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!

Tuesday
Mar032015

Just coasting along…!

Here’s something a little bit different for you today. We sell all sorts of shapes and sizes of MDF pieces. Recently, we introduced two shapes of coaster mats and Eunice Meeus has made some lovely examples to inspire everyone to have a go. I personally use loads of coasters as I carry mugs of tea and coffee all over the house, so I have them in many different rooms. If you have some CDs, paper and coasters, you are well on your way to creating what I think would make an amazing present.

The instructions below were created by Eunice too so a big ‘thank you’ to Eunice!

You will need 

Instructions

  1. Decide on your image and print onto A4 paper, it may seem a waste but it means you can place the coaster exactly in the area you want to use and have some left over for another project
  2. Lay the coaster down on the wrong side of the backing paper and draw around it in pencil 
  3. Now over cut on the outside of you pencil mark, this makes it easier to handle
  4. Apply the ready mixed adhesive wallpaper paste to the coaster
  5. Place your image on the table with the wrong side of the image face up so you can see the pencil line
  6. Carefully pick up your coaster by the edges and place it sticky side down inside the pencil mark and gently put pressure on
  7. Leave to dry for about an hour, then check that it is firmly stuck to the coaster, if it lifts anywhere you can apply more paste with a small paint brush and leave again to dry
  8. When you are sure it is firmly stuck down trim the excess paper from around the edges
  9. Now, very gently sand the edges starting on the image and moving down over the edge of the coaster
  10. Finally apply two coats of the varnish, leaving to dry in between each coat.

 

Friday
Feb272015

Ginger it up!

Fresh ginger rootI was in a lovely traditional veg shop the other day and among a very nice display of fresh herbs, was a basket full of ginger root all gnarled and knobbly. And I thought, what an unprepossessing appearance it has for such a versatile and very special plant.

If I stop and think about it, ginger forms part of my diet in lots of different ways. Ginger is definitely one of my favourite herbal teas. If I haven’t got any ginger tea bags, I have been known to crush a fresh piece of ginger, pour boiling water over it and add some honey – delicious. I am also quite partial to ginger beer, the hotter the better, and the very mention of it always makes me think of Enid Blyton and her wonderful children’s books where every picnic included ‘lashings of ginger beer’. 

I bake with it quite often and love a spiced ginger cake and also ginger biscuits. If I am cooking a curry, there will be ginger involved, fresh or powdered, whatever I have to hand. If it’s Christmas, you will be sure to find some crystallised ginger in the house.

It has an utterly unique flavour, spicy, peppery, warming – and it is as much a sensation as a taste and smell.

From 1585, Jamaican ginger was the first oriental spice to be grown in the New World and imported back to Europe, so it has part of our diet for a long time. Today, India, is the largest producer with over 33% of the global production, with China in second place.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant in the family Zingiberaceae whose rhizome, ginger root or simply ginger, and this is what we use as a spice. It is a herbaceous perennial which produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. It is a reed-like plant with annual leafy stems, about a meter tall. You can grow ginger in this country, even though it is a tropical plant. I personally haven’t tried, but if you have how did you get on? Here is a link with some advice if you fancy having a go.

Zingiber officinaleIt is said to be a good remedy in the early stages of an infection because, as a warming spice, it can ‘promote a fever and hasten healing’. Ginger's warming effects are also said to relieve rheumatic aches and pains by widening the blood vessels and stimulating circulation. It is interesting that, around the world, we like to use ginger as a soothing, healing medicine and yet there is little or no scientific proof that it actually does any good!

In limited studies, ginger was found to be ‘more effective than a placebo’ for treating nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy, but the results were negligible. And yet, look in almost any culture and you will see ginger used to help with nausea, travel sickness and headaches. Perhaps it is nothing more than the fact that its warming spiciness makes us feel better, and at the end of the day, perhaps that’s sometimes all we need!

Tuesday
Feb242015

For a very special friend...

I am completely in love with the images of small children that Donald Zolan drew, we talk to his daughter for licensing his artwork now. It is just so innocent and reminds one of times gone by – I realise we all still feel we are only 29(!) but at the risk of repeating myself, times were different when I was young. The freedom and joy that we had wandering around in nearby fields and woods is not something many parents feel they can allow today.

This birthday card is for a very special friend as you can see and I love the way our pads include some sentiments, borders, decoupage pieces etc. It’s like having a little card kit in a neat tidy pad. The backing papers on this card came from some of our CDs, the sea (a very useful paper that we use a lot) is on CD2 of the Thomas Kinkade CD set and the leafy design is on the Janet Kruskamp CD.

I know CDs are somewhat out of favour currently in comparison to their heyday, but I will always use them as they are a handy library facility for paper storage!

Even if it’s not your birthday today – have a happy day.

Smiles, Joanna

Friday
Feb202015

What is it about chickens?

© ChickensInSweaters – Nicole McArthur The chicken. What is it that makes it such a popular subject in just about everything these days? Chicken fabrics, chicken calendars, chicken sweaters – yes that’s for the chickens, not you! – and just about every other chicken-themed thing you can imagine!

I shared a post on the Joanna Sheen's Country Days Blog Facebook page today about sweaters for chickens – there are some beautiful designs and ideas out there. It isn’t quite as dotty as it looks as some chickens, especially ex-battery hens, can often be lacking feathers and they benefit from being kept warm. Julia, my partner in crime writing and general chicken-crazed woman was designing fleece jackets for hers a few years ago, when they moulted in the middle of winter but I’m not sure if that particular project ever got completed.

You only have to look online to see how phenomenally popular chickens are. Chicken doorstops, chicken coat hooks, chicken mugs, chicken plates, chicken clocks – it is endless! And there are lots of websites dedicated to chickens. Some of my favourites include:

www.ilikechickens.co.uk

www.countyourchickens.co.uk

www.cotswoldchickens.com


© www.ilikechickens.co.uk

So what is it that makes us so fond of chickens? Is it the shape of a hen? Their featheriness? The varied colours, the cosy noises they make or the fact that they provide us with that wonderfully versatile thing – the egg?

I suppose few farmyard or back garden animals display such appealing characteristics as chickens. Whether they are scratching the ground searching for grubs, performing aerial acrobatics in pursuit of insects or strutting self-importantly, they never cease to entertain us. Their ‘chatter’ is immensely soothing. I know when I have sat outside drinking a coffee with Julia in her garden, the hens are a constant background soundtrack as soothing and melodious as a bubbling brook.

So where do chickens come from originally? Although the chicken has been in Britain since Roman times (and possibly before) it originates from South East Asian some 10,000 years ago. Amazingly, it is estimated that there are about 27 billion chickens in the world today at any one time!

And finally, here are a few chicken nuggets for you:

  • The Poultry Club of Great Britain was founded in 1877
  • Depending on its size, a chicken egg provides between 60 and 80 calories
  • Queen Victoria kept chickens!
  • So which came first, the chicken or the egg? In 2010, two British universities, using a super-computer, decided it was the chicken.

PS. You might like to know that in our next novel – book 3 in the Swaddlecombe series  – chickens play a major part in the plot!

Tuesday
Feb172015

Just for you

Sharing a cup of coffee with a friend is a regular pastime of mine and something that can often turn a grey day into something bright and sunny.

I think this is a perfect card for a coffee sharing friend (even if you drink tea, not coffee!). The image and papers come from our Janet Kruskamp CD.

The strip down the middle is made using a Signature die – the Lace Edger One. The great thing about using a CD and a die is that all you need to complete the card apart is white cardstock or a card blank (8” square works well for this) and white paper to print the backing design. I must say, I have saved quite a lot recently as I buy fewer embellishments these days. Mind you – if I spot a nice one I buy some anyway and keep them for a special occasion – and ye, that’s how my crafty stash grows and grows!