Fall is time for…

Plenty of things:  knitting, drinking tea, coloring in front of the fire, drinking tea, reading in front of the fire, drinking more tea, planning my Thanksgiving menu (I get immense joy out of planning my menu and then executing it!!), putting the garden away for the winter, choreographing barre routines, working on my cottage food license…so many things to choose from!!

I have been getting some knitting and sewing done this month–I finished two projects that had been in limbo for a few weeks while I found time to pick up some zippers that were the correct length and color-coordinated with my fabric.  Here are the finished products:

These small bags are sized to hold a Kindle Fire, so they are roughly 5 inches tall by 9 inches wide. The purple one was for a friend–she is one of my barre regulars and I just adore her.  The green one was a donation to a silent auction for a meeting I attended last month. I started another one last weekend that does not yet have a final recipient assigned to it yet.  One of my favorite winter activities is to knit in front of the wood stove in the evenings or on those nasty days when it is snowing hard and I have no desire to go outside.  Sometimes I exhaust myself and end up taking a nap, knitting needles and runaway balls of yarns drooping off the couch.

I’ve been reading more in the evenings this fall.  I just finished reading Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner.  This book discusses the battle over water in the West:  dams, floods, irrigation canals, droughts, politics, corruption, etc. I remember waaaaay back in college I started reading this book and I became so disgusted and enraged that I had to stop reading it.  Now, nearly two decades later (Whoops, did I really just date myself? I guess I did…) I can read the book because let’s face it: with all the crazy going on in the world these days, one sort of has to desensitize oneself in order to get by.  I’m not saying I’ve Capturecompletely lost my compassion, but I tend to let the bad things roll off my back more easily these days because I have to if I am going to maintain that compassion.  But suffice it to say that this book brought up many excellent examples of how humans can be so arrogant and stupid in their quest to exert their control over nature.  And, get this: to follow up that book, I chose my next book to be The Battle for the Buffalo River by Neil Compton.  And guess what?  This book follows a similar plot as Cadillac Desert!  The good news is this book has a happy ending–the Buffalo River was not dammed and subsequently became the nation’s first national river in 1972.

Still, there is only so much reading on such depressing topics I can do in one sitting.  So I break it up by coloring, knitting, reading other things, planning Thanksgiving, and pondering my cottage food license (to be honest, though, I haven’t really done much work on my cottage food license this fall–which is something I SHOULD be working on).  I tend to find that coloring is generally more relaxing, though.  And I have several new completed pages in my coloring book to show for my relaxing, fire-side efforts:

Now that Thanksgiving is less than three weeks away, I need to get serious about my menu.  I found a new recipe for a Moroccan-spiced winter squash dip that I made last week and I LOVED it.  If my vegan friend comes again, I will have to make this dip.  It will pair perfectly with homemade pitas, which I made for the very first time last weekend (along with homemade, from-scratch, falafel–it was the best!).  And I know what you are thinking: How can that be?!  How have you never made homemade pitas?

I know, I know.  It’s just one of those things that never happened. But they are so stinking easy, I will be making them again.  And again. In fact, maybe I will do a video on how to make them!  And you will make them, too!  Perhaps the video will include the winter squash dip, too.  But first…

I’m going to dig out my pile of unsorted recipes now.  Maybe I will find a hidden jewel that I need to include in my Thanksgiving menu this year.  It will be like a scavenger hunt to find exciting new foods to try!

 

Busy little knitter gal

The first week in November I had two people contact me and ask if I could knit them something for Christmas gifts.  Sure!  It’s what I do!

The first request for for a pair of socks.  But not just ordinary socks.  These were to be thick, chunky, lounging-on-the-couch-by-the-fire-reading-a-book kind of socks.  I had just the yarn in mind, and it was in a color that he was sure his wife would love.  I got her shoe size and then I was off to figure out how to make these socks.

I have a sock pattern.  But it is for a worsted weight yarn.  So I was going to have to make some adjustments.  And the pattern, though trusty and reliable, is very…meh.  It’s got a basic rib on the cuff and that’s all there is to it.  I wanted these socks to be more than just functional, I wanted them to be beautiful, too.  So I decided to add a cable knit down the front of the leg.  And although this photo does not do these socks justice, they turned out pretty awesome, if I am allowed to say so myself and pat myself on the back just a bit.

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Both of my stepdaughters cooed over these socks while I was knitting them (“Just so you know, I wear lots of socks,” one of them not-so-subtly said), so as soon as I finished them up, I made sure to contact my client so I could get the socks to him as quickly as possible–I had a feeling the socks might disappear if I held onto them too long.  Now I am working on a second pair for the not-so-subtle hinting stepdaughter…and her sister will receive a pair later.  And eventually I’ll make a pair for myself.  They are sooooo snuggly warm and soft!

This same client also wants me to knit him a pair of mittens.  He is my best repeat customer (the mittens will make 4 items I’ve knit for him)!  Gotta love happy customers!

The same week the sock request came in I had a request for a knitted bag.  A woman at the gym apparently really likes my bags and so her boyfriend’s mother contacted me.  We worked out a custom design and color scheme and I got to work.  We went back and forth on a few swatches with different colors of yarn until we found just the right match.  I think it turned out really well and I really love the hummingbird brooch.  The colors of the brooch work perfectly with the green and purple of the bag.  They were obviously meant to be together.  I hope she loves it.

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My final commissioned project is one that I really love.  It’s not really obvious in the photo, but the black yarn has a little bit of sparkly silver thread in it, so it adds another layer of depth and texture to the bag.  And it is because of that silver thread in the yarn that the brooch works so well with this bag.  Without it, I’m not sure I would have chosen to use it.  I hope its owner loves it as much as I do.  I think she will.

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On some of my earlier bags, I sewed buttons onto the corners of the bags as my little signature.  But for some of the bags I have used old broken brooches or other old, unused jewelry that has been neglected and potentially destined for the landfill.  This allows them to be repurposed and given new life.  I like that.  It’s the farmgal way–to use what you have and to make use of something old, breathing new life into it again.  And this now gives me a reason to poke around in thrift stores.  Who knows what kind of old gems are out there waiting to be given a second chance at life!

 

More summer knitting, including a new design– the growler tote!

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I don’t usually knit much in the summer–it seems like such a winter activity, something to do on those long winter nights while cuddled up in front of the wood stove.  But this summer I’m keeping the knitting needles busy because I have had a couple of knitting orders to fulfill.  The good thing is I’ve had quite a bit of windshield time traveling for work this summer, which has allowed me, as a passenger, to do something productive while on the road.  It works out rather nicely.  I never knit while behind the wheel, just to be clear.  I’m a proud multi-tasker, but even that one is beyond me!

A woman in my barre class loved my little Kindle bag I made earlier this spring so much that she wanted me to make one for her friend, whose birthday is this month.  The only requirement was that this friend liked orange, so I was free to mess around with colors.  This is what I came up with:IMG_2619

And the inside looks like this:IMG_2621

I’m please with how it turned out, so I’ve got a couple ideas for the next one I’m going to make.  While looking for a little decorative bling to sew on the outside, I found these really cute little octopus pendants–so my next design will be an ocean theme with blue and/or turquoise yarn and hopefully I can find some cute aquatic-themed fabric to go along with it.

And then there’s the growler tote.  I designed it earlier this summer and I just finished it last week.  It’s knit with 2 strands of yarn to create a thick fabric and I lined it with a fleece pocket to keep the beer cool and to add additional strength to the bag.  I think it turned out pretty rad.  IMG_2625

And I think it’s going to carry well, even when full:IMG_2630

The woman who bought the above Kindle bag wants me to go down to one of our local breweries and show it off to see if anyone is interested in buying one.  She thinks the tote will be a hit–because this community takes its beer very seriously.  We have 3 breweries in Helena and a 4th one is in the works.  For a town of this size, that’s nuts, especially since we can barely seem to hang on to a decent restaurant around here.  So we’ll see what happens.  I might have a busy winter ahead of me!

 

 

Zipper-dee-doo-dah

This week I taught myself how to sew a zipper into fabric.  This is a task I have wanted to learn for years, but 1) I’ve been intimidated to try (WHY? I ask myself…What’s to lose? Besides a ton of time and all my patience?  Nothing, I guess.) and 2) I wasn’t sure if I had the appropriate gear for my sewing machine, i.e., a zipper foot (more on that challenge below).  This is a natural problem when you inherit a 70 year old sewing machine and you don’t know doodle about sewing or sewing machines, much less sewing machine parts.  Nonetheless, I have slowly taught myself a few things about using a sewing machine and I’m beginning to get the hang of the basics.  Zippers, however, have remained a mystery.

Why was this the chosen week to teach myself to install a zipper?  As fate would have it, a few weeks ago I won a Kindle Fire in raffle drawing at work (thank you employee appreciation week!)–I would never have bought one of the things on my own, but I hardly ever win anything so I thought “What the heck?” and accepted the prize.  [Aside: As a neophyte in the smartphone/tablet world (I still have a ‘dumb phone’) I wasn’t even sure what to do with it.  I turned it on, then turned it off, sat it on the table and just stared at it.  Friends, family, and co-workers assured me this was going to be a great thing–so many Apps!  One thing I quickly learned is that many Apps are for Apple i-thingys or Android devices, not Kindles.  So I can’t put the wildflower App I wanted on there, but I do have a bird App.  Can’t win ’em all, I suppose.] I wanted a way to carry my Kindle and protect it from the elements, and since I’ve been on a knitted bag kick lately, I decided to knit myself a little tablet protector.  And I thought it would be nice to have a zippered liner in the bag to keep my precious little Kindle from falling out.

I finished knitting the bag last weekend, knit a small handle, and all that was left was to sew the liner.  Oh, and to figure out that zipper.  Can I just say, “Thank goodness for YouTube?”  There is no shortage of videos on how to install a zipper, but my favorite tutorial is Made Everyday with Dana.  I must have watched that video 5 times before screwing up my courage, then I watched it while I sewed my zipper into the liner, pausing the video so I could perform the described task, then watching a little more, pausing, etc.  Here was my first attempt:

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It turned out pretty well!  A few minor issues, like sewing the ends of the zipper so there’s no gap, but all in all it turned out just peachy.  There were two problems with this liner that made it unusable for my knit bag: 1) the zipper opening was just slightly too small to fit my Kindle inside and 2) the pattern & label needed to be on the inside of the liner so it would show when I sewed it into my knit bag.  Duh, I didn’t think about that one, just followed the video instructions.  But I have plans for this one:  I’m going to knit another bag and sew this into half of the bag so that it will have a zippered pouch and a non-zippered pouch (unlined).  So no wasted efforts!

So I had a minor setback–I needed to purchase a larger zipper and I needed to piece together my bag inside out so that when I turned it right side out the pattern would be on the inside of the bag.  This time I nailed it:

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The stitching on the inside of the liner isn’t beautiful by any means, but for a second first attempt, I’m pleased with the results.  I’ll be able to refine my approach and future editions of the zippered knit bag will be phenomenal, no?  I dare say they will.

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The broach was just a whimsical little piece that I thought would compliment the bag well and add a little flair.  It has little orange rhinestones in it that match the orange of the bag–something kind of fun and will make it unique from other bags I make in the future.  It’s sort of becoming my signature mark on my bags–either a single button or little piece of old jewelry sewn on the outside to mark it as Urban Farmgal and add to the uniqueness of the bag.  I’m pretty happy with the results!

Now about that zipper foot.  Again, can I just say, “Thank goodness for Google?”  Earlier in the week when I began the Great Zipper Project I didn’t think I had a zipper foot for my machine.  So I got online to see if I could locate a zipper foot that would work with my machine.  I have a Kenmore Model 84 sewing machine–it is bomber but it is old and finding parts for it would be…impossible?  Easy peasy?  I had no idea.

I also had no idea what a zipper foot would look like for it because there was not a picture of one in the owner’s manual.  In my little box of accessories (bobbins, bobbin holders, tiny screwdriver, and the like) there were a few weird-looking pieces that looked like they were different attachments for the machine.  One in particular was sort of L-shaped and had a couple of holes on the side of the flat foot.  On the website that I thought had the best potential for having what I needed, I was discouraged to find that in fact it looked like they did not have what I needed.  But I kept coming back to the weirdo piece and I decided to scan the pictures on the website to see if I could identify it.  Wouldn’t ya know I found it!  And it turned out to be AN ADJUSTABLE ZIPPER FOOT!

AWESOME!!

Wait, what’s an adjustable zipper foot?  Oh, the website has videos on how to use an adjustable zipper foot!

AWESOME!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sewing Parts Online–you saved me!!  After watching the video, then struggling a bit to get my own zipper foot installed and properly adjusted, I was able to sew my zipper.  And now I know what a zipper foot is AND how to use it!

 

Mission Accomplished…though really it’s just the beginning

Now that my Urban Farmgal business is finally registered with the state of Montana (Yay! Small victories!)  it’s time to apply for a TIN from the IRS, open a bank account, and get my business plan finalized.

I’ve been working on my business plan all week and it’s taken several attempts and re-writes, but I think I’ve finally nailed down my mission statement:

To inspire a happy, healthy, & sustainable farmgal lifestyle in today’s busy world.

What do you think?  I have yet to actually run this by anyone outside of my own head, so this is as fresh as it gets.  I know it says ‘farmGAL’ which makes it sound like my target audience is women (and perhaps 90% of my audience WILL be women) but that’s not to say you couldn’t substitute ‘farmDUDE’ or ‘farmBOY’ and still make it work if you happen to be one of those guys running around with a Y chromosome.

Right?  Okay, I’ll sleep on it.

At some point I probably will run my business plan by someone who is smarter about business than me, but for now this is my working mission–to inspire those who visit my website to seek a little slower pace of life, one where you stop to enjoy the small pleasures in life that don’t involve an electronic device (which, ironically, you will get by reading my blogs posts on an electronic device).  BUT!  Read it then go away!  Go read a cookbook and try a new recipe for dinner.  Go outside and go for a sunset hike with your dog or a loved one.  Go take a picture of a beautiful thing, place, or event that brings you joy.  Go pick up those knitting needles that have been sitting in a basket in the corner for years and teach yourself a new stitch.  Go talk to your plants in the garden and then go talk to your chickens.  Don’t worry about what the neighbors think.

And it’s not just about slowing down the pace of life.  It’s about being conscious about your impact on the planet as well.  Think sustainably, then ACT sustainably.  Grow your own food.  Join the CSA.  Don’t go out and buy the newest-latest-greatest-most popular thing that’s in the Sunday  newspaper ads just because.  We humans have placed a pretty heavy hand on Mother Nature, and all those shiny, pretty, new things you see in the Sunday ads require tons and tons of resources to manufacture.  It’s mind-boggling if you think about how many pairs of shoes ONE store carries.  One store!  How many pairs of shoes have you seen in your local Wal-Mart?  There’s probably hundreds of pairs of shoes.  And there are thousands of Wal-Marts and other stores that sell shoes.  Do we need all of those shoes?

That’s the sort of thinking I do these days.   I think about all the shoes.  The purses.  The sofas.  The computers and cell phones.  Think about how much stuff there is to buy.  And not to be extremist about it, but how sustainable is it to keep buying all this stuff?  Do we really need it in our lives?  Does it make you happy?  What if you didn’t have it?  Would you miss it?  And what would happen if it all went away?  Think of it this way:  if tomorrow rolls around and there are no more Wal-Marts or Whole Foods grocery stores, how well off would you be?  How well off COULD you be?  Could you survive another day?  Probably.  What about another week?  A month?

Maybe my little blog can be an inspiration to someone thinking these same thoughts.  Someone who wants to simplify their life and moderate their footprint on the planet.  Someone who just wants to raise chickens in town.  Or someone who would love to grow basil on the balcony of their apartment building just because they love pesto.  All of these things fit into the urban farmgal lifestyle.  I hope to be a source of useful, inspirational information for you to do just that.

So I leave you with these thoughts to ponder as you focus on your farmgal zen while knitting a chicken sweater for your city chickens!

An act of kindness repaid many times over

This summer, while working the CSA pickup, I made use of my downtime by knitting myself a new hat for this winter.  I was in need of a new hat and I found the yarn and pattern that I thought would turn out nicely (always the gamble to take what seems like a good idea in your head and turn it into reality).  Interestingly, when I knit in public places it always seems to draw attention.  I guess people think no one knits anymore, which isn’t true–there has been a resurgence of knitting in the past decade or more–but for whatever reason, people are always drawn to ask questions.  “What are you knitting?  Is that knit or crochet?”  or my favorite: “When’s my hat going to be finished?”  One new member of the CSA commented on the progress of my “beautiful” hat every week when she came to pick up her share.  While wearing the completed hat this fall during the pick up, she commented that she “wanted my hat.”  And that got me thinking…why not surprise her and make her a hat?

And so I did.  I knew she liked the colors of my hat, but I decided to make hers a little different.  The pattern was for a fair isle style, but instead of using 3 or 4 different colors of yarn, you instead use a variegated yarn, thus incorporating 3 or 4 colors into the pattern with just one strand of yarn.  Pretty brilliant (thank you, Amy King, for this design!).  For my hat, I used the variegated yarn as the background (main) color of the hat and the solid color as the accent color.  But for her hat, I decided to reverse the colors and use the solid color as the background and use the variegated yarn as the accent color.  The color scheme was purple:  plum for the background and a variegated pink-lavender-violet yarn for the accent.  I think the finished hat turned out pretty nice, if I do say so myself:img_1443

As an added bonus, I sewed in a fleece ear band to add a little extra protection against these Montana winter winds:img_1444

I conveniently finished the hat a few days before Christmas.  I packaged up the hat, wrote a quick little card wishing her a Merry Christmas/Happy New Year/Peace on Earth, looked up her address in the CSA member directory, and mailed it off with 2 or 3 days to spare before Christmas.

Making this hat for this woman made me so happy.  She was a new member who just joined the CSA in 2016.  She bought just about every share we have to offer.  She was so excited every week to see what we had in our shares, and she also loves my dog, MaeBelle, the newly appointed official CSA greeter dog.  She is genuinely a pleasant and decent human being.  I was so excited that I could surprise her with the coveted hat that it made me giddy.  All I hoped for in return was a little note acknowledging she received the hat (even a quick email would have sufficed), as her address was a P.O. Box, and you just never know with P.O. boxes–what if she didn’t pay the rent fee because she no longer used the box?  What if she didn’t get the hat?!

After returning from a pre-birthday ski trip to the Swan Valley over the weekend, I saw a card with her return address.  She got the hat!!  The envelope felt a little fat for just being a Thank You card.  Intrigued, I opened the envelope and stuffed inside a lovely little Thank You card were 2 gift cards for $25 each!  This was beyond anything I ever could have expected!  I was truly shocked and humbled by her generosity.  It brought tears to my eyes.  I never intended to reap any sort of benefit from my gift other than the satisfaction of surprising her with a hat that I knew she would enjoy. #sneakyninjaknits ?  img_1577

So with all the craziness going on in our world today, it just goes to show one small act of kindness can be rewarded in ways you never expected.  My mantra for this year is this: BE KIND TO OTHERS.  That’s the true farmgal way.   It may seem there is no kindness left in the world, especially if you read the newspapers.  But it is out there. Searched high and low and still can’t find it?  Create it yourself!  Surprise someone with a loaf of homemade bread or batch of cookies.  Write a letter to an old friend whom you haven’t seen in years, or to a stranger at a nursing home or a veteran’s hospital.  Smile and say hello to someone you pass on the street.  Shovel the snow off your neighbor’s sidewalk one day.  Did you know there is a World Kindness Day?  It’s November 13th.  But why wait 10 more months to shower someone with a random act of kindness?  Make kindness a part of your life.  You never know how your gift of kindness could make someone’s day.  And couldn’t the world use a little more kindness right now?