Monday, July 21, 2014

Crewel Embroidery Class, Samplers + News!


I made it through the first Crewel Embroidery Retreat of the year. It was the first time I taught this particular class in-studio and there is always a learning curve for me. I had a small group of very nice students and we had a fun day stitching together. I am thankful they were patient with me.


I taught 18 Crewel Embroidery Stitches - none of which are included in my on-line Craftsy class. I wasn't sure we could fit them all in but we did. They were quick studies. 

 

We even had enough time to transfer the bag design to fabric. We used the Sulky transfer pens. These things are great - especially when working with dark colors. You trace over what you want to transfer and your tracing becomes an iron-on transfer (you have to use a reverse image though depending on your design). Everyone left with a piece of linen in a color of their own choosing with their design on it and they could begin stitching that evening, if they weren't too pooped. 


This move for me into teaching Crewel Embroidery and developing stitching kits has been a bit of a gamble. I am not at all known in the stitching world.  When I first wrote Colorful Stitchery which was published by Storey in 2006, I thought that all knitters stitched just like me and that they would follow and perhaps purchase Colorful Stitchery. I was so wrong. A lot of knitters want to knit and are not interested in learning hand embroidery. Me, I like to dabble in many crafts - with the common design thread being COLOR.

As the years have passed since Colorful Stitchery was published, there is more and more interest in hand embroidery and sewing. I am hoping I can pick up somewhat of a following in that world. There are a lot of good stitching blogs out there - I have some on my sidebar - and I will try to add some more soon to the sidebar. If you know of any more that you enjoy, I would love to know about them. Leave them in the comments or send me an email, if you wouldn't mind. 

I have some rather exciting news for you all today - Colorful Stitchery is being re-published this September by Roost Books. It has been completely re-designed and looks really fresh and new. Do you know Roost Books? They are doing some very nice books. I am very thankful to them for taking a chance on me with January's upcoming Crafting a Colorful Home and Colorful Stitchery. If you already own it, you won't need to buy it because there are no new projects... unless of course, you want the new version. Here is the cover - isn't it pretty?


The cool thing for me is having CS out there again will bring me to the new group of stitchers who were not making things in 2006. The DIY culture is so big now - and still growing. It is a very exciting time to be involved in this movement. Speaking of movements - do you know about The Slow Stitching Movement? It is being launched by Mark Lipinski who is a blogger, podcaster, and mover and shaker in the quilt world. Check it out and sign up for Mark's daily blog if you like. 


Since this post is looking rather blue today, I'll close with a photo of the Blueberry Bonanza Bars which I made for my students. The recipe is from Farmgirl Susan of Farmgirl Fare and here is the link. Very delicious with a crunchy oat-ey crust. Next time, I would cut back a tad bit on the sugar. Since blueberry season is coming here soon, I bet I will make these again.

I hope you all have a great week. If you didn't see the new stitching kits for beginners and kids last week, check them out here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Students Coming + New Kits are Up on My Website

Here is a bouquet of helianthus that I picked last night from my garden. I love this plant - it puts out so many beautiful little blooms. I've been doing a little series on my Instagram feed called #bouquetaday. I'll try to keep it up as all the blossoms keep appearing. Here's my Instagram feed. Sheep and lambs in the winter, flowers in the summer. That's what I seem to be about.



I'm still preparing for the first students coming to the farm tomorrow to learn Crewel Embroidery! All the things I wanted to get done won't happen. So many goals and so little time. At least the floors are all washed. That was a job in itself. 

Can't get to the farm - check out my On-Line Crewel Embroidery Class - link on left sidebar.


If you have been following along this week, just want to let you know all the new Vintage Country Embroidery Kits are now up on my website and available for sale. They are $9.95 plus shipping and are also available as a set of 4 for $35.00. Here is the link to my embroidery supply page.

If you are an international customer, please order through my Etsy site as it is functional for overseas customers. Here is that link.

Vase and Flowers - Vintage Embroidery Collection Now Available!

All this week, I have been previewing some fun, quick and easy embroidery kits that are for sale in my web shop today. Here's the last design - it is called "Vase and Flowers". I had to include some flowers and a piece of pottery - they are such stalwart decorating accessories in our home.


The fabric comes pre-printed and all you will need to do is stitch the outlines. Or you can go further as I did - adding cross stitches to the gingham fabric and polka dots to the "wallpaper".  Fun and simple summer stitching when you don't quite want to tax your brain too much - or are just beginning to learn to stitch. A perfect project for kids too.

The kit comes with the fabric and how-to instructions and photos of what I did. Use your own odds and ends of embroidery cotton floss. You should feel free to decorate as you wish using your own favorite stitches. 

When you are done stitching, there are lots of uses for these kits. I sewed my embroidered panel onto a piece of linen and then added a bit of rick-rack to up the vintage vibe. You could use them in a quilt or frame them. 


Check out my web shop for more information and to order the Vintage Country Embroidery Collection. Kits will begin shipping next week. If you live overseas, please order through my Etsy shop.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Little Yellow House - New Embroidery Kit

All this week, I am previewing some fun, quick and easy embroidery kits that will be for sale in my web shop this Friday. 

Here's the third design - it is called "Little Yellow House". 

The fabric comes pre-printed. This house design offers so many ways to customize the fabric - trees, gardens, little people, grasses, flowers, bugs and more. Fun and simple summer stitching when you don't quite want to tax your brain too much - or are just beginning to learn to stitch. A perfect project for kids too.

All four of these projects are open to your own interpretation. I stitched a tree but you could stitch a flower garden, a pet or anything else you dream up. The kit comes with the fabric and how-to instructions and photos of what I did. Use your own odds and ends of embroidery cotton floss. You should feel free to decorate as you wish using your own favorite stitches. 

When you are done stitching, there are lots of uses for these kits. I framed my Little Yellow House in a vintage frame I purchased at a yard sale. You could use them in a quilt or frame them. 


Check back in tomorrow for the last design in the Vintage Country Embroidery Collection. The kits will be for sale then too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sunflower Blossom - New Embroidery Kit - Coming Friday

All this week, I am previewing some fun, quick and easy embroidery kits that will be for sale in my web shop this Friday. 

Here's the second design - it is called "Sunflower Blossom". 


The fabric comes pre-printed and all you will need to do is stitch the outlines around the flower. Fun and simple summer stitching when you don't quite want to tax your brain too much - or are just beginning to learn to stitch. A perfect project for kids too.

These projects are such fun - they are open to your own interpretation. The kit comes with the fabric and how-to instructions and photos of what I did. Use your own odds and ends of embroidery cotton floss. You should feel free to decorate as you wish using your own favorite stitches. 

When you are done stitching, there are lots of uses for these kits. I made a pocket on a canvas bag out of my Sunflower Blossom Panel. You could use them in a quilt or frame them. 

Check back in tomorrow for the next design in the Vintage Country Embroidery Collection. Kits will be available for ordering on Friday.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bird On Nest - Embroidery Kit Coming Friday

All this week, I am previewing some fun, quick and easy embroidery kits that will be for sale in my web shop this Friday. 

Here's the first design - it is called "Bird on Nest". 


The fabric comes pre-printed. This Bird on Nest Design offers so many ways to customize your bird. Or you can keep it simple like I did. Fun and simple summer stitching when you don't quite want to tax your brain too much - or are just beginning to learn to stitch. A perfect project for kids too.

These projects are such fun - they are open to your own interpretation. The kit comes with the fabric and how-to instructions and photos of what I did. Use your own odds and ends of embroidery cotton floss. You should feel free to decorate as you wish using your own favorite stitches. 

When you are done stitching, there are lots of uses for these kits. I framed my Bird on Nest in a vintage frame I purchased at a yard sale. You could use them in a quilt or frame them. 


Check back in tomorrow for the next design in the Vintage Country Embroidery Collection.

Where It Begins.....


Several years ago, I found this intriguing piece of stitchery at the Brimfield Flea Market. I loved its simplicity, the bold colors and the naive stitches. It has been tacked onto one of the kitchen cabinets for several years. 

You know how finding old things can inspire you, right? Me too! This sweet little picture has inspired me. I have designed four new embroidery projects for you to stitch. I'll be previewing them all this week. Pop back in everyday to check them out. On Friday they will be on sale in my webshop - just in time for some summer stitching. 

This week, I'm busy cleaning the studio for my first Crewel Embroidery Retreat here at the farm. It is a big job neatening this place but it will be good when it is done. Good chance to hoe some stuff out. The students arrive on Saturday for an all day class and I can't wait to meet them and share 18 new stitches that are different than those on my Craftsy On-Line class. 

Hope you are enjoying July. My old-fashioned hollyhocks are blooming. This plant keeps getting bigger every year. I think it is happy!

I've finished planting the sunflower seeds. The garden is 3/4 mulched. I use the giant round hay bales that aren't much good for sheep food. Yes, I know I will get weeds but these are available and I will always have weeds. The hay rots into the soil and enriches it the next year. It also pretty much makes watering the garden unnecessary. We have a well and not much water so I like that the mulch keeps the soil underneath full of moisture. Once the last batch of sunflowers germinates and gets a little size on them, I will mulch those rows too. 


I was complaining the other evening how my garden looked like it needed some nutrients. Look what my Farmer brought me. Two enormous piles of cow manure. He had a giant manure spreader with him and so there weren't many options for where to put the brown stuff. Now these two piles have to be hand-moved onto the garden. More work for another week. But it will help my soil which is quite sandy. 


Thanks for all the questions on the shearing. I will try to answer them one night this week in the comments section. Back to the wash buckets and floors. Don't forget to pop back in to check on what I have for you this week.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shearing Week

We started shearing the adult ewes and rams on Monday early in the morning. Two shearers arrived - Kevin Ford who shears with blades - and Gwen Hinman who shears with electric clippers. It was a long day and very hot and humid. 


The Farmer catches a sheep and feeds it to one of the shearers. I am outside the corral, skirting the wool and bagging it up into enormous wool bags that hold 250 pounds of wool. Here are some photos of Gwen shearing. She is so lean and strong and watching her makes me think of a ballet as she moves the sheep around under her shears. She cleans the sheep of wool in about 3 to 4 minutes.







Here are some photos of Kevin working his blades. Gwen shears twice as many sheep as Kevin and they are paid by the animal. Kevin is very zen about things and prefers the silence and skill of blade shearing. He is a most amazing guy and a really interesting person to be around. He was in Ireland earlier this year competing with his blades in the World Competition of Sheep Shearing. These photos show him shearing our 300 pound Polypay ram.









Mid-afternoon Monday, after a nice lunch (the shearers always appreciate a nice lunch), we were down to 27 sheep to go and the heavens opened up and there was a monsoon. Shearing had to stop. You can not shear wet sheep. We covered up the enormous wool bags with a tarp and hoped it would stop. It didn't and we quit for the day. We scheduled another day with Gwen and then hoped for good weather.

We shear outside which is far from optimal. It means that it can't rain 2 days before shearing nor the day of shearing. Because we usually schedule a couple months in advance, it is a crap shoot - like most things in farming. Our sheep have to be brought to a central location from their grazing pastures and then held until shearing. A few years ago we figured out that the driveway next to the lamb shack was: 
a. flat 
b. shady 
c. close to electricity. 
So now we shear there. The Farmer brings the sheep in and sets up the portable corral. The sheep can't be wet when shorn or the wool will become moldy and full of mildew. It is one giant logistical nightmare and nothing either The Farmer looks forward to or me either.  The realities of building a shearing shed are not financially feasible - $25,000 to use once a year makes no fiscal sense.

At lunch, one of the shearers told us about a big sheep farm building a $4.3 million dollar barn. I'm thinking probably more money than sense. How will they ever recoup that cost?

Here is what our lawn looks like tonight. 


Some of the wool that had been stored in the giant wool bags soaked up some water during the monsoon - even though it was undercover. We have it spread out on tarps to dry because there is a good stretch of weather. We'll re-bag it and then get it under cover until the buyer picks it up. I'll be happy when we get the check. Winston has now taken it upon himself to guard the wool. Cute boy.

I always get asked what we do with all the wool. My standard answer is get it out of here - hopefully dry - and try to get enough to cover the cost of the shearing. When you have this much raw dirty stinky wool, you just want it out of your life quickly. If we had untold amounts of money, I might go into getting it custom spun and market it. But I know how much work that is - remember I used to work for a yarn company - and I know what the financial return is on it. I just don't have the energy or the interest.

When we had four sheep it was easy to get all romantic on how gorgeous the fleece was and then spin it myself to knit The Farmer a sweater - which I did do a few times back when we were beginning raising sheep. I'm just past that now. And I am totally okay with it. 

I suppose seeing these photos makes you appreciate where your wool does come from!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Elderflower Cordial Recipe + Bits

On the 4th of July, it rained all day long here. I took the opportunity to stay inside and sew some projects for some products I am working on. It was actually quite fun - reminded me of the hours I would spend sewing as a kid during the summers. Now it seems I only sew for work-related stuff but at least I'm sewing. Hope your 4th of July weekend was good. Summer is in full swing. It is 90 degrees and humid here.

Check out the Feeling Stitchy blog where Flor has done a review of my Craftsy Stitch It With Wool Class. There is a half-off discount link there for the class too on the Feeling Stitchy blog. Here's the post. Thanks Flor. Check out the project Flor is making inspired by the class. Beautiful job.

Speaking of Crewel Embroidery - I still have spaces available in my July 19th class here at the farm. Here is the link. That is not this weekend but the next weekend. Come to the farm and spend the day learning. Below are some close-ups of stitches students will be learning. None of them are the same as my Craftsy on-line class -- all totally new decorative stitches to learn. 


If you need any info about the classes, e-mail me and I will get back to you. 


I finished the elderflower cordial/syrup. I got the recipe from Yvette Van Boven's cookbook Homemade. Have you seen her website and work? Stunning. She has a few other cookbooks out now - Homemade Summer and Homemade Winter - and I am contemplating their purchase. Yvette lives in both Paris and The Netherlands and has beautiful style. She is also an illustrator. Her husband is the photographer. Really gorgeous cookbooks. Right now I am reviewing them from our awesome interlibrary loan service here in western Mass. 


Elderflower Cordial 


from Yvette Van Boven's Homemade

2 oz. elderberry blossoms, stems removed
1/2 lemon, sliced
4 cups lukewarm water
2 1/4 cups sugar

Cut off the stems, leaving the blossoms attached to the small stems that hold them all together - as shown in the photo above. Place them in a large pot along with the lemon slices and immerse everything so it starts soaking. Leave in a warm spot for 24 hours. 

Strain the liquid into a stainless pot. Squeeze the lemons and the flowers so all the juices are in the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the sugar. Keep on stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Skim off any residue. Using a funnel, pour it into a pretty bottle and keep it in the fridge. It should keep for a while. 

I suppose you could run it in a hot water bath and can/preserve it but the directions do not say much about that.

What to do with it? It is very sweet so a little goes a long way. Add a splash to some seltzer for a refreshing drink. Or mix it with some alcohol - Here's a recipe. Here are some more.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Elderflowers and (Elder) Farming Thoughts

Yesterday I did something I have been wanting to do for a few years now - I picked elderflowers. I had been hearing about making elderberry cordial (or syrup as most Americans call it) for a few years. Yesterday I finally acted on it. 


Some things take me a few years to do. Are you like that? Sometimes it is a matter of finding the time. For the past decade and a half, most things that I thought about doing didn't get done because of family priorities. Now that Julia is older, I can actually do some of the things that I have wanted to do. Funny that one of them has to do with a weedy plant your see all over our area. 


Today is the 4th of July and it is pouring down rain. This means I do not have to feel guilty about not weeding the garden which is now almost knee deep in weeds after the hot, incredibly humid weather we have had this past week. We can't move the sheep today either. Oh well.

Farmers markets are in full swing. I do the Noho Tuesday Market, The Farmer does the Amherst Saturday Market and Julia is doing the Bernardston Saturday Market (her first summer job - more about that later). Market stands are now spilling over with abundance. Veggie and flower farmers work so hard growing things. The market stands brimming with flowers, berries, veggies, and greens are a major miracle. It is a very difficult way to make a living but they keep at it. 

Picking the flowers off the stems
I worry about the younger farmers all the time - I can't help it. It is the Mom and realist in me. I speak with the younger farmers at the market and I see the worry on their faces. Most of them are two decades younger than The Farmer and I. I worry they are working too hard, that they will burn out. 

I also meet a lot of young people who are in college or just out of college that want to be farmers. The idealism that is in their faces overwhelms me and I wonder if I was so naive when I was young. Yes - I surely was. I worry that as they go into farming, they won't be able to buy a house and won't be able to afford having a family. It is a real worry for sure and one I am positive their parents are thinking the same thing as their kids choose a career path. But that is the beauty of youth - they do not see all the complications and real life ahead. And thank goodness for it.

A flower is made of hundreds of little flowers
When we went into farming, we both had other jobs and we both still do. We bought our first sheep in 1980 when we were not even out of college (those were the idealistic, everything was possible days). We grew our flock over the years - changing up the genetics as our knowledge increased and we learned more. We have been living this farming life for over 30 years now and always working other jobs to pay the bills. (BTW, Happy Anniversary to The Farmer - 30 years! And I was with Julia visiting Derek and Julianne Hough. Missed it once again.)

Whenever anyone new comes to the farm, both The Farmer and I state flat out "Farming didn't pay for this place." We were rather calculating when we worked on our dream of owning a farm. We both knew we wanted to be here in the Pioneer Valley on a farm with an old house one day but we knew we couldn't afford the place that we wanted if we began our careers here. We worked for 16 years - living in the eastern part of Massachusetts, saving money in order to be able to buy this place. If Julia hadn't come along with her complications, who knows when we would have bit the bullet to move here full-time. Now, we work hard to keep our farm and wonder how long it will be possible. As I weed my garden, I look up every once in a while and thank my lucky stars I landed here. I get rather overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of our hillside and the history. But every time the tax bill arrives, I cringe! Fingers crossed we can keep it all together.


Soaking the flowers with lemon slices

Yesterday on The Modern Farmer blog, there was a post called "Stop Romanticizing the Farm." You can read it here. I do agree with several of the points the author Sarah Searle makes but I also know how difficult it is to just keep a farm going. No matter how much money comes in, it is all spent on fixing equipment, feeding animals, and keeping it all going. We have no choice but to do other things to help make a living. That's why I started teaching here at the farm in 2009. It hasn't been that much of a success financially but it helps. At this point I am really not interested in making our place be an event space. We have friends who do that. Raising sheep is a dirty business - no matter what. There is poop, heavy equipment, buckets, hay bales, rusting old equipment that might be able to work one day, overgrazed pastures (it happens) that look nothing like manicured lawns, all matters of things to "decorate" a space which are not at all photogenic and are looked upon by non-farmers as a mess. None of farming is at all romantic when you are deeply involved. It is all work and busyness and trying to keep animals alive. I am not complaining..... just making it real to those who are interested.

My brother in law David's trucks at Sunbrite Farm - their dairy farm
The sheep are getting sheared on Monday. We'll have two shearers and it will be an all day affair. Right now, it is only the four of us but I'm hoping The Farmer finds a volunteer at the Amherst Farmers Market tomorrow. It is very dirty work but it needs to be done. The sheep will be cooler and less apt to get flystrike. Hopefully the clip will be good. Fingers crossed, once again. We do a lot of that around here.


I'll be back with progress on the elderflower cordial and share the recipe soon. Happy 4th of July to all my fellow Americans. Boom boom! XO

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fleeting June

I can't believe it is the last day of June. Where does it go? Summer is kicking in here with temps in the 90's tomorrow. UGH. Northampton Tuesday Farmers Market - I am going to melt. I bought a fan because I have power for my freezer. On the good side, my plants in the garden will grow, grow, grow. 

I picked up some strawberries at the Bernardston Farmers Market the other day and made some strawberry ice cream. You can find the recipe here on this post. It is yummy. This time I made a half batch because I only purchased a pint of strawberries. 

Last week, Julia and I went away for a few days. She requested that I share these photos and the story which I wasn't going to do but here goes. Julia is almost 16 and has been a fan of Dancing With The Stars for several years. She is especially fond of the dancer and coach Derek Hough. Let's just say that is an understatement. She has told me time and again that she is going to marry him. I, being the sensible mother, have answered her back at least 50 times "Julia you are never going to meet him, much less marry him." 

But I was wrong. No, she isn't engaged to him but last week, my sister Jenn treated Julia and I to tickets to Move Live - a dance tour featuring Derek and his sister Julianne for Julia's 16th birthday gift and Christmas gift. 


My sister has got to be one of the most generous people I know. She got "VIP" tickets which included a Q&A with the two of them. Julia had her question all planned - "What keeps you motivated?" She stood up, took the microphone, and she got a great answer from Derek. Both Julianne and Derek were very inspirational in their answers. They definitely have careers in motivational speaking if they want them.


The show was pretty fantastic. It was a combination of dance and singing - lots of amazing lights and music and a fabulous NJ crowd in the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank NJ. 

Julia may have her challenges but when she gets onto something, it is hard to stop her. Her next want (after the meeting and the marriage) was an autograph. I said my sister was generous but she is also very patient. We waited behind a black fence along with about 70 other women - from young girls to women in their 70's for at least an hour after the show wrapped. 


These people were not leaving. Julia got the autograph. Score. 


Derek worked his way down the row and half way down, people started asking for selfies. He obliged. I knew she now would want one of them. Julia is little and she was lost in the crowd. He didn't see her but as he was leaving, I told her to run and yell. He turned, and then took a selfie with her. 


Julia says it was the best day of her life. Thank you to Jenn for making it happen. I love this photo of Julia as the show opened. Talk about happy and excited. Sweet.

 
If you get a chance to see the show, check it out. Really entertaining. What talent in that Hough family. The other thing that we took away was that both Derek and Julianne have worked very hard for their success and they continue to. They seemed very down to earth and sincere - so nice to see celebrities being real and being good role models for the public. I don't know if any of you watch DWTS (goodness knows, if Julia wasn't interested, I never would have) but this past season with Derek and his partner Amy Purdy was really inspirational. I can't imagine how many people with disabilities are looking to Amy as a real role model. Good job!

The rest of the summer will be a let-down for her, for sure. No big plans here for trips or vacations. Just sticking close to home and caring for the garden and animals. Enjoy your last day of June.