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Project Update: MakerMask

How came to be, and where they are headed.

Written by: Linda Yan


From its humble beginnings of a lifelong backpacker realizing the need for better DIY mask instructions in the new age of COVID-19, MakerMask provides a trusted voice for science on mask materials, designs, and use.

The History

Dr. Jocelyn Songer never thought that her own struggles with occupational asthma or innovating homemade masks to deal with wildfire smoke while backpacking from Mexico to Canada would come in handy in a global health crisis. But as COVID-19 took the world by storm, she felt called to put to good use a decade of research and background in respiratory health, particle science, modeling, and a very personal relationship with N95s.

“I knew from personal experience as a backpacker and First Responder that bandanas weren’t enough for my mask needs, and that there was better science out there than I was seeing in the news,” says Dr. Songer. “I realized someone needed to be a voice for the research behind better DIY mask solutions.”

Dr. Songer, a biomedical engineer, and her mother, Lucille Songer, a Registered Nurse and risk manager, focused on creating masks that served their needs for infection control, engineering, safety, and usability. As understanding of COVID-19 evolved and data came out showing that droplets were the primary route of virus transmission, they began focusing on breathable, water-resistant materials such as nonwoven polypropylene (NWPP), commonly used in commercial grade masks.

With successful prototypes in hand, Dr. Songer joined the volunteer team at Helpful Engineering with #project-DIY-masks (now #project-cloth-masks). As the pandemic picked up speed, the MakerMask initiative emerged, prototyping designs, reviewing hundreds of journal articles, and talking to dozens of scientists, engineers, clinicians, and regulators.

Literature on homemade masks was spotty and covered few materials. The data that existed was rarely head-to-head or using standard protocols, and labs with the time and resources to test new materials and combinations were few and far between. Only a handful of professional test facilities exist in the US, and those were flat out with major manufacturers’ needs. “I spent hundreds of hours barking up trees to try to get professional mask testing with no luck,” shared Dr. Songer. “When groups with much more power and influence than started reaching out to me to ask if I could help them find testing, I knew this problem was bigger than just us.”

When groups with much more power and influence than started reaching out to me to ask if I could help them find testing, I knew this problem was bigger than just us.

“The most basic feature of a mask that covers the nose and mouth is breathability,” explained Dr. Songer. She credits ATOR Labs in Florida for stepping up to the plate to provide this critical testing for the MakerMask prototypes. Using ISO 16900 and NIOSH testing methodologies, ATOR Labs showed that all three MakerMask styles passed quantitative testing for breathability, including inhalation and exhalation resistance. Dr. Songer can’t help but smile as she reads from the reports that all the homemade masks and covers, “would pass NIOSH/NPPTL testing for form, fit and function.”

In April, the FDA issued new guidance for professional and volunteer mask making groups to clarify the role of masks for the general public, and to help reduce the overstated claims being made about the benefits of untested masks. The team immediately responded, clarifying their own labeling, and providing labeling guidance for the maker community.


Success Stories

With MakerMask’s analysis in hand, sewists and makerspaces across the country have taken up the science-driven drumbeat to make and distribute their own NWPP masks. The Distill My Heart campaign in Oakland, California made over 3,400 masks for underserved populations in their community. LaunchSpace in Orange, Massachusetts started the MassK Project, with a goal of 10,000 mask donations. The magazine Popular Science picked up the MakerMask Surge design to share a no-sew variant. With new makers adopting the research recommendation every week, Dr. Songer is pushing harder than ever to deliver understandable science that elevates DIY mask making to higher impact and safer masks to help the global fight against the coronavirus.


The WHO guidance on face masks for COVID-19 has changed to include the recommendation that the general public use fabric masks in public settings where physical distancing can’t be achieved and provides specific guidance on mask layers and materials. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the ideal fabric mask for use by the general public consists of three layers, where two of the three layers are water-resistant (hydrophobic) materials such as polypropylene, and the third layer in contact with the face is an absorbent (hydrophilic) material such as cotton.

See MakerMask’s page about specific suggestions to meet the WHO guidance.


Researching Materials

Selecting the right mask materials is important for the comfort, fit, and function of fabric masks. Fabric masks designed to cover the mouth and nose to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 consist of three basic parts: 1) the mask body, formed by multiple layers of nonwoven polypropylene (NWPP), 2) ties, which affix the mask to the head and hold it in position over the mouth and nose, and 3) a nose band, which improves the fit of the mask around the nose and facial contours.

See their website for full explanation about materials at


Future Direction

Now, Dr. Songer and her team are back on the hunt, looking for a lab that can provide the fluid penetration testing needed to quantify which mask materials pass the FDA’s preferred tests for respiratory droplet protection. Next up is particle testing to validate further development of next-generation designs.

Well-controlled, scientifically informative comparative testing is what I am interested in.

“Well-controlled, scientifically informative comparative testing is what I am interested in,” says Songer. “I want to be able to evaluate differences between the mask materials and designs, with apples-to-apples testing, so we can drive innovation and promote the use of better, safer, and more effective masks.”

How You Can Help

The team is currently seeking collaborators and introductions to continue driving these efforts forward.

If you have access to test facilities, materials testing resources you’d like to donate, or interest in reviewing mask science for public use, please contact Dr. Songer and her team at [email protected].

Want to volunteer? Contact the project through the Helpful Engineering Slack: #project-fabric-mask

Contact Dr. Songer: [email protected]

See the project

See mask

The designs for these cloth face masks are presented As-Is. The goal is to present designs that can foster further discussion and be utilized in countries that permit this product. These are not finalized designs and do not represent certification from any country. You accept responsibility and release Helpful Engineering from liability for the manufacture or use of this product. This design was created in response to the announcement on March 10, 2020, from the HHS.  Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who issued a declaration pursuant to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act

Link to Prep act. :


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