Japanese Sewing Patterns – Part 1

In a previous post I mentioned my desire to sew some basic wardrobe pieces as a sort of commitment for 2015. I’ve settled on three patterns from Linnet, a Japanese company that offers sewing patterns, beautiful linen and cotton fabrics and hard-to-find notions.  I bit the bullet, ordered the patterns and started plotting out my ideas with pencil in my sketchbook. To say I’ve settled on three patterns requires some explanation. If you’re not familiar with the whole Japanese Sewing Pattern thing, all you need to know is that they are driven by a simplicity of construction, a baggy, blousey, casual sort of style, and rely on earthy, natural fiber fabrics (linen, wool, linen-wool blends, etc…) or cute (maybe too cute for me) Liberty of London prints.Some fashion-folk refer to the aesthetic as Lagenlook; I guess that’s our german friends. For me, I chose silhouettes that I think can be easily altered to stylistic adaptations within my limited skillset.  I seldom wear dresses and so I’m thinking that I can make tunics out of all of these patterns and, possibly, with my range of skills, change the collars, alter the sleeves, add or eliminate pockets, add more pleats or substitute gathers, etc….  My stash of many yards of off-white linen, along with an inventory of fiber-reactive dyes, is the basis for this conceptual wardrobe of tunics. In my next post, I’ll illustrate my proposed adaptations as well as the progress of my sewing project. Here are some examples of the patterns I mean to work with:

Linnet Pattern No. 99

Linnet Pattern No. 99

Linnet Pattern No. 25

Linnet Pattern No. 25

Linnet Pattern No. 64

Linnet Pattern No. 64

Here’s what the patterns look like, fresh out of the packaging, and onto my work table.

Linnet patterns just waiting for me to make them.

Linnet patterns just waiting for me to make them.

Why I don’t TEXT.

First try this simple exercise. Here’s a sample with a simple, straightforward communication:

“Hi. Are you at home?” Now spell that out loud, letter by letter, including all necessary capitalizations and punctuation, save for the quotation marks. How long did that take you? Now try typing that out with one finger on your phone. Did that save you any time? Probably not, unless you indulge in an illiterate style of written communication that would render the above as. “hi. r u @ home?” And then what? You have to wait for a response….and then reply. Conclusion; I find it neither time-saving nor easier than sending an email or making a phone call. In fact, I find it incredibly annoying. I hate most things about texting. Firstly; its glib. Sure, it’s fine for confirming plans: e.g. “Dinner at 8?” , ” R U around at 7?” Not a problem. But what do you do with ” Were the firefighters able to save your home?”, or “How are the cancer treatments coming along?”. Well, what else can one say other than “yes’ or “no” or “Fine” or “I’ll see you in the next life.” Seriously. Texting is, well, (and here I’m looking for another word for ‘rude’) a perfunctory form of communication if communicating matters to you.

Maybe I read into things too much. My mother always said I was “too heavy”, and she’s probably right. If I get a text that asks “Where are you?”, I think, ‘dear god, I’m between a rock and a hard place; a sort of midlife crisis, if you will, where things lack sense, where I need to re-discover, explore meaning and a sense of purpose, where my skills and talents can make a difference, where I can feel better about myself…” It just doesn’t occur to me to say “at the gas station”, which is what everyone else does, whether they’re at the gas station or not. They could be smoking crack and having an illicit affair with their drug dealer in a cheap hotel room.

And then, as with cell phones, there’s the whole ‘electronic leash’ aspect of things. Why, I ask,  do we need to be available to everyone all the time? As I type these words I just know that the two or three remaining friends that I have are deleting my name and number from all of their devices, and I will die alone, only to be discovered by the state police after neighbors complain of strange smells coming from my house or the Audubon Society sends out volunteers to investigate and count the number of reported turkey vultures that are circling above my vegetable garden.

Other people may have a different experience, but me?,  I’ve yet to receive a text message from a well qualified, independently wealthy psychotherapist working on a pro-bono basis asking me “How ARE you?”.

Having said all THAT…I’m sure I’ll be texting before you know it. It will just take some getting used to. And to my texting friends, Please, don’t give up on me yet.


You Need a Garden Journal.

My preferred garden journal.

My preferred garden journal.

Anyone with a garden needs a garden journal. Why? Indulge me while I enumerate a few examples, in a Q & A format, of cocktail hour, garden observations that pose questions and present critical-ish thinking.


  1. Hmm. I thought I’d put some peonies here but all I see is a huge catmint. How Odd.
  2. Geez, where did all these ugly orange daylilies come from?
  3. Wow, that catmint is *&^% huge. I must remember to divide it next year.
  4. I think that’s a weed but I’ll wait till it flowers to be sure.
  5. How great! These annuals that I put into this empty spot are glorious! I must remember that this space is reserved for iris divisions in the spring.
  6. This iris really needs to be divided. I wonder what color it is.
  7. Oh. That poor rose is really struggling there, getting swamped by the……………….I must remember to move it in the fall.


  1. You DID put some peonies there. Three of them, fragrant ones, special ones, expensive ones, in early spring, when the ground was quite bare and there was no suggestion that the catmint would become Master of the Universe. You don’t remember? Hmmm.  Catmint is cheap; peonies aren’t. Fix this!
  2. Satan sent them.  Mark them with a 666 label, and move them to the Beelzebub Garden/Compost Pile in late fall or early spring.
  3. All the catmints will be HUGE, no matter where you put them. Lovely, yes, and the bees adore them. Commit to them. Treat them as the giant plants they will become, but not where they will shade out the other lovelies.
  4. It flowered. It’s a weed that’s now gone to seed, spreading its progeny throughout the garden. Next spring there will be a hundred of them. If you were clever enough to make a note of its leaf shape, you might have saved yourself a few hours of weeding next year.
  5. Oh sure! You’ll never remember that, and come next spring, you’ll be looking for locations for iris divisions and you’ll have long forgotten about this spot.
  6. Photos will answer that question. If you’d photographed the gardens you wouldn’t be perpetuating this hugely irritating,’ hit or miss’ garden design approach, which, by the way, you would never in a million years, permit for your clients!
  7. But, you won’t. Not without a garden journal ‘To-Do’ List, entitled Fall 2014. When fall begins to roll around, which is right around the corner, you’ll be busy harvesting winter squash and leeks, chopping and splitting wood, moving tender plants into the greenhouse, bringing in firewood, lifting dahlia tubers, cleaning out the henhouse,…forget it.

And this is why I recommend keeping a Garden Journal. I’m a Luddite, so I like to use one that I purchase from Lee Valley, which has a perpetual calender and allows for an index/table of contents to reference the numbered pages. Here, I can make journal entries with their correlative page numbers, which makes referencing information very simple. Of course you could use an electronic device to do this, and there’s probably even an app for garden journaling. The main objective here is to take control of your landscape and gardens, as much as one can do such a thing, so as to avoid disappointment next season. A Garden Journal is a wondrous thing! Over the years, when  questions arise over how things were performing in the garden in the past, I simply scroll through the entries and discover the answers. It’s great fun and hugely useful and enlightening! Gardeners!!!!  Get a garden journal going, if you don’t already have one, and you’ll be gratified to learn what you have control over and what you don’t. It’s a great thing to have.


Pesto has always been a mainstay here. We process and freeze gallons of basil pesto in August.  When the frigid Persephone months of December, January, March, February arrive, we are warmed with woodfires and our dinners are perfumed with the promise of a future summer with abundant servings of linguine with pesto, washed down with Cotes du Rhone. Alas, Andrew’s diabetes diagnosis changes this, and we look for meals in which we can substitute the pasta. Not so hard, as it turns out. Pesto omelettes are delicious. Pesto mixed with greek yoghurt makes a nice sauce to braise chicken breasts in. Basmati rice is more diabetes friendly than brown rice (believe it or not), and so fried basmati rice with pesto and scrambled eggs makes a nice entree. Pesto, as a spread or dip, in lieu of mayonaisse, makes even a cucumber sandwich delicious. Similarly, pesto mixed with no-fat yoghurt, easily becomes the mortar for chicken salad, tuna salad, salmon salad, even egg salad.

For those without dietary restrictions, there’s still the classic. ( I will do this when Andrew is out of town, or asleep) ,linguine  dressed with pesto that’s been soothed and silkened with heavy cream (okay, or yoghurt……since there won’t be any cream in our pantry).

By the way, these days, I use toasted walnuts or almonds, in lieu of pine nuts.  I cannot justify the expense in regards to flavor.

My Pesto Recipe: Throw all of the following into the food processor.

3 cloves garlic

4 cups Basil leaves

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. sea salt

1 cup toasted nuts (walnuts, almonds, your choice)

3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Foodies will dissuade you from adding the cheese if you plan on freezing the goods. Follow your instinct. I, personally, notice no difference, and simply don’t have time to add another step of adding cheese after I’ve defrosted the pesto.  I’ve got stuff to do.

Upcoming Dry Stone Wall Building Workshop

Participants gain confidence using unfamiliar tools through one-on-one instruction.

Participants gain confidence using unfamiliar tools through one-on-one instruction.

It’s that time of year again! On Saturday, April 28th and Sunday, April 29th, 2018,  Andrew Pighills will be conducting another dry stone wall building workshop here at Stonewell Farm.

This two-day, hands-on,  workshop instructs homeowners and tradespeople the structural techniques involved in building a dry stone wall. The outdoor classroom provides the setting for practicing proper dry stone walling methods including safety, batter, hearting, throughs, and capstones.  Knowledge gained will prepare students for their own projects and help train their eyes to identify proper walling techniques in all dry-stone walls. Registration is limited to 16 participants, who must be 18 years of age or older. Cost includes an evening “Pizza Rustica’ dinner, prepared on-site in a hand-built stone, wood-fired oven crafted by the instructor.
Cost: $350  Pre-registration is required.

To register: contact Michelle Becker, Workshop Administrator
tel. 860-810-8802

Email: stonewellcottage@gmail.com

The Beekeeper’s Garden

shirley poppiesIt seems a bit presumptuous, to be writing about gardens for honey bees, as I am no authority. However, we do keep bees here at Stonewell Farm, and aim to keep them as healthy and well provided for as we can. Our gardens were well in the making long before we began keeping bees.  For the sheer pleasure of having an abundance of blooms and color, we planted annual cutting gardens with cosmos, larkspur, china asters, sunflowers, zinnias, gladiolii, dahlias. In February’s dead of winter, I scattered millions of charcoal colored  poppy seeds upon the blank,white canvas of snow, as if making a sketch for a richly colored painting that would materialize four or five months later; for our pleasure and stimulation, not the bees.


But now we’re gardening for the bees as well. Gone are the Plume Poppies (macleaya cordata), pretty, in fact striking, but also poisonous to honeybees. We’ve learned that the Agastache, which is invasive here, and which we’ve been trying to weed out, provides a great source of nectar and pollen for honeybees, and so we’ve adopted a cautious tolerance of it; leaving some for the bees, in gardens which are not so particularly “curated” (which just so happens to be in the environs of the hives), and tearing it out where it will create aesthetic and horticultural conflicts with us. We have never been ‘lawn’ people.  We do have large, expansive stretches of “grass”, which means a green groundcover, but anyone can see that it’s mostly weeds cut short. Since there’s an abundance of dandelions and clover, both of which provide significant sustenance to honey bees, we’ve adopted an attentively diplomatic laissez-faire policy of allowing these plants to flower….attempting to mow when we think we’ve struck a balance, or compromise, between satisfying the bees and our neighbors. That means mowing before the plants set seed, and keeping the blades at the highest setting, to allow for the emergence of more blooms.

It just so happens that the plants we love are also plants that the bees love, and so now, the wheels begin turning for future garden plans and where we’ll put all these bee-friendly plants. Here’s a short list of plants that honeybees love, for those who would like to contribute to their welfare.

  • Agastache
  • Cosmos
  • Mint
  • Poppies (papaver orientale, papaver rhoeas, escholzia. papaver nudicaule)
  • Nepeta
  • China Asters
  • Clover
  • Dandelions


Designing the Herb Garden

herb garden

A lush herb garden to spark your culinary endeavors.

There are herb gardens and there are ‘Herb Gardens’. Some, a humble little patch of ground in the corner of the garden to save us a gas-guzzling trip to the market, others, elegantly designed and laid out in beds with boxwood or germander hedges, that bear the formality of an 18th century ‘Physic’ garden. Our own gardens fall somewhere within the broad spectrum of the two. We’re not ‘foodies’, by any stretch, and so our herb garden is basically utilitarian, rather than than ‘au courant’. And, because we till our kitchen garden every year, we’ve found it to be more practical to grow perennnial herbs in a dedicated garden that won’t be disturbed. In our herb garden, we grow perennial herbs; sage, thyme, parsley, rosemary. tarragon, sorrel, winter savory, chervil, mint, horseradish (horseradish is invasive so we grow it in a large pot that we’ve sunk into the ground, as we do with mint), oregano, marjoram, chives, ..and, well, that’s about it, except for rhubarb, which is technically not an herb, but due to its perennial nature, we’ve located it in the herb garden, along with climbing roses and a perennial sweet pea, the last two to embellish the fence. We consider arugula to be a salad green and so that is grown in the Kitchen Garden, as are most of the annual herbs, including dill, fennel, cilantro. basil (3 kinds; Genovese, Lime, and Thai), and parsley. Bay is grown in a pot so it can be overwintered in the greenhouse, along with the rosemary, although, occasionally, we take cuttings of the rosemary and set the young plants directly in the ground. The one perennial herb missing from our garden which really ought to be considered indispensable is lovage; a tall, very hardy plant that combines the taste and texture of celery and parsley. Magnificent.

Things to keep in mind when designing an herb garden:

  • Grow what you’ll actually use. I still have no idea how to use Winter Savory, but it’s there in the garden and, well, why? Hopefully, we’ll have some expert chefs over some evening and they will wax ecstatic over it and tell us how to use it.
  • Research the plants and allow enough space for them. Sage can get very large, as can oregano. Thyme will also take up some real estate, if you allow it to.
  • Mint and horseradish are invasive plants. Confine them by planting them in very large pots, sunk into the ground so the rim of the pot is level with the soil. Mulching over this edge will disguise it.  We use 5 gallon pots that we recycle from trees or shrubs that we buy (yes, we’re landscapers so we have a steady supply of these from projects we’ve installed, but if you don’t have one, ask a nursery if you can purchase one from them. They’ll probably give you a couple for next to nothing).
  • Sorrel is a very special plant with which the French make an excellent soup. Alas, I seldom use it, but when I do, it’s specifically for a sauce to serve over poached fish. The large leaves melt under heat, and when sauteed with cream, and perhaps a shallot, the resulting sauce is superb. Sorrel is tangy, sourish, fresh like a lemon. Very nice to have in the herb garden, even though it bolts almost immediately. A savvy cook would plan a Spring dinner party and serve asparagus and poached salmon with a sorrel sauce.
  • Basil. We grow a row or two of it in the kitchen garden, practically a hedge of it, 20 feet long. Come July, we harvest pounds of it, hurl it into the Cuisinart along with garlic, good olive oil, toasted walnuts (Pine nuts have become far too expensive and the walnuts impart an even richer flavor), sea salt and Parmesan cheese (chef’s say not to add the cheese if you’re planning on freezing your pesto, but we’ve noticed no difference), and then we vacuum pack it into tubes, freeze it, and it refreshes us with it’s rich summer flavor all winter long into spring.  If it’s too overpowering, as it is for some, ourselves included, blend it with heavy cream or greek yoghurt, in a saucepan, if you’re using it as a pasta sauce. Straight-up, it’s great on cheese sandwiches, or mixed into an omelette.

Designing the Cutting Garden

annual flowers for bouquets

Classic ‘Cutting Garden’ flowers

Much of our gardening business work is designing residential ‘cottage’ style gardens. When we meet with new clients, we ask them to complete a four page questionairre, which provides detailed questions about their color preferences, allergies, lifestyle, as well as some multiple choice questions about their “dream garden”. One of these questions asks if the client would like a ‘Cutting Garden’ and this bears a footnote explaining what a ‘Cutting Garden’ is. ” A cutting garden is a garden area, arranged much like a vegetable garden, but the crop is flowers, with the purpose of providing material for floral arrangements. These are usually planted in rows to facilitate hoeing and weeding, as well as to accommodate effective staking configurations.”

Eight out ten times, the client writes YES, however, after all these years, we have only installed one cutting garden for a client. I suppose that when folks figure out that a cutting garden is somewhat labor intensive, not quite as labor intensive as a vegetable garden, but close enough, it discourages would be floral arrangers, from having one. It’s a shame, really, because, where a kitchen garden feeds the body, a cutting garden feeds the soul.

Why a separate ‘Cutting Garden’, people ask. Why not just tiptoe into your cottage garden or perennial border with a pair of secateurs and harvest some flowers for the house? Well, yes, many people do this, and if you have a very large garden it is an option, however, you’ll deprive the ‘borders’ of some of their floral beauty, and, anyway, many of the lovely bouquets you see at Farmer’s Markets, and particularly those that be associate with ‘Summer’ are composed of classic cutting garden plants, which are annuals; Larkspur, Cosmos, Dahlias, Zinnias, China Asters, Statice, Sunflowers, Bells of Ireland, and these need to be planted every year, which would mean leaving plenty of blank spaces in your perennial borders for the planting of annuals. Furthermore, that means leaving ‘open-ground’, that is, ground that is not mulched (the seeds won’t emerge from mulch) and this introduces some very nit-picky weeding. No. In my mind, it’s more efficient to have a dedicated cutting garden, and it’s easily done

Designing a Cutting Garden requires no greater skills or horticultural knowledge than common sense and a ‘back of the seed packet’ familiarity with the plants one wants to grow. Here at Stonewell Farm, we plan the cutting garden with rows that are running on a North-South axis. This way, the rows will all receive as much East-West sunlight as possible. This can get a little tricky if you’re growing very tall sunflowers, for instance, in which case, its best to plant them in a quadrant of their own so that they won’t cast too much shade on their neighbors. That said, we try to keep plants of similar heights in rows close together.

Classic Cutting Garden Plants:

richly colored dahlias

With blooms in nearly unlimited shapes, sizes, and colors, dahlias are the essence of a late summer bouquet.








glorious gladiolas

Gladiolas are ‘hip’ again, . There’s nothing dowdy or grim about these tall beauties, that shine in an arrangement.


colorful china asters

Few flowers are as cheerful and exuberant in an arrangement as China Asters in summer.

colorful larkspur

The annual Larkspur, Consolida ambigua, is so fresh, elegant and poetic, that it’s worth the extra effort to get these seeds into the ground early, when the soil is about 55 degrees F.


What makes you glad to be alive? Zinnias.  All the colors of the rainbow, (except blue) and with the so-called 'cactus-flowered' types as well, nothing could be simpler to grow than these horticultural twins of Prozac!

What makes you glad to be alive? Zinnias. All the colors of the rainbow, (except blue) and with the so-called ‘cactus-flowered’ types as well, nothing could be simpler to grow than these horticultural twins of Prozac!




Jam a few sunflowers into a cheap vase and it looks like a million bucks! Here, the goldfinches get to them before we do, but then, what’s the downside? Goldfinches and sunflowers is a win-win, here at Stonewell Farm.


It’s Spring: Garden Work ‘To-Do”

Finally spring has sprung and there’s a lot of work to do in the gardens. Firstly, elimination of leaves and detritus; cutting back stalks that were not done in the fall, and then, the largest job, diving perennials that need dividing. Siberian Irises is first on the list, and this a job requiring immense physical strength. If your siberian irises have developed an empty ring in the center of the cluster then they’re shouting out for division. Divide as you would a pie, in sections. This is such hard work that after you’ve completed the operation, you will, in fact deserve to eat pie, and drink wine, and have some Ibuprofin to recover from it all. (By the way, this goes for Bearded Irises, as well, although they’re not nearly  as difficult to deal with as the Siberian Irises, and, ideally, these ought to be divided in August.

Lily Beetles: Ugh!

These are those glossy, bright red beetles that are set upon destroying your Asiatic lilies (and many other lilies, save Daylilies). We handpick them and crush them, but, they’re nasty little creatures, and unless you have two hours in your day to screen for these little monsters, do yourselves a favor and get Neem Oil concentrate (it MUST be fresh….Neem Oil degrades rapidly when exposed to heat) and spray your Asiatic Lilies.


More about Spring gardening chores tomorrrow…..

Apron Protoytpes

utility apron

Prototype for a hard- wearing, quarter-length, utility apron.

Not a good photo, but, in the meantime, here’s the first prototype of the Utility Apron. Great for gardeners, market vendors, crafters, cooks, putterers of all stripes. Plenty of pockets to hold cell phones, cash, sunglasses, plant labels, writing implements, tools of all kinds, ….it’s like a handbag/tote that you wear! Crafted from 100% cotton fabric made in the USA. Durable, hard-wearing, handmade with attention to detail.

Coming soon at Stonewell Cottage