask (perfect for playing cowboys, spies, ninjas…). I love how serious they both look here: Obviously, being this awesome is no laughing matter.
These were a lot of fun to make, and I could see them being easily adaptable for adults, too. They’d be great for your own superhero birthday party, Halloween costumes, you name it.
Images: Margaret Cabaniss