(Why Felix loves the face mask Kitty hates)
UPDATE (Nov 2020): A lot of changes and new knowledge have come to light since this blog was written. Some of this content is still accurate, but some of it may have become obsolete. Please read the more recent mask-related blogs for up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and mask-related issues.
In my previous blog, I talked about several types of fabric face masks and their pros and cons. It was weirdly timely; only a few days afterwards, we were officially informed that masks will be mandatory in some situations to slow community spread, which means we had best get on with finding the best one for us (or at least one we can tolerate!).
For me, the classic pleated rectangle mask is the facial equivalent of an awful underwire bra — it squeezes, pinches, and gaps in all the wrong places. It looked like this, which is not the kind of glove-like fit you want from a mask:
Personally, I thought the contoured mask style (made with the pattern I tweaked within an inch of its life) is the way to go. Note the way it lovingly cups my face all the way around.
It’s comfy, at least as comfy as a mask can be. It doesn’t move around on my face, meaning I don’t need to adjust it with my possibly contaminated hands. It’s a great mask, for me.
But then there’s Felix, the other half of Felix & Kitty, my partner, CEO, event planner, logistics expert, tech guy, light of my life and golden were-lab by the full moon. He has declared that:
- The contoured mask made him feel like he was inhaling its free-floating lining whenever he exerted himself, and,
- The stubble on his chinny-chin-chin dragged the mask down his face every time he moved his jaws to talk.
On reflection, it makes total sense that Felix and Kitty wouldn’t necessarily share a mask style. After all, our faces are about as opposite in structure as it’s possible for two human faces to be. Mine is wide and round with super-broad and high cheekbones, pug nose, and very flat mid-face. His is narrow and long with a seriously aquiline nose, forward mid-face, and swept-back cheekbones. Then there’s that stubble issue, which I thankfully don’t have just yet.
Then I had a moment of inspiration, which went something along the lines of “If Felix’s face is the opposite shape from mine, maybe he’ll love the mask style I loathed.”
My reasoning: those pleats (which really bugged me!) would be able to open and close vertically when his beard stubble snagged on the fabric, therefore preventing the mask from riding up or down when he talks. Since he wouldn’t give up talking, it was the best I could manage.
Also, because his cheekbones were not so up front and wide, the straight top edge might not dig into his face the way it did into mine. Finally, the pleating, if done correctly, somewhat locks the lining against the outer fabric (think of folding two sheets of paper together to keep them together), keeping the lining from being sucked up against his nostrils when he inhales. I don’t know why this is never a problem for me. Perhaps it’s just because of the different angle or orientation of our nostrils. Or for all I know, it’s because my sluggish metabolism barely needs any oxygen to run, whereas Felix burns calories like they’re rocket fuel and therefore needs a lot more air.
Whatever the reasons, I got busy, and made him a version of my hated rectangular mask with the accordion pleats. I only adjusted the pattern slightly, mainly because he, like every other human on Earth, needs a narrower mask than I do. If I hadn’t narrowed it, the sides would probably have met at the back of his head. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same shape.
Immediately, it was obvious that on Felix’s narrow, elongated face, NONE of that huge side gap showed up. It conformed pretty darn well to his face around the sides and chin area, and importantly, the pleats performed exactly as I’d hoped; they opened and closed with his jaw movements, stubble and all, instead of being pulled downward.
The only issue I could see was that the top edge, being cut on the straight grain of the fabric, lacked the ability to mould around the (very sharp and tall) bridge of his nose, leaving an unacceptable gap.
I really felt that if he had one of his explosive sneezes, droplets would erupt into the world through that space. This might not be a problem for someone with a wider, lower nose bridge, but on him, it was.
Now, the other thing I’ve been doing (when I’m not sewing masks, I mean) is discovering a passion for gardening. Or planting a smallish subsistence farmstead. Anyhow, this gave me an idea.
I trotted out to the shed and cut some of that soft bendy covered wire you’re supposed to use for tying tomato vines to your trellis, then sewed that into the top edge of the next mask.
Voila! A concealed, flexible nose-piece, which can be moulded around even the most impressive nose bridge. It was a bit fiddly to sew and added a good deal of construction time, but to my mind, totally worth it. Look how much better the top hugs his nose.
<PHOTOS (#5s) of gold mask with shaped nose-piece — show one full face view with the least visible puffing of the sides, plus a couple of close-ups of the nose wire>
If you have a narrower or longer face, are sensitive to the feeling that you’re inhaling fabric when you breathe in, and/or find that talking makes masks ride down over your chin, it might be worth your while to switch to a pleated style mask. If you’re a man with a beard, the pleats might provide it with better coverage. Remember, the best face mask for you is the one you need to touch least often.
On the other hand, if you have a flatter plane to your face and noticeably wide or high cheekbones, you’ll likely find the contoured mask more comfortable. Especially if you don’t own any stubble.
But hey, if you’re not sure, why not try out one of each? In the interests of people who are more Felix-shaped than Kitty-shaped in the face department, we will be adding the Accordion mask to our mask website. As with the original contoured style, we’ll match every mask purchase with a mask donated to someone in need.
A thought: the authorities have FINALLY come around to the idea that we should really wear masks for the sake of slowing the community spread of COVID-19. As of time of writing, they’re even telling us we MUST wear them in situations where we can’t maintain social distancing, such as in some airport scenarios (or, I imagine, in overcrowded shelters, though I haven’t heard anyone mention this specifically). So if you find you love one mask style and hate the other, you too can sterilize the one you don’t like and donate it to someone in need. Someone with a different face shape from you….
If you’re not absolutely sure of the safe way to wear, remove, sanitize, and adjust the fit of a mask, please familiarize yourself with all of these before you try mask wearing (we have face mask FAQs, wearing and sanitizing instructions, a guide for choosing masks for different face shapes, and a tutorial for fit adjustments, if you need them).