White House urges Americans to wear face masks in public. Here’s how to make your own

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These are some of the materials you can use to make a face mask, but an old T-shirt and a pair of scissors will suffice. Photo credit: Danette Riddle

The CDC is recommending that all Americans should wear cloth masks or other face coverings if they go out in public — amid new concerns that infected people with no symptoms can still spread COVID-19. 

With a shortage of masks at stores and hospitals, that may involve making them at home. DnA talks to Angelenos who are participating in a community wide effort to make masks for medical staff and for personal use, using tools that range from digital to analog, from software and a 3D printer to fabric and a sewing machine.

Architect Alvin Huang fabricates a face mask using a crowdsourced design, a computer and a 3D printer. Image courtesy of Alvin Huang, @SynthesisDNA

The famed architect Bjarke Ingels announced last weekend that he has turned over his firm’s 3D printing workshop to making face shields for New York doctors. So have engineers, architects and researchers at Princeton and Cornell

In LA, USC’s architecture school is leading an effort involving around 100 Southland designers and architects, including Brooks Scarpa, Michael Maltzan, Jennifer Siegal, RCH Studios and many others. They have partnered with Mayor Eric Garcetti in his “L.A. Protects” initiative.

They have taken their home-studio 3D printers and begun printing face shields and what Alvin Huang, USC graduate director of architecture, calls “pseudo N-95” face masks. He says these will serve as back-ups for medical staff.

Huang, also principal of his own firm Synthesis Design + Architecture, explains the goal of this collective campaign, the challenge of navigating 6,000 open source files to find the perfect protective face shield (they chose a 3D shield by Budman ), and getting the process to speed up from an eight-hour print down to around three. 

It is all worth it, he says, when he hears the alternative for a doctor might be a “bandana.” 

There’s another challenge facing him and other architects: Completing this project  while maintaining their business amid instability for the building industry.

“The one blessing in all of this, because of the social distancing, is that I can literally do all of those roles, including being a parent and a husband, from one room,” says Huang.

Danette Riddle works by day and sews face masks by night. Photo credit: Danette Riddle

That’s the digital approach. Meanwhile, an army of sewers, from fashion designers to hobbyists, are also making masks. Crafting groups have gathered online, including 100 Million Mask Challenge,  Stitched Together , Masks for Heros  and Masks for Humanity (from the founders of the Pussyhat Project).

DnA talks to Danette Riddle, a marketing lead at the design and engineering firm AECOM. She makes masks at night, again as back-up for caregivers, and has already made around 80.

She explains how to make a face mask , even if you have no sewing skills or materials. It turns out you can simply cut off T-shirt sleeves and, bam, you have a mask.

She also talks about how certain basic materials — like interfacing and elastic — have become “precious commodities,” while time seems endless. 

“Most people right now are having some difficulty sleeping,” Riddle tells DnA. “Most of my friends are. And so I'm sewing. I wake up around 3:30 a.m. And I will sew before my day job starts. And then also at night again. And then as much as possible on the weekends. … But it feels good to try to do something to help everyone.”

Be a superhero and wear a face mask? "Dylan" sells masks on Rose Avenue, Venice. Photo by Frances Anderton.



  • Alvin Huang - Founder and Design Principal of Synthesis Design + Architecture, and an Associate Professor at the USC School of Architecture
  • Danette Riddle - Vice President, Buildings + Places Marketing Team Lead, Americas, AECOM


Frances Anderton