Introduction: Phoenix Mask

About: Former long time designer at Instructables. I have a degree in fashion design and like to sew, get crafty, and attempt to use power tools.

What times these are. This is my first instructable since the pandemic began, and since I moved on from Instructables to pursue the next chapter (before this all started). While I'm no longer staff, I am proud to be a part of this community, especially in times like now. So many makers and engineers I know from Instructables have been prototyping and manufacturing PPE like crazy, as are the Autodesk tech centers. I continue to be inspired by all the ideas that flow through Instructables, and by the creative community at large who have come together in some amazing ways.

Like many who sew, I've also been on been busy making masks for donation. I was ready for a little break from production sewing, when California's state senator Scott Wiener's Masks are Fierce competition landed in my inbox. A week to make a mask, judged by some of San Francisco's drag queens! Of course the first thing that came to mind was a continuation of my phoenix costume. What better time for the symbolism of the phoenix, plus I had plenty of scraps left over from other parts of my costume on hand. It was a wonderful diversion and opportunity to be creative. And I won second place!


My design requirements were for the wings to hold their form, and for the whole thing to be durable and easy to wash/sanitize. These are the materials I used.

Wings: Raw silk, with a backing of coated canvas. Silk is actually a very robust fiber, and the raw silk has good stiffness to it along with being oh so pretty. I used 20 gauge wire for stability and shape along the top.

Fringe: Spandex for the fringe, as it wouldn't fray much in the wash and has a good swing to it.

Mask base: Two layers of black quilters cotton, with the pattern from craft passion. Of all the mask patterns I've made to date, I like the fit the best.

Mask ties: Black cotton jersey for the ties, which are long enough to tie a number of ways.

Step 1: Design and Pattern

I started with a design like this, inspired by the phoenix as well as the greek and roman winged battle helmets. There was a fair amount of experimentation as I made it, and found it looked too plain in front with only the fringe, so I ended up adding a beak. Attached is a pattern which includes the beak, and note that some of the steps that follow will look a tiny bit different as a result of this change.

Step 2: Make the Feathers

The first step in the process was to make a bunch of little silk feathers. 14-15 feathers per wing is a good amount. There is a feather template attached to the previous step.

I folded up two layers of silk at the height of my feather, and marked them all in a picket fence line with an invisible ink pen (any temporary marking implement works). I sewed around the edges leaving a tiny channel between each feather in order to cut them apart, and up the middle for the "spine" of the feather. I thought that edging in a straight stitch might be sufficient to protect the edges from minimal wear and tear, but after cutting them out, quickly realized they needed a bit more reinforcement. So, I added a zig zag to prevent fraying and unraveling, which also served to add an extra pop of yellow/gold to their outline.

Step 3: Wing Base Pieces

For the back of the wings, I used coated canvas, which acted as a stabilizer and support for the feathers. The front of the wing is another piece of raw silk. You can ignore the long tail in the raw silk photo, as that was before I added the beak. If using the pattern pieces I included in step 1, both of these pieces will include the beak.

Step 4: Assemble Wings

With the canvas backing pieces cut, I first attached the individual feathers. The canvas backing should be wrong side up, and act as a sandwich with the raw silk top piece for the feathers.

The most time consuming part of this step was arranging the feathers nicely. I took my time doing this, and pinned them down well before anchoring with a line of sewing, about a half inch in from edge of the canvas.

Once the feathers were attached, I laid down the raw silk mirror piece and zig zagged it down with a scalloped shape along the feathered edge using a contrasting black thread. To keep the feather pattern going, and securely anchor the feathers into their fabric sandwich, I ran several more scalloped lines until the space was filled. Once done, I trimmed the red raw silk back to the scalloped zig zag edge along the feather line.

Note that there is a 1/4" seam allowance left along the top edge for the creation of a clean finish in a few steps.

Step 5: Sewing the Beak

Here is where I decided the design needed a beak. The pattern in step 1 includes this, so pretend the wing and beak are the same piece here. I sewed both the canvas and silk beaks together at the nose, and top stitched the center seam down for shape and stability.

Step 6: Edging and Eyes

If using the pattern from step 1, at this point you can skip to adding the zig zag along the beak so it won't fray. Next, wrap it around the edge of the canvas, and top stitch down.

Optionally add some nostrils or eyes, depending on how you look at it. I went with yellow/gold, but in retrospect that's kind of weird for nostrils and black would have been better. Anyhow, do what you like. I made these using a special stitch on my machine, but you could wing it with a zig zag, or embroider it by hand.

Now all seams are finished except for the final inside edge along the top of the wings and nose.

Step 7: Final Wings Seam

To finish off the wings, I cut a length of 1" spandex and sewing it down on the top side, right at the edge of the canvas. To make it easy to run the wire through, it's important that this seam line include the canvas rather than landing just shy of it only on the silk. Once the spandex binding is attached, trim and clip the narrow seam, and very tightly wrap the spandex to the back, in order to have a very clean finished edge with minimal spandex showing. I closed off the channel on the first side/beginning of my seam, and left the other open for insertion of the wire. I created a pretty narrow channel, about a quarter inch.

Lastly trim the spandex back and clean up any remaining stray threads on your wings, because the sewing on them is done!

Step 8: Add Wire

To allow for shaping at the nose and adding structure to the wings, I added a length of 20 gauge wire along the entire length of the wings and nose. It's important to fold the end down before beginning to feed it, so the end does not poke through the fabric. Once I worked it through the channel until the end, I snipped the wire and folded down the other end to finish up the wings layer.

Step 9: Fringe

I made the fringe from spandex, as shown. I started with a piece about 10" wide and 14" tall, then added the angled cuts. In retrospect 8" or 9" wide is probably enough. Length is up to you.

I cut the fringe lines as close together as I could, leaving about a half inch uncut at the top to hold it all together. The closer together the cuts the better looking the fringe in my experience. It's VERY satisfying to pick this piece up from the cutting mat :)

Step 10: Make Mask Base

For the functional mask part of this design, I used the women's pattern from craft passion with two layers of black cotton. You can use the instructions on her tutorial for construction of the mask base.

The ties are one long 1" tie from double layer black jersey knit. To make the ties, I enveloped two 60" long by 1.5" wide strips of jersey, using a tight zig zag to allow for plenty of stretch. I ran the ties through with the long tail ends coming out at the bottom of the mask. These are much longer than is necessary because I wanted the freedom to tie behind the neck or wrap around the neck as a design element. If only using the ties to knot in back, a total length of 30" is sufficient.

Step 11: Assemble It Together!

Almost done, and this last step is quick!

First I laid down the fringe, and top stitched it down around the top edge of the mask.

Next, I positioned the top edge of the mask base/fringe right up under the wire channel on the wings, and tacked it into place at the nose. I put on the mask, and played with the position of the wings, adding a pin to either side. Then one last line of stitching, and voila, it's done.

Time to rise from the ashes, and create the new version of ourselves and our world that we want to see. Stay well everyone, and hope this project gave you a little break from the doom and gloom out there!