Gemma Hats Off Challenge

Mardi Gras Mask On

This is the complete video series of the entire contest.

Complete instructions and full-sized patterns for the Mardi Gras Mask are available in the Fearless Makers store.


Element 14 and Adafruit Industries created a contest called the Gemma Hats Off Challenge. I thought it would be a fun project to try, so I scoured the web for ideas. Once I found my inspiration, I applied for the challenge and was chosen as a participant!  Woohoo!

Mardi Gras Mask
Mardi Gras Mask

The photo that inspired me was a mardi gras mask. This mask is part of a trip to Italy posted by Karina on the TripAdvisor website.

The Plan

I’ve created a video that explains how I intend to make this project. This is all theory at this point and is subject to change . . . probably lots of change.

I’m very excited to get started on this. My Gemma Sensor Pack arrived Monday (August 18th), so I’m ready to go.


I broke down my project into parts and the first thing I needed was a mask. That should be easy, we’ve all seen those plastic masks in stores. No problem, off to Amazon.

Uh, maybe not. It seems all the masks on Amazon are small, as in child size. I looked at all of them and down in the comments everyone was saying how small they are. I finally found some that were supposed to be ‘adult’ size. Many had terrible reviews on sizing and the nice ones were expensive. I figure that I need several of these things for testing and playing around with the design. Okay, so much for that idea. I guess I’m making my mask, too.  Off to the Amazon book selection.

How to Make Masks!

I found a really great book. It has wonderful reviews, including a link to a YouTube video by the author, Jonni Good. She definitely knows what she’s doing, so I commit to the purchase. The book isn’t cheap and I’ll have to buy supplies, but I figure I can make a really custom mask that meets my needs and I can make as many as I want.

I read the entire book when it arrived. The author mentions that it is very difficult to find adult sized masks, so I’m glad I’m going this route. There are all kinds of masks in here and the instructions are very good. I’ll have to make a mask form first, then the masks off of that. There aren’t any specialty ingredients needed and it shouldn’t be too expensive. Wayne and I went out to purchase supplies. Here’s the investment:

  • How to Make Masks! (Amazon) – $18.27
  • Plaster of Paris (Craft Warehouse) – $7.99 (is cheaper at Home Depot)
  • Cloth Plaster Wrap (Craft Warehouse) – $9.88
  • Elmer’s Glue All 7.6oz (Craft Warehouse) – $5.49
  • Ceramcoat Acrylic 8oz White (Craft Warehouse) – $6.99
  • Super Sculpey 1# (Craft Warehouse)  – $15.99 (is cheaper from Amazon)
  • Blue Shop Towels 2 rolls (Home Depot) – $2.23/each
  • Duct Tape (Home Depot) – $3.78
  • Cheap Brushes 4 (Home Depot) – $0.97/each
  • Cheap Aluminum Foil – $2.15
  • Vaseline – Have some.
  • Drywall Compound, aka sheetrock mud – Have some.

We usually have duct tape in the garage, but I used most of it wrapping Wayne to make a sewing form. The plaster was cheaper at Home Depot, but we went to Craft Warehouse first. I really need more than 7.5 ounces of glue, so I’ll be purchasing more in the near future.

Total Cost = $78.88

EEEK! Well, so much for inexpensive. But I am the master of justification.

  • I am learning a new craft. I’ve never done paper mache or sculpting work before.
  • The book has all kinds of fun projects I can make some day.
  • I have enough supplies to make all those fun projects some day.
  • I have to have a nice mask for my Mardi Gras hat that fits an adult.
  • My mask will look much better than those cheap plastic things.

There, I think that covers the justification. That’s only 15% of our monthly grocery budget. We can eat less, I have a Mardi Gras hat to build!

Here’s a video that goes through the mask building process.


The next step in my Mardi Gras hat is to create a layout of the mask to determine how much wiring I need for components and the sizing on the circles. I’m going to be using silicone coated wire from Adafruit to connect my NeoPixels and other parts.

I used a 2D CAD program (QCAD) to lay everything out virtually. It’s a lot easier for me than pencil and paper. I can play around with ideas until I get everything the way I want it.

This video shows you the layout process and my conclusions. I’ve ordered all the necessary parts from Adafruit based on this layout and they were very inexpensive.

Adafruit Parts Ordered


This part of my Hats Off Challenge series is about setting up the electronics and making fabric choices for the mask.

I ran into two problems during the set up process. First, a new delay setting between color changes on the NeoPixel Color Wipe function was not working correctly.  The problem was the declaration of the delay variable. It was set to an unsigned 8 bit integer, which can’t hold a value greater than 255. Once changed to a 16 bit integer, the problem was fixed.

The second issue was the color setting of the NeoPixel. The Color Wipe function takes an RGB color value as its first parameter. I was using very blended colors that I had chosen in Illustrator. It turns out that blends don’t come through well on the NeoPixel. Once I changed the colors back to the higher original values, the colors were more saturated.

Once I had the NeoPixel performing the way I wanted, it was time to make my fabric choices. Since the NeoPixels take center stage in my design, I needed fabrics that would enhance them. I tried out several fabrics for the circle and more for the gathered center piece. It was an interesting study in light to determine the best choices.

To see the entire process, problems and solutions, please watch the video. Your comments are always valued and welcome.


Here’s a really quick video that goes through the process of sewing the circles and centers for my Mardi Gras mask.


I’m finally at the point where I get to put all my NeoPixels into place and get them wired up. The only sensor that I will be using is the photocell. It’s purpose is to detect the light levels and turn off the NeoPixel sequence, if the environment is too bright. I had a bit of a problem after soldering the NeoPixels into place, but with Wayne’s help, we were able to overcome it.

Here’s a video going over my discoveries and progress:


This is the last build video of my Gemma Hats Off Challenge series. There was a lot of hand sewing and a serious switch glitch, but I got it done.

Please have a look at the video and let me know what you think.


My Mardi Gras ‘hat’ is all done. Wayne stepped in to model for me so that we could make the final video.

It was a ton of fun to make this thing and very rewarding. Starting from nothing but a photo as inspiration, I was able to create the entire thing from scratch. It’s so satisfying to do things yourself.