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
Sep162014

Holly Lady

OK, OK, I know... it’s not Christmas yet... but surely you have vaguely thought about it? My mother was asking when I could get her cards finished as she wanted to start writing the letters that go inside them, so yes, I seriously do have to start planning Christmas!

This pretty lady reminds me of my Mum about 70 years ago when she was young, we have a wonderful picture of her in the cloakroom as part of a family gallery – it’s a great way to use up the masses of sepia and black and white pictures I have.

This card relies quite heavily on Signature dies for its embellishments and if you haven’t had a browse through that section of our website yet, there are certainly plenty to see!

The lady herself is from our Victorian Christmas Triple CD which usefully is on offer at half price just at the moment, so might be a worthwhile investment. The torn strip of parchment across the card adds a lovely snowy type feel doesn’t it? So come on have you started your cards yet?

Friday
Sep122014

Vinegar – magic in a bottle!

I was rummaging in the slightly chaotic kitchen cupboard where I keep my vinegars, herbs and spices when I discovered that I had about ten different bottles of vinegar of varying antiquity. There, alongside my favourite balsamic, were also bottles of apple, red wine, white wine, cider, white and malt vinegars, plus a couple of others too tattered to identify. I’d obviously bought different types of vinegar for different recipes over the years and then not used them again. Never being one to waste anything if I can help it, I started Googling vinegar and its uses and, as so often happens with the internet, was amazed at all the fascinating things I discovered!

Laundry
Did you know you can clean your washing machine with vinegar? No, neither did I! If you pour 450ml of white distilled vinegar into the dispenser and then run a full cycle, without clothes or detergent, it will clean out soap scum and disinfect the washing machine.

White vinegar, either distilled or full strength, is also amazingly useful for removing stains. I found too many to list them all here, but to give you an idea, white vinegar can tackle bloodstains, ink, rust, orange juice, black coffee and beer! 

Cleaning
I think most of us know that vinegar is useful for cleaning windows and you can also buy household cleaners based on vinegar. But why not try making your own?  Simply fill a recycled spray bottle with 2 parts water to I part distilled white vinegar and a couple of drops of washing up liquid for a quick clean solution.

Outdoors
As we seem to be enjoying a bit of an Indian summer, you might still manage the odd BBQ, or lunch outside. To keep flying insects at bay, you can place bowl filled with apple cider vinegar near some food, but away from your guests, and by the end of the day you’ll find lots of uninvited guests floating in the bowl!

Health & beauty
The healthy and beauty benefits of apple cider vinegar seem to be endless! From constipation to corns and from arthritis to warts it seems to be a cure-all. If you look online, or consult a reference book you’ll find lots of suggestions on how to use apple cider vinegar. Here are just a couple I came across: 

  • If you suffer from arthritis, try placing 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar and honey in a glass of water, and stir vigorously, then drink. This mixture is said to help relieve pain.
  • If you have warts, put apple cider vinegar on a plaster and wrap over the wart. Replace the plaster each night and, after about a week, the wart will have gone!

Vinegar has been revered throughout the ages – it is mentioned many times in the Bible. The Romans used it, as did Hannibal, and it came to the rescue in all sorts of ways in the Middle Ages, not least as a protection against the germs of the Black Death. So, the next time you put it some malt vinegar on your chips (naughty!) or more healthily some balsamic on your salad remember, there’s a lot more to vinegar than just a nice taste!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Sep092014

Last of the Summer Strawberries

This card reminds me that summer is just about over really – and it’s been fun. Well it could have been even more fun if the lovely weather had lasted a little longer, but we have had some seriously tasty strawberries and soft fruit this year so maybe I’ll focus on the good things!

Whether you are making a card for a summer birthday or any other season, strawberries are always a smiley image for me. They remind me of long summer days, Wimbledon, holidays and cream teas – all lovely things to think about!

The main image on this card comes from the One Summer’s Day CD, which contains the artwork of Barbara Mock. The jam jar is stamped, there are lots of jar stamps that have been produced over the past years, or you could try just cutting a jar shape freehand, it’s not too hard.

The combination of a doily, pretty ribbon and strawberries is always going to be a winner!

 

 

Friday
Sep052014

Yesterday’s junk is tomorrow’s collectable!

What makes things go in and out of fashion? Why do we hate lava lamps one decade, and regard them as retro and hip the next? Why did I once decorate a wall with cork floor tiles? And whatever possessed any of us to wear loon pants?! Yesterday’s junk so often becomes tomorrow’s most collectable ‘must have’ and if only we could predict these trends we’d all be very rich!

A current fad, and one that I must admit I rather like, is ‘kitchenalia’ – basically our mothers’ and grandmothers’ kitchen gadgets, crockery and utensils. Who would have thought chipped enamel colanders would be highly prized, or that old pieces of blue and white striped Cornishwear would sell for small fortunes? 

I have found myself in various retro shops recently, all selling things that I binned years ago – and selling them for far more than they originally cost. It’s enough to make you weep! Joking aside, it’s rather lovely seeing such things again as they instantly bring back memories. An old metal flour dredger – my Mother rolling out pastry. A set of pastry forks – afternoon tea at my Grandmother’s. A ‘vintage retro shabby metal baking tray’ – hang on, I’ve still got one of those! If you have a look on ebay, there are some lovely old items, but there are also some hilarious ones where people think they really can sell anything. I have to tell you that at the time of writing this, the ‘vintage retro shabby metal baking tray’ (battered, grubby and not that old!) was on sale for £7.50!

Old-fashioned kitchen scales are rather lovely – they look great and are still perfectly serviceable. Stoneware jars make lovely ornaments, we were lucky enough to find some in our loft when we moved here and I like their colour and solidity, but useful – they are not! I think it will take me a while to come round to wanting a stainless steel tea service, but you never know... You might yet see me in a pair of loon pants again one day!

I wonder what it is that brings things back into fashion, or how old they have to be to become ‘antique’? What do you think? What do you predict will be the next ‘big thing’? What old bits of junk have you got that you are hanging onto in case they become highly-prized?

PS. My latest novel ‘A Violet Death’ features quite a bit of kitchenalia – now there’s a coincidence!

 

Tuesday
Sep022014

Cut flowers – one of summer’s many pleasures

Wandering around the garden with a pair of scissors, snipping here and snipping there, is a bit of an August treat for me.

While some people are expert flower arrangers, or just have a natural flair, others just plonk flowers in a vase. But it doesn’t matter what level of skill you have, truly, as decorating the house with flowers from your own garden is one of summer’s many pleasures.

How and when to pick your flowers

  • Don’t pick flowers in the heat of the day, as they will quickly wilt. Pick last thing at night or first thing in the morning.
  • Don’t try to arrange your flowers straight way. Instead, stick them into a bucket of tepid water and allow them to recover for a few hours or overnight. This will prolong their vase life.
  • Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem – you don’t want any leaves left below the water level, as they will rot. If there are fewer leaves there is less demand on the stem and the flower is less likely to flop.
  • When picking annuals and biennials take out the leading shoot by cutting just above a side branch with a bud. This will encourage more flowers.
  • The more you cut some annuals, such as sweet peas (one of my absolute favourites!), the more flowers the plant will produce.
  • Take care with lilies – I think we probably all know this, but I’ll say it again – the pollen can stain hands, clothing and upholstery and is poisonous to pets.

Even a very simple arrangement can look stunning. I remember going to a very ‘laid back’ wedding reception that was held in a barn. They had two long tables covered with gingham cloths and the only table decoration were rows of jam jars filled with hedgerow flowers barely arranged, just left to tumble and froth as nature intended - and the effect was enchanting!

Here, I’ve used a plain glass vase - but it could just as well be a large jar, and a zinc bucket, for a more rustic look. To start off, place the flowers in your vase stem by stem and vary the heights. You will need some tall – two or three times the height of your vase – and some shorter stems for support. Don’t be tempted to overfill the vase as this can make the arrangement look cramped. Add foliage such as a favourite grass or leaf stem to give an interesting contrast. 

The important thing is not to worry too much about creating the perfect arrangement. Too neat is not a good look, go for ‘natural’. A pretty vase and plenty of colour are really all that is needed. And if the flowers are fragrant that’s an added bonus.

Have fun!