Picture 1: The muslin--probably the hardest fabric to work—didn’t stretch over the face well at first.
With this information, we gathered materials both ancient and modern to simulate the ancient masks. We tested three fabrics—muslin, a loose-weave cotton crepe, and a cotton gauze—which were absorbent, flexible, and--after being wet--held their shape when dry. A loose weave helped flexibility. The glues ranged from modern to primitive and included Elmer’s white glue, wallpaper paste, Yes! Paste for crafts, Sobo fabric glue, and wheat paste (flour and water). Experimentation ruled out the wallpaper paste, which was not water-soluble, and the fabric glue, which did not stiffen when dry.
Our first solution was 50% glue and 50% water, the
second 75% glue to 25% water (except for the wheat paste, which was not workable at that ratio and had to be mixed 66% flour to 33% water). The white glue and the wheat paste consistently yielded the best results, defined by us as stiffness and detail retained when dry. It should be noted that the higher concentration of wheat paste, while effective, had the consistency of peanut butter and had to be spread on the fabric in a similar manner—we weren’t able to soak the fabric in that glue as we were the other solutions.
Picture 2: A later cotton crepe mask with wheat paste; by this time, we had worked out how to minimize the leftover fabric on the lower part of the face.
This first set of experiments helped us narrow down our potential materials and gave us a better idea of what we could accomplish. Next up: a more intensive battery of experiments.
Pic B: The muslin, heavier than the others and with a tighter weave.
Pic C: The original cotton weave.
Pic D: The gauze, our most flexible but least durable material.