Playing with stamps and diecuts

I love stamping, but that is such a broad term. There’s stamping direct onto a card, stamping onto paper and then matting and layering onto a card and masses of other ways too.

Best of all, in my opinion, is the technique where you stamp onto paper, colour and then cut out. I just love playing with decoupaged stamp images and, in the case of this card, scenic images.

The whole concept behind these stamps was to produce a range of garden flowers that would fit, scale-wise, into the Signature dies garden containers. So, to fulfil all my needs, we ended up with summer, winter and climbing flower stamps.

This card is 8 inches square and uses a gradient coloured background to represent the sky. Some backing paper that looks like wood has then been cut into “planks” and some brickwork made into a patio beneath the sky.

The fun for me starts with stamping away three or four of everything on the stamp sheet and colouring. I keep them all in a small box, so that if I don’t end up using them all they are there to start my design next time. My favourite flower on this whole card has to be the poppies – I just adore poppies!

Once coloured (I am currently using Graph’it markers) you can then start playing and arranging and I could happily do that for hours. It’s a bit like playing with my fuzzy felts toy when I was little – well you know what I mean!





Jack Daniels Fruit Cake

Richard is a huge Jack Daniels fan (can’t say I mind one myself!), so this cake will go down a storm in our household. Not sure that I should say storm at the moment bearing in mind the awful weather we are all going through!

This is a relatively easy recipe but it needs to be made well before Christmas so you can add more for a couple of weeks as it sits. This recipe makes enough for three cakes as I like to make one for us, one for my Mum and I usually give another away.

  • 8oz/225g butter
  • 1lb/440g dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 14oz/385g self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup Jack Daniel’s whisky, plus more for adding later
  • 3lbs 3oz/1.4kilos  cups dried fruit assorted
  1. Grease three 81/2” x 41/2” loaf tins (or equivalent size if you want round) and line well with wax paper.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat really well. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and salt then slowly add this mixture to the butter mix, alternating between a bit of flour mix and then some whisky. Beat on a low speed (or manually) until well blended. Now stir in the fruit and then spoon into the cake tins.
  3. Bake for around an hour and a quarter or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool, still in the tins, on a wire rack. Now remove from the tins. Soak some muslin, cheesecloth or similar in the whisky. Then wrap the cloth around the cakes and wrap really tightly in cling film. Store in the fridge and add a little whisky (I said little!) every other day for a couple of weeks before serving, then serve thinly sliced.



Trick or treat… or a lot of nonsense?!

We know Halloween is almost upon us as the shops are full of witches’ hats, pumpkins and plastic skeletons! But years ago, Halloween had a much greater significance. Rather than leaving the dressing up to the kids, you would probably have taken care to disguise yourself before stepping outside. Read on to find out what else I discovered…

Halloween originated from the ancient Celtic harvest festival known as Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the ‘darker half’ of the year. Looking out the window today how apt that description is!

People believed that, at Samhain, the spirits of the dead would come alive and walk among the living. It was believed that the spirits could more easily enter our world as the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was the thinnest on this night.

Feasts were held and the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend with a place set at the table for them. However, the spirits could be malevolent, so people would disguise themselves to protect their own identity from the spirits – which is one of the reasons given for why we dress up­ in costumes today. 

The word Halloween, or Hallowe’en, dates to about the mid 1700s and is of Christian origin. It means ‘hallowed evening’ or ‘holy evening’ and comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve (the evening before All Hallows’ Day). Over time, (All) Hallow(s) E(v)en evolved into Halloween.

Halloween is also known as ‘Nut-crack Night’, ‘Thump-the-door Night’ or ‘Apple and Candle Night’. Some people call Halloween ‘Bob Apple Night’ or ‘Duck Apple Night’. This comes from the traditional game played at this time of year and known as ‘apple bobbing’ or ‘apple ducking’, which some of us probably did (reluctantly in my case!) as children. A bucket is filled with water and apples floated in it. The contestants take turns trying to catch an apple with their teeth but must keep their hands behind their backs.

Some believe that apple bobbing is a reminder of the way women accused of witchcraft in the Middle Ages were tried. They were tied to a chair and repeatedly ducked into a river or pond –if she drowned, she was innocent. If she survived, she was declared a witch and burnt at the stake. It’s hard to believe that such a barbaric form of ‘justice’ should be remembered through an innocent-seeming game…

The origin of the carved pumpkin light, or Jack o’ Lantern, is unclear, but the idea of carving a Jack-O-Lantern specifically to celebrate Halloween was first recorded in the USA… but it’s believed that the idea arrived in America from Ireland where turnips, mangelwurzel or beets were also used. They were often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins, while others believe they represented Christian souls in purgatory. They were then were placed on windowsills to keep the harmful spirits out of your home. 

Of course, many of today’s ‘customs’ originated in America quite recently and have travelled back to the United Kingdom including the controversial trick of treat! When I was a child it was unheard of and, when it started to appear, people of my parents’ generation took a pretty dim view of it and it has to be said I really, really dislike it, but maybe I am just an old misery!

So what are your thoughts? Is it innocent fun, or a Pagan tradition that should be stamped out? Do you answer the door to trick or treaters… or turn the lights out and pretend you aren’t at home?!



Patchwork dreams…

I have dreamed about relaxing and quietly stitching a beautiful patchwork quilt for about thirty years now, so that’s not looking promising is it? Much as I would love to take the time to learn and to stitch something that could become a family heirloom, life seems to have got in the way.

So I am often tempted to take shortcuts that do fit into my lifestyle and one of the latest patchwork shortcuts I have designed are some patchwork-shaped dies. Signature dies now offer some mini patchwork shapes and I thought those would be fun for dolls houses, some medium and some large.

This card shows really beautifully how the large size can be used. This is an 8-inch square card and I’ve used several of the shapes. I think it also shows you how smart matting and layering can make a card look.

All the ingredients on the card are paper or card based, but do remember dies being put through most of the machines will also cut fabric – so maybe this is a shortcut to making a little material quilt? If you have a go at making one, do let me know how you get on!


The Nativity scene… seen differently

We are really enjoying making things with our Signature die range and it’s fun to have some different ideas and inspirations. To get some new and fresh input, we have ask some of our design team to produce some cards to make a stunning display of samples for the NEC exhibition at the beginning of November.

There’s no better way to demonstrate what wonderful designs you can create with the dies than to display a board full of pretty cards! I will be demonstrating too but we can’t demonstrate everything, so the boards are a really useful backup.

Here are a couple of ideas using the Nativity set. This is a limited edition set of dies for 2013. These cards don’t use the whole collection but give you some design ideas.

The background for the wise men with the palm trees can be achieved with some Tim Holtz Distress Ink Pads and an Inkylicious brush or two. Alternatively, you can use some ink blending foam. As you can see it’s a pretty simple card but, oh so effective!

I loved the nativity card for the unusual white on black colouring rather than black on white. The construction, again, is fairly simple but this really eye-catching effect is very pleasing!