Blinged Out Masks!

An example of combining pressed glass flowers, seed beads and embroidery.







I’ve decorated all my masks, you’ll find a gallery  here.

My mask means freedom. I wear it or have it in hand all the time when I’m out in public. I react to most perfumes and fragrances, the smell of many foods, airborne allergens (like pollen, cats, dogs, dust, smoke, etc). I’ve even had a few reactions to allergy serums used on another person in the room.  I would be a virtual shut in without a mask. They’re imperfect, and they’re kinda obvious; nobody loves wearing one, but the freedom it grants me is well worth it.

I’ve tried a whole bunch of  filter mask solutions. I won’t do a comprehensive review just now- today is more superficial. I will say that hands down, the Respro mask (with carbon filter) is the right one for me. The Vogmask and Cambridge masks are more comfortable, but they don’t filter scent well at all, so they’re useless. (I mean, seriously,  if I can smell strawberry jam through it, imagine what Axe or Snuggle will do!? 😳). The only other option is a respirator like people wear when painting. The seal on those is better, but my skin can’t take the pressure of the edges, and I feel very claustrophobic in one. And they’re really, really ugly. The Respro mask has a new addition to help improve the seal- I’ll let ya know when I try one.
It’s becoming more common to wear masks in public, it doesn’t throw people off as much, but it does create a very real psychological barrier. Most people’s immediate assumption is that I either have something communicable, or I am vulnerable to infections. People stare, and if they ask, I say I have severe allergies. Still, it is rather off-putting.
Until I decided I needed some bling. Let’s face it, the masks are a snore. I tried several different ways to dress it up, from fabric paints to gluing sequins, all were utter failures. Then I landed on beaded embroidery- perfect! My current project is a cross between crazy needlework and soutache. I’ve started over several times, I think I have something that will work now- I’ll let you know.
I was stunned at the immediate change in how I was approached. People’s first impression immediately became ‘fun fashion choice’ rather than ‘deadly contagion’. People were more likely to ask me about it, to make a social comment on the weather, etc. Since then I have decorated all of my masks. I now also have a fabulous collection of beads; it’s turned into a bit of an obsession… I make jewelry and other things with them too.
Respro recently set out a request to share our mask decorations, so it’s a perfect time to post these. I learned a lot along the way as to what works, and what doesn’t. Since Respro is encouraging people to try it, I thought I’d write a few tips on my trial and errors, in the hopes that it might save you all some time and frustration.


I find that ‘natural’ things are easier. Anything that requires perfectly straight lines or symmetry require a lot of patience, trial and error.  The fabric really lends itself to embroidery, but it’s stretchy, so keep that in mind.

  1. Circular and floral patterns work well. With some beads I tie them into a circle first, then put it on the mask. (Like those on the brown mask, pictured in my mask gallery here..) If I do snowflakes again, I’ll definitely do the same, thing, especially for centers.
  2. If this is completely new, I suggest that random placement is the easiest. (Like the brown mask). Attempting realism and symmetry will require a LOT of patience.
  3. The mask has surprisingly small spaces- initially I planned things that were way too big for it. It really is best to hold it next to your face to judge properly. From a necklace to a bracelet you go down a step in scale, putting something on a mask is a similar step down from a pair of earrings.
  4. Watch your peripheral vision. A sparkly crystal on the bridge of the nose is really distracting!
  1. I now use only Czech, Austrian or Japanese beads. I love the Czech pressed glass beads- there are a ton of different flowers and shapes that can be made into something spectacular with relative ease. In general Chinese or Indian beads are  inconsistent and poorly finished, and many of them have heavy metals like lead and cadmium. These beads will be on your face- people will notice the details. When it comes to beads, you get what you pay for.
  2. Finish. The beads come in a HUGE number of finishes, from luster, picasso, matte rainbow, AB etc. It can be very overwhelming. If it’s for a mask, skip most of the fancy finishes. I need my mask to be able to get washed, and be ok with both alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. I test beads before I use them now- roll them in some alcohol, then wash with a bit of oxygen bleach (hydrogen peroxide), if the colour comes off, I use those in other applications, and find different ones. The worst are colour lined and anything dyed. The most reliable are simple opaque or transparent colours, or silver lined. The newer permanent finish metallics from Toho seem to be quite good as well. The simpler beads may seem a bit of a snore next to the myriad of finishes, but you want to avoid being left with a mask covered in tinted white beads. (Been there, done that…).
  3. Fireline. I have tried EVERY thread I could find, fireline is the hands down winner on the masks. It’s braided, fused line, initially made for fishing line. It’s ridiculously strong and it doesn’t tangle nearly as much as most others do. It’s also super fine and flexible. Chose the colour to match the mask, not the beads. (BTW, it’s MUCH cheaper at Canadian Tire than  any craft shop).
  4. Beading needle. You might get away with a regular needle, but a beading needle makes it a lot easier.
  5. If you are going to use cotton embroidery floss, make sure it’s colourfast. The ubiquitous DMC does well.
Colour and Shape mixes.
If you don’t have any beads, I highly recommend that you get a shape or colour mix- It will give you the variety without spending a fortune. Here are some examples:
  1. These are perfect for my type of designs, with flowers, leaves, etc. (a single packet and some seed beads could do a nice floral mask)
  2. No natural elements (flowers, leaves, etc)., but nicely selected. You can always add a string of mixed colored flowers, put them together. You’d have enough left over to make a matching bracelet!
Where to shop
  1.  Places like Michael’s can be up to four times the price of online sources, and most of their beads are made in China. The prices are fairly consistent across online suppliers, the stock varies a lot. If you’ever never used beads and have a nearby beading store, go there. They’ll be marked up, but it’s easier to plan if you can play with them in your hands. It could save you costly mistakes.
  2. My favourite online bead stores are (they’re the supplier for most of the Amazon bead offerings) (I love their mixes) (happens to be local, I get stuff from them really fast!) (direct from Czech) (direct from Czech.)
[Side note: I’ve never had any trouble ordering from any of the above sites, haven’t had customs and tax issues, which my fellow Canadians can appreciate!]
  1. Beads and embroidery need to be sewn separately. The cotton embroidery thread will literally end up shredded- especially if you use crystal beads. Larger beads I do the bead first, smaller ones I do the embroidery first. I’m working on a bead only design now. I haven’t tried any just embroidery ones yet- perhaps I’ll do that next…
  2. Watch the stretch. As you go, make sure the mask can still stretch in different directions, and it doesn’t warp the design.
  3.  Start simple. A single flower on each side can go a LONG way.
  4. Deal with the ‘powa’ letters on the valve. Let’s face it, they’re ugly, and they’ll overpower everything else. Most of them the paint will come off with alcohol, that alone goes a long way! I’ve sanded the white ones to be smooth successfully, but not the black, the plastic is a tiny bit softer, and it ends up kindof grey and fuzzy… I haven’t tried paint or gluing embellishments onto it- chemicals and I aren’t friends, and anything that will hold I can’t use. (Hey, Respro folks, please get rid of the ‘powa’.. While you’re at it, a mask in a neutral grey or soft blue would be really nice…. 😉).
  5. I’m looking forward to seeing all of your designs!
Check out my other masks here.

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