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!

The all-conquering conker!

Conkers mean the arrival of Autumn.

I spotted a request for conkers from a friend’s mother on Facebook this morning. Was she about to stage a local conker championship or challenge her grandchildren to a match, I wondered? No… she was one of the many people who believe conkers can keep spiders out of their house! Hmmm, I thought, is there any truth in that, and are conkers good for anything else, other than looking lovely, confirming Autumn has arrived and entertaining kids in the playground.

Are conkers spider killers?

I hate to disappoint you, but there’s no proof this is true. The story goes that conkers contain a noxious chemical that repels spiders but no-one’s ever been able to scientifically prove it. Legend has it that if a spider gets close to a conker it will curl its legs up and die. Others say spiders will happily crawl over conkers with no ill effects at all. What do you think? Are you one of those people who have conkers strategically positioned around your house?

Bake a cake with conker flour?

Chestnuts, the edible ones!

Do not confuse horse chestnuts (conkers) with chestnuts, the latter is a pleasant and popular nut, the former is actually mildly poisonous! Despite this, I have read that those old stalwarts, the Victorians, wrote recipes for making conker flour. The seeds were shelled, ground and then leached to remove bitter flavours.

Conkers can cure sprains and bruises?

It is said that the horse chestnut is so named because its seeds were once used to treat ailments in horses. It has since been discovered that aescin, which can be extracted from conkers, has anti-inflammatory effects and is an effective remedy for sprains and bruises in humans.

Leave conkers in your wardrobe to deter moths

Horse chestnuts… the much less edible ones!

Is this another spider scam? It seems not. If moths are munching their way through your winter wardrobe then conkers could help stop the little critters. Conkers give off an aroma called triterpenoid that wards off pests. Place fresh conkers in among your clothes and as they dry out they emit the moth-repelling chemical. I shall be investigating this!

You can get clean with conker soap

Conkers contain saponins, which are soap-like chemicals that are sometimes added to shampoos and shower gels. It is believed that the Vikings (who were apparently surprisingly clean!) made their soap out of soaked, crushed up conkers. I’m not sure I shall be relaxing in a conker bath any time soon, but fascinating nonetheless!

 

 

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Happy Retirement!

Well, what I wonder is retirement these days? I suspect for me it will be something that may happen when I am too weak and feeble to lift an ink pad or fold a piece of card! However, some slightly more sensible people take time in their later years to relax, retire and either stay at home, move home, travel or take up new interests.

Having just had my 65thbirthday this weekend I am thinking back to when my mother and father were 65 and they moved down here to Devon to live a few houses away from us. For the next few years, they helped with parts of the business that they enjoyed (my mother made wondrous apple pies and homemade cakes), and they took nice breaks away and enjoyed their respective cooking and gardening pursuits.

If you have friends that are planning to retire or are newly retired, they too may opt for different retirement choices and choosing what to put on a card can range from Yay! No more work – to congratulating them on a move to a new house or perhaps celebrating the fact they are starting a brand new venture. Anything is possible at any age these days and just as we have entrepreneurs that are 14, so we can have successful new businesses started by 65-85 years olds!

These cards use the Bungalow and the Tudor Cottage from our recent range that combines all year round houses with Christmas as an extra. So you can utilise the dies with or without the snowy decorations!

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Crafts in France

Time for another of travel blog from Tina Dorr. Here, she gives us the lowdown on traditional and modern crafts in France…

France is a country steeped in traditional crafts, handed down generation by generation – from the master craftsmen such as stonemasons to families that love to make toys and household items out of wood. Go to any market or fete and you will find stalls that sell so many beautiful things that you would be at a loss as to what to buy first.

Wickerwork is very traditional and there are many beautiful baskets on sale. If you fancy one as a decorative piece, you can even buy some stunning dried flowers to put in them. They hang at the stalls in shades of blues, reds, yellows, lilacs and more, and are just so pretty.

Another popular and traditional craft is soap making and you can find soaps of all shapes and sizes in a range of wonderful perfumes, lavender being a huge seller. The fragrance is so strong they can scent a room.

At country fairs, you can still find old traditional crafts such as weaving, lace making, leatherwork and tapestry. Often, you can watch the craftspeople at work and it is fascinating to see such skill and see how things are made.

A lovely piece of upcycling!

As in the UK, other popular crafts in France include knitting, crocheting, painting and upcycling. Upcycling is big business here as you can buy good quality furniture cheaply from a ‘vide grenier’, upcycle it and sell it for a profit. (Vide grenier means ‘empty attic’ and is the French equivalent of car boot sales).

Sadly, from my point of view, papercraft is not huge in France, mainly I think because the French are not big on sending cards. Having said that… it does seem to be starting to take off, probably because of all us Brits that have bought houses here! I know of two large scrapbooking shops in Paris and you can now buy some things online. These are still quite expensive though – so thank goodness for Joanna Sheen!!

Our local hypermarket sells a small number of craft bits and pieces, but that is aimed more towards the children’s market. We also have a shop called Action that sells a lot of British stuff and has quite a large and not badly priced craft section.

I am certainly hoping that papercraft takes off more, in the meantime, I send my French friends and neighbours homemade cards and explain how I make them… You never know, I may get them interested yet!

 

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Christmas abroad

I am very keen on my traditional British Christmas – from stockings and trees to families and board games.
So how, I wonder, will any of our friends and family members who are living abroad be celebrating, probably in sweltering heat and beautiful sunshine.

My younger daughter will (I desperately hope) be given leave to come home for a few days, so I won’t have to ponder how Christmas Day is spent in Singapore. However one of the ladies that work here, now has two daughters living in Australia. I understand there will be much barbecuing, swimming and happy celebrating and they reckon Christmas is just as fun as in the UK.

I do contemplate the idea of a Christmas holiday somewhere hot like the Caribbean – may be a luxury cruise so I don’t have to cook – but I always end up shaking my head and muttering, “Nope, home is best!”

For anyone that has family or friends living far, far away, here are a couple of ideas for cards and remember it’s really early for the last posting date!

Smiles Joanna

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Heather and gorse – moorland beauties

From a distance, Dartmoor can seem rather gloomy and forbidding as Autumn draws in, but pause to look closer, and you’ll see that it is carpeted in the most lovely shades of purple, pink and yellow as heather and gorse combine to create a stunning patchwork.

Heather is also known as ‘Ling’ and you’ll find it on heathland, moorland, bogs and even woodland with acidic or peat soils. Its delicate pink flowers appear from August to October with the plants growing tightly packed together. Surprisingly, given the tough areas they seem to thrive in, heathers can live for up to 40 years or more!

Historically, heather has been used for many purposes, such as fuel, fodder, building materials, thatch, packing and ropes. It was also used to make brooms, which is how it got its Latin name – Callunais derived from the Greek word meaning ‘to brush’.

People have lived and worked on Dartmoor for thousands of years and managed the vegetation to produce what they need. Swaling (or burning) has been carried out by farmers from earliest times, as a way to clear scrub and improve grazing for sheep, cattle and ponies. Today, laws and regulations stipulate the time of year and even the time of day that swaling can take place – so very different from times gone by. An old farmer friend of mine recalls being sent out with a box of matches to swale nearby moorland with three friends, the oldest being 12 and the farmer himself 5! He said they did it every year without mishap and their parents trusted them to get on with the job, it wasn’t a game, and they all knew how to manage the burn – quite extraordinary!

The other star of the moorland landscape is gorse. Its vivid yellow flowers create a real splash of colour and, although I wouldn’t normally think to put pink and yellow together, in nature they look stunning against the dark green foliage. Gorse is a prickly character and can leave you with scratched legs should you walk through it, even in thick walking trousers!

Common Gorse can be seen in all kinds of habitats, from heaths and coastal grasslands to towns and gardens. Western Gorse, which is abundant on Dartmoor, flowers from July to November. Gorse provides shelter and food for many insects and birds, it’s spiky leaves creating an effective deterrent for even the nosiest dogs!

Traditionally, gorse was regularly collected from common land and, like heather, had all sorts of uses – including fuel for firing bread ovens, fodder for livestock and was used as a dye for painting Easter Eggs.

Common Gorse flowers a little in late autumn and through the winter, coming into flower most strongly in spring, while Western Gorse and Dwarf Gorse flower in Autumn. Between the different species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrase: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”!

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