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A Family Tradition: Strikke Knits Embroidery

Mike Clark is the associate editor for Printwear and Sign & Digital Graphics magazines. Contact him at mclark@nbm.com

While it’s hard to envision cold winter weather this time of year, one region of the country that’s always been familiar with challenging, freezing temperatures is the Midwest. In Minnesota, where winter weather often doesn’t rise above 15 deg F in winter and in some parts of the state, the temperature dips below 0 degrees F more than 70 times a year, powerful, harsh temperatures are a commonality. Such arduous conditions require warm clothing, and Carolyn Cagle, owner and founder of Strikke Knits, uses her business as a means to meet this demand.

Cagle started the Stacy, Minn.-based embroidery business in 2004 with a 480 sq. ft. workspace connected to her home. Like many embroiderers, learning the techniques and skills of the trade came as part of a family tradition . Cagle’s mother specialized in chain stitch embroidery, attended school to learn the craft, and subsequently started her own business. That family business has been operational for more than 40 years. Before coming onboard with the family business, Cagle had a career in the graphics world, working as a typesetter to put together slide presentations and print graphics. As her parents reached retirement age, Cagle’s brother opted to buy the family business and introduced Cagle to embroidery graphics.

“It was an easy transition,” Cagle comments, explaining that her graphics background made the switch to embroidered graphics rather painless. She marks 1989 as the year she officially began experimenting with embroidery and learning how to use a single-head embroidery machine.

Cagle worked for the family shop until 2004 when she decided it was time to start her own business. Beginning with the prototype for an embroidered mitten, she eventually entered into embroidery manufacturing full-time.

“I figured as long as I had an embroidery machine, I might as well have a shop,” says Cagle.

With Strikke Knits, Cagle specializes in business and personal embroidery, along with her custom brand of mittens and textile art. While the mittens were originally a major revenue generator, the manufacturing costs she contends, were too expensive. Despite the challenge, she still produces a sizeable quantity of them every year, cutting the fabric using die-cut molds to streamline the production.

“I just finished up 150 pairs, which makes 300 total embroidered images,” notes Cagle on her yearly mitten production. Cagle makes an average of 1500 pairs of mittens from August to February for schools, groups, and retail shops.

As a one-person business, Cagle says she’s “become the queen of multi-tasking.” While the typical weekly schedule can vary, days are often split between rolling out and cutting fabric, then tending to other business tasks while patterns are being embroidered on the machine. The digital realm does provide Strikke Knits with some publicity via social media, but Cagle says word-of-mouth is still where she retains most of her business.

Cagle cites Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as a means of easily marketing products like her mittens with low overhead.

“I found that I could reach a wider audience with less money,” Cagle adds, pointing out that she’s found good use with Etsy as a platform for items like her embroidered wedding goods.  

Operating with a single-head machine, Cagle enjoys the pace and rhythm of her one-woman operation and says while there is the potential to expand with machinery and jobs, she’s happy with the current setup.

“I’d like to focus on more specialty embroidery art in the coming years,” comments Cagle.

Despite honing her skills and establishing a successful business, Cagle says she’d like to grow by learning more from others. Traveling to other shops, and seeing how other embroiders not only manage their business, but deliver their art, she contends, is a venture she intends to take part in.

“I would like to take opportunities to learn from other people and share,” elaborates Cagle. “I’ve been in this business since I was a kid and now I have the luxury of focusing on other aspects of embroidery.”

Cagle imparts sage wisdom to other embroiderers who may just be starting out, or considering venturing into the business as a full-time endeavor.

“Every once in a while, just take a risk,” Cagle stresses. “Do something you’ve always wanted to do for yourself, and show other people. That’s how I learned a lot of what I know.”

Cagle concludes by saying that once she focused on the one thing that made her happy, creating and executing embroidery designs, her business flourished.

For more information on Strikke Knits, visit: http://www.strikkeknits.com/