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Mask-Making-art - 12/26/00


"Mask Making 101 - A History of Masks and Instructions to Create One" by Lady Meliora Leuedai de Ardescote


NOTE: See also the files: masks-msg, theater-bib, theater-msg, cosmetics-msg,

puppets-msg, jesters-msg, fabric-paint-msg, guilds-msg, feathers-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called StefanÕs Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at:



Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be

reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first

or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


                               Thank you,

                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org



"Mask Making 101 - A History of Masks and Instructions to Create One"

By Lady Meliora Leuedai de Ardescote


Ancient Greek & Roman Masks

Masks existed prior to the Middle Ages.  Primitives used masks to transform their personalities and communicate with forces of nature that they believed were supreme beings.  Over the years, as man began to understand his surroundings more and more, only a few people used masks, for entertainment and not for religion.  Ancient ceremonies were re-enacted as festivals or on stage.


The early Greeks wore animal masks in their worship of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, and Dionysius.  These developed into stage plays, in which the actors always work masks (made of painted canvas).  They used the masks to represent emotions such as anger or sorrow.  The Romans copied the Greeks and wore masks for their plays, but they also wore them in their feasts, parades and festivals.


Commedia Dell' Arte

Roman comedies and traditional folk acting troupes spawned a new theater art, called Commedia dell'Arte.  It originated in the Italian marketplaces in the early 1500's.  Street performers would wear masks and use mime, improvisation and acrobatics to perform.  The material was written to ridicule authority figures or other aspects of society, and performances were often outrageous, so that they were banned in France for 30 years.


Actors of the Commedia dell'Arte wore masks with exaggerated, comical features to complement their performances.  The puppet Punch, from Punch and Judy, was originally Pulcinella, a character of the Commedia dell'Arte.


Mystery and Miracle Plays

Early Christian Priests wore masks to dramatize Biblical stories (Mystery Plays) and stories about the saints (Miracle Plays).  In 1207, Pope Innocent III forbade priests to wear masks, so the townsfolk began to hold the plays outside of the church, in the churchyard.  Sometimes masks were used, sometimes not, but the devil was always in disguise, although not a standard one as in the Commedia dell'Arte.  He could appear as an ugly man, an animal, or a demon with horns.  He usually also had a tail.


Town governments of Europe produced the Mystery or Miracle plays, but in England, the trade guilds worked together to produce the play. Each guild would build a stage on a wagon.  People would gather in different parts of the town, and the first guild would move from spot to spot, performing the first act of the play.  Another guild would be responsible for the next act, and would follow the first guild from spot to spot, and so on.


Carnival Masks

Carnival or Mardi Gras has its origins in the Roman Saturnalian festival.  The Christians adopted the festival as a party before the 40 days of lent, when Roman Catholics abstained from eating meat.  


The first day of Carnival varies with national tradition. It can begin anywhere from November 11th at 11:11 a.m. (in Cologne), to January 6th, but usually begins on December 26th and runs through Ash Wednesday. Carnivals were in full swing in the Middle Ages in cities such as Venice and Nice.


During Carnival, the wearing of elaborate and beautiful masks became customary, especially at the masked balls and bonfires of the nobility and the rich.  Disguises abolished rules, and everyone indulged in excesses.  Often, excesses led to illegal activities and governments began to issue edicts (as early as 1268) to regulate masquerading.  Some of these were to prohibit illegal activities, but some were to limit when masks could be worn or limit the "waste" of fabrics on mask making.


Other cultures besides the Europeans used masks.  African cultures created ceremonial masks and dancers of the Far East used masks in in stylized dancing, but probably the most well known mask of non-European cultures is that of the Japanese Noh Mask.


Japanese Noh Masks

Noh dramas are musical plays that originated as Shinto festival pantomime dances or as poetic songs of the Buddhist monks.  These plays existed as early as the 1500's, and there are still some 200 or so in existence.


There are at least 125 types of Noh masks, which represent men, women, ghosts, demons, heroes, gods and goddesses.  Mask wearing actors stamp their feet and gesture on a bare stage.  Every movement has a specific meaning.


Noh plays last about an hour, and several are presented in a day.


Mask Making Takes a Little Time and Patience:

These instructions are for creating a mask for use at a masked ball or other dancing event.  Mask blanks can be bought at a local craft store or at a gag and gift store around Halloween.  For the class I taught, we used cloth Halloween mask blanks, fabric with small patterns, fabric glue, beads, feathers and other decorative items, paint, ribbon and dowel rods. Before starting, read all the directions completely.


¥ Cut mask to desired shape.  You might change the shape of the eye holes or outside edge.  Use a pencil to trace changes on the back of the mask, before you make them.  You can also add stiff, thin cardboard to the mask bland to change the shape or add to the mask.

¥ You can either paint or cover your mask blank.  Light cotton fabrics work well.  The fabric should be something that will fold easily and not unravel easily.

¥ To cover:  Glue material from the center outward.  Start with the bridge of the nose, working outward to the cheeks.  Use a thin coat of glue and spread it with a toothpick or your finger.  This will make it a lot less likely to stain through the fabric.  For eyes, make a small cut in the fabric, then cut darts, fold in and glue to the back of the eyeholes.  Hold the tabs down for a bit to let the glue set.  Be careful not to get the glue on your hand and then touch the material on the front of the mask.  I try to keep one hand glue-free to handle the front of the mask.  Glue around the outside edges carefully, making sure you hold the edges down long enough for the glue to set.

¥ To paint:  Choose the paints you want to use.  You could paint the mask one solid color, parti-color, patterned, such as with fleur de lys, or to appear as real fur or feathers.  If you're mixing paint, make sure you mix enough of the color you want the first time.  Re-mixing can cause a difference in the shades you get.  Make sure each layer of paint is dry before starting the next, to avoid bleed.  Mistakes or bleed can be covered with beads, etc.

¥ To trim, choose your trim ahead of time.  Bead strings and fabric trims should be measured and cut carefully.  If the string doesn't bend readily, don't be afraid to cut and put on as two strings - one on top of and one on the bottom of the curve you're wrapping.  The place where they meet can be covered with ribbon or beads.

¥ To trim around the eyes, cut the trim first.  Then take glue and rim the top edge of the eye from the BACK of the mask.  Carefully set the trim on the glue and position it the way you want it.  Hold the trim and set the glue.  Follow the same procedure for the bottom of the eye.

¥ Trim the edges of the mask in the same manner as the eyes.

¥ If you use ribbon or feathers, measure and cut them before application.  These should be applied last, as feathers blow easily into drying glue (in fact, turn off your ceiling fan and close your windows when working with feathers, or you will have a mess).  Tie bows or big loops in the ribbon and glue to the front or back of the mask.

¥ Use muslin to line the back of the mask if desired.

¥ All trim may be sewed down once the glue is dry, but it isn't necessary.

¥ To attach the dowel, wait until the mask is finished and the glue is set.  Then glue dowel to the back of the mask with a generous amount of glue.  Let this dry completely.


A Partial List of Sources:

La Fondazione - Carnival Masks and Venice



Carnival of Nice





Carnival of Venice



Commedia dell'Arte



Masks and Mask Makers by Kari Hunt and Bernice Wells Carlson

c. 1961 Abingdon Press


Mask Making by Chester Alkema

c. 1983 Sterling Publishing Co., New York


Masks, Face Coverings and Headgear by Norman Laliberte' and Alex Mogelon, c. 1973 Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.


Masks by linda Rocamontes and Virginia Tucker, c. 1994 Design Originals


Feather Magic Masquerade by Lyn Buerger, c. 1994 Zucker Feather Products


A Touch of Feather Magic by Lyn Buerger, c. 1989 Zucker Feather Products


Feather Factory by Carol X. Melnick, c. 1994 Design Originals


Japanese Noh Masks



Dragonfly Design (a vendor)



Copyright 2000 Sandy Danielewicz, 27883 Sutherland, Warren MI  48093. <ladymeliora at tir.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org