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
Sep012015

Famous quotes

This card is a slightly different look for us! Here you have a fabulous quote – from Sheena Douglas’ Only Words stamps, through the rain. But if you don’t have that stamp then you could use any quotes either printed or stamped. Why not put a few words like ‘Happy Birthday To You‘ or whatever – the choice is yours, that’s why making your cards is such fun!

The basic card is 6 inches square in cream with a layer of burgundy card on top.

The frame has been embossed using another Sheena product, her dry stone wall textures folder. That pretty edged square is created by using a Spellbinders Majestic Elements Labels One die that has been distressed a bit with a some Old Paper distress ink.

The embellishments were simple – the black sprays are from our Signature die called leafy flourish and then the Signature die Tudor Rose on top.

Times have changed so much since the arrival of embossing folders and dies. I still love making cards with gorgeous pictures on, but it is nice to have the choice of all these dies and goodies!

Friday
Aug282015

Night-scented delights…

When you get the chance to sit outside on a warm summer’s evening (OK, let’s just draw a veil over this summer and plan ahead!) enjoying a BBQ with friends, or reading, or perhaps just dozing and enjoying the night air, what could be more wonderful than the subtle fragrance from night-scented flowers enhancing your experience?

Some plants, such as roses, offer up their scent during the heat of the day while others, such as rosemary, release their fragrance only when their leaves have been disturbed. And then there are those plants that hold onto their scent during the day, only releasing it when the sun has gone and the cooler evening has arrived. These are the night-scented plants.

Why do some plants only release their scent after dark? The reason is pretty logical really – to attract night-time pollinators such as moths and beetles. The scent acts as a guide for the insects, they follow it direct to the plant in search of nectar. For this same reason the flowers of night-scented plants tend to be pale, often white, as this makes them easier for the insects to see in the dark.

These night-scented plants need to be positioned where you will most get the benefit. There is little point in planting them in a part of the garden that won’t be visited after dusk. So, plant them in beds and pots close to your patio, along paths and next to doors.

Do bear in mind that these plants are doing all they can to attract moths… so if you don’t like moths, don’t plant them!

Night-scented plants include:

 

  • Nicotiana Evening Fragrance – A mix of pink, red, lilac, purple and white trumpet-like flowers
  • Night-scented Stock – Delicate stems of small lilac flowers.
  • Hesperis – Commonly known as “sweet rocket” with clusters of small white flowers.
  • Evening Primrose – Large single yellow flowers.
  • Night Phlox – A profusion of small delicate flowers above lance-shaped leaves
  • Jasminum Officinale – White-flowered jasmine producing very fragrant flowers

Pictured, from the top: Nicotiana Evening Fragrance, Night-scented Stock, Hesperis, Evening Primrose, Night Phlox and Jasminum Officinale.

 

Tuesday
Aug252015

Drying herbs and more!

Fresh herbs next to the dehydrator.I’ve got such a glut of herbs at the moment – I couldn’t use them all in my cooking if I were feeding the five thousand. So I’m going to be preserving them for the grumpy days of winter when something tasty might bring a smile!

I have a very old and over used dehydrator, in my pressed and dried flower days I used it constantly for things like decorative orange slices and little bunches of herbs or lavender. I have to admit I have never used it properly – ie to make things like beef jerky (yuk) or dehydrate fruit (too busy eating it). But it is going to come in handy for drying a lot of the herbs I have in mind.

I drink a lot of peppermint tea and my good old mint is running riot everywhere – three different varieties and I currently pay a fortune for the Teapigs brand of peppermint tea. So putting all those facts together... I am going to make my own herbal teas for a change.

Herbs after they have been dried.Now if you are thinking ‘well fine but I have no dehydrator’ that’s ok too as you can dry the herbs by bunching them with an elastic band and hanging them up to dry – don’t use string or ribbon as the stalks shrink and it all falls on the floor. You can also freeze herbs – I have done this by open freezing – ie spreading the chopped leaves on a baking dish and freezing them, then storing in the freezer in a plastic box. Another option is to chop finely and fill a plastic ice cube tray, fill it up with water and add an ice cube’s worth of that herb to soups or casseroles etc.

If you are thinking about a dehydrator there are a huge number of dehydrator bargains on Amazon reduced to £30 or so. Anyway, all I have done here is to spread cut sprigs of herb onto the trays and then switch onto low-medium for a few hours, checking occasionally.

So look out – there may well be a lot of herby recipes on the blog during the winter!

Friday
Aug212015

The Great British Bake Off effect

Paul and Mary – as comfortable as a Victoria sponge! Photo BBC.Almost everyone you speak to loves the Great British Bake Off! But what is it that makes watching a group of unknown people struggle to create cakes and pies and breads in a very large tent such compelling TV? How did the idea ever get off the ground?

I absolutely love watching it, but I was already a huge Mary Berry fan, but even friends who don’t really like cakes seem addicted to it as well. Sales of cake tins, icing bags and food processors have gone through the roof and supermarkets and shops instantly sell out of unusual ingredients when they are featured in an episode. The programme seems to bring people together, is inspiring and has put the ‘home’ back into home baking. Children all over the country are now happy to be in the kitchen and being creative with their parents – and that surely all has to be a good thing. 

This year's bakers. Photo BBC.I read recently that the people who created the programme took four years to be able to sell the idea to a TV company. And fortunately for all of us, it was a lady at BBC2 who finally understood the concept. I hadn’t realised, but the whole thing was inspired by the fact that there’s a baking competition at every summer fete in Britain – so obvious when you think about it! And, of course, summer fetes are held in marquees… so that’s why The Great British Bake Off is filmed in an enormous tent!

When I was writing my first novel, ‘A Sticky End’, with my pen pal Julia, the local cake baking competition was a key theme in the book – little had I realised how closely aligned it was to the Great British Bake Off! Perhaps we missed a trick there and could have got Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood along to be a guest judge? No? Oh well… just a thought.

Inside the famous Bake Off tent! Photo BBC.The current series seems to be shaping up really well and I have already been wowed by some of the bakes, and giggled over some of the others that haven’t gone quite as planned! I love the whole ‘feel’ of the show, it is so comforting and British, rather like a jolly good Victoria sponge – sweet, delicious and light and fluffy!

So what are your thoughts on the current series? Who do you think looks a likely winner?

PS. Talking of my novels… book three in the Swaddlecombe series is n-e-a-r-l-y there! I will keep you posted on when it will be published.

 

Tuesday
Aug182015

House-Mouse and Freesias

This is one of my favourite House-Mouse designs – not that I don’t love them all! This has been cleverly themed with our freesia Signature die.

It’s one of my standard 8 x 8 inch cards – and the backing paper which also features freesias comes from the House Mouse Decoupage CD.

So apart from that lovely little bunch of die-cut freesias which have been coloured with Promarkers, the other really pretty embellishment is created using our Signature die called Harriet, the edges are just tipped with some ink from a Dusty Concord Distress pad.

For me House-Mouse never gets old!