Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spotlight on a Crocheter: Jennie Gaskin

Jennie Gaskin loves to talk crochet and says her involvement in crochet is precious to her. This is fortunate for all crocheters, since Jennie provides an invaluable resource for us all, especially the Threadies. Jennie owns and operates Country Yarns, a mail order business selling crochet leaflets and pattern books, and she specializes  in patterns that are hard (if not impossible) to find  elsewhere.
Here is an order that Anne Kroner Cho recently received from County Yarns. Anne says Elizabeth Hiddleson is her favorite designer, and when she discovered Country Yarns, her husband told her to go ahead and order 20 books as an early Mother's Day and Birthday gift!

photo used courtesy Anne Kroner Cho

Here is Jennie's story:

Here is a little background on me, in case some of you have no idea who I am , LOL! I have been a Threadie since the age of 12. I learned from my mother on size 30 thread, probably because she needed her size 10 for herself. I've been married and sitting on this 120 acres of pasture and timber for 45 years this coming April 4th. 
Back in 1982, hubby decided I needed more adults to talk to so he built me a little needlework shop across the driveway from our house, using mostly leftovers from when we built our home back in '77. The lady in our tiny, tiny town who sold yarn in their general store had just retired and closed the store, so it was a good time to do that. The shop was only 16 x 24, and some of that was storage so there wasn't much room but it made me happy. 
It wasn't long before we had to enlarge (and then enlarge again!)  after  I started carrying craft supplies for the groups (scouts, school, church, etc.) in our area. I was a Girl Scout from way back, and I knew how hard it could be to figure out crafts for the groups so I started putting together little inexpensive individual kits for the leaders. It was a blast, and I had so much fun over the years until I finally had to close the shop in 2007 for family reasons.  The best pats on the backs were from leaders and teachers; one teacher told me that her class "bad boy" came to her one day and thanked her for getting the kits to make beaded Christmas tree ornaments.
In the meantime I had become very friendly with the sales reps at LA and discovered that with the new ownership back then there had been changes in their reprint policies! Before, when inventory on a title ran low they would just do a reprint. Now, they discontinued many of their titles when inventory ran out. Ack! So I started watching their inventory list and started buying what I could afford of certain "good" titles, like the Patricia Kristoffersen titles and even older ones, especially thread titles because nobody seemed to be printing many anymore.
I also sell a large selection of Elizabeth Hiddleson pattern books. 
Not everybody even knows who Elizabeth Hiddleson is. She was just a "threadie" like all of us, except that (like a few of us) she had a creative side and loved to fiddle with her doilies and turn out something new. Her son told me that she would come home from work (I think she worked as a bookkeeper in the shipyards in Vallejo, which is across the bay from San Francisco) and sit in her chair and crochet until time to start supper.  
Elizabeth Hiddleson

Mrs. Hiddleson sold volumes 1-15, and Delena Byrd (her daughter) sold volumes in the higher numbers. Then Mrs. Hiddleson started on the "A" series for herself, so they both ended up with about an equal number of volumes and individual patterns. Delena passed away, and Delena's daughter Shirley Siracusa took over her mother's part.  On top of the 49 volumes, there are about 300 individual patterns, and I'm pretty sure I have all except one of them which nobody seems to have.
At the time, Lily Mills was selling EH books along with their thread, and they were the ones who advertised EH books in the Workbasket. That was because Mrs. H. recommended and "advertised“ Lily threads in her books, and it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. When Lily Mills quit, that meant there were no more advertisements,  so naturally sales went down because nobody knew they were still being published! 
I heard through the internet grapevine that Shirley was still selling the books, so I wrote her a letter and asked her if she wholesaled the books because I would like them on my web site. Her reply said that she would actually like to sell them all at one time because she was moving into a smaller house and wouldn't really have room for them. She was on the verge of having them hauled to the dump!!!!! *gasp* Nooooo!!! 
So I talked to my husband and asked if I could borrow that much money from our savings, and his only question was, "Can you sell them?" Could I sell them??  You bet! I got back in touch with Shirley to tell her we were interested. She told me there were about 200 book boxes full. Yikes! 
Okay, my husband works for a moving & storage company and he could figure out how to get them here from California (to Louisiana). A week later, Shirley called back and said, "Jennie, I have some bad news." Uh oh, she's found somebody who can afford to pay lots more than me. But it was other news - there were more like 300 (!) boxes. Okay, George can handle that. We sealed the deal, and when they showed up there were 328 boxes, not just book boxes but double stack book boxes, like the boxes that copy paper comes in but slightly larger! And a  (small) water heater box full of loose patterns. And in that box was what I called my Golden Easter Eggs - two Japanese EH books!! Apparently, Mrs. H. had made a deal with Ondori to let them publish her patterns in special books with just her patterns in them. And best of all, Ondori charted them all! These were only patterns from her first 15 books. (I've since gotten the other ones from Japanese Yahoo auctions, and you wouldn't believe how much the Japanese were bidding on them against me!) So I got volumes 16 through 49 from Shirley, although a couple of them were very low in stock and volume 24 was sold out. 
The books mentioned Wheeler Publishing in Vallejo, so I decided it couldn't hurt to call them and see if they were still in business or maybe could at least tell me how to get in touch with the Hiddlesons. Rita Burke, the owner of Wheeler (I think that was her maiden name), is a delightful 80+ lady who still went into the office every day and enjoyed a busy life. She told me where the Hiddlesons were (they had moved to Arkansas with Mrs. Hiddleson who was in her 90s then), and she told me that she had a printing of volumes 1-A through 10-A that a missionary in Japan had ordered and would pick up when he came back to the states for a visit, but something happened and he never picked them up or paid for them. She was happy to sell them to me and ship them to me. Thankfully, this was not 7 TONS like the last shipment! 
I got in touch with the Hiddlesons in AR, and they had boxes of books and patterns that they had hauled to AR from CA,  but because they couldn't advertise and mail wasn't being forwarded after all that time, they hadn't sold them. They were glad to sell them to me, so hubby and I drove up to AR and picked them up.
Unfortunately, Mrs. H was in the nursing home by that time so I didn't get to meet the Doily Pattern Queen herself. But I did get to hear about her from her son and daughter-in-law! She was designing back in the 1940s (maybe even longer) and selling her patterns to Lily, American Thread, and Coats & Clark, but as you all know those companies didn't name their designers on the patterns. Mrs. H was interviewed by the Vallejo newspaper (I have a copy) and she told them, "Call it vanity, but I wanted to see my name with my designs." 
Mrs. Burke told me that Betty, as she called her, came into the business "sometime in the mid 50s" with 2 doilies and a hand-written pattern. She had already been to another business in town and HE hadn't wanted to bother with it. Mrs. Burke said she could photograph the doily against a black background and have the patterns typed for her. After that, Mrs. H advertised the pattern in a "weekly newspaper" (probably something like the Grit newspaper, if you remember it) for 25 cents, and she sold all 1,000 copies in 2 weeks! Her daughter-in-law Carolyn said that it was either the year before or the year after she and Bill got married, so that puts it in the mid 1950s.
So, here I was with all these books, sometimes a couple thousand of one title but only a couple hundred of another. Luckily, I got in touch with a distributor who sold to Hobby Lobby, and HL wanted them! With that money, I had reprints of volumes 3 and 24 made by Wheeler Printing from the original plates (!) which they still had because they did so many reprints through the years for Mrs. H and for Lily Mills. Lily would call Wheeler and order a printing of certain volumes, which they sold through stores to help sell their threads, and Mrs. H would get royalties on those books too. 
When I have reprints made of either the volumes or the individual patterns, I paid Mrs. H (and now her son) royalties on the reprints too. It's the right thing to do. I just wish I had the money to get them all reprinted *sigh*
Mrs. H's last patterns were all published in Decorative Crochet and Magic Crochet (look in the early 1990s editions), because she didn't have to write out the patterns. She just sent them the doilies and they "wrote" the patterns and charts themselves. Her goal was to have a final volume 50, but with Lily Mills not advertising for her anymore it became financially impossible. I would love to realize that dream for her, but it doesn't look like we'll ever get to do it. But at least we have a dream!

Thank you, Jennie, for sharing your story with us. I admire and appreciate all you have done for crocheters everywhere, and I know we all hope someday your dream of printing volume 50 will come  true!
You can find Jennie at:
 Web site:


HumorMe said...

Oh, my goodness! What a fascinating story! And what foresight on Jennie's part to take advantage of an "opportunity of a lifetime!"

Thank you, Jennie, for sharing your story, and much of EH's. And thank you, Ann, for posting it on your blog!

Go, Threadies!!!

Tita Carré said...

Olá, Feliz Páscoa !!! lindo os teus trabalhos, fazia tempo que não passava por aqui, mas continua tudo lindo, parabéns!!! Passe no meu blog, coloquei mais algumas receitas, e uma Feliz Páscoa,beijokas!!!
Visite meu blog - Tita Carré - Crochet

Innie said...

What an amazing legacy! Admiration and respects foe the ladies who were so steadfast and string in the days when the difficulties were fraught. Now in 2019, I am unable to find a single crochet book in my yarn shop. I can only afford ebooks.
I hope with the revival of the new age of ssvibg, recycling, reusing, people will revive these beautiful art.
Thank you for telling the story of Mrs Elizabeth Hiddleson. Thank you for giving the royalties back to her (and her son). She must be so proud.