Monday, April 27, 2015

A Quick Trip South

Last week was school vacation for Julia so we headed out on an adventure. We went south to visit my Mom and sisters in New Jersey. On Friday, we drove to Philadelphia to visit my niece Olivia who will be graduating from the University of Pennsylvania next month. We figured we had better visit once before she was done. 

I hadn't been to Philadelphia in almost 30 years not counting fly-throughs at the airport. When I was younger, Philadelphia was a common city for my family to visit because we only lived a couple hours away. It is so rich in history. When I was in college at the University of Delaware, I used to take the train up to Philly and spend the day visiting museums on my own. 

Benjamin Franklin in front of College Hall
Olivia has been majoring in art and she gave Julia and I a fantastic tour of their art department. I loved seeing all the tools and studios that are available to the students. It made me yearn for those days of college and long studio hours and massive projects! Below are some of Olivia's inspirational images she had pinned to a wall.

Here are Olivia and Julia in front of one of Olivia's inspiration walls in her studio. 

While in Philly, we were lucky to visit the Barnes Foundation. The building is new and in center city. If you are a follower of the art world, you probably remember the controversy about moving the art collection amassed by Albert Barnes from the original museum in Merion, PA to a new building in Center City. You can read about that here or watch a documentary called The Art of the Steal

Head of a Young Girl - Matisse - 1917
The building is beautiful. The trees were just beginning to leaf out and the grounds were beautifully landscaped. Inside the art is displayed exactly the same as it was at the original museum in Merion,PA. The collection is astounding. Each room is set up with paintings set off with other incredible objects including metal objects, antique chests, chairs, and ceramics. There are two floors and by the time we left, my head was spinning. We took the guided tour via an iPod which filled us in on the highlights of the collection. 

Cupboard - 1828 - American
This museum has more the largest collection of Renoir paintings in the world. There are also scads of paintings by Cezanne. I am sharing the work that inspired me the most. All photos were found on the Barnes Foundation website. Check it out to see more of the collection. 

The Postman - VanGogh - 1889
I will definitely visit this collection again if I have the chance. There was so much to see and take in that I know I missed so much. I hope you will go too if you ever end up in Philadelphia. 

Still Life - Van Gogh - 1888
And a special tip if you are taking a young person who may not be too interested in art (I'm talking about you Miss J!) - there is a fun audio tour that kids can listen to that is engaging and introduces young people to art in a very appealing and friendly way! 

Here are some more of my favorite highlights from The Barnes Foundation Museum.

Vase by Jean Renoir, Son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir - 1922

Red Madras HeadDress - Matisse - 1907
Girl with Polka Dot Blouse - Amodeo Modigliani - 1919
Central Park - Charles Prendergast - 1939
Here are Mom and Julia just before we were leaving. That is Mom's new baby Lola in her arms! What a cutie she is. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Carol Sucloski's Lace Yarn Studio + A Giveaway

Many years ago when I was working the booth for CEY at a Stitches Market, an animated, friendly, and passionate knitter introduced herself as a "fan". This woman was named Carol Sucloski and I will always remember that meeting. I was impressed by her intelligence and humor, and her love for knitting and yarn. I had been in the yarn business for at least 15 years and was defintely jaded. She was just beginning to explore all that it had to offer. She was a lawyer by training and taking time off from her career to raise her 3 children. I think her passion for the law was being supplanted by her passion for knitting and yarn and color. 

Fast forward a few years later to the days of the growing knitting community on the internet.... Carol and I kept in touch. She started a hand dyed yarn business called Black Bunny Fibers and had a very active blog called Go Knit In Your Hat. She did awesome book reviews which I always looked forward to because they were honest and very well written and researched. I was lucky to have 2 of my books reviewed on her site. 

Now it is a few more years later and Carol has become an author of 4 knitting books and many articles for many knitting magazines including Vogue Knitting and Yarn Market News. She is a popular teacher at different knitting events too. Carol and I still keep in touch and so I was happy to see her newest book called Lace Yarn Studio: Garments, Hats, and Fresh Ideas for Lace Weight Yarns which has just been published by Lark Books.  

I will be honest with you all - because that is how I am. Carol has asked me to design for each of her books. They have all featured sock weight or very fine yarns. I have always declined because I personally do not care for knitting with such fine yarn. It's just not for me but I know it is for so many of you knitters out there. Lace weight yarns such as KidSilk Haze (Rowan), Silky Alpaca Lace (CEY), Manos' Lace, and more have incredible yardage and boast gorgeous fiber content. 

Knitting with these kinds of lace yarns is incredibly reasonable price wise because they will occupy a lot of your knitting time. Although the cost of the yarn may be high per ball, a project can take many hours so the cost per hour of enjoyment is very low. When I heard about Carol's new book Lace Yarn Studio featuring different projects using lace yarn, I jumped at the chance to feature it here. 

Lace Yarn Studio begins with all you need to know about knitting with lace weight and fingering yarns. Needles to use, gauge, working with coned yarns which are typically used for weaving and knitting machines, fiber content, tips, blocking, yarn substitution, and more. The book is set up by number of skeins needed for a project. The amazing thing about working with lace weight yarns is some projects will call for a very small needle size. But then there are those which will use a needle much larger to create a lacey-airy project. There is a lot of versatility with lace weight yarns and Carol shows many beautiful projects. 

I love these delicate cabled very long fingerless gloves with a ruched edging design above.

This beautiful cabled mini cowl is made of Kidsilk Haze in a lovely purple color. Stunning. 

This scarf is a bit more "lace traditional" in its styling. It has a lace column edging and a lace diamond pattern that grows out of the columns. Very pretty.  

This scarf design features hand-dyed lace yarn in two colors. This is an interesting way to use up odds and ends of yarns you can't bear to throw away or perhaps have not bought enough of. The green edging is knit vertically and then the main part of the shawl uses stitches that are picked up along the very long edge to create the larger brown section. You could make it larger and turn it into a pretty shawl to wear during the cooler days of summer.  

This shawl uses a pretty stitch created with a lifted stitch to make floats of yarn giving a lovely texture to the finished fabric.  

Lace weight yarns can also create a fabric which is more typically thought of as machine knit or ready to wear weight. Look at this incredible skirt above which has beads added in the knitting. Can you imagine the drape and hand it has? Pure luxury knit in coned Colrain Lace (50% merino, 50% tencel from Webs). 

Lace Yarn Studio isn't all about the accessories. This very practical cardigan features some pleats for shaping. It is definitely a design that can move from day to evening and is incredibly versatile. 


So here is what I have for you all today. Lark Books, Carol's publisher, has donated two copies of Lace Yarn Studio. Two of you will be lucky to win this beautiful new book! Check out Carol's website where she sells her lovely yarns
Here's how you enter......

Answer the following question in the comments: Tell me if you like knitting with fine yarns and why OR 
tell me what weight yarn you prefer to knit with and why. 

For this contest there will be 2 lucky winners!
Contest ends Monday April 27th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. US Residents only. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Asparagus Valley + The Potter's Trail - This Weekend

I just got off the phone with my friend Donna. She and her husband are innkeepers at a local B&B called House on the HillDonna and I are both small business owners and frequently talk about our businesses, the local area, what is going on...... We both LOVE where we live, LOVE all the fantastic people around our area, LOVE the incredible natural beauty we get to experience every day. I frequently recommend Donna's B&B to people who are coming to visit our area and they are never disappointed. 

Donna is a great supporter of artists such as me. Her B&B's walls feature local art and she features locally raised produce when possible. We both have a mutual friend named Lucy Fagella. Lucy and her potter colleagues have a twice yearly event called The Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail. Several different potters open up their studios to the public and sell their wares. The potters are located up and down our gorgeous valley from Northampton to Northfield. The spring event is this weekend April 25/26. 

You can purchase incredible handmade pottery at nine different studios. Each studio is also hosting a "guest potter." There will be all kinds of styles of pottery available. Our friend Lucy makes gorgeous work. I especially like these pouring batter bowls. 

Lucy has a stop action video on making an Asparagus Tray on Instagram here

Donna McGee of Hadley is another favorite potter friend. You have probably noticed her work in many of the photos in my book Crafting A Colorful Home. You can see some of her vases on the top of our corner cupboard below. I love her illustrative style. Her work frequently features flowers, chairs, chickens, cows, geraniums, and scenes out her window. 

Photo by Rikki Snyder from Crafting a Colorful Home
Molly Cantor of Shelburne makes beautiful carved ceramics - sometimes in black and white like the sunflower platter below and sometimes with added colors. She says the technique - called sgraffito - is similar to making a linoleum cut block. I love this look.

If you are local - check out The Asparagus Valley Potters Trail. Here is the website for further information. It is a nice day out in a beautiful part of New England. This coming Saturday and Sunday April 25/26. You can follow them on Facebook here

(Did you know that the Pioneer Valley is also called Asparagus Valley? In our valley, it is said that the finest asparagus in the world is grown. It is sometimes called Hadley Grass for the town of Hadley. You can read a fantastic article from Saveur Magazine by our neighbor David Nussbaum here. I cannot wait for this year's asparagus - it is so unbelievably good.) 

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Sunflower Garden Planting Guide

A bouquet from last summer
Flowers include Autumn Beauty, Sungold, Stella Gold,
Greenburst, and Moulin Rouge
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I grow sunflowers every summer. I heard from Melissa, a childhood friend of mine from Dover who follows my blog. She asked for a list of my favorite varieties of sunflowers. I think there may be more of you out there who might like to plant sunflowers this summer so I put this Sunflower Growing Guide together for all of my readers. Please share this post with your fellow gardening friends! FYI - I grow in western Massachusetts. All photos by me taken either at our Farmhouse Garden or at our Sunflower Field (from a few years ago). 

First off - there are two companies I buy seeds from. My longtime supplier has been Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine. They ship amazingly quickly from Maine. No minimums and they have some mixed variety packs for those of you with small gardens. 

My second supplier (a recent find) is SunflowerSelections  in California. I heard about them through this NY Times article. I have purchased from them since 2012 and have nothing but good things to say about the company, service and the varieties they offer. SunflowerSelections is actually a subsidiary of NuFlowers, a breeder of sunflower varieties. The only downfall is their packs are 100 seeds and there is a $15.00 minimum.  Their website is set up to sort by colors, branching, single stem, and more. 

So here are some of my thoughts about growing sunflowers. This is what I have learned from many years of growing them. 

1.You need sun! Shade doesn't work for them and long days of sun will yield much better flowers.
2. Although you can plant sunflowers early in the season, I wait until the middle to end of June to plant. This will give me flowers through frost. I have planted as late as the beginning of August and still gotten flowers - they are smaller because of the shortening days at that time of year. 
3. There are two kinds of sunflowers - Branching (many flowers per plant) and Single Stem (one flower per plant). I prefer the branching sunflowers to the single varieties (ProCut, Sunbright, and Sunrich strains). You get more sunflower blossoms per seed and they have a wild and unruly appearance which really appeals to me. 
4. Florists and growers usually plant the single varieties because they are reliable, are sturdy, and ship well. For the home gardener (me) they are a bit of a disappointment because they take up room and I only get one flower per stem. That said - they are very quick to bloom so I usually plant some so I get flowers quickly. 
5. Once my plants are about 8 inches tall, I mulch the heck out of them to hold the water in the soil and keep the weeds down. Once they get going, they grow like crazy and shade out most of the weeds. 
6. I don't fertilize my sunflowers. I have basic garden soil but the mulch gets tilled in. I do add manure from my chickens and the sheep though every other year or so. 
7. Don't crowd the sunflowers. If you do, they will be stunted and not thrive. I plant about 2 to 3 seeds every 12" or so. That gives me insurance in case the birds or mice eat the seeds. 
8. Sunflowers tend to not transplant well. Plant them where you want them and be patient. They will grow as long as they have sun.  
9. There are dwarf varieties of sunflowers available but I don't grow them. I did once and they just didn't seem right. I am fortunate to have lots of sun and space but if you are tight on space, check out these selections via SunflowerSelections. 
10. Most of the branching sunflowers have very large top flowers. If you pinch (or harvest) the top flower, the lower branches will grow longer stems and the flowers will be bigger.

Here are the Sunflower varieties I highly recommend with links to each supplier who stocks the seeds. I have described why I enjoy each of the varieties. Don't wait to order your seeds because they often run out of popular varieties. The variety is BELOW each photo. 

Both photos - Autumn Beauty
Autumn Beauty - Branching. This sunflower is long season and needs a while to bloom. It gets very tall. Order seeds early as they are often sold out. This is Mark's favorite sunflower. The plants get huge and send out tons and tons of flowers. There is a wide range of colors - light yellow, light yellow with pink tinged centers, dark brown, rust, red, maroon, bronze, and classic sunflower yellow. If we had to choose one sunflower to grow, this would probably be it because you get such a variety of colors. Has pollen for those averse to it. 

Moulin Rouge Sunflower
Moulin Rouge - Branching. This is a gorgeous wine colored sunflower that looks lovely in bouquets. It is one of the earlier sunflowers to bloom. When we grew sunflowers in our field on the main road, this was a favorite of many of our customers. It doesn't ship well so that is why you probably have never seen one in a florist's bouquet. (FYI - SunflowerSelections has a new red branching variety called Black Beauty that I am trying this year to compare to Moulin Rouge.)
Joker Sunflower

Joker - Branching. I love this multi-colored sunflower. It is one of the first to bloom. The center is edged with a fringe of teeny petals. The outer petals are long. Once in a while, there will be a plant that has different looking blooms on each branch. It lasts a long time in a vase and is quite sturdy. Not too tall but definitely not short. 


Orange Ruffles Sunflower

Orange Ruffles - Branching. This sunflower was new to me last year and it rocked! Similar to The Joker and Greenburst, it has a brown center with a fringe of mini yellow petals. Seriously gorgeous. 


Greenburst Sunflower - Top Flower

Small Greenburst Bloom from one of the bottom branches

Greenburst - Branching. This sunflower was new to me last year and I am in love! Reminiscent of Sungold, it has a tight chartreuse center surrounded by hundreds of tiny petals. The outer edge of the flower has slim long petals. The top bloom is big (8") if you let it grow. If you cut it off early, the smaller lower branches will produce bigger pretty (although smaller) blooms. Long vase life. 


Sunbright Sunflower

Sunbright - A single stem variety that is the classic sunflower. Quick to bloom. I always plant these so I have big blooms quickly. This variety is often grown commercially as is the Pro-Cut varieties which I am not highlighting here in this Planting Guide. 


American Giant Sunflower

American Giant - This is the classic GIANT sunflower. One giant head per stem. These plants are like small trees by the end of the season. It is best to give them lots and lots of room to grow. They will shade out other plants so if you have a spot, away from your regular garden that has good sun - plant a few there for fun. You will have a giant seed head to feed to the birds. You could also plant a "sunflower house" for your kids and grandkids. 

Sungold Sunflower

Sungold - Branching. You need to have a long growing season for this gorgeous, puffy sunflower. They are always the last to bloom in my garden and I usually plant them first! The top flower will be the largest. Once you cut the top flower (usually 10" across) with its short stem, the lower flowers will grow with longer stems. A few years, the frost got mine before they bloomed, so plant them first! 

Holiday Sunflower
Holiday Sunflower backed by Autumn Beauty

Holiday - I love this sunflower for its vigorous nature. You will get so many blooms off each plant. The blooms are not very big - about 5" or so. It does drop a lot of pollen (for those of you who are clean freaks). The blooms develop in the vase nicely. 


Golden Cheer Sunflower
Golden Cheer - Branching. This variety was new to me last year. It is similar to Greenburst with a larger green center. It has a frilly textured edge to the center. Gorgeous. I plan on growing it again this year. 

Stella Gold Sunflower
Stella Gold - Single. This is a quick growing sunflower with extremely long petals. I grew it for many years and then couldn't find the source of seeds until I discovered SunflowerSelections. Funny thing is years ago when I grew it, the centers were rather mis-shapen - almost oval in shape. I loved that. The seeds from SS are a bit more perfect. I miss the wonkiness but love the very long spider like petals. 

Above is a mixed bouquet from last summer. Flowers included are: Autumn Beauty, Moulin Rouge, Greenburst. I like mixing in some of the over mature "done" sunflowers for interest. 

I hope you will try to grow some sunflowers this summer in your garden or along the edge of your yard. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Waiting Patiently for the Grass to Grow

It is the middle of April. The snow is gone. Mud season was not so bad this year. Considering all the snow we got, it was surprising how fast it all went away. The light is so much stronger now and the sun higher in the sky every day. The grass has really not started to grow. The sheep are desperate to eat their greens. I think once one little blade pops up, they are there to harvest it. It won't be long until the grass is growing like crazy - probably mid May. The Farmer will then be mad to harvest it for hay. I better get some work out of him before he disappears with his tractor until October! 

There is very little shade for the sheep because the trees have not leafed out yet. It will be a few weeks for that. They find little bits of shade along the densely wooded sections of the pasture and along fence lines where the shadows are heavier. It hasn't been too hot yet and I am thankful for that. Sometimes in New England we go from freezing cold to the uncomfortable days of 80 degrees and more. Right now we are having a nice stretch of spring weather - warm during the day (70 or so) and almost freezing in the evenings. We love to have a fire in the woodstove in the evenings and this weather is affording that. 

The Farmer's Market Season starts on Saturday. It is a long stretch outdoors until Thanksgiving. Must get the product ready to go, check the tent, clean the freezers and the sheds in case anyone dares to come here to buy meat. Have the markets started in your part of the world yet? 

Today I am sharing some photos from around the farm. Enjoy your Thursday everyone!