NYU MakerSpace Holds Virtual Workshop on DIY Face Masks

During the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, while we are advised to stay at home and practice social distancing, on the occasion where going into public is inevitable, wearing a face mask in public spaces is the best way to protect oneself and others. Given the current shortage in medical face masks and the priority that first-line medical responders should receive any PPE supply, it can be difficult to obtain a face mask for a regular person. In this case, wearing a homemade mask from common household items is recommended by the CDC, and in the effort of promoting the use of homemade face masks, the NYU MakerSpace recently offered a DIY workshop on homemade face masks.

During this workshop, MakerSpace staff Anthony Wang and Suqi Wu demonstrated several quick and simple designs of homemade face masks with household items, and pointed out the various designs and projects that can be found online. As long as you have a spare piece of fabric, preferably cotton, then you are all set! In the worst case situation, where you absolutely don’t have access to cotton fabric, MakerSpace also demonstrated an alternative way to make masks out of paper towels, although this offers significantly less protection.

Workshop Host Anthony Wang and Suqi Wu explaining the Effectiveness of DIY Masks

So how exactly are these face masks capable of filtering small particles in the air? Luckily, back in 2013, a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge conducted research on the effectiveness of household items at filtering ultrafine particles that are smaller than the size of the Coronavirus. The findings from the research indicated that common household items such as dish towels, vacuum bags, and cotton fabric provide more than 70% of filtering capability compared with surgical-grade face masks at 90%. The research also showed that by doubling the layer of material, significant improvement in filtration capability is shown. After considering the breathability, ability to attain, and filtering capability, the scientists concluded that the best material to use for homemade face masks is cotton fabric such as pillowcases or bandanas.

The workshop covered two different iterations of cotton cloth face masks and how they can be enhanced by placing additional filters inside the layers. The two versions, one requiring simple sewing, are both simple projects that can be done in less than an hour and gives you a good opportunity to practice hands-on prototyping skills during the self-quarantine period. One can easily modify the design by using different patterns of fabric, cloth shape, and even experimenting with different materials. A simple demonstration on how to make a no-sew face mask is listed below.

Simple Cotton FaceMask, Image from Youtube Channel Survival Know How


  • Piece of Cotton Fabric (t-shirt, bandana, pillowcase, etc.…) 
  • Two Elastic Bands or thin strap of material


  • Fold a piece of cloth twice to appropriate width
  • Place two rubber bands on each side
  • Fold in the overhanging portion
  • Place over face (Add Filters Optional)
Instructions on Making the No-Sew Simple Face Mask

A simple hand-sewn mask was also demonstrated during the workshop. Follow along below:


  • Piece of Cotton Fabric (t-shirt, bandana, pillowcase …) 
  • A needle and some threads


  • Sew the fabric together until you have a two-layer mask 
  • Fold the center of the fabric inwards and sew the seams 
  • Sew one side of the mask shut and leave the other end open to allow you to change out the filters as needed 
  • Sew on the strings (if you don’t have strings, you can use any fabric) 
  • For more details please refer to the full slides linked below!
Instructions for making a Hand-Sewn Mask

Additionally, during the workshop, methods to keep your masks sanitized and reusable were covered, both for homemade cotton masks and medical face masks. It is important not to use dissolving disinfectants when sanitizing medical face masks due to a dissolvable water-resistant layer that is used to repel fluids from coughing or sneezing. Once that layer has been dissolved by disinfectants such as alcohol, the mask loses its protective functionality. As for homemade masks, they can simply be washed in the same fashion clothes are washed. CDC provides a list of instructions on extending the life of your PPE.

By browsing other people’s design online, exchanging ideas on forums, and practicing hands-on fabrication, we can re-boost our brain with creativity during the self quarantine period. Whether you are able to obtain medical face masks or you resort to homemade masks, the best practice of staying safe is to stay indoors and minimize the frequency of exposing yourself to possible contaminants.

Please refer to the full slide deck with instructions, links to other tutorials, and additional ideas for DIY mask making.