Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Furry Friends

It's been too long, reader and there's so much to catch up on so without further ado...

I don't think there can be anything more important than introducing you to the new members of the family.  As you know, we are pretty potty about furry friends around here.  Our beloved Charlie Boy is still going strong at eighteen and a half years old.

There has definitely been a void in the HenHouse though, since Jacky Ginge and Vorey died last year.  We always said we would not get new, younger cats while Charlie was still with us as we didn't think he would like it or it would be fair on him.  We'd had a year however, for Charlie Boy to settle in here in his new home and to observe how he was getting on.  As you might expect of such a senior citizen, he is very much set in his ways.  He goes outside a little bit but he is otherwise very happy sleeping on the sofa and getting up for the occasional munch.  He's a very laid back cat and of all our boys, he was always the boss, albeit in a non-confrontational way.  We got to thinking that we really missed having some more company around the house, poor Charlie boy had to put up with the attentions of all three of us, after all.  We thought that he maybe might not mind a bit of company after all.

So there we were one Tuesday morning, late in the Summer holidays and I tentatively voiced that maybe we could consider some new furry friends to add to the household which met with enthusiasm from Mr HenHouse.  The Master in particular had really missed Jacky Ginge and we felt it would be nice for him to have more company.  We had a look at a few of our local animal shelters online as we were mindful that we would need to find a new kitty who was likely to get on with Charlie Boy, he was our top priority, of course.  We decided a kitten might be too much for him and we liked the idea of rehoming an older friend.

Two days later, we found ourselves at Little Valley Animal Shelter in Exeter.  Predictably, the Master was very excited at the thought of a new furry friend and we all fell in love with one chubby little chap who immediately seemed friendly and to take to the Master in particular.

What do you know, furry face there had a friend.

We decided this was perfect.  We would rehome both kittys, they had lived together and were friends, after all, so it was only right they stay together.  They were both gorgeous little characters though our little ginger friend was a little shyer than his mate.  Home we went, excited and eagerly waiting to hear from the RSPCA as they carry out a home check before rehoming any animals.  We live quite a distance from their shelter so we thought it might take a while for them to visit us.  The Master was very impatient to get the new boys home before he went back to school at the beginning of September.

In the end, it all happened very quickly, they were very professional and organised at Little Valley and before we knew it, on the Saturday morning we had a call; when would we like to collect our new friends?  One visit to the pet shop and a speedy trip to Exeter later and our little furry dream had come true!

We had to keep the new boys confined to one room for a few days whilst they got used to their new home and before they met their big ginger brother.  Let me please introduce you to Oscar, our peachy coloured boy cat who is probably around three years old.

His brother (non-related) is the rather cuddly and very placid Frank, around six years old.  Purr!

Well, they started to settle in no problem.  We had forgotten what it was like to have young cats in the household.  Oscar in particular, has been very active.  He was soon jumping up on every surface so I had to get out some cardboard boxes and pack my ornaments away!

After a few days, we introduced Charlie Boy and the new boys.  They were a little wary at first but we were pleased that the new boys were not at all confrontational and have respected Charlie Boy's position as head honcho of the furry brethren.  We are lucky in that there is plenty of space here at the HenHouse, both inside and out, and they can all find their own space and do their own thing.  They get on fine though and there's the occasional hiss but all is much better than we might have dreamed.

Oscar, as I say, is a very agile cat and wasted no time in exploring every inch of the house.  He is quite fond of my Den, obviously a very discerning feline, and here he is, checking out the stash!

Frank has a very laid back approach to life.  He is really not that bothered about going outside and is very fond of his home comforts.  He soon found the best seat in the house.

They've settled in really well, having been home about eight weeks now.  Oscar has discovered that he is very fond of eidys.

We had to keep the boys in for the first four weeks so they could get used to their new home.  They actually did not seem to mind this too much until the end when Oscar was quite keen to get out and explore.  There was a lot of impatient sitting on windowsills!

Frank's favourite spot is on my chair next to the woodburner in the kitchen.

They remain good friends and Oscar is often to be found cuddling up next to Frank for a bit of extra warmth.

Frank and the Master have formed a close bond so we are really happy to see the void left by Jacky Ginge has been filled as we hoped.  Here is Furry Frank waiting to wish the Master a happy birthday recently!

Oscar also seems happy in his new home, he is a little more independent than Frank and likes to go out and explore but he's a really good cat and also rather special. We don't really know much of the new cats' history but Oscar has amazing fur, it is so so soft like a rabbit, and we have taken to nicknaming him Peach, both for the colour and softness of his incredible coat.

Charlie Boy?  He is as adorable as ever.  Such a good boy, always his mummy's darling and the best cat you could ever wish for.  As you can see, he's getting along just fine.

All is well once more in the HenHouse. Xxx

Monday, 7 September 2015

Farm Girl Vintage

Reader, a new obsession has gripped me of late.  I decided it was time to get myself back in the Den and get down to some sewing.  A new book had me all of a tizz, that book is Farm Girl Vintage by Lori Holt.

I've long been a fan of Lori and her blog Bee in my Bonnet.  I have made some of the blocks in her fabby book Quilty Fun which are now mini quilts on the wall in my Den.  I also took part in her sewalong last Christmas and enjoyed it very much.  I was therefore very very happy to get my mitts on Farm Girl Vintage which looked, if possible, even better!

A little like the Christmas sewalong and Quilty Fun, the idea with the new book is that there are lots of individual blocks and these can then be made into a variety of quilts, the settings for which Lori helps you with, or you can make smaller projects such as pot holders or table runners.

This appealed to me enormously as I have found myself with not much time to sew in recent months so the idea that I could just fit in making the odd block for an hour here or there seemed a winner.  At least that was the theory.

As you can see from these images, it's a really beautiful book to look at.  I never tire of looking through it and it is often to be found beside my bed of a night for a little pre-sleep inspiration so I wake up all fired up the next morning.  Lori has a gorgeous home which is really individual to her and provides the perfect backdrop for the shots of her blocks and quilts.  Drool-worthy stuff!

It has been great fun and very inspiring to follow the farmgirlvintage hashtag over on Instagram.  It feels like one big farm girl vintage obsessed sewing family!

I wanted to use similar fabrics to Lori, bright happy colours with a vintage feel, modern fabrics in a retro style.  It looked like the stash could handle it.

However, at the annual Festival of Quilts, a little farm girl vintage inspired shopping may have taken place.

It is a very practical book as it is spiral bound so it is easy to turn to the page you need and not wrestle with the spine.  The format is that the first major chunk of the book is devoted to the individual blocks followed by the various quilt settings and projects.

The style of the blocks varies.  On the one hand, there are what  I would term traditional patchwork blocks such as stars, squares, churn dash, flying geese (above) and so on.  These have afforded me some good opportunities for fussy cutting to which I am always partial.  

(The fussy cut centres are from a single fabric by Kokka.)

Then there are the more pictorial style blocks.  These are cute and fun!  

I love them all!  I try to intersperse making the traditional blocks with the pictorial ones to keep things a little varied.

The blocks are a good test of your patch working skills.  There is quite a bit of cutting for each block.  The best bit is choosing all those fabrics, of course.  So from this many pieces... might end up with a cute chick.

The traditional blocks in particular often look deceptively simple however they have lots of little pieces and many points to match which you can easily sew over or chop off if your cutting and stitching is not millimetre perfect.  It's really satisfying to get them right, even it it does involve the seam ripper on occasion.  

Take this gingham block below, made up entirely of squares, thirty-six of them to be precise.  Not so hard you might think.  

Aside from choosing your fabrics carefully to balance the lights and darks and achieve the contrast this block needs, did you realise it is just six and a half inches square when finished?  Working on that scale is tricky because there is very little room for error.  The book gives you the option of making six or twelve inch finished blocks (giving you the cutting requirements for each).  I fancied working small as I love the fiddliness of it and I have enjoyed the challenge of trying to get it as perfect as I can, that to me is the beauty of working on just one block at a time.  It's an exercise in patience though!

I've really enjoyed getting into the spirit of farm girl vintage.  Being a country bumpkin now, I seem to be surrounded by the perfect inspiration.  From our fluffy chooks I can see from the window of my Den, to the cherries we've picked in the garden, to the fabulous vintage farm tractors at the Great Dorset Steam Fair last Friday.

How I would love that tractor for a little photoshoot once my quilt is finished!  I have enjoyed trying to think of different ways to snap my finished blocks which I've been posting on Instagram along with all the other farm girl sewers.  Each time we post a block, we hashtag it with the name of the block so it's great to be able to search and see everyone else's blocks.

Lori's Instagram feed (where she is beelori1) is incredibly inspiring.  She has posted lots of updates including sharing with us what has been happening on the sewing retreats she has been running over in the States.  At these retreats, she has released a couple of new patterns and also shown us variations on some of the existing blocks in the book.  There are several PDF patterns which link in with the book over at Fat Quarter Shop.  I have made this cute pig and I think the apple will follow soon.

Lori has also created Farm Girl Fridays over on her blog where she posts something new on the topic, you guessed it, every Friday.  She talks through the process of making one or more blocks and suggests some fun variations.  She also links to various other bloggers who are sewing along with Farm Girl Vintage.

My aim is to make the Farm Girl Sampler Quilt from the book.  This will have forty-eight different blocks (all those in the book plus a few of the PDFs) along with sashing and borders to make a finished quilt 62.5" x 76.5".  I have now made over half the blocks so I need to keep trying to fit in a few when I can and get them finished, hopefully this year!

I'm loving it!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015


What feels like way back in June, I mentioned in this post that we had plans for the meadow at the back of our house and I am pleased to say that, a little late, I'm back to tell you what we've been up to.

Mr HenHouse has been working incredibly hard behind the scenes since the real henhouse arrived here at The Old Vicarage.   He's cleared an area of the meadow, trimmed away the tufty grass around the perimeter so he could install the electric fence, treated and built the henhouse, built a shelter and since cleared the entire bank so we have an uninterrupted view out over the meadow from the house.  Reader, if you hadn't guessed already, he's a keeper.

I'v been reading away any book and magazine about chickens I could get my hands on.  I like to throughly research whatever I am doing.  Since breaking up for the school holidays, the Master has been asking every day "Are we getting the chickens today?" but we wanted to be absolutely ready so the answer was generally no until one day, there were no more reasons to say no and the answer finally turned to yes!  In the end, we went to the outskirts of Bristol for our girls as our local breeder did not have any pullets available (young chickens) and I knew that Annie Hall had many of the breeds I was looking for.

We have a house for a dozen hens but had decided we would get maybe five or so, being the novice chicken keepers we are.  Of course, when we saw all the lovely chickens at Annie's, it was hard not to extend our list!  She assured us that it would be no harder looking after a few more and she also suggested we did not introduce any more chickens within a short space of time as this would stress our existing flock (which is something we had been thinking of doing) so in the end, home came eight hens.  We chose six hybrid hens, these are the modern chicken.  Hardy, easy to care for, vaccinated and with the added bonus of laying just about all year round.  They are still available in a lovely array of colours, shapes and sizes.  We have a Bluebell, a Rhode Rock, a CouCou Maran, a Silver Link and a Brown Speckledy.  We affectionately have termed these girls the fatties and they are lovely big fluffy bundles, who charge around ruling the roost!  We also have a hybrid White Leghorn who lays pure white eggs and is a funny little "upright" chicken.

Although we hadn't intended to, we also brought home two younger pure breed hens, being a Cream Legbar and a Welsummer because these girls, when they come into lay, will give us blue/green and dark brown eggs.  Being younger, they are still at the prehistoric dinosaur look stage!

So, here we are, finally there are hens in the henhouse!  Hello Henny Penny.

They seem very happy with their lot.  They spend all day outside in their run and then put themselves to bed at night as dusk falls.  We have an automatic device on the pophole so that it shuts at dusk and opens again at dawn, just in case we are ever not around to close the pop hole ourselves.  The girls are very clever and after a few nights, started to put themselves to bed in their house as dusk fell.  We have kept an eye on them and have had a few caught out by the automatic closing door so we've popped them in the back way but they soon learn!  They love going to bed.

They are a delight to sit and watch, their antics endlessly amusing and they are very sociable.  They come running as you approach the run and of course, they know when it is treat and corn o'clock.  Their favourite treats are watermelon and corn on the cob.  I think we can safely say they are very spoilt chooks.

We have a 50 metre electric fence in place as with so much space available to us, we wanted the girls to have as much room to roam as they could whilst staying safe.  One can never be too careful with Mr Fox about.  It is a complete joy to wake up of a morning and see the girls pecking about happily.

Their house came from Flyte So Fancy who, luckily for us, are based just over the border in Dorset.  The little box at the base of the ladder is now filled with gravel to help keep their feet clean in wetter weather.

Mr HenHouse has also built the girls a shelter as there are chickens on the allotments in our village and we spent some time observing them and noted how much they liked the cover of their shelter during the day.  He cut down some sycamore branches from our trees and then boarded the sides.  Of course, it had to have a little HenHouse-style makeover with some aqua-coloured wood treatment and "outdoor" bunting made from double-sided oilcloth and polyester webbing.  They love it and have gradually been turning the base into their dust bath but it has come into its own in the recent wet weather we've been having.

It's fair to say we have spent a fair amount of time outside with the girls whenever we can.  Of an early morning, when we had nice weather earlier in the Summer, I would wake early and take my quilts down and sit hand sewing the binding whilst watching them peck about.  We have also enjoyed the odd glass of something chilled out there of an evening and watched the sun set over the fields behind the girls' run.

I coud not fail to mention of course, that as well as being rather adorable pets, the girls are also very productive.  When you buy chickens as pullets, they are usually around 16-20 weeks old.  They come into lay usually at about 20-21 weeks old.  We were lucky in that the five chubby hybrids we bought from Annie were already around this age and so we hopefully would not have to wait long for eggs.  Well blow me if the first morning we came down to find there were two eggs in the nesting box.  Oh my, it was so egg-citing.  Sorry!

Since then, about a month ago, we have had eggs every day.  From the second day, we always had three or four, then one day we had five and now we regularly have five or six.  You really cannot beat the excitement of opening up the nesting boxes each day and looking for eggs.  We are continually amazed by the egg laying.  What a clever clever thing to do.  The girls get very excited when they have laid and come to the pophole of their house and loudly begin to cluck to let you know just what they've achieved!

Our latest big thrill has been that our White Leghorn, Snowdrop, who is a few weeks younger than the others, has now come into lay.  She gets very excited when she has laid an egg and makes a lot of noise for such a delicate girl.  Her eggs are a beautiful pure white and are quite small at the moment but will get bigger with time.  We have a huge variety of eggs and have had quite a few whoppers laid, many with double yolks, which is always super exciting.  Our record so far is an egg weighing 79 grams with a double yolk inside.  

As you may imagine, eggs now feature widely on the menu here in the HenHouse kitchen.  From my own Scotch eggs... crustless healthy mini quiches... a lunchtime frittata whilst watching the girls from our newly installed picnic bench for that very purpose.

I whipped up my first cake with their eggs to take to a friend's knit club group at her home recently.  There is something very satisfying about collecting your girls' eggs then using them in your own kitchen.

Getting the girls has been the most brilliant experience, we love every minute, they are great company and easy to look after and we also get delicious eggs.  Winner!

If you've ever been thinking about giving it a go, we couldn't give chicken keeping a bigger thumbs up and we are very happy to pass on our experiences to date. Xxx