Signature Dish

The Ins, Outs and Goings-On at Signature and Beyond straight from Cathy Bothe

If Only Crickets had Hair

   

When Signature was quite new we had a customer who took the chance and returned for more and more needles. She is from a part of Michigan that was going through some hard times and we became acquainted by email over the years.  Last year when we auctioned off the beautiful sample of the cashmere Shirley Paden design she won and I couldn’t have been happier. 

 

We wanted to feature her in the Signature Circle series and so began to find out a few more things about Jean.  We gave a little preview of Jean in an earlier blog post about the donation of the proceeds from the sale of the sample garment to Hurricane Sandy relief.   Wow, what a story—a family business in breeding crickets. Who would have ever thought of that as a thriving business? She shares her time in a yarn shop, driving a fork truck, and knitting. If only crickets had tiny little fleeces….

 

Talk about an interesting life! We hope you will think so too.  By the way the Shirley Paden kit and pattern are available on the site if you want to take a stab at making your own Lacey Arches Cardigan

 

1. Tell us about yourself:

My name is Jean Eldred, I am 57 years young. My husband and I have three grown sons. A couple of unique things about me: I have seven siblings, including a set of triplets. They are my younger sisters and they are turning 50 this year! After I graduated from college in 1977, I pursued a career in wastewater treatment at that time I was the first woman to work in my community as a wastewater treatment operator. I left that career to become a business owner.

 

2. When did you start knitting, who taught you?

I love this question! It brings back some good memories. I don't remember whose idea it was, but my Mom and I took knitting lessons together at a yarn shop, I think it was called Monroe Woolen Mills? I was probably ten years old. I can remember knitting some swatches in different stitches. Also, I think I made some mittens as one of my first projects. I have been knitting on and off since then.

 

3. What are your favorite things to knit?

I like it all! I have several projects going at once (and a few in time out!!) Right now I am working on a beautiful Chicknits cardigan, Elisbeth using some yarn from the Plucky Knitter. I recently finished Christmas stockings for my family. My oldest son just recently got engaged to a wonderful young woman so that was my inspiration to update the family stockings. I used the Churchmouse Family Christmas Stocking pattern for all of the stockings. I made everyone's stocking different. It was great fun designing the stockings for each person. I used Shepherd's wool from Stonehedge for this project; also, I used 40" Signature needles so I could knit the magic loop method. Also, I just made a hat for one of my doctors. I have been suffering from vertigo. He diagnosed my problem as BPPV and performed a simple procedure (called the Epley Maneuver) and I was cured! It was just amazing. So, I decided to knit him a hat. I gave it to him at my follow-up appointment. He was really touched, he told me that his wife is learning to knit and is making a washcloth! Of course, I used that opportunity to tell him that I work part time at Stitching Memories, my local yarn shop. He says she will be coming in to visit us.

 

4.Can you tell us a little about your unique company?

I work at my family's business, Top Hat Cricket Farm. We raise and sell crickets all over the U.S. Crickets are sold to zoos, pet stores, bait shops and to individuals who require large quantities of crickets. We have a website, www.tophatcrickets.com. There is a lot of information on our company's history on our site. In a nutshell, the cricket farm was started by my father-in-law, Grant Eldred, in the 1960's. Back then it was a summer only business dedicated to growing crickets for sale as fish bait. Over the years, people have started feeding crickets to their pet lizards, frogs, turtles and even birds. As the number of people keeping those types of pets has grown, so has the cricket industry. We sell crickets in quantities from one thousand up to one hundred thousand. They are shipped in packages designed to keep them from getting too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer. Our sons have all worked at the business; making them third generation cricket farmers.



Cricket Shelves Smaller crickets we raise Larger crickets we raise


5. Do you have a favorite local yarn shop?

I am lucky enough to work part time at Stitching Memories, which is located in Portage, MI I have worked there for several years. It is a great way to keep my yarn stash fed! I enjoy seeing customers bring in their finished projects, either from classes they have taken with us or with yarn they have purchased from us. That feeling of satisfaction from a finished object just has to be shared! Working at the yarn shop, I get to see the appeal that knitting holds for people of all ages. We also carry crochet tools and patterns and hold classes in crochet. I think the granny square is making a comeback.

 

6. How did you become a part of the Signture family?

I have been a huge fan of Signature needles for a long time, even before you sold circs.  I think the first time Cathy emailed me was when I ordered a kit which included Lorna's laces yarn, DPNs and a pattern.  I can't remember all the details, but I had ordered the kit to take along with me on a family vacation to Mackinac Island. 

 




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Winner upon Winner

When Super Storm Sandy hit everyone here felt so bad for all the people affected. We even had a direct link since we were working with the final steps of the Lacey Arches pattern by the famous designer Shirley Paden Bernstein and getting the sample to be finished and delivered. She and her helpers live in New York and had some damage themselves. We wanted to do something just as so many others all across the country and decided that we could raise some funds by auctioning off the beautiful 100% cashmere sample. It was wonderful to see how many people were interested. And we have a winner…. Jean E from Michigan

Sweater

 

Even though we have a huge number of customers I really do “know” some of them. One of the things I do is to email customers from time to time and Jean and I have been in touch for several years so having her get the sweater was wonderful. I wanted to find out a bit more about her—things I had not thought to ask and here is what she replied: I live in Kalamazoo, Michigan. My three sons are grown but still live in the area. I work at my family's business, Top Hat Cricket Farm, but I am also lucky enough to have time to work part time at Stitching Memories, my local yarn shop. I love my signature needles. Currently, I am knitting Christmas stockings for my family. Since it is only January, I will surely have time to finish them in time for next Christmas! The cord on the circular needles is perfect for the magic loop method. Of course the part about the Cricket Farm grabbed my attention—was it just a cute name or was it really Crickets. Turns out it is really crickets and that they sell in the US, Canada and even Europe to pet stores and zoos. You can go to www.tophatcrickets.com to learn more. And people don’t understand how very interesting knitters are! Here in Kenosha we have another winner. Laura absolutely shocked her father and me last October. I mean slack jawed, stunned, amazed when she announced that since Jan. of 2012 she had been in secret training so that she could run a ½ marathon at Disney World this January. In our family and at work we all love and respect Laura for her multitude of talents, her character, intelligence, and kindness but she has never, ever really done anything athletic. She is a fantastic parent, community member, citizen but has never been on a single team or had any sport as a hobby. So you can see why we were actually speechless when she told us the reason she and her husband and kids were going to Disney World. Also, those kids can try for jobs in the CIA—in all those months with all the Sunday dinners and vacations together and even a long car trip they never even hinted at what she was doing. She was training on a treadmill and running around our town and not a word. I know that Vicki in our office was a real inspiration—another mom who did the training and the two ½ marathons at Disney after not ever doing any running before. This is an excellent time of year to when we are making resolutions to consider that what we do (for good or ill) can turn into a resolution for others around us. Saturday Jan. 13 was the day at Disney World and we have another winner:


 

We are so proud of her and what she did so “out of the box” for her. Maybe that is the best prize—to be an example for others that you CAN do something you never did before and, of course, that you can keep a secret from your parents.


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Here and Back

It is pretty obvious that my New Year’s Resolution should be to do a better job of keeping up with the blog. It is not that nothing has happened, but that lots has. Everything from holiday hilarity (think dogs eating whole plates of summer sausage) to engagements to meeting special friends for the first time to astonishing developments in the family. I will do my best to get back to some of these as we move into the new year. For today I am so happy that baby Benjamin has finally arrived. He is the grandson of dear friends. Their son (Benjamin’s dad) married a wonderful young woman from Brazil who is not only very intelligent, very articulate in 2 languages, but also just plain gorgeous. Isabella also helped Laura as a summer nanny when the kids were younger so our families are very close. Our son-in-law Brian who is a native of Minnesota says in our town there in no 6 degrees of separation—2 degrees at the maximum. Because Benjamin is the best of 2 national traditions—United States and Brazil—I wanted to do something special so I knit a blanket with 2 sides, one has the colors and flag of the US and the other Brazil. It took me almost as long as the time since I last blogged. Actually I had it almost done and hated the separate blocks so frogged the whole thing and did it as 2 continuous pieces.

 I have to say I was happy to finally finish just a few days before his arrival. We are just coming out of the busy holiday season here. Actually just yesterday the winner of the $500 “win your wish list” sent her order so she will be having a great start to a new knitting year. The topper of the season (and there is always a clear winner) was the customer who called to tell us that her boyfriend had kindly and lovingly bought her 3 pairs of circs that were on her wish list. The arrived and somehow in his wrapping attempt he cut through all the cables. Not one, not two, but all 3! He knew how much she wanted them so he attempted a repair with black duct tape. We were all pretty sure that it was a mixed response—happy that he was trying to fix things and horrified at the destruction. I have a few more babies on the horizon and a stash that just won’t quit so I want to find a basic raglan sleeve baby sweater (cardigan) done in the round. If you know of a good one I would be happy if you would share it. One wonderful addition here at work is that we now have Peggy helping with Customer Support. She has a fascinating past life as a newspaper columnist and she is a knitter! We know that some of you may have been in contact with her and that she will do everything she can to help. One last thing for your consideration: We have a fabulous new kit and pattern from the famous designer Shirley Paden and we have the original sample. We wanted to try and help the victims of Super Storm Sandy in whatever way we can so we are auctioning off the sample which is stunning done in 100% Jade Sapphire cashmere.

 You can find all the information One day left to bid - Join your fellow knitters in bidding for a great cause! The Shirley Paden Lacy Arches Cardigan Sample Garment is up for auction. Made with 100% Cashmere from Jade Sapphire Auction: All proceeds will be donated to @RedCross Hurricane Sandy relief http://ow.ly/gDLPt

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Birthing is NEVER Easy!

As a person who can truthfully say I gave birth to an 8# 13 oz baby with no anesthesia, I will tell you that getting the “little” circs out was a million times harder—and remember, a baby that size has a head like a bowling ball. Things happened over and over that made me think we had a voodoo curse. Things that never, ever, ever happen happened. Thousands and thousands of size 1 needles are colored with no problem. Send out the size 1 circ stalks and disaster. Order cable that comes spool after spool just perfect and the size 1 cable comes all twisted and unusable. Order machine parts for the machines to make them and although they are perfect hundreds of times, we get them back bad, and bad in ways that we have never even, in 62 years, consider they could be wrong. In a non-machining comparison—when you look in a cloudless sky you expect to see a yellow sun. Think looking up and seeing a blue sun. It just never happens except sometimes it does. 

 

 

 But FINALLY, finally, finally we have the size 1circs done. You will notice one difference - they don't rotate, but you will get the fabulous points that you love on the straights and dpns and all the choices of stalk length. And, as a wonderful addition - you can get them in a 16" overall length. I did up a small hat for our rescue dog Cooperwho was pretty good about modeling.

I know the very next deluge of questions will be “when will the size 2s and the 2.5 mm be done? They are next in line along with the reengineered US 7s, but we need to build lots of size 1s first and also fill in with other things that have been pushed back. Please believe we are working everyone here as much as possible. We have added some machinery and put more people on the job—which is wonderful. In a tiny way we are doing our part to get the unemployment numbers down! We also want to thank those "secret" testers who helped us get here. I personally tested too, of course, and here is a baby blanket made on the size 1s in their various revisions which I will be donating to the INNS program at our church where homeless people find some respite in the coming winter.

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Summer: Lovers and Haters

Summer: Lovers and Haters I know that those of you are sad that the heat of summer is coming to the end. But for I say HOORAY! We have had the most horrible, hot, drought ridden summer that I can remember. One night we even put on Ice Road Truckers just to see some snow and ice. And for those of us that are crazy for knitting there must be something in our deep subconscious that enjoys it more when it not 98 and humid outside. We are back from Stitches Midwest and getting ready to go to Stitches East with, it seems, very little breathing time in between because so much effort has been put on some other initiatives here. 

 

 If you could all only know the day to day of starting a business you would share the memories we have of setting up the first site and shopping cart. Honestly, as a buyer online I never had any idea what had to happen behind the scenes of any site with a shopping cart. We have always struggled to have a site that looked like the exceptional products we are selling, while trying to get it organized to handle all the thousands of combinations we offer. For the past several months, after finding a firm that seemed to be a good fit in the design phase, the back end of getting all the elements to work is in place. Of course it never goes smoothly and I know that Daniella was emailing at 11:57 one night saying they were just going to stop until another day. We hope there won’t be even a single glitch once you see it. But if you do find something that doesn’t seem logical or work right please email us at info@signatureneedlearts.com so we can look into the issue.

 

The other big project around here is getting the size 1 circulars finally finished. A very good sign is that the cards on which they are packaged are here. Please watch your email for that great news. It should only be a matter of a very short time. While I didn’t have that much hands-on (but plenty of “advising”) on the site or the manufacture of the size 1s there is one issue that I have had to wrestle with. As you know we have a 100% commitment to having all our products made here in America and we have to live with what that commitment means. We have had increases in utility, health insurance, and transportation costs which had made us look at our pricing. This means that you will see a small price increase on the new site. No one hates doing this more than me.

 

The one fun thing that Kent and I did was to take our 2 grandchildren on a driving trip to Niagara Falls. If you don’t look at the touristy junk and just the magnificence of the natural wonder of the Falls you would agree with 12 year old Jack who hugged me and said, “Oh! This is so awesome!” We feel like the time when he and his sister would want to take a trip with us may be short as their own lives develop so we really treasure this opportunity. And the weather was only in the low 70’s. Now that is a summer I can live with! I have lots of projects planned for fall and winter knitting including some exclusive patterns we will be having. So think SNOW!

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Hot Hot Hot

Like so much of the country we have been brutalized by high temperatures and drought. Of course the most concern is for the farmers here in the heartland who provide so much food for our country. But the heat is also horrible for a good percentage of us. I know that here in the office we have some who are wired to be heat lovers and others who are groaning even in an air conditioned office—just knowing how hot it is outside is enough to make us cranky. Two different people who are out in the shop made a point to tell me how wonderful it was to work in air conditioning. Read More

5 Years and 4546 Miles: We have come a long way!

Signature certainly has come a long way since its “birthday” June 18, 2007. Lots of growth, lots of growing pains and lots of wonderful customers who we feel are friends. When those of us here from the beginning sit around and do some of the “remember how we used to…..” we have to laugh and feel a real sense of joy in [...] Read More

Third Time is the Charm!

I wanted to make a sweater for a special new baby who is the son of a close friend of our son’s. Seemed pretty simple—a cardigan with hood. I used a pattern from an English designer and that is where the trouble started. I realized that the pattern had LOTS of errors but I foolishly [...] Read More

Signature Circle #2 and a call for Signature Circle Nominations

The Signature Circleis going to continue to amaze you. We KNOW there are knitters in every part of the world and with every sort of life experience and I want to introduce you to a very special woman whose title is Mother at her work! All of us here at Signature feel like we have [...] Read More

Perfect and Really Perfect

I am hoping I am not the only knitter who is just crazy about things they do being perfect. My password name should always be Frogger. The baby sweater I am doing right now has been ripped out so many times that I am now finding a slight positive in knowing this yarn (Milky Soft [...] Read More