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
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!

Friday
Oct102014

Wise words on owls...

It’s not everyday you see a photo of someone cuddling three large and fluffy baby barn owls! But that’s what my partner in crime writing, Julia, saw on her Facebook feed recently. Interest piqued, she phoned her old school friend Lynn (the owl cuddler!) and asked her what the story was behind the photo…

Top to bottom: Lynn and her gorgeous fluffy owl chicks, the owl nest box, and owl man, Steven Piotrowski, ringing one of the chicks.Lynn and her husband Colin, live in the wilds of Suffolk. Colin loves birds and is extremely knowledgeable about them. As a child, his family lived near the RSPB Minsmere Nature Reserve and the local Rector, a keen and knowledgeable birder, would often take the local children to visit, and Colin got the bug!

The decline in the barn owl population has been well publicised and, while many of us were concerned about it, Colin and Lynn decided to do something practical to help. For his birthday in March a couple of years ago, Lynn presented Colin with an owl nest box. They put the nest box in a suitable tree and waited… and waited… 

Exactly a year later, on Colin’s birthday, they saw a barn owl enter the nest box and were thrilled when the pair laid eggs and the young owls fledged. Sadly, the youngsters did not make it through the following hard winter. 

This year has been exceptionally good for birds and many people have reported garden birds producing two and even three broods. But barn owls tend to nest only in the spring, and this year, there had been no activity in their nest box. So, when Lynn saw a barn owl fly into the box in September, she didn’t hold out much hope. But it seems the young pair checking out the nest site were keen to produce their second family of the year and, to Colin and Lynn’s amazement, they spotted six eggs in the box. This resulted in the three gorgeous fluffy female chicks in the photo.

Local Suffolk owl expert, Steven Piotrowski, has given help and advice to Colin and Lynn, and he recently came along to ring the chicks. He also weighed and measured them to help monitor how they get along in adult life.

It’s not all plain sailing for the owls, or for the anxious nest box owners! Jackdaws, well known for their habit of gathering sticks, often pile them up inside nest boxes which can trap the parent owls and youngsters. Colin keeps a close eye on the box and, in the first year had to empty it of sticks no less than 23 days running – a fact regularly quoted by Steven Piotrowski when giving talks about the trials of protecting barn owls!

Lynn reports that the largest chick is just about ready to fly, so fingers crossed they all mature and go on to breed and keep these beautiful birds in our countryside.

 

Tuesday
Oct072014

Dramatic Couture!

How about a really over the top card for a fashion loving friend or family member? These images come from the CD featuring Janet Kruskamp – the collection. Janet has the most amazingly diverse range of things she paints and sketches and these are something wonderfully different.

This is a particularly large card measuring about 11.5” x 8” – but obviously you could take this idea and create something much smaller if you didn’t want to be quite so dramatic!

The corners can be achieved several ways – you could use something as easy as a punch, a die – even good old peeloffs. So mat your backing paper onto some black card. Add the corners and then mount all of that onto an antique gold card blank. This size of card blank would be something you would do yourself and is easiest with A3 card.

Then arrange the toppers with different couture designs, decoupage the outfits to add height to the card and then add a wonderfully grand ribbon bow. The hat pins are then tucked into the bow and glued in place with glue gel.

Have fun!