Monthly Archives: June 2013

food and flowers

I’m scatterbrained these days. All over the place. I feel like I’ve got a million things going on at once. Really it’s probably just 5 or 10, but still that’s more than enough. So here’s two random things that make me happy.

blueberry sourdough coffee cake

Blueberry sourdough coffee cake. This is a classic example of putting a few too many things into a single recipe. There’s honey and almonds in the topping, along with the obvious (blueberries and sourdough starter) Still it was pretty tasty. None of it went to waste, that’s for certain!

Next is my rose bush. This baby needs to be pruned back (again) as it’s grown from VW bug to VW bus size (again.) But the bees and native pollinators love it, and so do I.

rose and bee

This fall I really need to prune my rose bush, my lilac shrubs, and my grapes… Think I can do all that with a newborn in tow?

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on the needles

Let’s be honest. I have a lot on the needles. This is just a partial list…

First, what I SHOULD be knitting: It’s a skirt. It’s lacy and fun and the yarn is Rambouliette from Knitted Wit AND Sincere Sheep. It’s for the book, it’s on deadline. It also isn’t holding my interest, but of course that’s what happens with deadline knitting.

Instead I’ve knit this:

garter2

Yup it’s a garter… It went to a bridal shower as a silly little gift along with a gift card to a local, indie lingerie store.

garter1

And I’ve knit this!

newborn vanilla

No, not a funny hat with ears. These are soakers in soft Plymouth tweed, size tiny newborn. This is the Vanilla pattern aka the THIRD thing I’ve knit by Kelly Brooker. She knows what she’s doing to fit these tiny babies. She knows baby shaping and style far better than I! (but I’m learning)

And I’m half way through this:

jackie blocking

It’s a pillbox hat. I’m knitting Jackie from Hats Couture (yay cooperative press!) but I think I’ll be embellishing with more of a Grace flair. I love hats, I look good in hats. I think having some accessory hats in my wardrobe is a brilliant plan. Especially since I have a limited wardrobe and a number of weddings to attend. You may remember sewing a dress was a bit of a disaster… I’m looking forward to the embellishments most of all! But right now it’s so humid the poor hat has been blocking for 4 days and STILL isn’t dry…

Cheating on the crust

I have this trick I use All. The. Time. for quick and tasty pie crust. I would have sworn I found it someplace common like the Joy of Cooking, but then people are always so surprised when I explain it. So let me share it with you, in case you’re also looking for the fastest pie crust ever.

The trick is to skip the whole rolling out step. I will warn you this crust isn’t going to win any awards on looks. And it’s just not feasible if you need a top crust. But for things like quiche and open faced pies? It’s perfect.

crust mix

Use your favorite pie crust recipe. I often just wing it because the amounts are waaay less important here. I start with a handful or two of flour and a few tablespoons of butter. Oh, and a pinch of salt. Cut them all together (a fork works if you don’t have a pastry cutter)

Then add some cold water. Enough to make it stick together. If it’s a bit stickier or warmer than usual, no worries. Because we’re not rolling it out!

crust dough

Make the dough into a sort of flat-ish ball and drop it right into your pie plate. Sprinkle flour as needed to keep it from sticking to your hands. Start at the center and press it out toward the edges.

crust center

Keep going, press the dough UP the edges. Try and keep the thickness consistent. But if you’ve got a thin patch, or you run out of dough before you reach the edge of the pie plate just tear a little off somewhere else and mush it into place.

crust edges

And that’s all. I kid you not, this really works. It doesn’t stick to the pie plate after baking. It does bake all the way through. It is a little less flaky than rolled pie pastry, but it also never gets over-handled and glutenous. (Also, really easy to do with non-wheat flour. If that’s what you’re baking with)

crust ingredients

Add some ingredients, bake, and you’re set! Home made pie crust, minus the fuss.

crust quiche

Rattlin Brook

Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day for the 30th anniversary of the Rattlin Brook Bluegrass festival.

bluegrass festival

There was music, there was food, there were friends and knitting and sunshine.

bluegrass hot mustard

bluegrass instruments

It was sunshine-y and gorgeous (did I mention that already?) and I missed sunscreening the inside of my right ankle. So beyond the nasty sunburn (and now I can make great references to my achilles heel) I have only good memories of the day.

bluegrass bass

And then, of course, it rained on sunday…

Stonework

There’s a lot of new work out in our yard. We have a new flower bed which Neil and I put in during the hottest weekend so far this summer. Yeah, moving stones in the heat sure was fun. This bed fills in the gap where stumps were pull out (um, 4 years ago) FINALLY.

flower bed

I wish I had a “before” photo. It was a mess. No topsoil, and the exposed subsoil was about 8″ down from the lawn. Neil placed the rocks first (he’s really good at setting stones so they don’t shift) then we filled in with horse manure. We mixed that into the subsoil to make something almost like good garden dirt. I planted my gladiolus* here this year. There’s chicken wire under the mulch to keep the chickens from digging everything up. Although it doesn’t keep them from kicking the extra manure into the garden and over the stones…

stepping stones

Neil put some pretty stones in around my whiskey barrel garden as well! Did I mention he’s good at stonework?

garden path

But of course I decided to put this garden path in without him… It is, shall we say, a little more loosely set. No matter how I arrange my garden, every year I have a path here. Then I have to weed the path constantly. I think the stones will be a big improvement, especially if I plant thyme or something in between. The tomatoes will go in that bed above the path this year. But eventually I suspect the perennials will spread into that space. It’s under a little maple tree, and I doubt the tree will stay little forever…

*the gladiolus collection which is trying to TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Seriously, anyone want some?

Gardening

My garden is (FINALLY) almost all set. The beans are planted. The tomatoes and squashes are started. Really the only thing still to do is put those little guys out into the garden once they’re big enough.

I even planted the sunflowers along the edge of my whole garden. Actually it’s going to be more of a sunflower spiral because they’re along three fenced edges, then the strawberry patch, then in a line down the center. I wanted to use up the seed and apparently there was a lot in that packet…

watchful

Moxy cat helps me whenever I go in the garden. She always sits outside the fence and waits for me to lift her in. Then she patrols the fence, rubs against the tomato cages, and curls up in a corner to watch me. It’s funny to me, because I’ve never had a cat that SO wanted to be with me that she’d be willing to be fenced in…

caught napping

Guarding the garden is such a tough job.

slow progress

I made slow but steady progress this weekend. I edited photos for TWO sweater patterns (both winter patterns, because of how I am still playing catch-up) I formatted one of them into final book layout. I drafted another one. And that was all just on Saturday! Progress is good.

berry sneak peak

I love how the camera decided the hot cocoa was clearly the important part of this shot…

Design process: yarn support

Let me be honest: I’m not showing you even close to half of what’s going on here. I’m in a push to get the knitting all wrapped up for this book. The fact that I can squeeze any baby knitting in at all is kinda amazing. So let me talk for a moment about something I’ve done a lot of over the last year: yarn support requests. Hopefully this’ll be helpful if you’re an indie designer (or considering it) and at least interesting even if you’re not (if it’s not interesting go read something else. I don’t care if you skip a post)

What is yarn support? Hopefully it’s a relationship, and a business agreement, that supports BOTH the yarnie and the designer. It can be a lovely, LOVELY thing when it works. But I’ve heard some horror stories from yarn makers I know. And I’ve heard questions from designers who are mystified by the process.

festival yarn

First and foremost remember this is a BUSINESS deal. Even if you’re just designing on the side you should still be keeping track of profits, right?* Well the yarn company is the same way, except it’s probably someone’s full time job. Or several someones. So let’s all try to act professionally, shall we?

From my point of view that means having a plan. Before I go looking for yarn support I want to know exactly what I’m designing. I need to know how I’m going to construct it, what it’ll look like, and this means I have already created a swatch and a sketch. Hopefully you have too. The yarn company would LOVE to know you’ve thought this through. So be prepared to send them the details! I always lay out my yarn support requests just exactly like a submission to a magazine.

Herrick - Doric mitts

That is, quite literally, a jpg of the PDF I sent for my Doric mitts. I fuzzed out the contact info at the bottom… If I feel like the swatch add a lot of info I’ll scan it, or photograph it, and include a picture in the PDF. In this example the stitch pattern is simple, so I left that out.

Writing out a proposal forces me to determine exactly what I’m doing. I’ve got enough of a plan that I don’t have to worry I’ll get half way through construction and hit a snag. I should also have a good idea of how long it’s going to take me to complete the project at this point. Once I have all my thoughts written down, I’m ready to contact a yarn company.

Whenever I want to reach out to a new company I start by finding a general e-mail. If I can find something about yarn support on their website AWESOME. But that often doesn’t happen. So if I’m emailing the yarn(a)yarncompany.com address I’ll start with something like this:

I’m (Name), an independent designer with self-published patterns as well as patterns published through (list a few by 3rd party, if you have them). I am looking for yarn support for an independent design for release through my blog and Ravelry. Could you please let me know to whom I should submit my request? Thank you!

It’s short but still polite. I’m not asking for anything except a proper introduction with someone to whom I can send the juicy details. Note that I’ve already given them enough info to go look me up if they’re curious. But generally, this fits into the limited character contact forms on some websites. And I don’t send any links at this point. It’s a personal preference, but I figure they get a lot of spam at this general contact addresses, I don’t want to be filtered out.

Now comes the waiting. When you hear back be prepared for one of several responses:
No, sorry, we don’t do yarn support.
Yes, please contact helpful.person(a)yarncompany.com
We love indie designers! What are you looking for?!

If they don’t do yarn support accept that and move on. Remember it’s business, not personal. That last one is great, although sometimes I get flummoxed (don’t you want to see my idea first??) but it’s also rare. A lot of companies have been burned by indie “designers” who take yarn and then disappear. Don’t be that person ;-) The middle answer is most common.

Here’s where my carefully laid out proposal comes in. I e-mail my new friend:

Hello! I’m (name), an independent designer with self-published patterns as well as patterns published through several publications. You can see my full portfolio online, here: http://www.ravelry.com/designers/becky-herrick.

I am looking for yarn support for a sweater/hat/shawl pattern which I’m developing for release this winter/spring. Do you provide yarn support for indie designers? Please let me know if this is something you could help me with and if so let me know the requirements of your yarn support program.

Please find attached my proposal for the sweater/hat/shawl. I’d like to knit this design in your (merino, cotton, unicorn hair) yarn in the (shiny name) colorway. Please let me know if there is a problem with this yarn or colorway, or you know of a better option. For these detailed cables/insane lace I need a mostly solid/highly variegated colored yarn in fingering/aran weight. I believe I will need between 300 and 350 yards or 2 skeins. I look forward to hearing back!

Things to note:
1) I gave them a direct link to see all the published work I’ve done so far.
2) I gave a timeline for release.
3) I asked the requirements of their yarn support program.
4) I asked if the yarn I’m eyeing is really best in their mind for my project.

Let’s go through those points:
1) Now that I’m e-mailing a person I want to show them my body of work. I love the Ravelry designer page as a simple portfolio. It’s public and can be viewed even by folks without accounts. It shows both 3rd party and indie designs. And since I’m selling my indie patterns there they might as well see the platform through which I’ll be selling the pattern I hope to knit from their yarn.

2) This is key. It gives them an expected timeline. Whether your turn around will be 1 month or 1 year be up front about it. That way they know what to expect. And if you fall behind? Communicate! I originally planned to publish my Boyden sweater in late fall or winter. But then it took 7 months to pull together. I wasn’t e-mailing my dyer every week. But I did give her a head’s up that I was running behind when January rolled around and the pattern wasn’t close to being released.

3) Did you know yarn support comes with requirements? At the very least you want to be sure you’re not recommending substitute yarns! Some companies can’t afford to give out free yarn; it’s just not in the profit margins. Some companies would like photos of your design to help promote your yarn (good news, this promotes YOU as well) Other companies are happy to let you do most of the promotion. But asking what their requirements rather than making assumptions shows that you understand this isn’t just a handout. It’s a partnership.

4) Several times I’ve reached out for yarn support only to find the colorway or base I’m considering is in danger of being discontinued. Apparently I have bad luck that way… But these are exactly the sorts of things the yarnie will know better than you. They may also have a new yarn they’re about to release that would be even better for your design. Asking their opinion gives them a chance to communicate with you, making sure that the yarn used is not just a good fit, but the best fit.

yarn pile

Now that you’ve opened a dialogue things should move smoothly, just remember to be professional! I always get in touch again to let my new friend know when the yarn safely arrives. Then I get down to work. When the pattern finally goes live I get in touch again to let them know. Sometimes we can work out a give-away or other promotion on the yarn company’s blog. Knitters love a chance to win a free pattern, and I bet that yarnie has a slightly different audience that might like your work!

I hope this helps! If you’d like to read more about yarn support Alex Tinsley has another post on the process behind asking for yarn support. And Ruth over at Rock & Purl has given her own opinions and suggestions as well. And if you have any questions that still aren’t answered feel free to ask them here!

*trust me, the IRS (or whatever your government agency is) expects you to be keeping track of profits.

going home sweater

It’s important for babies to have an outfit to wear home from the hospital right? So I figured my baby needs a little sweater. And what better pattern than Perpernum? Even the name is right!

perpernum
(Going home sweater on Ravelry)

For some reason I cast on this sweater thinking I’d knit it in a day. Well, it actually took a whole weekend (with a fair amount of co-piloting and knitting) But that’s still pretty quick!

perpernum2

I trimmed it in the same green merino/silk blend as the leaf hat I knit earlier. In fact, I’m thinking the two can be a going home set! The odd bit there is that both are designed by Kelly Brooker – and I totally didn’t plan it that way. In fact, I didn’t even realize it until I started knitting this little sweater and thought to myself “gee, this layout looks familiar” Yup. I recognized her by her font and pattern style.

perpernum embroidery

Isn’t the embroidery adorable?! I wanted a little flower, but decided to use a spiral because it’s a little less standard. I love the bright colors of this for a baby. Pastels are pretty, but babies like bright colors more, right? This yarn is Edna, a DK from Dirty Water Dyeworks. It’s a silk/polworth blend so, like the hat, the sweater should be soft enough for a newborn.

perpernum3

Even the inside of my embroidery is pretty neat. I guess all this practice I’m getting is actually improving my skills!

My life lies in rows

I (finally) had a weekend at home. We worked in the garden, went canoeing in the heat of the day, and built a new flower bed.

in rows

Most of what you can see in the garden is still just garlic, lettuces, and peas. But I love how pretty the rows look. I’ve planted rows of leeks, cabbage, carrots, and beets west of the pea trellises*. Soon there will be more pretty rows! I’ve finally accepted that I should plant broccoli and brussel sprouts from starts because it’s too late for seeds. They’re in the garden now too.
That whittles down the to-plant list leaving squashes, tomatoes, and green beans.

Meanwhile the fruits are looking happy this year. Our scruffy front acre is setting bloom for another crazy harvest of blackberries. The plum trees didn’t get pinched by frost. And look:

grape buds

I think these are tiny grape buds!

*the snap peas I grow only get about 3′ tall. I discovered completely by accident that the love trellising up tomato cages!