Sunday, March 29, 2015

Photos from the Farm

Some lamb and sheep photos from this week. It has been very cold (again) and we even had more snow. This week they are promising warmer temperatures. 

This is one of our rams - he is the oldest guy and although we were thinking of retiring him from breeding, we have decided to give him another year. He is a Polypay and has sired some very nice lambs. His daughters are lambing now and they are taking good care of their babies. 


These two little twins were born this week to this yearling. She is doing a great job. I posted a little video on Instagram just after they were born that you can see here. Make sure you have your sound up so you can here the mama talking to her babies. 



While you are there, check out this photo of the lamb that almost didn't make it last week. It is now living large in the kitchen. Lucky lamb. She is rather attached to me. 

There is always a sheep on top of a bale of hay.


I think this may be my favorite picture of the week. 


Hope you all are having a good Sunday.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

More Paisley Crewel Progress

My printed and crewel embroidered paisley piece is coming along. I wanted to share some of the photos of the individual finished paisley motifs with you all. Above each photo, I have given you the stitches I used to complete each paisley motif.

You can come to our farm and take a Crewel Embroidery class with me this summer on August 8 and 9. Class is limited in size to 8 people so this is real hands-on with lots of my help. We will have time to do some printing on linen fabric if you want to make a paisley design similar to what I have been making and sharing here on the blog. 

For this year's classes, I have decreased the price but I will not be serving dinner at the farm. There are so many great places to eat around here that feature incredible locally raised food. The bottom line was that worrying about dinner for everyone on top of teaching was too much for me. But I do throw a very nice lunch spread which will not disappoint, along with nice homemade snacks during the day. Check out all my offerings this year here. The Fabric Printing Class has sold out but I will be adding a second class since it is proving popular.

Can't get to our farm - check out my on-line class on Craftsy. See the link on my left sidebar for a special price for this on-line class.  

Onto the paisleys......

Stitches Used: Chain, Outline, Fly, Cross, Fern, Straight, Couching


Stitches Used: Chain, French Knots, Two Color Running, Threaded Herringbone, Fern


Stitches Used: Tied Cross Stitch, Laid Stitch, Chain, Outline


Stitches Used: Chain, Fern, Fly, Laid, Outline


Stitches Used: Chain, Running Stitch, Buttonhole


One of the reasons this project was so much fun and went quickly was that the paisley shapes were printed onto the fabric before I started stitching. Here is a post with that process outlined. Lots of times, with more typical crewel embroidery, entire solid colored shapes are stitched using heavy stitches such as satin stitch. Stitching on pre-printed shapes defintely makes Crewel Embroidery much more approachable. 

Another way to stitch up colorful textiles is to start with a patterned fabric - such as a stripe or a plaid. Then you can embellish to your hearts content. I did that on this pillow project from Colorful Stitchery which is available on my website in a new edition. (Photo a little pixellated - sorry.)


In a recent Martha Stewart Living Magazine, they featured some beautiful embroidered fabrics, using a print fabric as a background. Here is a link to the Flax and Twine blog which excerpted that article from MSL

Embroidery certainly is making a comeback! I am so happy that people are picking it up again. Rebecca Ringquist has a new embroidery book coming out which I can't wait to see. Here is her version of a paisley sampler available via her Etsy shop. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Links You Might Like! + 9 Years + Bonus CACH Photos


I just realized that this little blog has just passed its 9th year anniversary. Wow. I went back to read my first post to see how I began. You can read it too. I cannot believe I am still at it. I have no time to reflect on this anniversary today but maybe I will in the near future. What I do really appreciate is that you each take the time out of your busy day to read what I have to write and share. 

We are severely still lacking in the color department here in western Massachusetts. I think it is my colorful, cosy home that has helped me to make it through this winter. Today was a beautiful day - the sun was shining and it was bright and clear. Such a nice change from the winter we have had. 

I am totally inspired by this article on British potter Prue Piper. Oh, how I hope I get to do some pottery again soon! 


Every Thursday for the past 15 years or so, I have gone to the general store in Bernardston to pick up the New York Times. Why? So I can read the "HOME" section. Well that is no more because the NYTimes has discontinued it. Booooooo NYT. :-( You can read about this here


Our food scene here in western Massachusetts was written up on the Huffington Post. Check it out here

Rikki Snyder - the photographer of my new book Crafting a Colorful Home - has put a blog post up with lots of outtakes of photos we took that didn't get used or were cropped so that many details were missing (in print). Check it out here and thanks Rikki! 


Here are a few of the outtakes that Rikki took of our home for Crafting A Colorful Home that didn't appear in the book.  You can still order signed copies of the book from me on my website. I am still offering the postcards and the Kristin bookplates. $27.95 and FREE FREIGHT! Here is the link to my website.

This chair came from my mother-in-law and it serves as an extra seat in the library. I'd like to re-cover it again someday. The curtain is actually a piece of Uzbekistan embroidery. The engravings are antique and I have collected them over the years. Most have something to do with sheep, dogs, fiber animals and knitting. The mural on the wall is by me. 


Photo by Rikki Snyder 

This is the little Jotul woodstove that warms us all winter. I love wood heat. The wood engravings above the mantelpiece were done by Randy Miller, a New Hampshire wood engraver. Such a talented guy. I discovered that he sells his prints on-line. His images are of agricultural and small town scenes. Our collection includes from left to right:
Border Collie (this collie looks so much like Kate)
Shakers Mowing
Sheep Talk
Town and Country Scene (not available on his website)

On the mantel, I have a piece of needlepoint from Uzbekistan. You can see more on Susan Mellor's site here


Photo by Rikki Snyder 
This is a scene in our kitchen. I love British teacups and have a nice collection. Just so you know, the counter is never that clear. There is always stuff all over it. Aren't those zinnias pretty? Summer will come again soon. 



This is a scene in the kitchen at our old wood table. The tea set is Fiestaware that I have picked up at Brimfield over the years. It is great for photo shoots because of the colors and the shape. I made the cushions for our kitchen chairs. (I include instructions for making chair pads in Crafting A Colorful Home. I used fabric I had printed at Spoonflower from my own designs that were done in Adobe Illustrator. The theme is sunflowers of course. You can buy the fabric too. Here is the link to all my prints on Spoonflower

Photo by Rikki Snyder 

I hope you all are having a good week. Mud season is arriving here soon. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Outtake, Our Favorite Leek and Potato Soup + Bonus Stock Recipe

When Rikki Snyder and I are working together shooting for a book or a web or magazine feature, we always seem to throw in a recipe or two. I'm not a cookbook author but Rikki is a fantastic food photographer and it seems a shame not to use our farmhouse as a backdrop for some pretty food photos. We give the photos to the editors and usually they are not used - not because they are bad - but because we get carried away and style and photograph too many things. I love this photo Rikki took in our kitchen. 

Photo by Rikki Snyder
I painted this oil painting at least a decade ago. I wanted to have a still life of food somewhere in my kitchen. One day I sat down before making Leek and Potato Soup and worked up this painting. It has hung next to the stove for many years. When we were shooting, I thought it would be fun to recreate the scene in the painting on the counter below the painting. 

Spring is officially here but it certainly doesn't feel like it. I keep seeing photos of spring in different areas of the northern hemisphere but we aren't even close. On Friday evening, we had another snowstorm but luckily, the sun came out Saturday afternoon and that new snow melted quickly. 

Our winter dinners this year have consisted of lots of soup. I have been a soup girl all my life and I'm happy to say Julia seems to enjoy it too. Even The Farmer this winter admitted that he likes soup for supper. This was a biggie because when I tried to palm off soup as a meal for many years, he was never overwhelmed with its deliciousness. This year though seems to be a turning point and he is all in with the soup dinners. 

Our family has its soup favorites and it is often that I make a large pot on Sunday and in the middle of the week and we enjoy it through the week. Because we live on a sheep farm, lamb is often a component, although not always. I've shared some of our favorites - Scotch Broth and Lamb and Lentil Soup - on the Leyden Glen Lamb website. The soup I am sharing today is always in the soup rotation. I love the simplicity of Leek and Potato Soup - just a very few ingredients and it is so delicious and warming on a winter or spring day.


Our Favorite Leek and Potato Soup 

1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon fat
2 large leeks
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
2 pounds Russet potatoes
6 cups chicken stock (or half stock, half water) or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the leek into two pieces just above where the leek is light green. *Set aside the green top. Remove the root end and set aside. Slice the leek vertically in 2 pieces. Chop the leek up into slices about 1/2" long. Place them in a bowl of water and separate. Wash the pieces to remove the grit and sand. Shake it to remove much of the water.

*Peel the onion, setting aside the peel and the top and bottom ends. Chop the onion into pieces about 1/4". Peel and slice the garlic into slivers. Peel the potatoes (*reserving the peels to make vegetable stock). Cut into 1" chunks.

Heat about 1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil or bacon fat in a soup pot. Add the leeks and onion and cook so that they begin to wilt. Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the stock or stock/water and the potatoes and bring to a boil. Turn the burner down and cover the pot. Let the soup simmer for about 30 minutes. The potatoes and veggies should be very soft. 

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Depending on my mood, sometimes I puree the soup until very creamy. Sometimes I pull out some of the potatoes and break them into chunks before pureeing the soup. Then I add the small chunks to the pureed mixture for a soup with a little more texture. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. 

Serve in bowls with a pat of butter or a touch of cream or half and half if feeling decadent. A little chopped parsley is a nice garnish.

* This winter I have been saving all the beginnings of my veggie prep to make stock. Every night when prepping veggies I place the peelings of carrots, potatoes, ends of onions and the green parts of the leeks in a bag in my freezer. When I have enough remnants (or I run out of room in the freezer) I place the frozen bits in a stock pot and cover with water. I add an extra carrot, a stick of celery, some bay leaves, some thyme and I cook it for a good long time - about 2 hours - adding more water as it evaporates. I let it cool and then strain it through a fine mesh colander. It is delicious for soup bases or cooking rice in. I love to make something out of nothing, don't you? If I have extra lamb bones or chicken bones, I will cook it all together for a nice non-veggie stock. I can never have enough stock in my freezer! On a rushed night, I can turn some stock into a quick soup by adding a can of beans, some rice, and odds and ends of chicken. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Yearlings Becoming Mamas



In the pasture south of our farmhouse, a group of about 40 yearlings and a couple of older rams have been spending the winter. About a month ago, the first yearling lambed.



Sometimes yearling mothers aren't the best. Being the first time they have a baby, they aren't quite sure what to do. Although their natural instincts usually kick in, it is not unusual for a yearling to just up and leave her baby.

I can't imagine what a ewe must think when they first birth a lamb. It's not like they have a midwife or a doctor standing by, telling them to breathe and push. Somehow they just figure it out. Out comes the little lamb (yearlings usually have small lambs) and with any bit of luck, they turn around to see what happened and immediately start licking all the fluids from the little, relatively lifeless, still lamb. Then in a couple of seconds, the baby will shake its little head with its ears flapping producing the oddest sound - sort of like wet clothes flapping in the breeze. The mama will continue cleaning her baby. In about 15 minutes the baby will be up on its spindly little legs and they will be off on their natural mama and lamb adventure.


This year, the yearlings have been doing a really great job birthing babies and bonding with them. Luckily most of the births have been singles which helps a young ewe out. 



On Monday, one ewe did have a uterine prolapse which we couldn't fix ourselves. (Vaginal prolapses with sheep are easily fixed with a plastic device called a bearing retainer.) We called the vet who just happened to be coming this way. This was good news because we could split the travel fee with another farm. We led the ewe up the hill and put her in the back of my SUV so that she would be ready when the vet arrived.

It was a 3 person job although I think if I wasn't there, all would have been fine. The ewe was balanced over a plastic trash can that was serving as a makeshift O.R. I helped to hold the ewe steady, holding the ewe's tail and wool up so the vet could see what she was doing. Amy was able to get the uterus back in, slowly twisting and turning the mass of red tissue back into the ewe's body. Her hands were small which in her line of work, must be helpful, especially with sheep. In a week, we will remove the stitches.

As I was standing there, I couldn't help but think back to the James Herriot books that I read so many years ago. I'm sure a vet's life serving farmers on hill farms here in the Pioneer Valley is very similar to the scenes that can be watched via the BBC series. Although times have changed and medicines have improved, a country vet's life is still full of the same occurrences. Farming too has changed but there are still so many constants - feeding, grazing, birth, death, and all the other things that go along with it. I feel fortunate to be part of this life. I have learned so much living here -- it is such a different life than my childhood growing up in New Jersey. Watching the animals care for their babies is some kind of miracle. And watching my husband Mark continue on a tradition of working the land and producing food for our neighbors is really something special. It certainly isn't all wine and roses but there are so many parts of our life that just can't be bought with money. 

Enjoy the photos of the new little lambs. 










Monday, March 16, 2015

Paisley Progress

A couple weeks ago I shared a piece of linen fabric that I printed as a base for an embroidery project I have been dreaming of. I am having the best time working on this piece. I plan to turn it into a pillow for our porch. 


The hand-printed paisley motifs are rather solid although there is a little show-through and mottling see-through of the pink background color. I like that. The paislies are perfect little shapes to embroider. I can usually finish one in an evening which makes me feel good - to have completed anything in an evening is amazing. Here are some close-ups of my work in progress. 







I have embroidered other paisley motifs - like on this cashmere blanket in my book Colorful Stitchery.



You can come to a class at our farm this summer and learn to do Crewel Embroidery. I am hosting a Crewel Embroidery weekend on August 8 and 9. You will get more out of it if you come for 2 days but I am also offering just the Saturday option. Check out my 2015 Classes on my website here. There are only 5 student spaces available as of today. When you are at the website, check out my other classes. I am also offering custom classes for a group of at least 4 students. Topics include knitting, crewel embroidery, fabric printing and lampshade painting. 

If you can't get to the farm, you can take my Craftsy Class Stitch It with Wool: Crewel Embroidery. Use the link on my left sidebar to get it at 50% off. Better yet, use this holiday code and get UP TO 50% off any Craftsy class today: http://www.craftsy.com/ext/KristinNicholas_holiday

I sell all the supplies you need for Crewel Embroidery on my website here. Maybe you will be inspired to give it a go soon. 

Have a colorful week everyone! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Scrap Yarn Afghan - Another Sneak Peek from Crafting A Colorful Home + a Color Lesson

Photo by Rikki Snyder from Crafting a Colorful Home
Several of you have remarked about the current header photo on my blog. This is a photo taken by Rikki Snyder from my new book Crafting a Colorful Home. The project is called The Scrap Yarn Knit Afghan. I designed it to be a project that can be knit over the years. The afghan is made in 5 pieces that are then seamed together. The vertical edges are picked up and worked in garter stitch. 

This is the kind of project that you can pick up and put down many times. The stitch pattern is easily memorized and it is worked back and forth on a circular needle. The stitch is called Reverse Stockinette Stitch Ridges and is an easy stitch I return to again and again. It looks good on both the front and the back. It is the stitch I used to make my very favorite extra long scarf that I wear every day of the winter and have worn for at least the last ten years. Can you believe I haven't lost it? I love this scarf. To accommodate the changes of colors and the ends, I looped some new pieces of each color yarn at the end of each stripe. Then I braided them to form a heavy fringe that has worn well over the years.

 

I do not have a pattern for my favorite scarf but there is a similar one in my book Color By Kristin. It is shown on Matthew below. What a cute boy. He is almost 17 now. How do they grow so fast?

 

Back to the afghan. Here is how I handled the backside. I tied the ends close to the fabric. I then tied the tails again, a little farther from the fabric. This will hold the yarn tight and creates a decorative fringe that will felt and mingle together over the years. Although it is not a finish that all of you will love (I can never make everyone happy), it is an alternate to weaving in lots and lots and lots of ends. I wouldn't recommend the fringe finish for baby blankets as little fingers may get stuck. 


The secret to making this afghan successful is the placement of the colors in the stripe pattern. As you can see, there are no repeating patterns of colors - it is all random. That was the idea - as if the colors were being pulled out of a knitting bag in no random order.

There was a plan though and I will let you in on it. Before I sent the Color By Kristin yarn out to be knit, I wanted to make sure my knitter Bonnie knew what I was looking for with the "random color placement." I worked up a little "cheat sheet". I cut 2 strands of each color yarn about 3" long. Then I cut two pieces of cardboard 2" wide and about 8" long. I covered the cardboard pieces with a central stripe of glue.

I arranged 2 strands of each of the colors next to each other as I wanted them knit. I didn't want colors that were too close in value (lightness and darkness) next to each other. Nor did I want colors that were to similar next to each other (like orange and gold, or green and teal). The exception to this rule would be two similar colors but one very light and one very dark. I wanted the stripes to pop against each other. 


I know this look isn't for everyone because the colors are very saturated. Some of you prefer more sedate projects, less colorful. That is okay. You can use your own color sense and odds and ends. Color By Kristin is a worsted weight wool/mohair/alpaca but you can use any weight of yarn - as long as all the colors are the same weight yarn. A heavier yarn will make a larger afghan; a thinner yarn will make a smaller afghan. If you want a smaller afghan than the original, omit a section and shorten the length. 

 
Yesterday in the mail, I got this sweet little illustration from Shell, one of my longtime readers and commenters. Thanks Shell. Love it! Your book is on the way. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

March Is Here

The temperature is 47 degrees today and it is starting to feel like spring is actually coming someday. They say we will have snow again this weekend. We will see. The snow and ice is still on the roof and one day it will come whooshing down and I hope I am not underneath it when it happens. 

Below are some photos of the lambs and the sheep that I took recently. The lambs are really growing. The lambs that were born earlier are much larger than the later lambs. This year we used rams in the following breeds: Dorset, Polypay, Dorper, and Cheviot. If you look at their faces, you will notice that different breeds have different faces and different body conformation too.

If the temperatures keep rising, we will soon be thick into mud season. It is going to be a whopper considering how much snow has to melt. If there is a time to go away from the farm - this would be my choice. Muck, mud, brown everywhere!

At the end of this series of photos, I have included a beautiful video I found recently by photographer Ian Lawson. He documents sheep, shepherds and farmers in the Lake District of England. Spectacular scenery and colors. Enjoy everyone!
















Friday, March 06, 2015

Tutorial - How to Sew a Fabric Backing to a Knit Pillow Front

Perhaps you have purchased a knitting pattern for one of my handknit pillow designs. I love knit pillows - they have the feeling of a cozy sweater but by working them in Fair Isle technique and adding embroidery on top of them, they look, to the common eye, like a handmade needlepoint pillow. Only we knitters know the truth. And knitting is so much quicker than needlepoint.

I am generally lazy and only want to knit the "front" side of any pillow, I always hand sew a fabric backing to the pillows. I have done one piece fabric backs but they aren't the best choice. Pillows get dirty and need laundering. With a one piece back, the inside of the pillow has to be washed at the same time as the pillow case. A better choice and my favorite method of backing a knit pillow is to make a two piece flapped backing of fabric which makes the pillow form inside easy to remove and the pillowcase easy to launder. 

Some of my knit pillows have been around our house for some time. The Field Of Diamonds Pillow was made many years ago and was featured in House and Garden Magazine in 2003 along with the Turkish Leaves Pillow. The photo is below. 

The original pillow backing was silk. This pillow has been exposed to some sunlight and the backing began to shred. Time to sew on a new backing and a chance for a tutorial for the blog. Just so you all know how some projects around here can stretch out into months, I began this tutorial back in October of 2013. A year and a half later, I am finally getting it onto the blog for you all. 




Once I removed the worn backing, I chose some new backing fabric (not silk, but a durable cotton). Laying the pillow top down on a flat surface, I measured the pillow. You can see how the knit fabric has stretched over time so I measured the square edges.

 

Take the measurement and add 1" to the length and add 4" to the width of the measurement. Cut the fabric that size. I used a quilting graphed ruler - I love these tools. You can see the lines I drew with a Sharpie. Cut out the rectangle of fabric.


Fold the fabric in half with the shorter sides together. Cut the fabric in half.


Referring to the photo, press the 2 short sides and 1 long side under 1/2".  At the remaining longer side of the piece, turn the edge under 1/4" and then 1/2" again. Repeat for the second piece.

Here is a close-up of the twice turned under edge. This will form the overlapping flap for the removable backing.



Using a sewing machine or by hand, stitch down the twice folded edge. 

This is what the two pieces will look like when hemmed. They are ready to be attached to the knit pillow front.


Using straight pins, attach one of the pieces of hemmed fabric onto the pillow with wrong sides together. The double hemmed edge should be at the center of the pillow. 



With a needle and sewing thread, use small whipstitches to attach the fabric backing to the bound off edge of the knit pillow. When you are finished, using pins, attach the second backing piece to the pillow, overlapping the hemmed edges at the center.











Using small whipstitches, sew the second piece of fabric to the knit pillow. Here is the pillow with both pieces attached before pressing. 

 

Good as new. Quick to do and the pillow case can be removed quickly and laundered.