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. 



A picture paints a thousand words…

The other day I was reading about a portrait being removed from the National Portrait Gallery because the person in the picture had ‘fallen from grace’. That set me thinking about who gets their portraits painted – the great and the good and the wealthy generally speaking. And then that set me thinking about what it must have been like before photography came along…

Imagine if you didn’t have your photo albums, or your pictures stored on your laptop, tablet or phone, would you feel lost? I know I would. I often look at the photos of my family (especially my gorgeous granddaughter Grace) and they are inspiring, comforting and often poignant when it is a photo of someone who is no longer with us.

So imagine life before the photograph. Unless you were wealthy enough to have had a portrait painted, or were lucky enough to know someone talented who could sketch a likeness… you would have no record of your loved one. I find that very hard to think about as we have all grown up with photographs creating ‘instant’ images and knowing we can look back and savour an event, or a person.

Photography really began in the first half of the 1800s, but didn’t become commonplace until the second half of that century. So, carrying around an image of your loved one is a relatively recent thing. I am guessing that is why people had locks of hair and other mementoes stored in lockets and the like – there was nothing else they could do.

And so, back to portraits… and of course one of the fascinating things about them is that they are the ‘likeness’ created by the painter and may not be all that accurate. I always smile when I see portraits from certain eras when it seems all women were endowed with incredibly sloping shoulders (sweaters would have simply slipped to the floor!), or swan-like long necks that would have looked ridiculous in real life.

We don’t really know what Jane Austen looked like, but there are enough portraits of people powerful or famous in their day – like Oliver Cromwell for example – to know that he really was a bit of a warty old thing! We know that King Henry VIII had red hair and was a pretty stout chap, but of course no-one who wanted to live a full life was going to portray him as fat and balding, now were they?!

So, we are lucky today in that the arrival of digital photography means we can pretty much take photos any time and any place we like. But are we that lucky? There is, of course, the issue that most of us do not print our photos out, just as we rarely write letters in ink on paper, trusting everything to technology. If disaster ever strikes and the internet fails or we run out of electricity, we would lose everything. The National Portrait Gallery will still be there and libraries and archives of letters will still exist. But perhaps after all, it is the memories we retain in our minds that really count as they stay with us for ever.


A passion for paint!

Top to bottom: The original chair, washed down with sugar soap. Painted. Distressed. Waxed. The finished product!Last September, that’s September 2014, not the one just gone, my partner in crime writing, Julia and myself, went to a wonderful paint effects class in Exeter. We learnt all sorts of exciting things from our excellent tutor, Lynn, at Pepperwhite Vintage and came away full of ideas of bits of furniture were going to upcycle and spruce up with our fabulous new skills! And so, it has only taken until now (14 months) for one of us Julia, not me, to finally put brush to paint and paint to piece of furniture. I hang my head in shame and claim pressure of work and writing and 101 other things… Here, she tells us what she has been up to…

Joanna and I left our paint course full of enthusiasm for our projects. I have some ugly and uncomfortable pine kitchen chairs that I longed to get rid of. So my plan was to source six chairs from junk shops that I could paint in different colours, distress and wax. I wanted ones with the pop-out seats that are easy to recover with nice fabric to match my décor. Easy! Not. 

First stumbling block – the chairs. I quite fancied the idea of different designs, so there was no need to worry about buying a matching set. Could I find any with the pop out seats? Could I heck! After months of searching, I found two for just £4 each at the local council tip – fantastic! Another month passed… and after much searching I found two more at a different council tip. Another bargain at £5 the pair! Then nothing. Zippo. Zilch. I could not find any more anywhere.

Eventually, I had to get help and a friendly antique dealer found me two very nice carvers (the ones with arms) and I had to grit my teeth and lay out £40, but to buy all six chairs for a total of £53 was still pretty good, I thought. 

Two of the chairs needed a bit of glue and one was missing one of the supports for the seat pad… Would my other half kindly fix them please? Months later and after cajoling, crying, pleading… they were finally finished two weeks ago! Playing on his guilt I even managed to get him to wash them all down with sugar soap, the only preparation these fabulous Autentico paints need. Result! And so, I finally made a start…

During all the months of messing about, I had bought my paints (three colours) and two different seat fabrics (all off cuts) and I already had two colours of Autentico waxes in my projects box. Luckily, four of the six seat pads were in good condition and I only needed to re-pad two of them. I had some unwanted seat pads, the sort you use on garden chairs, so I used the stuffing of those to pad the old seats

Aided hugely by my puppy, Moss, I began painting one of the carvers. This was slow work, but I was pleased with the end result. I then rubbed the chair down on corners and edges to give a ‘distressed’ look. Moss found this fascinating and kept pouncing on the sandpaper as I rubbed it back and forth and sneezing as the paint dust went up her nose. I then finished the chair off with some wax to give it a durable finish and make it look more aged.

The seat pad recovering was much simpler than I had thought. With the aid of a staple gun, I soon had it covered. I also covered the underside so it both looked neat and there were no ‘interesting’ bits left sticking out that would appeal to a naughty puppy. I am no expert, but I must say I am really quite pleased with the result. So there we are… one down, only FIVE more to go!! Wish me luck…


Do you fancy a ‘She Shed’?

© www.awoodenhouse.comI have been reading some fun articles over the weekend about the rise of the She Shed, as opposed to the Man Cave. I think both ideas are great if you have the room. It’s always fun to have somewhere that you can disappear into and put a note saying ‘go away’ on the door. It reminds me of the go away type notes I used to stick on my bedroom door as a child, the only trouble was I shared the bedroom with my sister and she kept spoiling things by coming in (I suspect deliberately) good thing we love each other and get on so well now!

You could convert your she shed into a beautiful lacy tearoom, a bright, neon 1950s style hideaway or how about a well organised craft room with spaces for all your bits and pieces? I saw some © www.housetohomelovely conservatory style sheds at the bottom of the gardens along a canal in Amsterdam that ladies used to meet in and take tea. That idea really appeals to me, which is why I love this white lacy she shed. I suspect I would never get around to converting the shed we already have in the garden and then I would have a homeless mower and strimmer etc. so that might not work. Maybe one has to buy a new shed…

I did write a blog last year about making a sign for ‘Dad’s Shed‘, but of course you could just as easily make a sign for ‘Mum’s Shed’ or ‘Granny’s Shed’ using those design ideas and our MDF plaque.

It would be a lovely fantasy world to inhabit though wouldn’t it? Try putting ‘She Shed’ into Google and you will see more than these pictures to gaze at and wonder if it is for you or not!

©www.bhg.comWhat kind of She Shed would you construct?



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!