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
Jun282016

Lace and roses

I always feel smiley when I can include some lace on a card and of course I love using flowers. This die is the Signature Dies Wild Rose and it’s fun to use.

The basic card is an 8 x 8” white card blank, then I have matted some pretty grey lace backing paper from my Volume 1 backing paper pad (good value I reckon) onto dark pink cardstock. I used the same dark pink for roses plus a lighter shade too. The matted lace paper is then attached to the card blank.

The image was cut out from the Stefania Ferri 8 x 8”pad (she is SO talented!) and attached in the centre of the card. My choice is to use double sided tape, but some people have other favourites like photo glue or glue sticks.

Now, diecut roses in a couple of shades of pink and find a nice subtle green for the leaves. The thing I love about using dies is that you can use scraps and just keep on cutting to get as many flowers as you like as opposed to having a packet that runs out on you!

The centre of the wild roses just shows on the card as a glimpse of yellow – I have achieved this by cutting a square of scrap bright yellow card and attaching to the back of the flower – hey presto yellow centre! Before you glue the flowers onto the card, mould them a little to make the petals come up and away from the edges – this gives a lovely texture.

Have fun!

Friday
Jun242016

The original version of ‘twitter’…

Top to bottom: Blackbird, skylark, robin, song thrush, chaffinch, stone chat, kingfisher.It always makes me smile when people talk about ‘the peace and quiet’ of the countryside – as it can be really noisy! Farm animals, especially sheep, are actually quite loud if you live close to them and then, of course, there’s the inescapable tractor and other clanking bits of farm machinery. But most deafening of all can be the dawn chorus! Of course, when I say deafening, I mean that in the most wonderful way, a magical wall of sound that, in spring and summer, is the most glorious thing to wake up to even if it is rather early!

While I really appreciate the background beauty of bird song, I am not all that good at identifying different birds, or what the different tweets and chirrups of our songbirds actually mean. But being able to recognise a species by its melody means you will see more when you are out walking, so I was interested to find some tips on how to become a better bird song expert! 

Birds are the first to warn when there is a predator about. If I hear a noise out of place (blackbirds have a particularly strident alarm call), I stand stock still and wait to see what happens. Sure enough after a little while a cat, stoat or other mammal will usually emerge.

Although bird’s songs sound cheerful, they are actually expressions of aggression used to warn off competitors or noisy serenades to attract a mate. Generally, the prettier the tune, the more confrontational the bird that is singing it! 

Here are some tips I found online to help recognise bird song:

1. Start with signature tunes
Among the UK's native species there are definite 'songsters'. These are birds with beautiful voices, like blackbirds, robins, skylarks, song thrushes and chaffinches, and each has its own, distinct signature tune. Once you've learned a bird's song, you can always pick out, even if it only sings a few phrases of the melody. 

2. Build on what you already know
You may not think you know anything about bird song, but most of us already have a basic knowledge – think of the hoot of a tawny owl or a cuckoo's call. It's not difficult to add to this the 'Repeat, repeat', repeat' of a song thrush or the noisy chittering of a wren. For such a tiny bird, a wren's song is very loud!

3. Fit the sound to your surroundings
If you are by a river or a stream and you hear a loud, piping call then look out for the electric-blue of a kingfisher as it flashes past. Grey wagtails make a sort of 'chiswick' call that is so loud you can hear it above the sound of running water. On the other hand, if you are walking across moorland, or a ploughed field, and you hear the most joyful stream of song – look up! It's most likely a skylark and probably one of my favourite songsters.

4. There’s a clue in the name…
Cuckoos, curlews, kittiwakes and chiffchaffs are named after the calls they make.  Listen out for the 'chiff' 'chaff' next time you are walking through scrubland or woodland. Walking on the moorland down here in Devon, I often hear the stone chat who, unsurprisingly, says ‘chat’!

5. Add some lyrics!

It is said that some bird songs sound like nursery rhymes. A yellow hammer sings: "A little bit of butter and nooo cheeese". And then there’s the wood pigeon's eternal and, quite irritating, refrain of: 'My toe hurts Betty; my toe hurts Betty; my toe hurts Betty. Oooh'. Once you've got lyrics in your head it's easier to remember the tune.

Fascinatingly, birds actually have local dialects. A British chaffinch, for instance, sings a slightly different tune to a Siberian one. But the difference is something only a really committed ornithologist with experience of listening to a range of species across Europe needs to know… so I think we’ll need to pass on that one! 

Happy listening!

Tuesday
Jun212016

Pearls and roses – just perfect!

Pearls and roses – another combination of ingredients that I love – whether I am playing with paper roses, dried roses, fresh roses, you name it! This card is extremely simple but, in my opinion, more beautiful for that simplicity – sometimes less really is more!

The basic card blank was an 8 x 8” white square that I trimmed a little to create 8” height by 6.5” width. The image is from Marjolein Bastin’s Summer pad and I took my inspiration for the colour scheme of the card from the edge printed around the image, light pink and a citrusy green.

Start with some citrus green card and cut slightly smaller than the main card blank. Now layer some pale pink card on top – my choice was to use double sided tape.

Now taking the main image, layer that onto some of the green card – this frames it beautifully. Attach that to the card as shown – with an equal margin above and each side of the image but a little more underneath.

The die I have used is from the Signature Dies range (surprise!) and is called Sarah Lace Border. I zipped this through the machine a couple of times using white card. Cut a piece to stretch across the width of the green card and then snip a single piece from the design for the top.

There are several ways to attach delicate die cuts – you can use a quickie glue pen or, as I did this time, use Glossy Accents and a cocktail stick. I love my cocktail sticks, they are cheap and disposable and I squirted a blob of glossy accents out onto a scrap of paper and then using the cocktail stick added little dots to the back of the diecuts.

Finally, my favourite, the pearls – these were self adhesive type pearls but if you have flat backed pearls that are not, then again you can dot them with the glossy accents.

Voila! Elegant and simple card!

Friday
Jun172016

A whole new meaning to a ‘kitchen garden’!

I am really getting into growing our own veg this summer – gold star to Joanna for ticking box on ‘must do’ list! As you may have realised, I am not one for wasting things. Well, OK, so I am a typical crafter and I hoard things… but I also like to recycle and make use of ‘waste’ products in the garden too. We all go on about ‘being green’ and reducing our carbon footprint, but really, this is all common sense stuff that previous generations did as a matter of course!

Slug off!
If you want to give your garden slugs a hard time and, like me don’t like using slug pellets, save your coffee grounds! Empty the bits left in your cafetière or machine on to the soil around your plants. They not only keep the pests at bay they will enrich the soil too.

Now this idea is a little contentious… but you could try submerging some plastic cups into your veg beds around your plants and fill them with beer. Yes, beer. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and drop into the cups. Richard is not entirely happy about this…

Egg shells are also a pet hate of slugs and snails as they don’t like to crawl over them. I put my empty egg shells into a plastic container, wait until I have quite a few and then take great delight in smashing them into small pieces with a spoon! You can then sprinkle them on the ground around your salads and the critters ought to keep away.

Eggcellent compost
Egg shells can also be added to your compost with other compostable waste. Around a third of an average household bin can be composted including fruit and vegetable peelings, but don’t put whole old potatoes in, as these will grow into plants and create more spuds. You can also use teabags and even shredded cardboard and newspaper along with your general clippings and cuttings but be sure you don’t put in any weed seed heads or those with roots that can regenerate.

Rice water is nice water
When you cook rice keep the water rather than pouring it down the sink. There are several plant friendly minerals that are ideal for giving your plants a nutritional boost.

Tuesday
Jun142016

Hydrangeas, my favourite!

Well to be accurate, one of my favourites as I have several! The thing I love about hydrangeas is that once they start flowering (mine are just about to burst into bloom), they carry on giving you a lovely show of colour and form all summer long. As an extra bonus they are fantastic to dry and arrange indoors during the winter, so fab – very useful plants!

This card uses a pretty image from the Marjolein Bastin Summer pad. Marjolein is an artist who has been working with the craft industry for many years and the range of her images is amazing. We have a Spring and Summer pad at the moment and will be launching  Autumn and Winter pads on Create and Craft in July.

This card is a simple one that I think looks really beautiful – it would be rude to praise one of my own creations too highly! The image is layered onto a leafy green cardstock and that same green used to diecut the hydrangea leaves. The hydrangea flowers have been cut in two shades of pink.

It is then easy to assemble. Cut the border out from the sheet on the Marjolein Bastin Summer pad, attach to the card blank (I trimmed a little off an 8 x8" card) and then fix the image and arrange the diecut hydrangeas - all made using the Signature Dies Hydrangea and finally add a few butterflies, again from the pad - see easy peasy!