Local manufacturer shifts gears to focus on mask making

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By Rachel Madison

Liberty Hill resident Michael Caird has spent the last 10 years locally manufacturing high-end hats, scarves, socks and gloves for clients around the world, but since the coronavirus pandemic started, he has since switched gears to make and sell knitted masks.

Caird, owner of The Knitting Mill, has seen his business grow steadily over the last decade, and like many businesses, had plans for more growth this year. Now, because of the coronavirus, his growth is on hold, and so is his business with many of his usual clients.

“My business has dried up at the moment,” he said. “Everything I manufacture is heavy knit for the fall and the winter. I’m usually starting to crank up my production now so I’ll have stock for companies up north. All my customers are still there, but they can’t commit right now because they don’t know if and when they’ll get back to normal. My hand has been forced a little bit to see if my knitting machines could produce masks.”

Caird’s knit accessories are produced on Shima Seiki WholeGarment machinery, which produces seamless, 3D knitwear.

“I don’t have sewing machines—I can only knit,” Caird added. “Everything I do is seamless, so there’s no waste. Everything comes off the machine ready to go. We hand-finish a couple of ends, wash it, dry it, press it and it’s ready to go.”

Caird said while he is producing the masks to give people some protection when they have to go out and about, he is also trying to get some business for The Knitting Mill due to a complete halt on orders from his regular customers.

“I need to get some business or else I’m in trouble,” he said. “I have a lot of yarn left over from previous projects, so I’ve been using it to make the masks because I can’t get yarn right now with everything in lockdown. Every mask I make is 100 percent Egyptian cotton.”

Caird’s masks also have an opening in them to fit a PM2.5 filter insert, which will come with each mask purchase. So far, Caird has only been able to get a shipment of 100 filters, but he expects to be able to get more soon.

Caird hadn’t produced this type of mask product before, so he had to develop the mask data from scratch. This involved using the Shima Seiki APEX design system to tell the machine how to make the item. He also has a patent for a technique used for knitting sweaters that he earned in 1995 when he was in Japan training on WholeGament technology.

Caird will be knitting the masks in two sizes, small and medium/large, and will offer them in a variety of colorways. Cost for the masks will be approximately $15 each. The masks are machine washable and dryable.

“This is interesting for me because the way my business works, I’m just the manufacturer,” Caird said. “My customers mark up my products two or three times, and it goes to all these boutiques. Everything I do is high end because I use very high-quality yarn. The way I’m doing these masks will be under our own label, even though I don’t usually do this. Every mask I produce will be high quality, so if you treat it right and wash it right it will last many years.”

Caird hopes that in the long term, the masks will become a regular part of the products he knits.

“These masks are not just a quick fix to keep my business going,” he said. “When this is all over, we’ll be living in a very different world. I think people will have masks in their vehicles or their bags, and a lot of people will have masks on when they go out even when things get back to normal.”

The Knitting Mill has been operating in Liberty Hill since 2011 and has a 3,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. Currently, the Mill serves about 20 regular customers, including boutiques like Weatherford, Texas-based Buffalo Wool Co.; and Santa Fe, N.M.,-based GoLightly Cashmere.

For more information or to purchase masks from The Knitting Mill, visit Caird’s Shopify store at https://studio.theknittingmill.com.

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