Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Two More Hexagon Afghans and Winter Restoration

I'm still in restoration mode as I call it. In the winter cold (and it has been cold this winter), I hunker down, try to keep warm (the woodstove helps), do a lot of reading and perusing of my book collection, cook some very nice meals and help out with the lambing when needed. We are used to the cold here in western Massachusetts. I really felt for the folks in Texas who struggled with the cold, snow, and lack of electricity and water. 

The days are getting longer each and every day. It has been very, very gray. We have had a lot of storms of sorts - mostly snow but not as much as in other parts of the the Northeastern US. The hills are about to come alive with "sugaring season." I can feel spring coming!

I can also feel the energy for creating coming back after its winter slumber. I've finished (!!!!!!) two hexagon afghans from the free pattern you can find on this blog here. Crochet hexagons are one of those carry along projects I take with me to meetings (when there were meetings), appointments, and the farmers market so that my hands have something to do while I am listening and watching. Evidently I have spent a lot of hours listening and watching because I had enough hexagons for two afghans (272 hexies each) and and extra 238 hexies for a start (and almost finish) on a third afghan. Not sure if I will get to sewing the third together this winter. Here are the piles of hexies I've got made for the next one. 

I've sorted all the hexies into color piles. When I am sewing the afghans together, I use the outer ring of the hexie to determine the color. I attach complementary colors next to each other so the colors pop and vibrate. I use the outer yarn color to sew them together when possible and the seam kind of disappears into the piece. 

I know a lot of folks like to crochet their pieces together. I've never done that because I'm not much of a crocheter. And I actually love the process of sewing the pieces together with a blunt pointed tapestry needle. I find it meditative and soothing. 

Our small hilltown recently got high speed internet service. It took years and years of planning for it to happen and I am so thankful to the townspeople who served on the committees to make it happen. It has been a game changer since we now can watch Netflix and Amazon Prime without buffering. Julia has got the television hooked up with all kinds of features that I don't know how to use. There is a mass of cables on the floor that is a serious eyesore. I try to not look at it but once in a while I sort it all out. And then it gets tangled again. 

A movie we watched recently is the 2015 Icelandic movie Rams. The cinematography is beautiful. This is not a feel good movie but a "makes me think" movie. In fact, I'm still thinking about it. There is an Australian remake of the movie out in 2020 with Sam Neill but I can't imagine it could be as poignant as the original version. Here is the trailer. 


Hope you are well. If you are looking for winter lambing photos, follow me on Instagram HERE. 

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Book Review - Frances Palmer's Life in the Studio

 


I first became aware of Frances Palmer when I read an article about her and her pottery and garden in one of my favorite magazines - US House and Garden. Her signature white earthenware pottery filled with my favorite sunflowers was featured on the cover. Although HG has been sadly long gone (Conde Nast closed it in 2007), Frances' beautiful pottery business and garden has grown and thrived in the years since. On my studio inspiration wall below you can see the cover photo from that issue of HG.


Many folks recently will have stumbled upon Frances through her incredibly seductive Instagram feed. There she almost daily photographs her pottery vases filled with flowers from her garden. Her feed is one of the joys of my day. She features incredibly voluptuous arrangements of flowers she grows on her tennis court turned cutting garden in her porcelain, earthenware and terracotta pottery. 

This past fall, Frances' first book Frances Palmer - Life in the Studio - was published by Artisan Books in October of 2020. You can see that book on the lead photo which shows the colorful turquoise and floral dust jacket and the cloth bound book that is hidden under the dust jacket. Ooooo- what a beautiful presentation. It is not many publishers that will put such care and beauty into a book.

I have followed Frances since the early days of Instagram and when I heard that she was writing and photographing a book, I was so thrilled. I ordered it early and it came just around the time of my birthday. What a fantastic gift to myself if I do say so. Thank you Frances for the hours of inspiration on Instagram and for the joy that I have derived from your book. 

What I really enjoyed about Life in the Studio was that it contained a great mix of all the things I love. Making ceramics, gardening, cooking, baking, photography, color, and studio life. Lots of times, books like these are all fluff - full of beautiful photos (which - don't get me wrong - I do love colorful photography books) but lacking in what I call the "meat" or substance behind the photos. Life in the Studio is different. Yes, it is packed to the gills with gorgeous Frances photography - but it also includes Frances' story. She describes her background, how she got interested in ceramics, how she makes a pot, her studio life..... And funny thing - she once had a knitwear business and she is a knitter. 

Life in the Studio also includes tips for gardening - especially growing dahlias which if you ask me - are Frances' signature flower. Eighteen pages on how to grow, care, harvest, and store for dahlias is a bonus for anyone interested in growing this (once again) very popular flower. She recommends 36 of her favorite varieties and includes photos of each one. 


Here are a few of the essays which Frances includes....
How to Make a Pot
Promotion and Patience
The Value of My Work
The Meditation of Repetition
The Importance of Collaboration
Arranging a Bouquet Step by Step (words and photos) 
My Education in Photography
On Being Kind to Yourself

As you can see, there is an amazing amount of information in this book. Although it is written partly for potters, the contents are valuable for any creative person. Kudos to Frances for a job well done. I look forward to following her for many more years to come.

Here are some of my favorite spreads from Life in The Studio

Some of Frances' early pottery.  


A sampling of the incredible flower photography


A photo of many pots lined up waiting for a studio sale


That cover photo from the original HG cover photo and article along with an essay entitled Embracing the Random


Some of Frances cobalt blue painted ceramics


A Tarte Tatin recipe photographed on a Frances plate


The opening page for a series of photographs of varying types of ceramics that Frances makes


At the back of Life in the Studio, Frances includes a listing of favorite books on ceramics, cooking, gardening, and photography and her sources for plants, seeds and garden tools.


You can visit Frances's website here where you can order your very own signed copy of Life in the Studio or purchase a piece of pottery. Or follow her on Instagram. Or purchase Life in the Studio here

You can listen to podcasts featuring Frances here:
The Potters Cast with Paul Blais
After the Jump/Design *Sponge with Grace Bonney
On Creativity with Jennifer Jewell

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Knitted, Embroidered Sunflower Pillow - Notes from Kristin

Happy February everyone! It's been a slow slog back to making but I'm back. I finally finished a sunflower pillow that has been languishing in my knitting bag for years. Here it is......

It is an adaption from my Inspired Interiors PDF Download. I knit the square version in the round with a steek. Here is the chart I used. You can purchase the pattern on my website here or on Ravelry here


After I finished the knitting and steeking, I decorated each flower with a Spider Web center outlined in French Knots. You can watch a 51 minute video on Creativebug on how to do these stitches on your own knits. Here is that link.  

Here are some close-ups of my embroidered centers. I love this technique because it gives me the chance to add more color and texture to my knits. Give it a try - it isn't difficult. 




You can purchase the pattern on my website here or on Ravelry here

Sunday, November 15, 2020

New 2020 Tea Towel Pre-Orders by Monday November 16th

This poor little neglected blog. I've been focusing lots of my energy on my Email Newsletters. Friday I sent out an announcement about my three new Tea Towel Designs - each in 4 different colors. I design these Tea Towels myself - my website is the ONLY PLACE IN THE WORLD where you can get these Tea Towels (except for our booth at the Amherst MA Farmers Market). 


Here's how I design them......I draw the designs out in black Flair felt tip marker or paint in black gouache on paper. I scan the sketches and bring them into Adobe Illustrator. In Illustrator, I do lots of computer manipulation and resizing of the different motifs and put them into the size format of the tea towels. I use a Wacom Pen Tablet at this point. Once I have the different design elements in, I move them around and resize to fit the Tea Towel format. Then I build a pattern repeat (if there is one needed). I export the Illustrator document into a jpeg format and import it into Photoshop. Then I can upload the digital file and do a test print. Once I see that the file prints perfectly, I do several different colorways and test them. Finally it is time to do a real print run. 

As you can imagine - when you look at the designs below and if you know Illustrator - these darn tea towels take FOREVER to design. I only have the energy to do the fabric design once a year because I find the computer illustration too tedious. I'm working with an old version of Illustrator and a very old laptop. If I upgraded both the Adobe Creative Suite and my computer, it would be faster. Unfortunately Adobe has changed their pricing and structure so that you have to pay $50/month forever to have the program (if I am correct? that was last time I looked) and a new laptop isn't in the cards right now. And so, I sally on with antiquated equipment! 

I forgot to post the photos of the new designs. Here they are......



I am taking orders through Monday evening at midnight. After that, I will order the fabric and then sew up the Tea Towels. If you order you will get them in time for the holidays. Your credit card will be charged when you order. 

This is something new I am trying. In past years, I have only sold the Tea Towel leftovers from the Farmers Market season. That method has never given my Online Shoppers much of a choice. By doing the pre-order, I can order the amount of fabric I need and not be stuck with lots leftover fabric sitting in my dining room waiting for months until the Farmers Market opens again. 

So far, there has been lots of interest in these and I am very thankful for the support my followers have shown! Hop on over to my website to order by Monday evening the 16th of November at midnight Eastern Time. (I may order a bit of overflow fabric to have on hand for those that haven't heard about this offer. I will order extra fabric of the colors that sell the best.) 

I only ship to the US at this point. Sorry to all the overseas and Canadian readers. 

Thursday, November 05, 2020

I Love Soup - French Onion Soup Recipe

In the colder months, I could live on soup. I've got a bunch of favorites I turn to over and over again. Lamb and Lentil Soup, Potato Leek and Scotch Broth are two that are favorites here at our farm. When I can score some farm raised beef bones from fellow farmers, I make beef stock. Last week, our neighbor Debbie was cleaning out her freezer and she passed some on to me. It didn't take me long to decide what I was going to make. 

This recipe came from Lisa White who is married to Tom White, a local potter. We went to a fantastic Pottery Open House a few years back and Lisa served the soup to guests. It was so delicious I couldn't stop thinking about it. I finally got up the nerve to ask for the recipe and today I'd like to share it with you. To make it easier to eat, I cut the toasted bread up into small pieces and then cover with cheese. The pieces are then floated on top of the soup. By all means, do it the traditional way if you prefer. Gruyere cheese is traditionally used but I use Swiss because it is easier for me to find at our grocery store. I have also used chicken stock instead of beef stock and it is delicious although not as traditional. 

The Potter's Wife's French Onion Soup

1/2 cup butter

4 large onions

2 garlic cloves - chopped

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons thyme

salt + pepper

1 cup red wine

3 heaping Tablespoons flour

2 quarts homemade beef broth - HOT

several slices good quality country style bread

several slices swiss cheese


Slice the onions into pieces approximately 1/4" thick. (I use my Cuisinart.) Carmelize onions in butter with garlic, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper for 30 minutes. Add flour and brown. Add wine, stir with a whisk and cook until wine is evaporated. Add heated beef stock. Simmer for 15 minutes. 

While the soup is simmering, toast the bread. Butter the toast. Cut the bread into approximately 1" squares and place on a cookie sheet. Arrange them closely together. Place the swiss cheese on top of the toast. Broil until bubbling. 

Fill the bowls with the soup. Float the cheese covered bread on top of the soup. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Fiber Optic Comes to Leyden - A Last Mile Town in Western Massachusetts

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know we live in one of the most rural counties in Massachusetts. For years, I struggled with a dial-up connection internet connection. I started this blog in 2006. It was definitely a labor of love because it took forever to upload a photo or do a post. Eventually I got something called an air card which gave me a bit faster connection. At the Leyden Town Hall, they eventually installed some kind of high speed service. I spent many hours sitting in my car uploading blog posts and photos. Eventually I was allowed to sit inside the Town Hall and use their wifi. 

This went on for many many years. And then miraculously via the power of State Senator Stan Rosenberg's office, in 2013, we got DSL service. You can read all about this here

Since 2013, the world has changed. Internet speeds got faster and faster. More services were done exclusively on-line. Rural towns in Massachusetts and in states throughout the US were being left behind. And then the Pandemic hit. The digital divide became more and more obvious. Julia's college courses moved on-line. She constantly was bumped off or missed Zoom classes because of low speed and poor interconnectedness. The State of Massachusetts thankfully took the initiative to make available 5G high speed internet at many of the small Last Mile towns to help students and other residents. We went back to sitting in the car to upload photos, update the website, and Julia to work on her homework and watch classes. 

Our story is familiar to so many residents of rural towns. Happily, we have had an excellent outcome. After many years of work by tireless committee members, fiber optic broadband is being installed to homes who want it. The fiber optic cables began being installed in the spring. A couple weeks ago, they were attached to our home. Miracle of miracle -- I never thought I would see the day. At first we could only access the internet from the one room in the house where the wire was installed. Last week, a smart tech guy at Whip City Fiber helped me figure out that we needed a wireless mesh system to move the signal past the enormous stone and brick chimney to other parts of the house. It's a one time investment even if it was unexpected.

We are up and running now and we're feeling like we are part of the modern world. Thank you to all the Leyden Broadband Committee Members who have worked on this for years and years and years. Our farmhouse and other residents of our road were lucky to be in the first wave of installations. If you live in Leyden and have ordered service, hang on. It's coming and you will be happy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

End of October 2020



We are coming to the end of October. It feels it. The days are getting noticeably shorter. Some days are cold, clammy and the wood stove begs for a fire. Somedays the sun is out, the sky is a beautiful blue, and it seems like winter won't come. 

I can feel the year change in my moods and thoughts. I am not very affected by seasonal affective disorder but I live with someone who is. I know what a struggle it can be. 

When the days get shorter and the weather cools off, I feel a certain energy come my way. I was noticing it the other day and thinking what the heck is a matter with me. I have a list of to-dos a mile long and I actually feel like I can conquer some of them. I'm lucky -- and maybe you are too -- that I have plenty to do inside whether is be making or cooking or potting or sewing or..... 

I thought back to July and August when the days were very hot and humid. I was exhausted constantly and found that only a nap after lunch would get me through the day. So I gave in and napped. It was the heat that was doing this to me. I see why siestas are so de rigueur in Italy and Spain and other hot climates.  I suppose I could get an air conditioner for the summer and that could help but considering I have to be outside tending my garden and making pottery in a shed that has no air, it would be a waste of money. 

The sunflowers are done for the year. The birds have been out there picking them clean. The sunflower patch is so much fun to watch now - little birds diving in and out. I wish I could catch a photo of them but it hasn't worked out yet. Here are the sunflowers decaying now. I will till them into the earth next spring and we will begin again. 

I'm looking forward to really getting things done this winter. For now, I've got to keep making some pottery and sewing some tea towels so I can do another On-Line Sale. Sadly, I won't be hosting a Holiday Open House this year. I just don't feel comfortable filling my home with folks that I don't know their health situation. This year of 2020 has taught us all to be flexible and adapt and that's what I am trying to do. 

We just heard from Kevin Ford, our sheep shearer. He is coming in a few weeks to shear the sheep. Mark has started moving some of them to the winter barns in prep for shearing. Still more to go but there is time.

On a good note, the Amherst Farmer's Market where we vend every Saturday has been a breath of fresh air this season. Our booth has been busy selling both our farm-raised lamb and my pottery and tea towels. If you are up for a drive, stop by and see us. Hours are 8 to 1:30 every Saturday through November 21st. There are lots of fantastic vendors that you can meet and purchase from. Once the market is done for the season, lamb will be available here at our farm. 

With that, I'll close for now. Hope everyone is hanging in there. 

Friday, October 09, 2020

My On-Line Pottery Shop Update Sunday

A quick note tonight to let you all know that I will be updating my On-Line Pottery Shop on Sunday morning at 9 a.m. EDT. I will have lots of new pots - pitchers, vases, mugs, platters, and more. I've been working on these pots since late spring. Here are a few that will be available.









I use a white clay for my pottery. Each piece is thrown on my potter's wheel or built by hand from slabs that I roll out in my studio. Once the pot is thrown, I let it dry slightly and then apply handles if needed. These handles are pulled by hand. When completely dry, I use a sponge to clean up the piece. 

Each piece's decoration is completely different. I assess the shape of the pot and then decide upon the flowers and motifs I will use. Each color has to be hand-painted 3 times in order to obtain the strong color that I prefer. I outline each shape with thin black lines using a very fine liner brush. 

Once I build up enough pieces, I fire the pieces in my pottery kiln. When the pieces cool, I unload them and then paint each one with 3 layers of a clear glaze. It's all very time consuming but I really do enjoy making ceramics. 

Stop by my On-Line Shop on Sunday to check out the new pieces. Here is the link

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend. 

Monday, October 05, 2020

Fruit Crisp Recipe

It is "crisp season" here in western Massachusetts. Crisp as in the coming weather and the fall of the deciduous trees' leaves and crisp as in fruit crisp - that typically American dessert of fall and winter. 

For years, I searched for the perfect fruit crisp recipe. Every time I made one, it wasn't quite to my liking. One evening we were invited to our friends Peggy and Clara's house and they served the absolutely most perfect apple crisp. Clara passed along her recipe and each fall I make it. It is perfect for after dinner or breakfast the next few days. I've made it with apples and peaches, and plums, and frequently throw in odds and ends of frozen raspberries, blueberries, even grapes. Here's Clara's recipe and following are two picks of mine for most favorite local fruit orchards here in the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts.





Clara's Fruit Crisp

For the crisp topping:

1 cup rolled oats

3/4 cup flour

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

dash of nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 Tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup walnuts or more

For the fruit:

6-8 cups of peeled fruit

juice of a half a lemon (2-3 Tablespoons)

1/4 cup white sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

pinch of salt


1. Mix the topping ingredients together. 

2. Peel and slice the fruit and place in a buttered deep pie plate or casserole dish. I use a deep pottery dish that is 10" wide. Add the remaining ingredients and still to get the cornstarch to smooth out. Sometimes the dish is really full of fruit and sometimes not. Scatter the topping over the fruit and tamp down slightly. Using a knife, put a few airholes in the topping.

3. Bake at 375 for about 45-60 minutes. Fruit should be cooked through and bubbling up on the sides. Let cool slightly. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or just plain. Very nice for breakfast too. 

And now for a couple recommendations.....

The apples are beginning to ripen here in western Mass and luckily for the fruit growing orchards, folks can socially distance and pick apples safely. There are many orchards to choose from. Here are two of my faves:

Apex Orchards in Shelburne where the view is unreal. They have recently built a new farmstore and if you don't want to pick, there are plenty of varieties of already picked fruit.

Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield is a fourth generation fruit farm that has over 100 varieties of apples, peaches and more growing on their hillsides. In the fall, they offer mixed bags of all kinds of fruit perfect for pies. Clarkdale was the orchard that my mother-in-law Betty always bought her fruit from and Julia and I have continued that tradition visiting their stand each year before Thanksgiving. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Virtual Tour of Charleston Farmhouse in the UK

A heads-up that there is a great opportunity to support Charleston Farmhouse, the Sussex, England UK home of Bloomsbury Group Painters Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. On Thursday, October 1st at 2 pm EASTERN TIME (7 pm BST), a Virtual Tour is being hosted by Artist/Decorative Painter Annie Sloan and Curator Dr. Darren Clarke. 

The Bloomsbury Group began in the early 1900's and encompassed a large number of artists, authors, and intellectuals including Grant, Bell, Virginia Woolf (Vanessa's sister), Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry and more. Charleston Farmhouse became a mecca for their large group of friends (read about them here). Over the years, the rooms were hand painted with innovative treatments which have inspired textile and other artists for years. In the 1980's after the death of Duncan Grant, the home began to be restored. For years, it has inspired visitors with its beauty and quirkiness and has been featured in many, many books and publications. 

I had the good fortune to visit Charleston along with Virginia Woolf's home Monk's House which is now owned by the National Trust over 20 years ago. I look forward to seeing it again - if only virtually - on Thursday. 

The talk has a sliding scale of 20, 30 or 40 British pounds and a video of the talk will be available for a week after with your paid ticket. Purchase tickets here. Hope to see you at Charleston. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Things I've Been Doing Since May 2020......

Hello Blog Friends! It has been a very long time since I have written here. So long that the blog platform I use has changed its format and I am bumbling around trying to figure it out! We humans all over the world have been living (with a little luck and care) through the Pandemic. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would write such words but here we are in the Autumn of 2020. The days are long with more and more news in the news cycle. It seems to be going faster and faster - sometimes I feel like I have news whiplash. But you all know that. 

I haven't written here, nor have I written any newsletters since May. I haven't felt like I have had anything to add to the world. What I have done is kept my family close. I've cooked a lot of meals - finding comfort in making and feeding my family. I've also been making a lot of pottery in my pottery shed. 



And I have planted, weeded, mulched, and harvested from my veggie and flower garden. The sunflowers and flowers and veggies are pretty much over for the season but there are dribs and drabs of color as you can see in the photo below. 

Like many former bloggers, I have stayed active on-line but have turned to the Instagram platform to share what I have been up to.  I did a 100 Day Project (#100DaysofPottery) which kept me creating, going and photographing. You can check out my project HERE

Most recently, I have been sharing photos of my sunflower garden which I used to share here with photos from my DSLR. I haven't picked up that camera since MAY! My phone is just too easy to use. You can see recent photos of the sunflowers on my feed HERE. I have added a couple videos on a IGTV channel which you can see HERE

We (Farmer Mark and I) have been doing the Amherst Farmers Market since May when it started up again. The Town of Amherst moved it onto the green grass common as opposed to the parking lot. There are lots and lots of health and safety precautions in place. It has been really nice to see people and help them feed their families with our pasture raised lamb. The market continues until the middle of November. I would love to see you if you are local or up for a drive. 

I've been bringing my pottery and tea towels too. It has widened our customer base because there are limited folks who will purchase lamb and so some new eyes have found my sense of color and pattern appealing. I love talking about color and pattern and the handmade and also about cooking lamb so every Saturday has been a bit of fun. 

I will try to post more here on the blog this fall. I miss hearing from you all and reading your comments. I hope you are healthy and safe. Drop a note in the comments to tell me how you are faring during what is now the new normal. 

XO to all of you -- my internet friends.     

Two More Hexagon Afghans and Winter Restoration

I'm still in restoration mode as I call it. In the winter cold (and it has been cold this winter), I hunker down, try to keep warm (the ...