Meet Ellen Jareckie – the talented artist behind House Mouse!

Ellen Jareckie at work in her studio.You’ll know their names and their wonderful designs, but what do you know about their backgrounds and sources of inspiration? Joanna has been chatting to some of the top artists whose original and stunning artwork is transformed into craft products and featured on her website.

In this blog Joanna talks to Ellen Jareckie, the talented artist behind the House Mouse designs. 

1. Ellen, where do you get your ideas from – what inspires you?

I’ve always loved mice, ever since I was a little kid. I find them fascinating because of their small size. I had a pet mouse, named Tiny, who was the inspiration behind the line of mouse characters.

2. What do you enjoy most about your career?

I enjoy many things about my career, and I feel very lucky to be able to do something fun as a career. I work at home, which is very relaxing, and I also take in Just one example of Ellen’s many lovely designs that we featue on the website.orphaned mice occasionally, so I spend the day creating the artwork as well as tending to any orphans. I really enjoy making a needy creature feel warm, safe and well fed, and I love creating new images too.

3. What do you like the least?

What I like least is doing any kind of bookkeeping, but I make myself do that, since it’s necessary to keep good records.

4. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

I’m definitely a night owl. I get up a bit later in the morning than many people do, and work until late at night. But if I’m tending to a critically ill orphan, I have to get up in the middle of the night as well as early in the morning because it’s so important to be vigilant with an orphan that arrives seriously ill or starved.

Pipsqueak, the orphaned piglet, that Ellen hand raised.5. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

If I could go back in time, the only thing I would do differently is start riding a motorcycle earlier in life than I did. I started riding at age 48, I think. Other than that, I would not do anything differently. And Barry and Nicole are my agents, and I would keep them, too. They are great people, and I could not do what I do without their hard work. Barry’s marketing skills over the past years were what really helped launch the designs. 

6. What is your favourite childhood memory?

My favorite childhood memory… there are lots of them, mostly very funny ones, so it’s hard to choose. I think that Pipsqueak, the orphaned piglet I hand raised, was my favorite memory. She was at a pig farm, dying of starvation (too many babies in the litter) and I asked the farmer if I could buy her. He said, “She’s going to die anyway, so I’ll sell her to you for a dollar”. Since I was only 14, that was an affordable price for me. I brought her home and bottle-fed her and she lived on our property. I love pigs! They are sweet, intelligent, and have a great sense of humor. 

Pipsqueak, my piglet, tilling the soil while Muzzy the mouse sits on her back.7. If you had to choose just one of your designs as your absolute favourite, what would it be?

It’s hard to choose a favorite design, but maybe that would be the picture of Pipsqueak, my piglet, tilling the soil in a garden while Muzzy the mouse sits on her back. This was years ago and the design was featured in the 1999 calendar!

8. Who do you think has had the most influence on you?

In the book, “Charlotte’s Web”, there are some incredibly endearing illustrations by Garth Williams. It is those illustrations that inspired me the most. There’s a picture of Fern (the girl), holding Wilbur (the piglet) in her arms. Also, a hilarious picture of Templeton, the rat, after he’s eaten too much garbage at the circus – I love that illustration, and that character

9. What was the last gift you gave someone?

The last gift I gave was to a friend of mine who just had a birthday yesterday. I gave her a box of fresh tarts from the bakery along with some hand soap that smells like freesia flowers, and other fun items.

10. Do you have any future plans you’d like to share with us?

In the near future I plan to do a little more animal rescue work, and I also plan to expand on some of the Wee Poppet, Gruffies and Happy Hopper images too. I also hope to get over to the UK to see your beautiful country, and if I do, I hope to be able to visit with some of you. To all of you who are viewing the blog, thanks for all your interest, support and enthusiasm for the designs. And thanks to Joanna Sheen, and to everyone who works with Joanna. You are all fantastic! Thank you!

Thank you Ellen! We are sure you don’t need telling, but you can find lots of House Mouse products in our craft shop on our website. We’ll be featuring more of our wonderful artists in future blogs!

 

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The natural beauty of seashells

I think I’ve been in love with seashells ever since I first sat on a beach as a toddler and was fascinated by their endless shapes and colours, so lovely to hold and explore with little fingers.

I still love shells now and have lots spread around the house, singly and in wreaths and little arrangements. Plentiful and beautiful, shells have been used as jewellery and for decorating homes and as inspiration for patterns and designs for thousands of year.

Over the last few hundred years, various eccentric individuals have created grottos and caves or, as in the case of A La Ronde, a National Trust property near my home in Devon, a shell-encrusted gallery, said to contain nearly 25,000 shells. It is stunningly beautiful and now, very fragile, but well worth a look if you are down this way. (As it’s so fragile, visitors aren’t actually allowed into the gallery any more but you can view it in its entirety using a touch screen 360-degree virtual tour). The whole house is The shell gallery at A La Ronde.eccentric, having 16-sides and also a feather frieze, gathered from game birds and chickens, all laboriously stuck down with isinglass. But back to shells…

Decorating with shells is great fun! Whether you cover a jewellery box, or frame a mirror, it’s hard not to create something attractive. Whenever I walk on the beach, I always come back with a few shells in my pocket as I just find them irresistible. If you don’t live near the sea, there are always shops where you can buy shells and, of course, they are easy to find online now too.

As we all know, a glue gun is a wonderful thing and it is an excellent way to stick shells firmly and invisibly in place. As with anything crafty, you need to think about your design in advance and plan which larger shells to stick down first, and then fill in with smaller ones, but it’s really easy and very satisfying.

You can either be quite ‘freestyle’ and naturalistic, or go for more of a mosaic effect – I featured a small shell box in a blog last year, where you have lots of similar sized shells and create an intricate pattern. What I haven’t tried yet, but plan to do, is create something rather more ‘monumental’ that might involve using plaster of paris and actually setting shells into a structure.

I once visited a very grand house that had a folly in the garden, complete with a wonderfully whacky fireplace that had been covered entirely in shells in plaster of paris. It looked like a mad wedding cake, but at the same time, it was absolutely stunning. As we don’t have a folly in our garden (I know, but…) I might just shut myself in the shed one weekend and get creative – but don’t tell Richard, or I think he might just have something to say about it!

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An ancient ‘fast food’!

Think of Devon, and you probably think of cream teas. Think of Cornwall and it’s pretty likely you’ll think of a Cornish pasty. Gosh, didn’t we enjoy tucking into them as children on the beach – sadly, my memory is always of pasty with added sand! But this immensely popular dish is a great example of an early packed lunch or convenience food.

There’s lots of historical evidence confirming the existence of the Cornish pasty, the earliest as far back as the 13th century during the reign of Henry III. The pasty became commonplace in the 16th and 17th centuries and, by the 18th century, it was established as a Cornish food eaten by poorer working families who could only afford cheap ingredients such as potatoes, swede and onion. Meat was added later. 

By the end of the 18th century it was the staple diet of working men across Cornwall. Miners and farm workers took this portable and easy to eat convenience food with them to work because it was perfect for their needs. Its size and shape made it easy to carry – its pastry case insulated the contents and was durable, while its wholesome ingredients provided enough sustenance to see the workers through their long, hard working days. 

There are hundreds of stories about the evolution of the pasty’s shape, with the most popular being that the D-shape enabled tin miners to eat them safely. The crust (the crimped edge) was used as a handle which was then thrown away due to the high levels of arsenic in many of the tin mines – ugh! 

The Cornish pasty recipes were handed down from generation to generation, often by word of mouth and rarely written down because they were made almost every day. Young girls were often made to practice crimping techniques using plasticine before being allowed to work with pastry!

You’ll find lots of different recipes online, but here’s a nice simple one to try. I personally think the addition of white pepper helps give it that lovely peppery kick that I remember so clearly from my childhood. Enjoy!

To make 4 Cornish pasties

Ingredients 

  • For the pastry
  • 125g chilled and diced butter
  • 125g lard
  • 500g plain flour, plus extra
  • 1 egg, beaten 

For the filling 

  • 350g beef skirt or chuck steak, chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 175g swedes, peeled, finely diced
  • 1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp ground white pepper 

Method

 

  1. Rub the butter and lard into the flour with a pinch of salt using your fingertips or a food processor, then blend in 6 tbsp cold water to make a firm dough. Cut equally into 4, then chill for 20 mins. 
  2. Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Mix together the filling ingredients with 1 tsp salt. Roll out each piece of dough on a lightly floured surface until large enough to make a round about 23cm across – use a plate to trim it to shape. Firmly pack a quarter of the filling into one half of each round, leaving a margin round the edge. Brush the pastry all the way round the edge with beaten egg then carefully fold the empty half of the pastry across to form a semi-circle, or ‘D’ shape, and pinch the edges together to seal. Lift onto a non-stick baking tray and brush with the remaining egg to glaze.
  3. Bake for 10 mins, then lower oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 and cook for 45 mins more until golden. Great served warm for lunch, in a picnic… or on the beach!

 

 

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A load of old cordwainers!

Tools of a cordwainer’s trade.I am always fascinated by words and their origins and coming across old names for things always piques my interest. Partner in crime writing, Julia, recently wrote an article about a woman who made shoes and made the point that she was most definitely NOT a cobbler… she was a cordwainer. What a wonderful term! This, of course, set me off and I began Googling and have found out all sorts of fascinating things…

Old names for trades are really quaint and often highly descriptive, what a shame we no longer use most of them. Here are some examples:

  • Carnifex – butcher
  • Cissor – tailor
  • Flauner – confectioner
  • Huckster – seller of small articles/wares
  • Nedder – needle-maker
  • Puddler – wrought iron worker, mixer of molten pig iron into wrought iron
  • Tipstaff – policeman, bailiff, constable
  • Whitcher – maker of chests

A huckster from the 1860s… long before the advent of the website!Hmmm… perhaps I should promote myself as a ‘Huckster’ as through the website we sell lots of ‘small articles and wares’ – what do you think?

If you are called Cooper or Baxter, you may well know that your ancestors were barrel makers (cooper) and bakers (baxter).  But what if you are a Spicer, Leech or Fuller? Somewhere along the line your ancestors would have been (in order) grocers, doctors and felt or cloth makers.

It’s fascinating to see how our names evolve over the centuries. People’s accents and the listening and spelling capabilities of parish clerks are usually responsible for all the different versions of names we have today. She’s not sure, but Julia thinks ‘Wherrell’ is a corruption of ‘wheeler’. As her family originates from Wiltshire, the accent would make wheeler sound more like “woller’ or ‘worrell’ and eventually, ‘wherrell’.

‘Sheen’ is not an easy name to sort out, but most likely it has Irish origins. The original Gaelic form of the name Sheen is ‘O Siodhachain’, which may derive from ‘siodhach’ which means peaceful, so that’s quite nice!

And the difference between a cobbler and a cordwainer? A cobber mends shoes, a cordwainder makes them. The word is derived from ‘cordwain’, or ‘cordovan’, the fine leather produced in Córdoba, Spain. So now you know!

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Looking forward in 2014…

I always love the first few days of any New Year as there’s so much promise in what could happen in the next twelve months. If I look back over the past year many things have happened that I didn’t have a clue about this time last year, so there is always the excitement of what could be round the corner.

I know we have to take the bad times  as well as the good but I am going to try harder this year to make more good things happen. So often it’s the little things that make me feel good rather than the big things – I tidied my craft room over the Christmas holiday and that’s making me feel really good.

I’m going to give myself some ‘me’ time regularly this year, and I invested in some more scented candles and I’m going to enjoy nice perfume and maybe a book, a game or just some time cuddled up on the sofa with Wellington, whose days I know are numbered but while he is here, he is lovely to cuddle!

I’m also looking forward to finishing my second novel with my ‘partner in crime writing’, Julia. It should be finished in April or May, we are about a third of the way through at the moment. Although there’s a lot of head-scratching and plotting, it’s also exciting as the plots starts to unfold as you are never 100% sure how it is going to turn out!

Sometimes the things that make you feel good can take you by surprise, doing something that benefits someone else can be really uplifting.

On a more down to earth note I am aiming to declutter a room in my house each month this year, I don’t have twelve rooms that need decluttering but I am building in a ‘fail’ for some of the months when work gets too busy or other things grab my time and attention.

I would love to tell you that I intend to succeed spectacularly with my diet this year, but all I can do is try and be kind to myself if I falter and then fail as I have so many times before – but the trying is always the thing that counts. So my resolution for this year and the thing uppermost in my mind is going to be just that saying – the trying is always the thing that counts and who knows what will have happened by January 2015!

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