Thread company snaps into action to fill need for elastic for protective masks

Kreinik Manufacturing makes threads. Metallic threads. Silk threads. Iron-on threads. Threads in dazzling colors. Even craft fiber used for fly fishing. 

The threads cover a flexible range of applications. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation, company president, Doug Kreinik, saw an urgent need for a material the nearly 50-year-old company never made: elastic. 

Thread company snaps into action to fill need for elastic for protective masks
Kreinik Manufacturing president Doug Kreinik

Elastic shortage constricts mask supply

Protective masks needed to reduce the risk of contagion were in short supply worldwide. As companies and individuals pitched in to make more masks, the elastic that straps the masks in place also became scarce.

The family-owned Kreinik Manufacturing in Parkersburg normally produces decorative thread used in needlework, crochet, fly-fishing, costuming and interior design. The seed of inspiration to adapt Kreinik’s thread machines to make elastic had been planted 30 years earlier.

“While visiting a machine company in Italy, I saw that the braiding machines that I have could produce elastic,” he said. 

When the novel coronavirus outbreak began in West Virginia, Kreinik Manufacturing followed public safety guidelines and suspended the popular factory tours and classes. The company requested permission to continue working with a skeleton crew to solve the elastic production challenge.

“We were granted permission to stay open to research different elastics suitable for masks and how to convert some of our existing machines to produce it,” Kreinik said.

Thread company snaps into action to fill need for elastic for protective masks

Engineering a flexible solution 

The manufacturer experimented with machine modification and different types of elastic. They selected an elastic that was soft and had a stretch ratio of 3 to 1. 

“The elastic we now produce is fluffy and easier on the ears,” Doug said. "Also, because of the stretch, you do not need as much when making masks.”

Kreinik Manufacturing’s Facebook post announced in late April that the braided elastic for masks was in production. The elastic is wound on the spool or cards and expands when released.

"A friend of mine — Ben Bradley, the manager of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Parkersburg — asked if he could mention our elastic in his blog," Doug said. "I said sure. I did not realize how many thousands of friends his Facebook site has! Word spread like wildfire."

Braiding elastic is a slow process. Now with eight Kreinik machines converted, production is picking up speed faster than expected. That will help spur vital deliveries such as the order for 10,000 yards for the West Virginia National Guard.

Thread company snaps into action to fill need for elastic for protective masks

Causes for concern and for hope

For the rest of the year or until a vaccine is available, Kreinik Manufacturing plans to forego conducting tours in the factory. Such prudent measures may be small indicators of the economic as well as health risks the pandemic has spread. High unemployment will make it even more difficult for people to shop and for small businesses to recover.

“People are the economy,” he said. “If the economy is sick, no one does business, no one lives a normal life, and no one is happy.”

Yet even serious situations can offer a few bright spots. 

"I have a staff of 19 people," said Doug. "I have had a core of folks working through the pandemic. Luckily, I received the Paycheck Protection Program loan in early April. I was able to keep everyone on and especially pay for their health insurance."

Before the pandemic, Kreinik Manufacturing had worked with the West Virginia Development Office for STEP grants for exporting and website development. These projects will resume progress later. Since the pandemic began, the company has been working with the U.S. Small Business Administration on some of the financial assistance programs.

For Doug, the positives have included learning more about Zoom, the video conferencing for virtual meetings; and baking cakes, muffins, breads and cookies for his neighbors.

Another is that "people love the fact that they can purchase elastic made in the U.S. and made in West Virginia."

As for the future, he said, "Forward is the only option."