Turning ‘nothing’ into ‘something’

Whether you refer to it as Folk Art, Barge Art, Canalboat Art – or even the modern version One Stroke or Fusion Painting – they all cover roughly the same territory. The artwork is bold and simplistic and once tutored, even a relative beginner can produce some really fun pieces of artwork.

Many moons ago my mother and I signed up for barge art evening classes and for ages, we plagued the entire family with decorated gifts for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries – you get the drift! But joking aside, it is a fun way to decorate the most inexpensive household bits and pieces.

These enamel items are all painted using glossy paint (small pots of Humbrol) but you could use other mediums on cards or canvas. I think it’s a great way to pretty something up and it encourages me horribly to hoard more dilapidated bits and pieces ‘for when I have time…’!

We’ve decorated wonderful flat irons, horseshoes, hat boxes, coal scuttles, washing up brush containers, bottles, trays, jars… the list is endless, and many of these bits and pieces we managed to collect for nothing.

One of the joys of crafting I guess… turning nothing into something and creating a really pretty thing that takes pride of place in your home!

Smiles, Joanna

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Crystallized flowers – what little gems!

This week, I’ve asked Julia Horton-Powdrill to write a guest blog. I met Julia on a creative writing course a few years ago, and was impressed by her great writing, humour and enthusiasm.

When not writing, she keeps extremely busy running a number of ‘wild’ businesses including the Really Wild Food Festival and Wild about Pembrokeshire!

Wild about Pembrokeshire is all about foraging and runs wild food foraging walks and day courses and, as Julia says, encourages you to ‘Discover your Inner Forager’!!

Julia’s mission is to encourage people to have a fun day in the countryside or on the coast and help them to identify and make the most of what is available from Mother Nature! She also advises on the legal side of foraging from the wild and how to collect sustainably and responsibly.

To find out more, visit: www.wildaboutpembrokeshire.co.uk

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As everything is fresh and young in the countryside (apart from me!) now is the time to try out a few recipes. One I mean to do each spring but always forget is to crystallize flowers. Gorse, primrose, sweet cicely, wild violets, apple blossom and rose petals can be used, but experiment yourself as long as you know what you are using isn’t poisonous.

Beat an egg white lightly with a fork, paint each petal, immerse or sprinkle over, some caster sugar then leave overnight on a lined tray. Use to decorate puds or cakes or just to eat on their own. Mothers used to crystallize flowers on the stem where they grew then let their children loose into the meadow to hunt for them and eat them… great idea!

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The glorious British bluebell… or is it?

Bluebells are with us early this year, the mild weather brought them into bloom at the end of
 March in this part of the world.

The delicate bell-shaped blooms are definitely something to be enjoyed en masse – a carpet of bluebells in woodland is a gorgeous thing to behold – and wonderfully British.

Sadly our native bluebell is under threat from an aggressive hybrid. Apparently, these invaders are spreading rapidly and are appearing in woodlands rather than just urban areas.

Bluebells are protected and it is illegal to dig them up from the wild. However, there are various nurseries that grow them for sale. They are best planted around this time of year ‘in the green’, which means that they appear with leaves rather than as dried bulbs. You don’t need a huge woodland to grow bluebells as they will grow happily under deciduous shrubs, or along the bottom of a hedge.

Can you tell a native bluebell from an interloper? Nope – well here’s a quick guide – you too can become an instant Bluebell expert!

Native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

  • Flowers have a strong, sweet scent
  • Pollen is creamy-white
  • Flower stems nod to one side
  • Deep violet-blue in colour
  • Often found in woodlands or shady areas

Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

  • Native to Portugal and western Spain
  • Pollen is deep blue
  • More upright than native plants
  • Flowers can be pale to mid blue, white or pink
  • Grown in gardens and found in the countryside

Hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana)

  • Flowers range from dark to pale blue, pink and white
  • A hybrid of native and Spanish bluebells
  • Can show characteristics of both parent plants
  • Widespread in urban areas; has been recorded broad leaf woodland
  • Thought to be more common than the Spanish variety

In the meantime just enjoy that blue haze of little flowers anywhere you can – the bluebell native or interloper is a beautiful sign of Spring!

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Shellcraft

We are so lucky to live near the coast and beachcombing is great fun. Sadly, I don’t have as much time to do this as I’d like but, whenever I do, I always keep my eyes open for pretty shells and interesting shaped bits of driftwood and pieces of dried seaweed as you never know when they might come in handy…

I wonder how many of you have tried using shells? The finished results can range from really rather yukky seaside ornaments (that aren’t even made in the UK!) to works of complete and utter beauty that can be found in museums and art galleries.

My Mum’s work comes somewhere in the middle – I would say they are definitely of complete beauty but I do realise I am utterly and forever biased – so I am trying to seem fair!

I have used shells many, many times in craft work and you can get the most amazing results. Here are a few tips to help you get the best results when working with shells:

If you are doing something small – as these boxes are – scale down the size of shells that you use.

A detailed little mosaic of miniscule treasures is going to look amazing – clunky lumps of big shells just don’t do it.

I have used shells mainly for mirror frame decoration – so I upgrade the size slightly but again try and go for a more complex intertwining shell look. I usually mix with preserved ivy or something soft and feathery like silk foliage to fill the gaps and balance the strength and angles of the shells. You really can create some beautiful effects.

Experiment with several glues before you make your definitive masterpiece.

Nothing is more infuriating than shells dropping off or not standing the test of time. I have used a dozen different glues over the years but I would say the most useful ones have been pinflair glue gel, hot glue and tacky PVA. In all cases I would ensure you have a fine nozzle rather than gloops of glue – it’s never a good look!

There are lots of places online that sell shells and the little ones look fab on cards – the huge ones are a work of art in themselves – why not have a play? And next time you are on a beach, make sure you keep your eyes peeled!

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The cream of Devon!

It may not be healthy and it may not be slimming – but it is utterly delicious! I’m talking about a Devon cream tea and, with this spell of glorious weather, l’ve spotted lots of lucky people sitting outside cafés and in pub gardens all tucking into this simple yet scrummy treat. But is it that simple…?

I always think of Devon as the home of the clotted cream tea… but is it? It’s a debate that has been rumbling on for years between the Devonians and the Cornish. Devon has a pretty strong claim to it as, apparently, there is evidence of people eating bread with cream and jam at Tavistock Abbey in Devon as far back as the 11th century!

In Devon, we start by halving a freshly baked scone, where as in Cornwall, the cream tea was traditionally served with a ‘Cornish split’, a type of slightly sweet white bread roll. But it seems that nowadays, the Cornish have seen sense and have moved over to scones too.

Then there’s the really crucial question: which is correct – do you put the jam or the cream on first? I’m a fan of jam first, it gives you a firm base to then dollop on – I mean delicately spread – the cream. Put the cream on first and it can all get a bit slippery and the jam slides off. But there are plenty of people who insist cream first is right. What do you think?

And is it jam, then cream in Devon, and cream then jam in Cornwall…? Or the other way around? I can tell you, it is a regular topic of heated debate in this part of the world! Feelings run so high that a couple of years ago, the organisers of a Devon food festival had to commission a new publicity poster after the first one featured a cream tea made the Cornish way. Trouble is, what they said was the Cornish way, is what I call the Devon was – jam first. Oh dear!

It’s all so complicated… and we haven’t even considered the jam itself. For me, it has to be strawberry. I’m told raspberry is very good too, while some racy people even opt for damson. Surely not!

All I know is that my Mother, Diana, makes the most perfect cream tea. She’s of a generation that can turn out two dozen scones at the drop of a hat and always seems to have clotted cream to hand. She makes her own jam, of course and, with the addition of a few slices of fresh strawberry as an added treat, can produce the most delicious cream tea you’ll find anywhere. Lucky me!

 

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