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
Oct282014

You make my life sparkle

This is such a sweet image – it reminds me of a slightly older version of my granddaughter Grace, she is still too wobbly to walk efficiently but is giving it a good try!

The innocence of the little girl touching the icicle is charming I think and would make a nice Christmas card (yes we do have to address this issue!) or a winter birthday card or perhaps a wintery anytime card just for a friend?

The card measures 7 inches square and you will need either a snowflake punch or some snowflake dies to make some white snowflakes. The image is lightly decoupaged with just one layer and comes from our Donald Zolan cardmaking pad, which contains lots of delightful images.

Layered and twisted onto sparkly card it soon builds to this lovely design. The sentiments and the small circular design are also from the sheet.

 

 

Friday
Oct242014

A sign of the times…  

If you live in Devon, you can get a bit obsessed with signposts. We still have lots of lovely old-fashioned white fingerposts at junctions in our narrow lanes displaying what we often refer to as ‘the Devon mile’ – a curious ‘elastic’ measurement. Let me explain. You set off following a fingerpost that says ‘Stokeinteignhead 3¼’ miles and then, after driving a good couple of miles, you’ll find another one that says Stokeinteignhead 2½’ miles. You frown, scratch your head and go on for another two or so until you come to another signpost that says ‘Stokeinteignhead 2¼’. You will get to your destination on the end, but a Devon mile is a funny thing and usually much longer than you expect…

Traditional direction signs, or 'fingerposts', are as English as red post boxes and the old-fashioned red telephone box and very much part of the ‘traditional’ English look’ that so many foreign visitors love to see. These days, many fingerposts are falling into disrepair but, where they do still survive, they come in a wide variety of regional and local designs. Some have finials on the top, others have proper pointing ‘hands’ like white gloves, while others even have lanterns on the top. Amazingly, the oldest fingerpost, in the Cotswolds, dates from 1699!

To try and standardise this mishmash of designs, in the 1920s the Ministry of Transport stated that direction signs should use standard black upper case lettering on a white background and specified that the name of the authority should also appear in the design. While following these guidelines, local authorities still had plenty of leeway over the exact design of posts, arms and finials and this led to a wide variety of local styles.

Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall boasted red posts with white lettering (no one is sure why!) while others had finials in the form of discs, rings, balls and pyramids marked with county names and sometimes even a map grid references. Over the years, further reviews have been carried out to try and standardise the signs, and again, local authorities were encouraged, but not forced, to remove traditional fingerposts. But, as is so often the case in this wonderfully eccentric country of ours, they wanted to maintain their regional identities, so did nothing. And that’s why there are still lots of weirdly designed fingerposts pointing all over the country to this day.

Being an old romantic, I think it will be a sad day when fingerposts eventually disappear and all anyone does is listen to their boring old sat nav bossing them about. In the Westountry we have wonderful, romantic place names – as well as some really funny ones. I still get a thrill when I drive past signs in Cornwall to ‘Demelza’, the name of a village borrowed by Winston Graham for the heroin of his Poldark books – and a steamy TV drama from my teens (Robin Ellis in tight breeches!!)! And on a back road way down in the south of Cornwall, you’ll come across one of my absolute favourite signs pointing to ‘Frenchman’s Creek’, the setting for, and name of, the impossibly romantic historical novel by Daphne Du Maurier.

Long may the fingerpost continue to show us the way!

 

 

Tuesday
Oct212014

Dad’s Shed!

Sheds are wonderful things – you can make a little craft haven, leave a pile of junk in them, turn them into private pubs or just keep nice organised gardening tools in them. There was a great programme on recently called “Shed of the Year” and I watched it avidly, such a diverse collection of eccentric shed owners that loved their sheds and had a passion in their lives.

This plaque was made as a sample for us by Jo Channon and has a great combination of techniques. The plain MDF plaque is from our website. Then it was crackle finished (again from the website) and the pansies were added by doing some napkin decoupage, peel the top tissue layer from 3 ply napkins and it’s amazing what you can create.

Then lots of antiquing – you can use inkpads or coloured wax, the choice is yours. Finally add some 3D decoupage from the Jane Shasky decoupage pack and some bakers twine and garden string. The letters can be die cut and varnished – bought as stickers/peeloffs or whatever appeals to you most

This makes a fabulous man’s present – but by altering the words you could easily create a super gift for a gardener, or something equally lovely for a crafter.

Friday
Oct172014

Excitement in the hen house!

Top: The new girls arrive! Second down, left to right - Dahlia, Iris and Lavender. Third down, there's safety in numbers...! Bottom - Edith, left, and Bunty on the right.There’s lots of activity in the chicken coop this week at my hen pal and partner in crime writing, Julia’s house. She takes up the story…

I’ve kept chickens for years, even though I don’t much like eggs – weird, I know! But I do love hens and their companionable cluckings and burblings add an extra dimension to working or sitting and relaxing in the garden with a cup of tea. Their eggs are lovely to cook with as the yolks are bright orange. They are also a great bartering tool in exchange for plants and vegetables, and they also make a popular gift when visiting someone who normally only gets supermarket eggs.

My flock had dwindled to two very old specimens – ‘Specky’ a six-year-old Speckled hen and ‘Dino’ a nine-year-old Barnevelder. The latter, poor thing, was christened ‘The Dinosaur bird’ by my cheeky godchildren as she does have a bit of the pterodactyl about her. 

When rebuilding the flock I specifically wanted Orpington hens, as they are big, fluffy and very docile. The three I’d had previously had all been delightful and laid well. I also wanted some more Cream Legbars. These attractive little hens lay blue eggs and have a very distinctive character. The last one I had was expert at screaming, slightly neurotic and bit of a bully, but she laid the most wonderful blue eggs, right up until she died, aged eight.

After many emails and phone calls, I tracked down some young Orpingtons about 30 miles away. I set off, intent on buying two. These beautiful birds had been bred from a buff coloured cockerel and a red coloured hen, resulting in a vivid apricot colour. Somehow, I came home with three – how did that happen…?

Next, I found some Cream Legbars, 40 miles in the opposite direction… Devon is a big county! This time I had my Other Half with me, so sneaking in an extra hen was never on the cards. We picked two very lively girls, of slightly different colouring and, after a bit of a tussle, put them in the carry crate in the car. While there, the poultry breeders showed us some of their more ‘fancy’ fowl -  Frizzle Polands and Silkies. We had never seen the like! They looked like creations from the Muppets! 

The Cream Legbars squawked, shrieked and trilled all the way home (the Orpingtons had been silent!), but now they are all in the run together and seem to be getting along quite well. There is always a degree of bullying – people are often surprised at how savage chickens can be towards each other – but so far, all is going well. Dino is definitely keeping her ‘top bird’ status and keeping the young pretenders in their place.

I have decided to name the new hens after characters from our novels. The Orpingtons are named after the Drew triplets, so we have Dahlia, Iris and Lavender, while the Cream Legbars are called Edith (the dark one) and Bunty (the pale one).

Although chickens tend not to lay much in winter, we are hopeful of a few eggs before it turns really cold and dark. I’ll keep you posted… and if we get some eggs, I’ll pass them over to Joanna so she can use them to produce an amazing cake or two!

Aren't these the most amazingly exotic little beauties...?

Tuesday
Oct142014

Happy hydrangeas!

One of my favourite plants is the hydrangea. All summer long they give wonderful shape and colour to the garden, but the lovely extra gift they give is in the autumn when the flowers take on that dusky soft look and best of all they last and last!

Before the frost gets them and causes nasty discolouration, choose a dry day (or should that be a dry moment in the day!) and pick the flowers with nice long stems. Then either hang them upside down in small bunches tied with elastic bands (if you use string the shrinking stems can fall onto the floor) or what I tend to do is arrange the stems in a jug or basket and just leave them to dry.

I have had a lovely big basket filled with hydrangeas on my fireplace for a year and now I can replace them with this year's new crop. The old ones I will attack with a sparkly gold aerosol and do something pretty for Christmas.

As you can see from the photo, hydrangeas come in many different varieties. They almost all dry well, perhaps the lace cap hydrangeas are the least successful, but have a go at any of the others.... Have fun!