Owls under the wisteria

OwlsWisteriaI think this card is adorable (go on Joanna, just praise your own card!) but you know what I mean, sometimes you make a card and you go ‘Ah, like that one!’

The image comes from the Marjolein Bastin’s new Autumn pad that launches on Create and Craft on the 25th July and I think they are a very cute owl family. Shame about the field mouse but hey, she has to feed her babies.

I started, as I often do with an 8 x 8” white card blank, 300gsm so it’s nice and firm. Then I chose some soft dark mauve cardstock and trimmed that slightly smaller and layered some hessian style paper from my Volume 3 backing papers.

The image itself was cut out and layered onto some purple backing paper again from Volume 3 of my backing papers and attached to the card on the bottom half.

The die is a Signature Dies Wisteria and I love, love, love it. I chose a pale lilac and a soft green – try not to go too fierce on the green as it does overshadow the flower if you have an ‘in your face’ emerald green for leaves. I die cut it several times and then arranged first the leaf sprays and glued them down using little blobs of glossy accents (applied with the ever present cocktail stick). Then, gradually add the flowers and make sure you tuck them between the leaves to cover the tops of the sprays.

For me, the card made me think of a country barn with the owl family sheltering under the eaves… just saying!

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A heart-felt experience…

Today, I am handing over the blog to my partner in crime writing, Julia. She has been on a course to find out about the wonders of needle felting…

“Felt wasn’t a fabric I had really thought much about since I last made dolls’ clothes out of it as a child – it didn’t need hemming, so a great advantage. Having recently read about Sue Lewis’s lovely wet felt pictures and visited the Bellacouche studio near where I live in Moretonhampstead, I’d started to think about felt in a new light…

I booked myself on a needle felting course at the lovely sounding Cowslip Workshops on the other side of Dartmoor. Run by mixed media artist, Kate Toms, the course was entitled ‘Make a Dog in a day’, so how could I resist? As some of you may know, I am the owner of Moss the Dartmoor Dog Blogger and, like Joanna, am a confirmed dog fan. Kate creates 3D characters as well as being a published author and illustrator of books for the very young. Needle felting is currently her favourite technique.

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Left to right: Kate starting to create the dog’s body using a large needle felting mat; Rovings!; These strange looking items went on to form Moss’s legs!

I, and nine other enthusiastic students, gathered at 10am for the workshop that would take us through the process of making a small felted dog. Needle felting is a wonderfully simple technique where barbed felting needles are used to interlock wool fibres forming a solid mass.

Kate is an excellent tutor, extremely knowledgeable and with a great sense of humour. She patiently took us will through the various stages to ensure we all managed to take our own little dog home with us at the end of the day.

We were faced with huge balls of wool (actually called ‘rovings’) in a mix of lovely natural colours. We made our selections and dutifully copied Kate’s demonstrations as we built up our little canine figures. And then the fun began! Stabbing yourself with a felting tool is painful… when you somehow manage to keep doing it, it is extremely painful! The air was peppered with little squeaks and cries as we all managed to stab ourselves every few minutes. (Note to self: buy a finger guard!) But never mind the pain, it was so exciting to see these amazing structures emerge out of wispy scraps of wool, that none of us showed any signs of flagging.

NeedleFelt2

Left to right, adding the legs to the body; Kate patiently demonstrating; A fellow crafter having a go!

It is a fascinating technique and, once you know the basics, easy to create 3D figures. I assumed needle felting was an ancient technique, like wet felting, but apparently not. It was ‘invented’ in the 1990s. You can use a variety of tools, from a very fine single needle to create detail, to a long vicious-looking sturdy three-pronged affair that Kate calls a ‘claw’, to the smaller and very effective five-needle tool that allows you to stab away and create shapes really quickly. To minimise pain and blood loss, you work onto a foam block or a thing that looks like an enormous nail brush, the latter being a great way of carding the wool as you work.

After lunch (there’s a lovely café selling loads of delicious home-made dishes!) things got a bit more mellow as we all wallowed in a post-lunch slump. Kate, who had run the workshop the previous day, realised we were getting behind schedule and chivvied us on, saying she was happy to stay until we had all finished. We were scheduled to finish at 4pm… I finally left – ­tired, battle scared and not a little emotional – proudly clutching my little dog at 7pm!

The studios were as delightful as I’d imagined and Kate was an inspirational teacher and I can’t recommend them highly enough. A regular supply of tea, coffee, biscuits and even cake, throughout the day, ensured we didn’t run out of energy. I had a wonderful time and, as promised, everyone on the course produced a dear little dog at the end of it. They were all very different, reflecting their creator’s own personality. I, rather predictably, was trying to make a dog that looked like Moss… you can judge for yourselves whether I succeeded or not!

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Left to right: Kate’s own gorgeous dogs! Everyone’s efforts – what a motley crew… and my version of Moss. She was not impressed!

If you fancy having a go at needle felting, you can find everything available online. It is a relatively cheap hobby to take up, so if it appeals to you, why not have a go? I intend to make more figures… after I’ve bought a finger guard and some sticking plasters!

 

 

 

 

 

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The original version of ‘twitter’…

BirdSong

Top to bottom: Blackbird, skylark, robin, song thrush, chaffinch, stone chat, kingfisher.

It always makes me smile when people talk about ‘the peace and quiet’ of the countryside – as it can be really noisy! Farm animals, especially sheep, are actually  quite loud if you live close to them and then, of course, there’s the inescapable tractor and other clanking bits of farm machinery. But most deafening of all can be the dawn chorus! Of course, when I say deafening, I mean that in the most wonderful way, a magical wall of sound that, in spring and summer is the most glorious thing to wake up to, even if it is rather early!

While I really appreciate the background beauty of bird song, I am not all that good at identifying different birds, or what the different tweets and chirrups of our songbirds actually mean. But being able to recognise a species by its melody means you will see more when you are out walking, so I was interested to find some tips on how to become a better bird song expert!

Birds are the first to warn when there is a predator about. If I hear a noise out of place (blackbirds have a particularly strident alarm call), I stand stock still and wait to see what happens. Sure enough after a little while a cat, stoat or other mammal will usually emerge.

Although bird’s songs sound cheerful, they are actually expressions of aggression used to warn off competitors or noisy serenades to attract a mate. Generally, the prettier the tune, the more confrontational the bird that is singing it!

Here are some tips I found online to help recognise bird song:

1. Start with signature tunes
Among the UK’s native species there are definite ‘songsters’. These are birds with beautiful voices, like blackbirds, robins, skylarks, song thrushes and chaffinches, and each has its own, distinct signature tune. Once you’ve learned a bird’s song, you can always pick out, even if it only sings a few phrases of the melody.

2. Build on what you already know
You may not think you know anything about bird song, but most of us already have a basic knowledge – think of the hoot of a tawny owl or a cuckoo’s call. It’s not difficult to add to this the ‘Repeat, repeat’, repeat’ of a song thrush or the noisy chittering of a wren. For such a tiny bird, a wren’s song is very loud!

3. Fit the sound to your surroundings
If you are by a river or a stream and you hear a loud, piping call then look out for the electric-blue of a kingfisher as it flashes past. Grey wagtails make a sort of ‘chiswick’ call that is so loud you can hear it above the sound of running water. On the other hand, if you are walking across moorland, or a ploughed field, and you hear the most joyful stream of song – look up! It’s most likely a skylark and probably one of my favourite songsters.

4. There’s a clue in the name…
Cuckoos, curlews, kittiwakes and chiffchaffs are named after the calls they make.  Listen out for the ‘chiff’ ‘chaff’ next time you are walking through scrubland or woodland. Walking on the moorland down here in Devon, I often hear the stone chat who, unsurprisingly, says ‘chat’!

5. Add some lyrics!

It is said that some bird songs sound like nursery rhymes. A yellow hammer sings: “A little bit of butter and nooo cheeese”. And then there’s the wood pigeon’s eternal and, quite irritating, refrain of: ‘My toe hurts Betty; my toe hurts Betty; my toe hurts Betty. Oooh’. Once you’ve got lyrics in your head it’s easier to remember the tune.

Fascinatingly, birds actually have local dialects. A British chaffinch, for instance, sings a slightly different tune to a Siberian one. But the difference is something only a really committed ornithologist with experience of listening to a range of species across Europe needs to know… so I think we’ll need to pass on that one!

Happy listening!

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A whole new meaning to a ‘kitchen garden’!

I am really getting into growing our own veg this summer – gold star to Joanna for ticking box on ‘must do’ list! As you may have realised, I am not one for wasting things. Well, OK, so I am a typical crafter and I hoard things… but I also like to recycle and make use of ‘waste’ products in the garden too. We all go on about ‘being green’ and reducing our carbon footprint, but really, this is all common sense stuff that previous generations did as a matter of course!

Slug off!
If you want to give your garden slugs a hard time and, like me don’t like using slug pellets, save your coffee grounds! Empty the bits left in your cafetière or machine on to the soil around your plants. They not only keep the pests at bay they will enrich the soil too.

Now this idea is a little contentious… but you could try submerging some plastic cups into your veg beds around your plants and fill them with beer. Yes, beer. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and drop into the cups. Richard is not entirely happy about this…

Egg shells are also a pet hate of slugs and snails as they don’t like to crawl over them. I put my empty egg shells into a plastic container, wait until I have quite a few and then take great delight in smashing them into small pieces with a spoon! You can then sprinkle them on the ground around your salads and the critters ought to keep away.

Eggcellent compost
Egg shells can also be added to your compost with other compostable waste. Around a third of an average household bin can be composted including fruit and vegetable peelings, but don’t put whole old potatoes in, as these will grow into plants and create more spuds. You can also use teabags and even shredded cardboard and newspaper along with your general clippings and cuttings but be sure you don’t put in any weed seed heads or those with roots that can regenerate.

Rice water is nice water
When you cook rice keep the water rather than pouring it down the sink. There are several plant friendly minerals that are ideal for giving your plants a nutritional boost.

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Kingfishers

Only a few times in my life have I been lucky enough to spot a kingfisher – they are such beautiful things. They are shy spend most of their time hiding away from us loud and scary humans! I believe they are mainly spotted in southern England and, as we have such beautiful, wild rivers in this particular part of the world, your chances of seeing one in Devon better than most.

This lovely painting of a kingfisher comes from our Shirley Barber project book – it has lots of beautiful pictures for you to download and print and, of course, several ideas for cards. This particular card doesn’t have instructions though as the kingfisher panel (SD345) is so new it wasn’t available when we wrote the project book!

This stepper card is a more complex way of using the pictures and the die cut, you could of course use a far simpler route. That’s the thing I like best about having printed out sheets of toppers and accessories – there are so many ways you can choose to use them and put you individual stamp on them.

Here are some instructions from our project page on a stepper card to remind you how this particular card fold can work. 

 

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