Because Kitty hates pressing, and breathing is worth looking like an anteater.
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.
Yes, I look properly daft, like I’m hiding a snout in there. But at least I’m comfy and I can breathe!
A couple of weeks ago, in response to an epic heat wave, I came up with a super-breathable 3D face mask concept. It had a structured dome to keep the mask fabric from touching hot sticky skin and pleats for better lower face coverage. It’s so much more pleasant to wear in hot weather, and looks more or less respectable:
It’s become the new favourite in the Felix & Kitty household, but to me, it has just one fatal flaw: pleats!
The Problem with Pleats
Don’t get me wrong — pleats are fantastic if you have a long face and/or chin, if you move your jaws a lot when you talk, or if you have a beard, because they open up to provide the extra space you need. However, they are less fantastic if you aren’t a fan of pressing.
Fabrics, especially those deliciously breathable natural fibres I tend to use for my masks, tend to lose their crisp pressed lines after they go through a machine wash and dry cycle. Meaning I need to iron those pleats after each laundering.
As any responsible mask wearer knows, you really must wash your mask after EVERY SINGLE WEAR (if you don’t know this, you should seriously read through this guide for the safe wear and care of masks). That’s a whole lot of pressing pleats. I’m a slovenly old goat that never presses a single other item in my wardrobe (unlike Mr. Kitty, aka Felix, who loves both his pleated masks and the act of pressing, which he calls “meditative”). I just can’t be arsed to iron masks every time I go out.
Different Masks for Different Faces
The thing is, if you have a long face and/or chin, or a beard, you may just need to grit your teeth and press those pleats, because you need the extra coverage and lower face mobility that they provide. I, however, have a short, round face and — thankfully, what with me being a woman and all — no beard, so I don’t actually need the pleats.
I’ve also decided that I don’t like nose wires. Having a flatter nose bridge, I simply don’t require one, unlike people with those majestic Roman noses or aquiline profiles. Felix, who is one of those people, pretty much HAS to have a nose wire, or the mask fabric won’t conform to the sharper angles of his nose bridge. See the gaps when he tries a no-wire mask?
But anyway, I’m fine without either pleats or nose wires. So I got to thinking. How can I keep that lovely 3D loft of the Ziggurat mask, but with a more streamlined, no-pleats-needed shape?
Creating a Cup (kind of like a bra cup, but not)
I really hate fabric touching my face, especially when it gets damp due to perspiration or condensing exhaled moisture. I wanted as much free space between me and the mask as possible, so even if I was breathing hard (like during our multiple weekly hikes), I couldn’t accidentally snort mask fabric.
Coincidentally, one of the many projects I’ve been puttering with during my COVID-induced unemployment is the creation of the perfect bra. I’ve been experimenting with many, many methods to mold fabric around my vine-ripened F-cup chest fruits. It occurred to me that, in principle, I could use one of these methods to create a generous dome over my nose and mouth.
So here’s what I came up with, after only about sixteen iterations or so:
I used a multitude of darts to shape a nice high cup that stays way, way up off my breathing passages. In fact, for my facial structure at least, this mask only makes contact with my skin at the very outer rim.
Refining the Shape
The shape itself is pretty simple, especially compared to the Ziggurat mask. But the several small refinements were worth the time they took.
For example, scooping out the curve under the eyes makes the top line conform better to my nose, and makes sure the fabric doesn’t stray into my vision. A lot of designs out there don’t do this one little thing, so you end up having to tug down your mask all the time, which is a HUGE safety no-no.
I angled the side edges sharply to cut them more on the bias, so it has a built-in movement and better ability to follow different jawline shapes (if you’re not familiar with the concept, the bias or diagonal of a woven fabric is more flexible, and has the magical ability to form around curves — think of those slinky bias-cut 1930s dresses).
As a bonus, I found a wire nose-piece quite unnecessary for this style, since the angle of the “snout” of the mask keeps the top line nicely glued to the relatively flat bridge of my nose.
And oh, the vast cathedral roof-like space it makes! I don’t even care that this mask makes me look like an anteater. That big “snout” is just so much extra breathing space.
As per usual, we will be throwing this style up on our mask website with our growing collection of assorted styles. In summary, this mask is for you if you:
- Want to have lots and lots and LOTS of air space between you and the mask
- Don’t mind looking like an insect-munching primitive mammal in return for extra breathability
- Dislike pressing pleats
- Have a fairly short or wide face and a low to moderate nose bridge
- Don’t need to accommodate a big beard or longer chin
- Find nose wires uncomfortable
If you do have a longer face or chin or a big beard, you’ll probably want to stick with the pleated styles, like the Accordion or Ziggurat masks. If you have a taller nose, these two styles will also be best for you, since they’re compatible with a wire nose-piece to force the fabric to mold properly around the sharper angles. If you need a bit more guidance on figuring out the best mask type for you, you can look here (the page has been freshly updated).
For the rest of us, the new mask is a winner! I already made myself a few of these, and have given them a literal-ish workout (wearing them for a proper HIIT session). They were not comfortable as such after a maxed-out sprint, but I didn’t choke on fabric either, even while gasping for great gulps of air. I’ll call that good enough for me, and a point for the Anteater mask.