Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 30 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, walking on Dartmoor, 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 share 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!

Light my fire!

This welcoming fire is in a cosy Cornish pub!

I know it hasn’t been that cold this winter, but it’s been so wet and miserable I think we can all do with a bit of treat now and again. Sitting in front of a log fire, or a log burner has to be classed as a real winter treat! While not all of us have real fires, we all seem to love it when we enter an ‘olde worlde’ pub and see logs blazing in the grate. We are lucky here in the Westcountry as there are plenty of such pubs about.

Sadly, I’ve always found that the romantic ideal of putting a match to the kindling and settling back with a book and a glass of wine on the sofa (oh and with Richard of course!) while it blazes away is very far from reality. Lighting a fire is an art… and an art that has so far escaped both of us!

Sofa, wine, fire… perfect!

There is always much debate about what is the best way to light a fire. Should you use firelighters (smelly), or is that cheating? Everyone has their own idea about how best to do it, but after extensive research online and consultation with some friends who are successful firelighters, this is my definitive guide:

  1. Make sure the grate is clean, so sweep away any ash from the hearth if it is an open fire or if a log burner, clean out the tray. You need airflow to get the fire going, flames feed on oxygen.
  2. Scrunch up balls of newspaper and lay them in the grate. Don’t skimp, and make sure the paper is dry. Some people swear by making the newspaper into a tube and then knotting it – I am told this is a lot of faff and makes no difference!
  3. Plenty of kindling and newspaper are essential.

    Place very dry pieces of kindling onto the newspaper. Kindling is small pieces of wood or twigs that are essential to get the fire going. Again, don’t skimp on these, and poke them in amongst the newspaper to ensure a good base.

  4. Place a couple of well-seasoned logs (small to medium-sized, don’t swamp it with a whopper) on top of the pile and then light the newspaper with a match. If you are using a log burner, close the door, and make sure the vents are open to draw in the air.

Ta-da! That should be the perfect recipe for a blazing fire! If it doesn’t work either paper or wood are very probably damp, in which case… cheat, and use a firelighter or go and have a hot bath, or simply snuggle up under the duvet!

PS. Don’t throw your ash away, mix it into your compost!

 

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Thomas Kinkade’s beautiful skies

I chose to group these cards together to show off Thomas Kinkade’s talent when he painted skies. The light and the effects are just stunning, aren’t they?

He produced several pictures of boats and maritime-themed images but the central windmill scene is one of my favourite skies in the latest collection we have produced. These are from the Thomas Kinkade Pad 5 and Pad 6.

Judging by the hugely enthusiastic response we have had to the latest couple of Thomas Kinkade pads, the concept of mixing backing papers and images in the same pad is going to be a good ongoing idea.

You can see three of the papers included in the pads here – the stripes to the left and a couple of lovely cloudy skies. I do find it convenient having reached for the pad, almost everything I need is there at my fingertips! I am talking to the powers that be at Thomas Kinkade’s management team and hopefully we will have four new pads coming out in the next six months, including some very pretty Christmas ones.

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Are there fairies at the bottom of your garden?

The ‘real’ fairy house Julia found on Dartmoor!

Your response to my recent Fairy Doors products shows just how popular these little folk are! Even in 2018, there are signs of fairy life as discovered by my partner in crime writing, Julia, when she moved to a new village on Dartmoor. On one of her first exploratory walks with her dog, Moss, she came across two wooden fairy doors in the base of a living tree. Fascinated, she has kept her eye on this magical phenomenon as she passes the tree at least once a week… She has seen tiny figures come and go, little offerings left at Christmas and Easter, and coins pressed into cracks in the tree’s bark. Yet, she has never seen anyone else nearby…!

Intrigued, I decided to have a scoot about online and see what other fairy evidence I could come up with…

Most of us think of fairies as beautiful, tiny creatures, flitting about on gossamer wings, – but history and folklore tell a different tale. When belief in fairies was common most people didn’t dare mention them by name and referred to them as the Little People or the Hidden People. Many explanations have been given for belief in fairies. Some say that they are like ghosts, spirits of the dead, or fallen angels, neither bad enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven. There are hundreds of different kinds of fairies – some are minute creatures, others grotesque – some can fly, and all can appear and disappear at will.

Sometimes the term fairy is used to describe any magical creature, including goblins or gnomes, while at others it describes a specific type of more ethereal creature or sprite. As so often happens when I look into ‘traditions’, I find that the Victorians are largely responsible! They were the ones who made fairies tiny and twee… resulting in fairy tales for children. It was during the Victorian and Edwardian eras when fairies were extremely popular that winged fairies became the norm. In folklore, wings were very rare and even tiny fairies flew by magic, sometimes flying on ragwort stems or the backs of birds.

Hobgoblins are guardian fairies – they are the useful ones that secretly come and do housework and odd jobs around the house. Unfortunately, they never seem to come and visit me! In Aberdeenshire, Scotland they are hideous to look at, they have no separate toes or fingers and in the Scottish Lowlands, they have a hole instead of a nose. Banshees are less common and more sinister, they usually only appear to foretell a tragedy. Goblins and Bug-a-boos are always malignant – and we should avoid them if possible!

Most of the nature fairies are probably descendants of pre-Christian gods and goddesses or are the spirits of trees and streams. Black Annis, a blue-faced hag, haunts the Dane Hills in Leicestershire and Gentle Annie who governs storms in the Scottish lowlands, are believed to be descended from the Celtic goddess Danu, mother of Ireland’s cave fairies. Mermaids and mermen, river spirits and spirits of pools, are the most common nature fairies.

A famous fairy story

One of the most famous fairy stories, and the photos that we have probably all seen was of the Cottingley Fairies who appeared in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford. In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 and Frances was 9. The pictures came to the attention of world-famous writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he of Sherlock Holmes fame), who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed – some accepted the images as genuine, but others believed they had been faked.

Interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually faded after 1921. Both girls married and lived abroad for a time after they grew up, yet the photographs continued to hold the public imagination. In 1966 a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper traced Elsie, who had by then returned to the UK. She left open the possibility that she believed she had photographed her thoughts, and the media once again became interested in the story and I can remember reading about it myself and wishing the photos were genuine.

In the early 1980s Elsie and Frances, by then very old ladies, finally admitted that the photographs were faked, using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children’s book of the time, but Frances maintained that the fifth and final photograph was genuine. The photographs and two of the cameras used are on display in the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

How extraordinary that such a hoax could go on for so long, even deceiving Sherlock Holmes’ creator. It just goes to prove how many of us dearly wanted to believe it was genuine and to believe in fairies… do you?

 

 

 

 

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The chandelier – a touch of glamour in the gloom…

Goodness – I am glad to see the back of January – what a wet and miserable month it has been. February is our shortest month… so before we know it we’ll be in March and spring will be well underway! In an attempt to avoid the gloomy weather, I’ve been distracting myself with some very fanciful ‘window shopping’ although these days, it’s more a case of ‘screen shopping’ as I sit in front of my laptop. I have been cheering myself up rummaging around websites full of lovely bits and pieces for the home. Do I need anything new? Of course not, but it’s fun to look and it’s free!

A snazzy pink number from Next.

One of the areas that seems to have undergone a massive change in the last couple of years is lighting, both indoor and out. Solar powered fairy lights are brilliant and mean we can all light up our gardens without any need for an electrician or any DIY skills at all and they are quite cheap to buy too and cost nothing to run… although it’s true they do need sunshine to charge! For interiors, there are some absolutely stunning lights around and metallic effects seem to be very ‘in’ at the moment and there are some lovely copper lampshades and light fittings to be had. Copper is lovely and warm and would give a soft light for winter.

A dramatic smokey style from B&Q!

But if you want to really ‘go for it’… what about a chandelier? Years ago, a chandelier was the height of opulence and only really wealthy people with large, high ceilinged rooms could have them. But not any more! There are some terrific ones available now from as little as £20 and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Dunelm, B&Q and Next (to name but a few) have an amazing range and most of them just fit onto your light fitting like a normal lampshade. Their twinkling light cannot help but cheer up the dreariest winter day.

Originally, chandeliers were made from expensive materials such as rock crystal and bronze so they were well beyond the means of anyone except royalty. The name ‘chandelier’ comes from the French ‘chandelle’, which means candleholder. It was that modest monarch, Louis XIV of France, who really bought into the chandelier when he filled the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles with them. It must have been the most breath-taking sight in an age (1600s) long before electric light, and when the soft glow of a few candles in a candelabra was normally all you could have of an evening. Louis’ massive crystal chandeliers were themselves lit by candles, but their light was reflected both by the thousands of crystals and the mirrors on the walls so it must have been an absolutely dazzling spectacle – can you imagine!

What an amazing spectacle the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles must have been, lit by hundreds of candles, their light reflected thousands of times.

Murano glass tends to be a very ‘Marmite’ design, either loved or loathed!

During the 18th century, glassblowers developed more elaborate creations with bevels and facets. Then the Venetian glassblowers of Murano got their hands on the chandelier and transformed it, yet again, into a sprouting profusion of flower-festooned stems and leaves. You can still buy this style of chandelier made in Murano, but they will set you back a bit!

After candles came gaslights and then electricity and the chandelier has continued to evolve. The development of plastics and Perspex in any shape and colour today gives us inexpensive chandeliers that are lightweight and just plain fun. And why not? I’d quite like a natty little aqua blue one to hang in the bathroom… but I’m waiting for just the moment to suggest this to Richard!

 

 

 

 

 

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Fairies at the bottom of the garden?

I just love the idea that little winged people might be happily living near our stream and willow tree, or in the roses and, of course, in their little toadstool houses behind their fairy doors! OK, Joanna enough of the fantasy. Regardless of whether you do believe in fairies or not, they are still a fun subject to use on a card!

Last week we launched the fairy doors on Create and Craft and I really enjoyed demonstrating the cards. Here are some of the samples to inspire you – whether you use a door or not!

There’s a fun selection here from something as simple (and useful) as a bookmark, an embroidery hoop and of course some toadstools. I created the miniature card and it’s something I would do again as it was such a pleasing little result. You could use this as a gift card, put a message behind the door or just make somebody smile!

We all, (and I am more guilty than most) tend to focus on cards that are at least 6” square – I love 7″ and 8” square cards as well as 8 x 6” etc etc. Maybe we should have a break and give miniature cards a go? They take fewer materials, look really cute and still have the desired effect of making the recipient happy.

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