Introduction: Yarn and Hot Melt Glue Mask

Picture of Yarn and Hot Melt Glue Mask

This is a new technique for making custom fitting masks out of hot melt glue and yarn.  The base is a head form the same size as my head, to make sure my head later fits into the mask.  (The base itself will be another instructable.)  Over the basic head form I sculpted clay to make the form of the mask.  

You can get a layer of hot melt glue and yarn to cover the clay, but it doesn't stick well to the clay.  When finished, it is easy to remove because of that.  The inside of the mask just had a little clay dust stuck to it, which washed off easily with water.  

This kind of mask material is tough, leathery, and more damage resistant than paper mache.  It is very light-weight and comfortable.  To get the mask off the clay mold and over my own head, I made a couple of cuts behind the ears, which allow the mask to flex open.  It then just springs closes over my head and stays in place pretty well.   This material should have very good longevity, which is good, because laying on the yarn is pretty time consuming.  

Step 1: Sculpting the Clay

Picture of Sculpting the Clay

This is the head mold.  It was made by covering my head with nylon panty hose, like a bank robber, and covering it with two layers of metallic tape, like sticky aluminum foil (available in auto part stores).   I was then cut out of the tape, the panty hose layer was removed, and the shell coated inside with a layer of plaster of Paris.  When that was strong, I filled the rest of the cavity with grout and Styrofoam chunks, to cut down on weight and mounted it on a PVC pipe neck and base.  The end result is a solid shape that resists pressure while sculpting the clay over it.  

After sculpting the clay, you can see some of the first yarn going on.  

Step 2: Yarn Application

Picture of Yarn Application

The yarn is glued down in swirling patterns over the surface of the clay.   After the yarn first goes down, the surface is not very smooth.  I go over it with a special hot smoothing tool I made out of a soldering iron.  The copper tip was hammered flat, something like a hot spatula.  At full voltage, the soldering iron gets too hot and burns the glue, so I use a voltage regulator to lower the voltage to about 60 volts.   That way, it melts and smooths, but does not burn the glue.  

The yarn colors change, darkening when saturated with glue.  Usually, there is enough glue used in sticking down the yarn to also saturate the yarn in the flattening procedure.   You can always add more glue if the yarn is too dry.  

When finished, the surface is shinier than the original yarn surface, flatter, and easier to keep clean.  For those who object to the shiny surface, one could probably just spray the finished mask with matte spray varnish, available at art stores.  

Step 3: Shots of the Finished Mask

Picture of Shots of the Finished Mask

These are just some shots of the finished mask from various angles.  

In the process of removing it from the clay inside, I made a couple of cuts up the neck behind the ears.  The complicated forms are not much of a problem to remove, because the clay can be flexed and broken off of the head mold while still inside the mask shell.  The head mold itself has no complicated details that the yarn layer would lock onto.   Therefore, even if the yarn layer sticks to protruding clay forms, such as the horn-like shapes over the eyes, the clay breaks off and can be removed from the inside of the shell after everything comes off the simpler head mold shape.   

You can always use more cuts to remove things, if need be, and patch with more glue later.  


hardlec (author)2015-12-26

Have you tried using a heat gun to smooth out the glue? I see this as a great way to make a Day of the Dead mask, and maybe other costume parts.

Thinkenstein (author)hardlec2015-12-26

A heat gun would not flatten the yarn surface. To make a smoother surface, I go over it (while it is still on the clay) with a heat controlled soldering iron. I forged the tip flat with a hammer. The soldering iron needs to be heat controlled so as to not be too hot and burn the glue.

bondiliy (author)2015-09-27


The Rob (author)2015-01-12

What sort of clay do you use? Basically what works best for you?

Thinkenstein (author)The Rob2015-01-13

I use regular water-base sculpture clay. The hot melt glue lifts off the top layer of clay dust so the mask comes off the clay easily.

getoffamycloud (author)2014-01-21

What do you see out of???

I see out the eyes. The eyes are sort of a lacy design of yarn with lots of holes in it. It's like looking through a screen. The holes were cleaned up with the tip of a small soldering iron with a voltage regulator for temperature control. The same tool is used for cleaning up the ventilation holes scattered over the head.

Cool, thanks.

bondogmom (author)2014-05-30

This is art!

Rasha6359 (author)2014-04-21

My brother calls this me....

FrecklesMagee (author)2014-01-26

Beautiful and creepy!!

KraftyKrew (author)2014-01-25

This is cool.... And a little creepy. But I like it.

AriedeB (author)2014-01-24

This is awesome, i love it. And my guess is that its not even such difficult project to do, even kids could do it. Maybe with supervision off course, but it could be done. Im going to show this to some friends of mine who like doing these kinds o things a lot. Maybe i'm going to try this out myself even. Keep it up!

Thinkenstein (author)AriedeB2014-01-25

Yep, kids could do it, I'm sure. In a way, it's kind of like 3-d printing.

afasimpaur (author)2014-01-24

This is absolutely gorgeous. I love the patterning and the vivid colors. I can see so many potential applications for this technique beyond masks... i.e. puppets or props Thanks for the instructable.

Thinkenstein (author)afasimpaur2014-01-25

Friends and I did a shadow puppet show recently. The colored yarn shapes we made cast colored shadows when they touched the screen -- a cool effect.

mygibzone (author)2014-01-23

This is so fantastic! I really love unique creations like this! LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!

drewbacca (author)2014-01-22

Brilliant job sir! I'm going to try and do a tiki mask or voodoo priest but I may have a question or two on the journey! I hope you don't mind.

Thinkenstein (author)drewbacca2014-01-23

Try me. Good luck.

XofHope (author)2014-01-21

This looks great, a true masterpiece full of talent and patience. I'm just wondering, how do you see through it, since the eyes seem filled too?

Thinkenstein (author)XofHope2014-01-22

The eyes actually are sort of like a lace work of yarn. The holes were cleaned up with the tip of a small soldering iron, and permit vision. Vision is pretty good. The holes scattered around the head for ventilation were cleaned up the same way. .

XofHope (author)Thinkenstein2014-01-22

That's quite ingenious. I'm still amazed about how much time and work this must have taken.

Thinkenstein (author)XofHope2014-01-23

Given the head form base to build the clay on, sculpture and string layer probably took 3 or 4 days.

haasebert (author)2014-01-22

Nice work! FYI... a model aircraft covering iron (available at your local hobby shop or online at places like or might make your final step easier. They usually have dials to control temperature built in.

marriedwithpuppets (author)2014-01-21

is it fairly heavy?

It is the lightest and most comfortable mask I have ever worn.

No, it is super light-weight. It is probably an ideal material for mask making. Light-weight, holes for good ventilation, and good visibility. It's tough and springy, too. Should have good longevity.

gde guevara (author)2014-01-21

Huichol Yarn Art, from México

Thinkenstein (author)gde guevara2014-01-22

How cool! I love it.

marriedwithpuppets (author)2014-01-21

i love that you accomadate glasses!

Yes, it is nice for the performer to enjoy the show, too.

aflores32 (author)2014-01-22

You can get the Monster Makers "Ed Head" for mask making and clay busts on Amazon for around $64.95. Also, have you ever thought about trying encaustic (wax) paint for mask making? You did a fantastic job!

Thinkenstein (author)aflores322014-01-22

Thanks. Nope, I have no experience with encaustic paint. It's all a matter of what sticks to what and how well. I'm hoping acrylics will stick well to the glue, but I haven't tried them yet.

mckeephoto (author)2014-01-22

​Beautiful work! How long does a project like this take, assuming all the materials are on hand?

Thinkenstein (author)mckeephoto2014-01-22

It seems like a long time. It took me several days, but I feel the time spent was worth it. I have another one on the way. It's pretty addictive.

angelleah1981 (author)2014-01-22

Cool idea. Yarn? I really wish I could see it better.

Dominic Bender (author)2014-01-20

Wow. I like the technique, and the result is stunning, Especially since it kept me guessing what it was made of. I wonder what else could be made using this technique... Thanks for sharing!

One can glue yarn on all sorts of things, like containers or book covers, to make them prettier. Making things out of only the yarn and glue, without a base material calls for working on a non-stick surface. Silicone rubber, polyethylene plastic, and teflon surfaces are good to work on. Clay is a good non-stick surface for 3-d shapes.

As just a surface treatment, I have also covered grout sculptures with the yarn to interesting effect.

erosser (author)2014-01-19

Great job! It looks amazing, and the level of handiwork in swirling all that yarn around is astounding. Excellent idea for the head form, as well: I look forward to seeing that Instructable!

aelfric5578 (author)2014-01-19

With this method do you put glue on the form first or yarn and then glue over it? How do you manage to do this without burning your fingers off?

Thinkenstein (author)aelfric55782014-01-19

You put glue on the form first and then push the yarn into it with the tip of the glue gun. You don't need asbestos fingers if you don't touch the glue with your fingers. Try not to.

After gluing it down, you can come back and flood the yarn with more glue, if needed.

bkelly1012 (author)2014-01-19

I love this, my wife has a ton of extra yarn, but im just not understanding the process on how to do it

Thinkenstein (author)bkelly10122014-01-19

You can stick down colored yarn on a variety of surfaces with hot melt glue. The equipment is not too expensive. The glue doesn't stick well to the clay, but it sticks enough to follow the curves of the sculpture.

Hard-to reach areas in the sculpture are hard to reach with the tip of the glue gun. I sometimes use yarn I have already saturated with glue to reach those areas with the tip of a voltage-controlled soldering iron.

To get the smoothest and shiniest surface, the final step is to iron it down with a hot spatula tip for a voltage-controlled soldering iron.

Very Interesting (author)2014-01-18

Beautiful artwork!

Penolopy Bulnick (author)2014-01-18

I have never seen a yarn mask! That is just absolutly amazing!

SSmithers (author)2014-01-18

Nice, Bill! I like how you made the face mask!

Thinkenstein (author)SSmithers2014-01-18

Thanks. You can make other nice things with hot melt glue and yarn, too. Try working on a Teflon cookie sheet for flat shapes, like butterflies. They pop right off. Probably good for light-weight jewelry projects, too.

turbonegro (author)2014-01-17

Very nice reminds me of some Nintendo character

Cant remember the name

Smart compositing of materials

luridhue (author)turbonegro2014-01-18

It's probably not what you're thinking of, but it reminds me of a more human form of Majora's Mask.

Thinkenstein (author)luridhue2014-01-18

I'm not familiar with Majora's Mask, but I guess that's what Google is for.

About This Instructable



Bio: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home ... More »
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