A step in the right direction!

Top to bottom: The gradual build up of the paint effect on the steps.The paint effects course I recently went on with my partner in crime writing, Julia, has come in unexpectedly handy! Rather than a nice coat of wax on a wardrobe or a bit of light distressing on a dresser, Julia decided to ‘go for it’ on a grand scale and create a paint finish on her front doorsteps. I’ll let her explain…

It all started when my Other Half (OH) decided to replace our steep, crumbling and positively lethal steps up to the front door with nice new, wide concrete steps. Fine, I said – although secretly wishing for granite – but needs must and he was keen to get on with it… Eventually, we were the proud owners of three drab, hard edged, business-like concrete steps up to our nice old house. They looked awful! If Prince Charles had dropped by he would have described them as a “carbuncle on the face of an old friend”… or whatever it was he once said that got him into hot water.

I decided to make the best of it and, with the OH’s blessing, bought masonry paint in different colours. I bought one big tin of a sort of stone colour and then small sample pots of various different colours including black, terracotta, ochre and white. My aim was to try and dull down the steps and make them blend in better with the granite that is everywhere here on Dartmoor from the cobbles in the yard to the walls all around the house and garden. 

Having slapped on two coats on the base colour and let it dry, I got down on hands and knees and started stippling with a stencil brush. I covered about one square foot in an hour – this was not going to work. Then I tried a hard roller to skim over the top of the rough concrete surface – better, but not ideal. I then tried crumpled up newspaper – messy, a scrunched up plastic carrier bag ­– OK but very slippery.

By lunchtime, I was suffering from sore knees, backache and arm ache, so I decided to throw in the sponge – a nice big bit of natural sponge that I had forgotten I owned! Ideal! I was able to dab on the different shades in a random pattern and splodge away to my heart’s delight. The soft sponge got into the dips and bumps and the irregular texture of the natural sponge meant nothing looked regimented and regular.

It was almost dark when I finished, but I was pretty happy with the result. By the time it has weathered and got mucky and a bit of moss growing on it, I think it won’t look too bad. 

As you can tell, this isn’t one of Joanna’s master classes in crafting, but it does hopefully show a few things:

  1. Don’t be frightened to ‘have a go’
  2. Improvise – if your initial idea doesn’t work, try something else
  3. Make sure you use the right paint for the job – this had to be masonry paint to be durable
  4. Experiment – if you discover a good technique, try it on something else.
  5. Don’t be afraid to think big
  6. If all else fails – just paint over it and forget you ever started!
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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!

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The spirit of the harvest…

HTop to bottom: A westcountry ‘neck’ and a Suffolk horseshoe.ere’s a clue: Staffordshire has the knot, Suffolk the horseshoe and Devon has the Topsham cross. Any ideas what I am talking about? Other local names include Maiden Cross, Boat and Turnip while in the westcountry they were often called a Neck. Today, we generally just refer to them as corn dollies.

I’ve always rather liked these intricate and rather beautiful woven shapes and have had various designs hanging on beams and on mantlepieces over the years. In fact, this blog was inspired by me finding the tattered remains of a dolly that had fallen behind an arrangement in the kitchen fireplace – oops, housekeeping fail Joanna!

It is said that the name corn dolly comes from a corruption of ‘corn idol’ and that this straw ‘idol’ was a winter refuge for the ‘Spirit of the Harvest’. Normally the spirit lived in the growing crops but when they were cut it became homeless and so the hollow straw woven corn dolly provided a winter sanctuary.

As with so many old traditions, the concept has its roots in the pagan ‘circle’ – as in everything is born, dies, and is reborn, just the harvest is sown, it ripens, the crop is harvested and then the spirit, represented by the corn dolly, is eventually ploughed back into the soil where it grows again.

Each county had its own variation on the corn dolly theme resulting in lots of different shapes and designs. In Devon, the most traditional design was the ‘neck’, which was always made from the last sheaf of corn to be cut on any farm. Linked to this was the tradition of ‘crying the neck’ in which great ceremony was displayed when cutting the last sheaf.

It appears that there were two sorts of tradition concerning the last ‘neck’, it was either taken in as it was or made into a corn dolly. Either way, the neck was kept until after Christmas and then on ‘Plough Monday’ (the first Monday after Twelfth Night) it was cast into the first furrow and returned to the soil, this would ensure a good harvest for the year. If the dolly was not ploughed under then the harvest was doomed to failure.

Wheat straw was the easiest material to plait and old varieties with long hollow stems – such as the wonderfully named Maris Widgeon, Flamingo or Squarehead Master – were used. Today, farmers grow shorter stemmed cereal varieties and modern harvesting methods cut the straw shorter. Finding ears of corn with stalks long enough to make corn dollies has become difficult and sadly they have largely faded into harvest lore. And yet, a few farmers still grow the old, long stemmed cereal varieties for thatching and some people who have retained the skills still make the dollies. So, if you are lucky, you might come across a ‘dolly maker’ at a country show and craft fair.

Well, I’m debating sneaking outside and digging a small furrow and burying the remains of this particular corn dolly specimen. I’d hate to blight the crops, and it might do my garden good. I’ve just got to manage it when Richard isn’t looking…!

 

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Fabulous day getting messy!

I have just come back from the most amazing day using Autentico paints at a gorgeous little shop in Exeter called Pepper White Vintage. Anyone who lives locally – what a brilliant place and I hugely recommend the course.

I have dozens of projects waiting at home for paint upgrades and now, after this course, I have remembered how to do it! I have tackled a mass of paint finishes, and even written a book on stencilling, so I am far from a beginner – but embarrassingly that was in the late 80s and early 90s, wow where did that time go – that’s over 20 years ago… help!

So, I decided to go on a ‘refresher course’ as the kind of paints made by Autentico are all new to me and they give the most delicious flat chalk finish and can then be waxed or varnished or whatever you like.

Partner in crime writing, Julia, came with me and we have lots of plans for before and after shots for this blog. We also plan to have the occasional day out together at some local auctions and household clearance places to ferret out bits of old furniture for further projects. That sounds fun in itself, but to be able to play with the paints will be an added bonus!

I have a stencil range due out very shortly (next week hopefully) but this course gave me tons of ideas that could translate to cardmaking or indeed furniture painting. Just as decoupage (the 3D version) is an everyday thing for us paper crafters, so the flat decoupage looks amazing on cupboard knobs, frames and trays. There are so many techniques that cross over the two worlds or help them meet in the middle!

I had to take a photo of this desk, displayed in the shop, that has a wonderful raised handwriting effect on the cupboard and drawers – isn’t it just gorgeous! Watch this space for my next few projects….

You can follow Vintage Pepper White on Facebook or visit their website for more information.

 

 

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Have a relaxing day!

Down by the river, quietly fishing… this is no doubt many people’s idea of a lovely time. I confess it wouldn’t be my ideal way to pass the day – partly because I don’t like catching fish and partly because I would rather read a good book. But I can see the lure (pun intended) of the peace and tranquillity that fishing can provide!

This 6inch square card shows how effective kraft card can be – it gives a real ‘man-appeal’ feel to the card and it’s a colour combination I love. Another point to note is the button glued on top of the knot of the bow – again a really great look I think!

 

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