Mask-Making Best Practices

This article contains some information that can be found in the following research paper: Standardized Synthesis of Face Masks as a Harm Reduction Strategy in Times of PPE Shortage – COVID-19 along with usability suggestions from a medical provider on the frontlines.

FROM BRIA SCHURKE: I am a public health practitioner, medical provider, and my family has a large scale clothing production company. I am working with about 250 people making homemade masks for various organizations and hospitals that I am involved with. I am finding that MANY of the DIY donated masks DO NOT WORK and we are unfortunately having to throw them away. This is what I have learned so far and suggestions I have for people who want to mass produce DIY masks designed to reduce droplet distribution. Disclaimer: masks I am discussing are NOT designed to reduce inhalation of COVID-19, they only reduce droplet distribution by someone who has a cough.

People are putting a ton of effort into making masks to donate. It is a waste of their time, resources, and effort if they are making masks that either are intolerable to wear and/or become vectors for disease because they force people to touch their face more. I hate to keep throwing away donated masks because they simply do not cover the face well, fall off, or can’t be washed.

Everyone who makes DIY masks should fit test them for at least 5-10 min prior to making more.


1. Masks with elastic ear loops do not accommodate for different head sizes, the tend to fall off, and wearers tend to touch their face to readjust them. I watched my own triage nurse holding her DIY mask on her face as she swabbed COVID-19 patients. The mask would simply not stay on and we do not have any masks in our clinic or ER. This is a problem then, if people are now touching their face MORE, then touching public counters, door knobs etc. The CDC recommends that symptomatic people wear the DIY 2 layer 100% cotton masks to reduce the spread of droplets.

2. Ties behind head (Reduces face touching, stays on face, see above.) Use 2 38″ strips of twill tape. You can also use shoelace material or whatever material will tie securely, but can also be untied.

3. Covers brim of nose to under chin and expands well across the face.

4. Accommodates different head sizes with same pattern size.

5. Uses straight cut for mass production and less waste of fabric (vs mask design with rounded edges that wastes fabric).

6. Different thread color or fabric color (though white is STILL preferred) on the inside so the side that has been against the face is obvious.


The most commonly recommended fabric for use in homemade face masks is a 100% cotton plain weave. This material is readily available as dish or tea towels used in kitchens. While 100% plain weave cotton may be suitable for a civilian to create a homemade face mask by hand, designers and textile companies have the resources to further develop fabric for a face mask. In this regard, an upgraded alternative to using 100% plain weave cotton is the development of a trilaminate fabric, such as one commonly used in drysuits. Technical information about fabric can be found in the linked research paper.

Fabric must be easy to bleach wash and accommodate shrinkage. Using light colored monotone or pure white fabric, ink bleeds when washed sometimes – NOT COLORFUL QUILT FABRIC LIKE MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DONATING!

The following fabrics are available from NYC stores in the garment district. Many of you will be able to source similar fabrics locally or from other online sources:


100% cotton fabrics are reusable and autoclavable.


Simple Mask: This pattern is simple, reduces waste and only uses 2 10″ x 8″ pieces of 100% cotton (straight up rectangle, no rounded edges!) and 2 38″ strips of twill tape (can also use shoelace material or whatever material will tie securely, but can also be untied). Designed to be worn by the general public and not necessarily as a cover over an N95 (but can also be used for a cover as well.)

There is a large collection of mask scrub cap, and gown patterns here:

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