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
May262015

Cherry Almond Scones

These make a fun change from plain scones – I would always suggest clotted cream and maybe cherry jam with them but you could just use real butter to sandwich them together.

This would make a very popular teatime treat – I always think it’s fun to do something old–fashioned like a proper afternoon tea!

450g self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
125g butter at room temperature
85g caster sugar
170g chopped glacé cherries
1 large free range egg
A few drops of almond essence (buy good quality)
6 to 7fl oz milk (full fat is good)

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Butter a large baking tray or a couple of smaller ones.

Sift the flour and baking soda into a large bowl. Rub in the butter until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.   Stir in the sugar and cherries. Now add the beaten egg, almond essence and enough of the milk to make a soft dough, but not too sticky. Knead lightly until smooth. Pat out on a floured board to a thickness of about ½”. Cut into rounds with a sharp 2” cutter. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until well risen, firm and golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool before serving. 

Makes about 20 or so 2” scones

Friday
May222015

Gardens as therapy…

May is a glorious month in the garden. Everything is really getting into full swing with lush greenery and plenty of flowers coming into bloom. When I look out at my garden I know that I am lucky – lucky that I have the space and (some) time to potter in it. I know many other people are not so fortunate. No matter how stressful life and work may become, I always feel better for a gentle stroll around the borders, pausing to admire a bloom or breathe in a gorgeous floral scent. For those few minutes in a busy day, I am outside, listening to bird song and getting a dose of fresh air – and it always makes me feel better.

My own little haven of peace - my garden in May. I am very lucky to have a stream running through the garden which is extremely restful...

I was interested to see both Gardeners’ World and some of the TV coverage of RHS Chelsea this week both talking about the importance of gardening and the therapeutic benefits that can be derived from it. And, after them making such a feature of it, it seems NHS GPs are all wanting to know how they can ‘prescribe’ gardening for their patients! It seems so obvious to me that I find all this sudden surge of interest slightly odd…

In its most formal sense, a therapeutic garden is: “An outdoor garden space specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the people using the garden as well as their carers, family members and friends.” Therapeutic gardens can be found in all sorts of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other healthcare and residential environments. The gardens can be designed to include practical features such as raised beds for people with mobility issues, or more gentle and relaxing uses such as quiet private sitting areas next to a small pond with a trickling waterfall.

Little Havens Children's Hospice garden created by Greenfingers – a wonderful design that must give so much joy to young patients and their families.A few years ago I remember being really upset while visiting an elderly relative in hospital and seeing the central courtyard of the building being no more than a weed-filled bit of scrub with a couple of broken plastic chairs in it. It was utterly depressing and so not what these poorly people needed. Eventually, it was taken over by a local charity and transformed into a beautiful green oasis appreciated by patients, visitors and staff alike. But how sad that it was allowed to get into such a state in the first place.

But times have changed, thank goodness, and now there is plenty of documented evidence that gardens and green spaces have a very positive effect on people’s mental and physical well being and the NHS and other medical bodies realise how important such ‘breathing space’ Is.

I turn to gardening as a way of calming my mind and the tangle of competing thoughts inside my head somehow clears and settles, and ideas that are barely formed take shape. I must confess, I often come up with some of the most ‘deadly’ plots for my novels when I am in the throes of deadheading!

Let’s face it, plants are much less frightening and challenging than people. Background noise falls away and you can escape from other people's thoughts and judgments so that within a garden, I think you have more freedom to feel good about yourself. 

Tuesday
May192015

Knitted granny square card

I just had to share this card with you all! It was sent to me by Sylvie Ashton who helps us design the lacier dies, Andy Carolan is the other part of our team but he is in charge of the less feminine choices!

What we were thinking about in designing the knitted square die was the brightly coloured squares many grandmothers knit to make blankets. The idea being you can run this through your machine using multiple colours and make your own miniature granny blanket!

Sylvie has taken this one step further and has used the die to cut felt instead of card and it gives this wonderful, almost knitted look, so much fluffier than card!

It’s a very simple card to make, the most important thing is to carefully remove the centrepiece of each square so that when you glue them on the card you can pop a different coloured middle into each square. The edging along the bottom is also cut out of felt – this uses the Harriet lace edger die.

One last point, Sylvie cut this on a Vagabond machine, if your machine is very old and worn as for example some trusty Cuttlebugs are, you might find cutting felt a little more challenging. I cut some using my Grand Calibur and that was fine. 

Friday
May152015

The peacock – something to be proud of?

The peacock is a mightily impressive bird, both admired and feared throughout the world. Not only does it have the most breathtakingly beautiful tail, or ‘train’ as it is called, enormous, dramatic and covered in iridescent ‘eyes’, it also emits the most terrifying scream said to be loud enough to wake the dead! I am always somewhat disappointed when I hear their call as such a beautiful bird should make a much more pleasant sound, but I digress…

I bought a rather lovely storage box online recently with a beautiful peacock design on it and, while searching for it, the number of peacock designs I came across, used on all sorts of products, was quite astonishing!

The blue peacock, or peafowl, that we see most often in this country, originates from India and Sri Lanka and is related, unsurprisingly, to the pheasant. While it would be natural to think their stunning train feathers contain vivid pigments – they don’t. It’s much more complex than that and involves ‘barbules’ – fibre-like components. Slight changes to the spacing of these barbules result in the different colours.

Peafowl – oh let's just call it a peacock and have done with it – are forest birds that nest on the ground, but roost in trees. They have an interesting diet and are omnivorous and eat mostly plant parts, flower petals, seed heads, insects, reptiles and even amphibians. Wild peacocks are not picky and will eat almost anything they can fit in their beaks and swallow! Domesticated peacocks have a slightly different and a more varied diet than their wild cousins. Sometimes they eat grass, different kinds of seed, flower petals, insects and whatever their owners feed them. This is usually similar to the food given to chickens, such as corn and oats and even cheese and rice. 

The peacock appears as an important symbol in many cultures and religions. In Christianity, the peacock symbolism represents the ‘all-seeing’ church, along with the holiness and sanctity associated with it. The peacock also represents resurrection, renewal and immortality within the spiritual teachings of Christianity.

Hindu mythology says the peacock is a magical sacred bird that’s often associated with the god of thunder, Indra. The story says that the peacock will dance when rain comes.

Chinese mythology sees the peacock rather differently to Hindus. They see it as a symbol of dignity and beauty and it is often associated with the resurrection of Christ according to Christian art. This is because the peacock will moult its tail feathers only for them to re-grow again later.

To many Europeans, the peacock is an evil bird, the ‘eyes’ in the tail feathers are related to the ‘evil eye’ and it’s a sign of impending doom to look upon them!

As a crafter, I find their colours entrancing and their shape and intricate feather design inspiring and versatile, while peacock blue is a definite favourite colour of mine. I just typed ‘peacock’ into our craft shop and found we have no less than 12 items listed… OK, so one of them is a peacock butterfly, but still…

Tuesday
May122015

The barn owl

I know lots of people love owls so I thought this might be a good theme for today’s blog. The image is from the Jane Netley Mayhew Digistamp CD and very beautiful he is too! They appear in black and white for you to colour in as well as in colour if you aren’t in a colouring mood!

This is a very simple card when it comes to ingredients – linen effect cream card, the sheet printed from the CD and then a Signature Die called Leafy Flourish. The panel in the middle of the card is still the cream linen effect card but it has been coloured or distressed using an Old Paper Tim Holtz distress pad. Just rub it gently over the surface of the textured paper and then wipe it over the edges too.

The die is used with three tones of brown card and the rest is simple. Remember to use a glue gel for your decoupage to get the best effect.

Have a happy crafting day!

Smiles, Joanna