Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 20 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, while taking our dog Welly for a walk, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could start sharing with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!


What's in a name...?

Here's a 'Rose Cottage' © Copyright John BrightleyAs you know, I am a bit of an old softy and tend to like old-fashioned, traditional things. It was great fun when we began creating the characters and places for our Swaddlecombe novels. Julia and I had many giggly hours coming up with characters’ names and inventing our own little world with the town of Westerly and the village of Swaddlecombe. We also managed to squeeze in an 'April Cottage', a 'Primrose Cottage' and a 'Hill Farm'.

House names always interest me and I love quaint names like ‘Wisteria Cottage’ or ‘The Hollies’ or something grand like ‘The Rookery’. I think something with a peculiar name would actually put me off! A few years ago now, we used to exhibit at the NEC next to a company that made house signs and they always said ‘Rose Cottage’ was the most popular. Well, I had a bit of a search online and it seems that names change with the times and today ‘The Cottage’ is the most popular, with ‘Rose Cottage’ in second place.

A barn next to co-writer Julia’s house is called ‘The Shielings’, which was a bit of a puzzle. Apparently this means summer grazing place or hut in a wild and remote place, often in Scotland. So, one assumes it was chosen as a reminder of a previous home further north. 

An 'Old School House. © TripAdvisorPeople quite often transfer place–names to houses, there’s a ‘Taplow Cottage’ not far from me and I am sure we have all seen examples of this. I have friends near Salisbury who live in a very old house called ‘Ilchester Cottage’… Ilchester being a village some 50 miles to the west, so someone was very ‘mobile’ a few centuries ago!

Names often reflect a nearby feature and trees are popular. ‘Orchard House’ is high up the list, as are ‘Yew Tree Cottage’, ‘The Beeches’ and ‘Pear Tree Cottage’. ‘The Elms’ used to be popular but, sadly, the decline of those lovely trees means the house name has died off in popularity too.

I like houses with wild animal names – imagine what fun it would be to live in ‘Fox Hollow’, ‘Deer’s Leap’ or ‘Badger’s Holt’! 

Changes in our society are reflected in house names and today many old schools, chapels and barns have been converted to residential use so you will probably have an ‘Old School House’ or ‘Old Chapel’ in the village. While on the one hand, it is nice to pay homage to a building’s origins, it is also sad that so many communities have lost important parts of their traditional make up. 

Do you live in a house with an interesting name? If it’s unusual, have you ever tried to look up its origins…?



Shabby chic camelia

Here’s another shabby chic style card which I think are always so effective. To make a card fit this sort of theme you need to use muted colours and help things along with some distressing or antiquing.

The image comes from a Daphne Brissonet pad – pad number 1 in this case (but they are both wonderful). The border and sentiment come from the sheet in the pad as well as the main image. The backing paper comes from Jane Shasky’s Heart of the garden CD – but there are a mass of other designs you could use.

If you haven’t got exactly the right backing paper for this colour scheme – the trick is to pick a rose covered design with a pale background and then use something like a 'Tea Dye' or 'Antique Linen' distress ink pad and wipe it gently over the paper until it is discoloured. Another way to get aged effects on papers is to choose a backing paper from a CD and instead of printing it on white paper as we usually do – choose dark cream or beige or anything you think might give a more antiqued effect.


Gold, frankincense and myrrh – how wise were the wise men…?

From the top: The three wise men, or Magi. Gold, frankincense and myrrh as we usually portray them in nativity plays. A frankincense tree, and myrrh resin.As a child, I was always fascinated by the three wise men and their gifts. I could see the logic in gold, but what on earth were frankincense and myrrh, and wouldn’t it have been a lot more sensible if they had brought blankets, soap and a nice pot of stew instead? Well, after looking into saffron for a recent blog, I decided to find out the facts about these two strange sounding gifts…

People in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have produced frankincense and myrrh for over 5,000 years. For much of this time, these aromatic resins were the region's most important commodity, with a trade network that reached across Africa, Asia and Europe.

Derived from tree sap, or gum resin, both frankincense and myrrh were highly prized for personal, religious and medicinal use. In a time before people washed every day, they would use the sweet smoke from the resins to make themselves smell better. Egyptian women used the ash of frankincense to make their eyeliner – think of all those amazing mummies with their dramatically black–lined eyes! 

Frankincense and myrrh also had medicinal uses and both resins were recommended for the treatment of wounds. Other ailments they were reputed to cure included hemlock poisoning, leprosy, worms, snakebites, diarrhoea, plague, scurvy and even baldness!

The high demand for frankincense and myrrh created a booming trade in the Middle East lasting several hundred years. In the first century, around the height of the trade, it is recorded that Arabia produced approximately 1,680 tons of frankincense and around 448 tons of myrrh each year.

So frankincense and myrrh were widely available when the three wise men visited the baby Jesus and would have been considered practical gifts with many uses. The expensive resins were symbolic as well. Frankincense, which was often burned, symbolized prayer rising to the heavens like smoke, while myrrh, which was often used for burials, symbolized death.

Frankincense and myrrh may not be as popular as they once were, but they're still used today in products and in ways that might surprise you. They're common ingredients in modern perfumes and cosmetics, continuing a tradition that has lasted thousands of years. Scientists are finding new uses for the substances as well and recent studies suggest that frankincense may be beneficial to sufferers of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, osteoarthritis and collagenous colitis. Researchers have also discovered possible benefits of myrrh in the treatment of gastric ulcers, tumours and parasites.

So, three very wise men indeed…


Blowing Bubbles

Apart from the fact that I have always been intrigued by bubbles (look, little things please little minds!) and have had fun with them all my life, I just loved this House-Mouse image.

The picture used here comes from one of the House-Mouse pads – called New Designs – and it is indeed filled with images that we haven’t used before that Ellen has been busy creating! The nice thing about the pads is that they are printed on excellent paper but have a smaller amount of decoupage on them which still makes the card stand out and look really effective but is a far quicker and easier job to make up.

The papers are from the Jane Shasky CD ‘From The Heart of the Garden’ – if you haven’t got this yet it is certainly one of my go-to CDs, just filled with amazing things I ‘need’ to print out.

The use of pearls works really well on this card too as… well, pearls always work anyway (but I am biased!) but also they mirror the whole bubble theme going on here!

Maybe I will pop out and buy some bubble mixture this week to play with little Grace.


Grow your own gold!

Saffron - three times more expensive than gold.A brief article in a newspaper caught my eye the other day: “For the first time in two centuries, saffron is being grown in Essex – just outside Saffron Walden, the town to which it gave its name.” Well, I thought, that’s interesting...

I love Saffron, both for its unique, warming flavour, and its rich red gold colour. It perfumes dishes and has a slightly sweet but earthy taste that can be used to flavour salty or sweet recipes, and is perfect for adding to basmati rice for that authentic Indian curry! It always seems terribly exotic to me, as if it has been shipped in on an old spice route… but of course, it is derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. First cultivated in Greece, it can be grown perfectly well here in the UK, as witnessed by the town of Saffron Walden.

Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocusSaffron is the most expensive spice in the world. The dried stigmas of the saffron crocus can only be picked by hand but, fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way…! I buy a little pot for about £5 and it will probably last me 3 or 4 months.

Saffron has been around since the beginning of civilization. The ancient Greeks, for example, used the spice to scent and purify their temples. The ancient Romans bathed in saffron water. Cleopatra supposedly used it as a facial mask… perhaps an early example of an ‘orange tan’!? Throughout medieval times, saffron had great commercial importance in Europe, especially as a dye, with saffron-coloured clothes being worn by royalty and nobility – a clear sign of how wealthy you were.

So, back to 2014 and Saffron Walden – apparently, local farmer called David Smale is now Britain’s only commercial saffron grower and he started growing saffron crocuses 10 years ago. Saffron growing thrived in Britain in the 16th century, before eventually dying out owing to cheaper imports. Today, he sells the spice to Fortnum and Mason for a whopping £75 a gram – that’s three times the price of gold!

The town sign - complete with crocus!I might just try growing a few saffron crocuses myself – Suttons Seeds sell them, complete with instructions on how to harvest the saffron. With beautifully scented autumn blooms, Sutton’s say that it's actually very easy to grow - you certainly don't need to have green fingers! Just plant the bulbs in a sunny spot in your garden and unlike their more well-known spring-blooming cousins, once established they put on a display of beautiful and deliciously scented blooms. They will thrive in a well drained border, but can easily be grown in a container on the patio. Plus, they're super-hardy and they'll multiply rapidly from year to year.