Make a Day of the Dead Skull Mask

I’ll be sporting a cool fabric skull mask during this year’s Day of the Dead festival.

I can’t wait to wear my new Day of the Dead skull mask to the annual Day of the Dead festival in Birmingham, Alabama! Having worn the big paper mache skull in years past, this time I am opting for a lighter weight and cooler DIY skull mask made out of fabric and embellished with scrap trims and cutouts. I want to be able to move through the crowd freely, and to eat, drink and breathe in the most fun and creative event of the year. I love that the Mexican tradition has been adopted by my hometown!

My friend and I created these paper mache skulls a few years ago. They are fun but cumbersome to wear for a long event. (photo by Bob Farley)

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a joyful celebration filled with pageantry and parade. Traditionally, on days leading up to the November 2nd holiday, families build altars and shrines for their deceased loved ones in cemeteries, in town squares and in homes. The shrines and offerings are artistic displays representing the spiritual essence of the honored, and they are decorated with anything from pictures, trinkets, food, drink, sugar skulls, candles and effigies, to offerings of music and poetry all to evoke the spirits to visit our realm, and to experience, with the living, the celebration of their lives.

I like double-duty projects! Since Halloween and Day of the Dead are just days apart, you can make your mask and costume work for both holidays.

The people of Birmingham, Alabama, have embraced the cultural experience of Day of the Dead with a colorful and artistic street party. (photo by Bob Farley)

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Step 1

 Open GalleryGather materials. You’ll need a small piece of muslin or canvas for the pattern, a 1/4-yard of natural canvas or cotton twill for the mask front and back, a piece of an old matelasse bedspread or quilt for the filler, a few bright and fun fabric scraps for embellishments, and scraps of ribbons for the ties and streamers. Most of these fabric samples are from Mod Green Pod. If you have any trinkets that remind you of a departed loved one, you might want to incorporate them into the mask. I have some ribbon and bric-a-brac trim from a drawer of my grandmother’s sewing machine that I want to use in my mask.

Step 2

 Open GalleryMake the pattern. I guessed here for the shape and dimensions for my pattern, and low and behold, I was right on! I wanted it to reach from ear to ear and go from the top of my head to right below my mouth with my nose fitting in the slot. For your mask pattern, measure from where your jaw meets your ear to the other side, and from the top of your head to your lower lip. You may use this as a pattern. Simply click on the red THUMBNAIL icon, click and drag the photo to the desktop, enlarge the photo to the size you need, print it out, and trace out the shape onto fabric. I like to make my patterns out of muslin or canvas to store away in my pattern drawer. Fabric patterns last forever!

Step 3

 Open GalleryCut out the pieces for the body of the mask. You’ll need three layers — two canvas or twill layers and one thick middle layer. You’ll need the thickness for the mask to hold its shape. To cut out the eye holes, make a small starter cut in the center by pinching the fabric and cutting a slit. Then insert the bottom scissor blade and cut around.

Step 4

 Open GalleryQuilt the mask. Quilting will add more stiffness to the mask. Stack and line up the three layers and pin together before sewing. Starting with the eyes, begin a straight stitch line 1/8-inch from the edge and sew around the eye. After one complete rotation around the eye, and with the needle at the highest position, switch to a zigzag stitch and sew around again. Always remember to start and end each stitch line with a few forward and backward straight stitches to lock in the stitch line. After you sew around the eyes, repeat these steps around the perimeter of the mask. After you complete the zigzag stitch around the mask, switch back to the straight stitch and start quilting the mask by sewing around and around towards the center of the mask and by moving inward 1/2-inch each time around. The stitch line will close in and open back up in areas so that you’ll go over what you have already sewn in some places, but continue on in one line until you end up at an eye. End the stitch line in a concealed spot.

Step 5

 Open GalleryCut out the embellishments. Keep in mind that the purpose for pinking shears and zigzag stitches are to keep edges from fraying. Base your decision of which method and application to use by deciding which embellishment to fully attach or partially attach to the mask. Here I have cut out the scrolled patterns using my regular scissors because I want to sew them onto the mask with a zigzag stitch for a flattened effect. For the teeth, I also want the defined tight-stitched zigzag lines, so I have used my regular scissors around them as well. I used the pinking shears to cut out the flower pieces because I do not want to adhere the edges entirely to the mask. I want the edges to be free and have a little dimension to them. Cut out several circles in different sizes with the pinking shears. Stack the circles to make up tiers of flowers. You can be as creative as you want but here, I opt for simple.

Step 6

 Open GallerySew on the first layer of embellishments. A tight and short stitch line using the machine on a 1.5 or lower stitch length setting will give you nice and defined lines. It is best here to use the same color thread as the mask to sew on the scrolls. Be careful not to get your fingers too close to the needle!

Step 7

 Open GalleryStitch teeth in place. Using bright red thread and a small stitch, zigzag the teeth in place. Go back over several times for heavier and more defined lines.

Step 8

 Open GalleryBar tack the flowers in place. Since the flowers look better with a little dimension, use a bar tack in a criss-cross pattern to sew the flower pieces to the mask. Arrange the flowers on the top of the mask and place a pin in the center of each flower. Bar tack by using a zigzag stitch set on a small number stitch length (a setting less than the number 1) or by using the buttonhole setting.

Step 9

 Open GalleryCut and combine streamers. Pick out pieces of ribbon, binding tape, twill tape, bric a brac, or lace in fun colors and textures for streamers. Cut the streamers at varying lengths and combine them into two sets. Sew a few stitches at the tops of each bundle to hold together.

Step 10

 Open GalleryAttach streamers and ties. Take two longer pieces (18″ – 24″) of ribbon to use for ties. Wrap the ends around the bundle of streamers to conceal rough edges and pin on to the mask in the desired placement. You may hold up the mask to your face and guesstimate where to place the ties.

Step 11

 Open GalleryAre you finished? You decide. I prefer to keep the embellishments to a minimum but others might want to get real crazy with it. Go ahead and add more if you want to!

Materials

  • old bedspread or quilt
  • canvas
  • leftover fabric or samples
  • ribbons and trinkets
  • matching and contrasting thread

Tools

  • sewing machine
  • scissors
  • pinking shears
  • marker
About Michelle Reynolds 

47Posts

I’m a slipcover maker who refuses to fill the trash with the cutaway bits of designer fabrics, so I strive to make use of every scrap. I live with my ...

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One Response

  1. kellysmtrimble says:

    I love this mask and the zig zag ribbon gives it just the right feel. Beautiful, Michelle!

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