Friday, February 25, 2011

A Break from the Farm and Lambing

It was Julia's winter vacation this week so we made plans to visit my sister Laurie and her family who live close to Boston. Julia and I both love to spend time with my sisters and their kids. But boy, are the burbs of Boston different from our lives on the farm. It was a trip that was not without a bit of guilt on my part for leaving in the hectic lambing season. On top of it all, The Farmer came down with a vile bug. Luckily, through this blog, we have met Terri who lives in the town next to ours. She is a delivery room nurse and wanted to help us out with lambing. It has been a pleasure to teach her what we do and she and Addie have been a god-send to us during this busy season. Both Terri and Addie helped The Farmer get through his bug and his days alone.

The highlight of my trip (you notice I say "my" not "our") was a visit to the new American Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This Wing opened in November and I have been dying to see what they built. Many of the paintings that are on display were there before but now they are shown so gorgeously. 

I haven't been to the MFA in quite a while and the thing I noticed most was the number of people walking around looking at their smartphones. It was epidemic. Julia brought her iTouch with her and she took lots of photos. I can't believe how much this statue looks like it is texting!

We ate lunch at one of the new restaurants. It was lovely and we felt like we were on vacation in a foreign land.

And because it is never quite possible for us to get away from the farm and the sheep, we noticed many nods to agriculture and sheep from days gone by. This oil painting which I have yet to find on the MFA website and didn't jot down the name of ......

A Shepherdess and her Flock at Sunset by Jean-Francois Millet. When I looked closely, I could tell she was knitting.

The Belated Kid by William Morris Hunt. This is a beautiful oil painting and although they say it is a goat, it looked like a sheep to me!

And we were really excited to see a floorcloth in the new wing beneath a beautiful table setting. This floorcloth was designed and painted by our friend Lisa Curry Mair of Canvasworks in Perkinsville, VT. 

I'll be back next week with some more farm and sheep related posts. I thank you all for your kind words about our loss of our dear larger than life cat Lily Pons.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Irrepressible Lily Pons the Cat

A real farm cat - full of natural instinct and talent. Never to be replaced.... RIP .... XO... K, M & J

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring Thaw

Beautiful sky the other day as I returned home from chores. My neighbor's wrapped haylage is under mounds of snow.


We had a bit of a spring thaw last week. And it was much needed. 

The ewes are lambing every day. Eighteen one day, twenty-two the next, eight the next, and sixteen the next. Our numbering system has gone awry. Every morning when The Farmer arrives at the barn, he counts the new lambs and then tries to determine who the mother is. Sometimes it takes a day of us watching them, looking for clues to who is nursing from which mom. If we are lucky, we can get a number on the lambs denoting which number sheep their mama is. Trouble is, lots of the mother's eartags have fallen off while they have grazed over the last year. The best of plans sometimes go wrong.

The ewes are enjoying the sunshine. They love to eat the snow that falls off the greenhouse barn.

Lots of the lambs are getting older - they are starting to pick at hay and becoming more curious. They sure are cute.

They love to lie on their mamas back. Who says sheep aren't smart? The mamas are dry and their backs are soft and fluffy.
Have a great week everyone!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Addie Connection

My father's brother Uncle Harry married a Norwegian woman from Lake Telemark, NJ named Adelaide before I was born. They lived an interesting life - first in Germany where he worked for the U.S. government in the late 1950's and then as the Press Secretary for a few different congressmen. Later, one of his bosses Barber Conable became President of the World Bank and Uncle Harry traveled the world as his advance man. Uncle Harry, Aunt Addie and my three cousins lived outside Washington, DC for all my life and we would see them a couple times a year when they came to visit Gram. When I was a teenager, they bought a farm in upstate New York not too far from Saratoga where my sisters and I would visit during the summer.

Addie was a beautiful woman with thick, strong hair. She was tall and slender and always looked well put together, almost in a Audrey Hepburn kind of way. Addie was extremely intelligent and probably the first woman I ever knew who was an intellectual. And Addie was a needleworker. At almost every family occasion, she would be knitting. I remember being envious of her kids' beautiful handknit sweaters covered with intricate cables. I loved to watch her knit and she was always encouraging to me, passing on the wise words that "Yes, Kris, you can do this too." I will never forget that. Addie was always extremely kind to me, in her stand-off-ish Norwegian way. When we first began our sheep flock, we named one of our first lambs Adelaide after her. As Addie got older, she developed emphesemia and had to tote around an oxygen tank. She developed a fondness for lavender. She grew it and made woven lavender wands that she carried with her. She said the lavender helped her breathe easier. 

Addie was always interested in history, politics, the arts, and wool and all kinds of textiles. She spent all her summers on their farm in New York - she loved it and the real country life. She loved to "junk" before it was popular and furnished her farmhouse with antiques she bought at local auctions and yard sales. When The Farmer and I got into the sheep business, she was fascinated and once again encouraging. One day I got a call from her, saying she wanted to buy some sheep to help her graze her lawn in NY for the summer. By this time, Addie was using her oxygen tank. The Farmer gave her advice on what kind of sheep to buy and the portable electric fencing she would need. My brother-in-law David, the Dairy Farmer, had a side-line fence business and she struck up a telephone relationship with him. One Saturday she arrived at the farm, oxygen tank in tow, to pick up her fencing. We were up in the woods working and I heard a loud noise. Up the path roared David on his ATV with Aunt Addie and her oxygen tank in tow. I will never forget the site. We all sat around and talked about farming, fencing and sheep. Soon, Addie left the farm with her fence and oxygen tank. She got two sheep that summer and they grazed outside her farmhouse all summer long. I always had the best time in my mind imagining Aunt Addie in her slim pants, beautiful thick gray hair and her oxygen tank moving her fence and sheep around their pastures and lawn. We got letters from her about her sheep that I still have somewhere. 

Addie passed away a few years after her sheep summer. When Uncle Harry was cleaning out her things, he gave me an antique wooden wool winder and some of her lace-making and tatting tools. Every time I stumble upon the tools in my jewelry box, I think of Aunt Addie, the kind words she used to share with me, and her late in life sheep. 

This past fall, The Farmer met another Adelaide at a farmer's market. She grew up in northern Vermont and has lived here in the Valley for over a decade. Her partner Dan and she run a business called Real Pickles in Greenfield. They recently were awarded a national Good Food Award. But Addie is interested in raising sheep. She worked on a sheep ranch in Idaho for a few months. This winter she is helping out with lambing chores and learning along the way. She comes to the barn a couple mornings a week. Last week, I was there too, taking some photos for you. 

Here you can see the greenhouse barn that we use for lambing. It was a beautiful day full of blue sky and cold sunshine. You can see that except for the lambs and ewes in the pens, the sheep are outside. Sheep prefer the outdoors - even in a snowstorm. 

Here's Addie putting an elastic tail band on a day old lamb. 


We use a tool called an "elastrator" and thick green rubber bands. Lambs are born with tails that are about eight inches long. In a couple weeks, the bottom part of the tail will fall off. We do this as a precautionary measure. In the summer, if a sheep has diarrhea or the poop doesn't fall away from the sheep, flies will lay their eggs on the sheep's butt. In a day, the eggs will become maggots and they will eat away the sheep's flesh. We really have to watch this in the summer. A sheep can die in a couple days if the maggots happen and they aren't attended to. Not a pleasant sight to say the least.

After the tail is docked, we spray-paint the sheep with its Mama's number. Green numbers mean the lamb is a twin, blue numbers mean the lamb is a single. The paint wears off as the lamb ages and it will wash out of the wool. Addie also puts eartags in the lamb's ears. Each lamb gets the number of its Mama and it helps to keep everything in a bit of order. Addie is really enjoying working with the lambs. Dan, her partner, isn't so sure about the manure on her boots when she comes home.

So here's the funny thing. I got an e-mail the other day from a woman named India who is a faithful blog-reader. Here's what she wrote:

"Hi Kristin- Would you consider mentioning in your blog Warm Hats Not Hot Heads, the knitters' campaign to restore civility in politics? There's a group on Ravelry and we're also on Facebook. The idea is to knit hats--which embody the concept of every stitch working for the common good--for every member of Congress and every Senator, to illustrate our desire for our representatives to put down the poison pens and take up the business of crafting solutions to the various problems and challenges facing our country. This campaign was begun by your fellow knitbloggers Twinsetellen ( and SpinDyeKnit ( Thank you! India
p.s. Thanks, also, for mentioning Real Pickles a few months ago. My niece, Addie Rose Holland and her partner, Dan Rosenberg, are the people behind the pickles. 

I try to keep the politics out of my blog. It's not something I like to include so I was a little reticent to say yes. But I delved into the website a little more and discovered that this wasn't a political statement as much as a statement that politicians should listen to both sides of the story and perhaps meet in the middle. I promised India I would give the project a shout-out here.

Last night, I listened to the "On-Point Interview" with Tom Ashcroft about knitting. And who do you think was the first caller? It was India! Tom gave her the chance to talk about the Warm Hats Not Hot Heads Project. Awesome. If you didn't get a chance to listen to the show, you can find it here.

I guess I could have said this all shorter.... but it wouldn't have been so much fun for me.... Harry marries Addie and they live outside DC. Arch marries Nancy and I am born. Addie encourages me to knit. I do - and have a career. The Farmer and I get some sheep and name a lamb Adelaide. Aunt Addie buys fence and grazes summer sheep late in her life. I start writing a blog. A young woman named Addie comes to our farm to help out with lambing. A blog-reader named India asks for a a little publicity help with her project Warm Hats Not Hot Heads and happens to be Addie's aunt. I hear India on NPR.

That is my "small world" story of the day. Check out the Warm Hats Not Hot Heads project to sign up here. Good day everyone!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Barn Chores

Last night, I kept waking up. It was the wind that was interrupting my sleep. It was howling away bringing in some very cold air after a day yesterday when it hit 45 degrees. I kept thinking about the sheep and the lambs knowing that cold, windy air and birth are not the best combination. After Julia left for school on the bus, I headed down to the barn to help out with the lambing chores. This lambing season, we are expecting at least 300 lambs. We are living and breathing lambing season at this old farmhouse. So far, there must be 125 lambs so things have been busy. And to be honest, we have pretty much lost count. 

Upon arrival, I checked in with The Boss (that would be The Farmer) to see what kind of help was needed. He said there were 3 sets of twins already. He was expecting a shipment of grain so I started tending to the twins who he had just found outside in the snow. 


The mama was attentive but these guys were definitely in need of some help. They were both trembling but when I put my finger in each of their mouths, there was a bit of warmth. All was not lost. We keep a supply of old towels rotating through the barn so I sat down with the lamb that looked the worst and used the towel to massage her legs and dry her off. She seemed to respond which made me feel encouraged. A little more massage and her head lifted off the barn floor. We decided to move the mama and these twins to a pen with a heat lamp and just watch.

So much of lambing season is watching. Watching and waiting. Trying to guess who will be next. When a ewe is close to lambing she will "bag up" which means her udder swells and looks like this.

After I finished with the one weak set, I took a walk outside to see what was going on. Lots of the little lambs like to hang out in the hay feeders sunning themselves when they aren't nursing from their Mamas. They are safe in the feeders away from the large sheep and can just snooze away uninterrupted.  Little lambs need lots of sleep - just like infants.

Further on down the hill, I found a brand new lamb. I must have missed its birth by seconds. The lamb had a bit of blood on her head which sometimes happens. The mama was attentive so I left it out in the sun and went back in the barn to do today's chores. 

When a lamb is just born and its umbilical cord is still moist, we dip it in iodine to prevent disease. We try to pen each set of twins and their mama so they can bond nicely. With the number of lambs we have had so far, we are running out of pens. Before the day old lambs can be released, their tails need to be docked and they need to be numbered with paint and an eartag. I'll show you this process tomorrow. After I finished yesterday's lambs' tails and marking, I started to release them to make room for today's crop. But before that, I had to check on the Mama outside who had just given birth. Yup, she had twinned. I picked both of them up by the front legs and slowly walked backwards into the barn. The mama followed nicely - I was lucky. She needed to be brought inside because it was really windy and cold - what we refer to as "lamb killing weather." The barn is a modified greenhouse designed for sheep and we put it up over 20 years ago. It functions well and helps the lambs live and thrive. This is one place that I let my love for aesthetics and beautiful things go - the barn is for lamb survival, that's it. It sure is nothing fancy but sheep don't care.

The first set of chilled lambs was looking better - in fact they were both up and trying to nurse. They are smallish but seemed to be doing well.


In the middle of all of this, the grain truck arrived to deliver the grain for the mamas. Our sheep eat primarily farm-raised hay but when the mothers are milking, they need a little more protein and energy which the grain supplies. Some people think sheep are stupid but I'm here to tell you differently. The adults all knew that the truck was there with the grain. They could hear it being blown into the bins and the combined baaaahhing was deafening. The trucker stopped in to see the lambs and have a quick chat with The Farmer. He was curious about the greenhouse and how warm it was inside. He then headed out and promptly got stuck in the snow. The Farmer helped dig him out and finally he was on his way.

In the meantime way down the field, two more ewes had just twinned. The Farmer put me in charge. I was in over my head. I couldn't tell which lamb belonged to which sheep and neither could the ewes. I had to get the lambs inside so I played lamb leapfrog - I picked up two lambs and moved them down the field about 10 feet. In the meantime, the mothers were tending to the other two. I picked them up and the mothers followed stopping at the first pair. I set the second set down 10 feet closer to the barn and kept repeating the process until the 4 lambs and 2 ewes were safely inside the warm barn. I watched and watched but couldn't tell who belonged to who. Can you tell?

We decided to pen them all together and hopefully by this evening the Mamas will sort out who belongs to whom. 

After I got all the babies taken care of, I fed and watered each pen full of new life. I filled up the water tank outside for the second time in the day (nursing mamas drink a lot of water!) and came home to write this blog post. I'm waiting for the bus again and then Julia and I will head on down the barn to see what else is going on and if The Farmer needs our help. 

That's the way it goes around here during lambing season. A lot of the same thing, over and over again with little bits of lamb life and death drama thrown in. It's not for everyone, for sure. Julia keeps threatening to move to "the city." We tell her, "that's fine" but this is where she is living now. I'm thankful that we can share lambing season with her and all of you. Good day everyone.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Decorated Chain Stitch Embroidery Video

A little gift for you all for Valentine's Day. Here's a video I made a bit ago which I never uploaded. The motif I embroider is a heart so it makes it appropriate for this special day of roses, chocolate, and love.


I hope you all are having a nice day, celebrating with loved ones or just treating yourself extra special. I'd like to thank you all for coming here so faithfully and supporting my creative pursuits. Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

I send out this virtual heart to you all. 

Knitting on OnPoint on NPR Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tomorrow, On Point Radio with Tom Ashbrook will feature an entire hour discussing knitting. Check it out on their Facebook Page here and leave them a comment. If you can't manage to listen, you should be able to get the audio via their podcast within an hour after the show airs.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fern Stitch Embroidery on Handknits from Color By Kristin - Bloomsbury Gloves

Photo John Gruen Courtesy Sixth and Spring Books
The photo above shows my Bloomsbury Gloves knit from my Julia Yarn from my book Color By Kristin. I have now completed uploading the series of video tutorials on all the embroidery stitches you will need to decorate these gloves: French Knots, Fern Stitch, Lazy Daisy, and Spider Web. You can find them on a new link on my sidebar at left. I really do hope that some of you try to add embroidery to your handknits. It isn't hard - as you will see by watching the videos!

Here is the last one - Fern Stitch Video Tutorial......

After you watch it you should be also able to make the leaves on my Sunflower Pillow (pattern available as PDF download here) as shown on the close-up below:


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lazy Daisy Embroidery Video Tutorial on Handknits from Color by Kristin

Here is number two of three videos I've just finished editing to help you learn embroidery on handknits. This video shows how to make Lazy Daisies - a very easy embroidery stitch. After you watch it, you should be able to make petals and small leaves on your handknits.


Crewel Embroidery Returns

My crewel pillows from Colorful Stitchery
I have been waiting and waiting for stitchers and knitters to catch up with me. Today in my in-box, I was incredibly excited to see crewel embroidery being featured prominently on Purl Soho's website. Wow - maybe someone else will help the trend along! Check out all their new kits here. They are a little tame colorwise for me but what the heck - at least crewel is out there.

What is crewel embroidery, you ask? It is embroidery stitched with wool thread traditionally worked on linen or cotton fabric. It is easy to do. The use of the wool yarn is so forgiving that even a beginner can look like an expert. I favor Paternayan Persian Wool for my crewel work which comes in over 400 colors!

I learned to embroider when I was about 10 years old. It kept me busy for many hours. In fact, I embroidered incessantly before I began to knit when I was 19. Those were the days of Sunset Design kits and the height of the fabulous Erica Wilson's career. (Did you know Erica is married to the uber-chic furniture designer Vladimir Kagan? Fabulous article about them here from the NYT.) Embroidery covered my blue jeans and my blouses as it did so many others. 

My book Colorful Stitchery
I have never fallen out of love with embroidery. Knitting just took over my life and career. For years I have been trying to get knitters to combine embroidery with their knitting and I will admit, it has been a hard thing to sell. I'm not sure what it is. It baffles me. And then I go and teach embroidery on knits and I realize that most knitters are afraid of failure and fearful of trying something new.

I have written two books on embroidery - one for children - called Kids' Embroidery (sadly out of print but I still have it for sale on my Shop Page) and one for adults called Colorful Stitchery. Here are some photos of crewel embroidery that are featured in my book Colorful Stitchery (available on my website Shop Page Here). All these photos are by Kevin Kennefick courtesy Storey Publishing.

An crewel embroidered wedding blanket with a heart shaped pillow

A close-up of the heart pillow - a perfect project for next week's Valentine's Day

Bug pillows stitched on velvet worked in crewel wool

Polka Dot embroidered pillows
And check out this lovely little sheep embroidery kit on Lorna Bateman's Etsy page. So darn cute! I've been meaning to stitch up a banner for my header similar to this. French knots really simulate wooly sheep beautifully.

Later today, I'll be posting another video of Lazy Daisy Embroidery on handknit fabric. Come back and check it out! Maybe you will be willing to give it a go?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

New Video Tutorial - Spider Web Embroidery on Knits

Do you know what "Spider Web Embroidery" is?  It is a technique that I add to many of my knits after they are complete. This embroidery technique isn't hard to do but it sure does look fancy. Here is a nice close-up of it. It is the dark green center of the flower.

You can see "Spider Webs" on the Bloomsbury Gloves from Color By Kristin. They are the center of the flowers. (The book is available on my website or at your LYS). Notice how they look raised - almost like sculpture... I love this look!

Bloomsbury Gloves from Color By Kristin Photo John Gruen courtesy of Sixth and Spring Books
They make the polka dots on this Felted Tea Cosy.....
Felted Tea Cosy from Spring 2006
And the large polka dots on these slipper socks...
Macarons Slipper Socks Available at Fall 2009
They are playful and fun to do and will give your knitting a new sense of adventure and style! And now I present to you a video tutorial on how to make a "spider web." I'm hoping that by having these videos available to you, you will be more adventuresome at adding embroidery to your knits. I teach these techniques at workshops. This stitch is usually the technique the students enjoy doing most! Give it a try! The video is also available on YouTube here.

The Felted Tea Cosy Pattern is available here on
The Macarons Slipper Sock Pattern is available here on

Knitters All Over the World

One of the lovely things about attending VK Live was meeting many, many knitters. And getting to share the way I see color and the art of knitting. It is a great priviledge to write a knitting book but to be down in the trenches with the real knitters - now that is fun of another kind! 

I never thought I would meet knitters from overseas at VK Live. I guess I really didn't think about it. I know I have blog readers from all over the world but I have never met any of them (except for one). In a few of my classes, I had students from Germany which was a pleasant surprise. Gives me the idea that in Germany, knitting must be up and coming again! To top it all off, one of the students - Martina Hecht - is a blogger! She writes "MaschenGold.". Her blog is available both in German and English! Wow - what a lot of work!  Here you can read a review of my "Joy of Color" class. It sounds like she "got" what I was trying to share. I hope she shares it with her fellow knitters in Germany too!

If you haven't had the chance to look yet, my new "Get Stitched on the Farm" website is up! Here's the link. You can poke around it. Check out the dates for the new classes! The banner below was one that didn't quite fit. Too bad - it was too tall.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Special Movie of Two Ewes Lambing at Leyden Glen Farm

Last Friday morning, I was helping with chores at the barn. I had my camera with me, as I usually do during lambing season. I was really lucky to witness two ewes each giving birth to twin lambs. Most of the time, the ewes will lamb when we aren't around so I felt incredibly fortunate. 

On Monday I went to Brattleboro to visit my friend Beth Brown-Reinsel. She helped me learn a little bit about iMovie '11. Boy - some learning curve. The last version I had of iMovie was '05. The new version can do a lot if you can figure it out. Check out all of the videos Beth has been posting on You Tube here. They are really great and show many of the techniques she teaches in the knitting classes she travels the USA teaching.

This morning I went down to the barn (did I mention we got another half a foot of snow last night?) to help out. I also took my computer and recorded the audio. Let me warn you - if you have a Border Collie, this video could drive them nuts - it does ours. They look all around for the sheep and can't find them!

If you prefer to watch the video on YouTube, here is the link. Share it with your friends - because it sure is the miracle of nature. Pass it along to your home schooling friends too! I like to envision many of you sitting in your offices, perhaps in a high-rise in a very large city, watching our sheep lamb..... It's such a wonderful thought that the internet can make the miracles of farming available to so many people. Enjoy!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Handknit Prezzie Idea for Valentine's Day, MORE Lambs

We interrupt the birth of the lambs for a little bit of knitting. I might as well join in with all the crazy Valentine's Day hype. Can't get away from it, can you? I've just knit up a new version of my Knit It - Felt It - Zip It Bag.

It's a Valentine's Day gift for Julia. We need a way to reign in all those markers that fall on the floor of the car all the time! In pink, of course - her favorite color. You can find the pattern available for PDF download on my Shop Page and read a little more about my project on my Julia Yarn Page here. The triangle pattern is included with the pattern (even though it isn't photographed on the pattern page). In fact, I have added 3 bonus charts for you to try. They are all photographed before and after felting. There is also a section a "how-to" section on choosing colors for working with two colors. I think this pattern is a real bargain at $6.

One little trick I'd love to share.... if you look close at the triangle motifs, you'll see that there is a difference in the rows of darker triangle colors.

I was running out of my Velvet Moss Julia and I wanted the triangles to be dark. I striped the triangle motifs using both the Velvet Moss color and Steel Grey shade. Each triangle row is a different color. Look close! It is barely noticeable but got me through the project.

Here's a second photo showing a different color variation on the triangle motif.

This pattern is really versatile because it is sized in 4 different sizes - these are the small and medium bags. There are also smaller and larger bags included too! It really is an easy project to whip up if you are familiar with two color knitting. Instant PDF downloads really do make this possible! See the idea on the web, grab your odds and ends and you can begin this evening! I love it! If you have trouble understanding the rectangular pick-up at the beginning of the bag, see this post.

And since farming never stops, have a look at what The Farmer brought home the other night.

What is it you ask? It is a bucket of cow colostrum. His brother is a dairy farmer and had a cow that freshened (calved). When his cows have babies, he machine-milks the mothers separately so that the colostrum is saved and fed to the calves. (Most dairy cattle do not raise their young - the babies are taken off them immediately and a farmer hand feeds them with a bottle.) David was kind enough to share the "colostrum wealth." It is going in the freezer in yogurt containers and we'll use it to feed bottle lambs whose Mamas aren't able to give them colostrum. All this talk about colostrum...... maybe some of you don't know what it is..... It is the first milk that comes from a mammal mother - sheep, goat, cow, human..... It is thick, sweet and full of nutrients. When a lamb is born, it is really important for it to drink this first milk as it also helps guard them against disease.

Here are some photos of this weekend's new arrivals.

This baby is so darn cute.

And this one --- aaaaawwwww!

One week til Valentine's Day - get knitting. I am!

Kristin Is Now Writing Over on Substack

Hi All! A quick note to let you all know that I'm now writing a Newsletter over on Substack: Kristin Nicholas' Colorful Newsletter f...