A heart-felt experience…

Today, I am handing over the blog to my partner in crime writing, Julia. She has been on a course to find out about the wonders of needle felting…

“Felt wasn’t a fabric I had really thought much about since I last made dolls’ clothes out of it as a child – it didn’t need hemming, so a great advantage. Having recently read about Sue Lewis’s lovely wet felt pictures and visited the Bellacouche studio near where I live in Moretonhampstead, I’d started to think about felt in a new light…

I booked myself on a needle felting course at the lovely sounding Cowslip Workshops on the other side of Dartmoor. Run by mixed media artist, Kate Toms, the course was entitled ‘Make a Dog in a day’, so how could I resist? As some of you may know, I am the owner of Moss the Dartmoor Dog Blogger and, like Joanna, am a confirmed dog fan. Kate creates 3D characters as well as being a published author and illustrator of books for the very young. Needle felting is currently her favourite technique.


Left to right: Kate starting to create the dog’s body using a large needle felting mat; Rovings!; These strange looking items went on to form Moss’s legs!

I, and nine other enthusiastic students, gathered at 10am for the workshop that would take us through the process of making a small felted dog. Needle felting is a wonderfully simple technique where barbed felting needles are used to interlock wool fibres forming a solid mass.

Kate is an excellent tutor, extremely knowledgeable and with a great sense of humour. She patiently took us will through the various stages to ensure we all managed to take our own little dog home with us at the end of the day.

We were faced with huge balls of wool (actually called ‘rovings’) in a mix of lovely natural colours. We made our selections and dutifully copied Kate’s demonstrations as we built up our little canine figures. And then the fun began! Stabbing yourself with a felting tool is painful… when you somehow manage to keep doing it, it is extremely painful! The air was peppered with little squeaks and cries as we all managed to stab ourselves every few minutes. (Note to self: buy a finger guard!) But never mind the pain, it was so exciting to see these amazing structures emerge out of wispy scraps of wool, that none of us showed any signs of flagging.


Left to right, adding the legs to the body; Kate patiently demonstrating; A fellow crafter having a go!

It is a fascinating technique and, once you know the basics, easy to create 3D figures. I assumed needle felting was an ancient technique, like wet felting, but apparently not. It was ‘invented’ in the 1990s. You can use a variety of tools, from a very fine single needle to create detail, to a long vicious-looking sturdy three-pronged affair that Kate calls a ‘claw’, to the smaller and very effective five-needle tool that allows you to stab away and create shapes really quickly. To minimise pain and blood loss, you work onto a foam block or a thing that looks like an enormous nail brush, the latter being a great way of carding the wool as you work.

After lunch (there’s a lovely café selling loads of delicious home-made dishes!) things got a bit more mellow as we all wallowed in a post-lunch slump. Kate, who had run the workshop the previous day, realised we were getting behind schedule and chivvied us on, saying she was happy to stay until we had all finished. We were scheduled to finish at 4pm… I finally left – ­tired, battle scared and not a little emotional – proudly clutching my little dog at 7pm!

The studios were as delightful as I’d imagined and Kate was an inspirational teacher and I can’t recommend them highly enough. A regular supply of tea, coffee, biscuits and even cake, throughout the day, ensured we didn’t run out of energy. I had a wonderful time and, as promised, everyone on the course produced a dear little dog at the end of it. They were all very different, reflecting their creator’s own personality. I, rather predictably, was trying to make a dog that looked like Moss… you can judge for yourselves whether I succeeded or not!


Left to right: Kate’s own gorgeous dogs! Everyone’s efforts – what a motley crew… and my version of Moss. She was not impressed!

If you fancy having a go at needle felting, you can find everything available online. It is a relatively cheap hobby to take up, so if it appeals to you, why not have a go? I intend to make more figures… after I’ve bought a finger guard and some sticking plasters!







Growing up fast…

My partner in crime writing, Julia, got a new puppy back in March last year and we introduced you to her the following month – Moss, a Wirehaired German Pointer. Well, Moss is now one year old and has grown up into quite a character! She has her own Facebook page and also ‘writes’ reviews for a local business ‘Dartmoor Accommodation’ about dog-friendly places to visit. We thought we’d let her bring you up to date with her life so far…

Hello! I am Moss, the Dartmoor Dog Blogger. I have grown up a lot since you last saw me and I no longer look like a Spaniel. My lovely wirehaired coat has grown, and I am generally regarded as rather gorgeous with a fine moustache and beard. I also have pale greeny gold eyes which, I am told, are one of my best features.

I am lucky (so she keeps telling me) as I live on a farm on Dartmoor so I get lots of nice walks by the river, on the moor or just around the fields on the farm. I am especially fond of puddles, and I like to lie in them, but I am not a very good swimmer yet, I am still learning. I enjoy being in the waves in the sea when we go on holiday and I did swim a bit in Cornwall last summer.

A few of my favourite things! Top to bottom: The watering can incident, puddle bathing, mulching, erm… cushion chewing, relaxing on the sofa.I am, apparently, quite naughty and not very obedient (whatever that is!) and I do like a good chew. I have chewed all sorts of things – from my bed, to the aerial cable and part of a watering can, to name but a few. Different things have different textures and I like to try them out.

I have also tried different types of food such as raw spaghetti and garlic (euw!). Every day, as well as my proper food, I have natural yogurt, raw carrots and some pumpkin seeds – which are very yummy and I would like to eat them all the time. I am a very healthy dog! I also like to recycle things, like paper and cardboard and chew them up ready for the bin men. I am also good at mulching in the garden, chewing everything up and then spreading it around and sometimes bringing it into the house… which she doesn’t appreciate.

Sometimes, we go and visit nice places like hotels or pubs where they welcome dogs, some have water bowls and dog biscuits and special towels for me to wipe my feet on. I have to sit and watch her chomp her way through free meals and afternoon tea and I get given titbits. She then writes about it and I get even more famous! I think she probably get a better deal out of it than I do, but I do get to meet lots of new people, who are always very nice to me.

All in all, it’s not a bad life. I get to sleep a lot and relax on the sofa, it is quite tiring being famous and it is hard work training her to do what I want, but I am getting there… I reckon she’ll be well-trained by the end of this year.

Licks, Moss.


Well, who’d have thought it!

Following on from my blog a few weeks ago about the top dog breeds in the UK, I thought I’d Google around a bit more and look at what were the most popular pets. I was somewhat surprised by what I discovered…

In 2014 it was estimated that 13 million (46% of) households had pets. The total pet population stands at around 65 million ­– which sounds huge – but that does including fish. I’m sorry, but I never really think of fish as pets as they are cold and wet and you can’t stroke them, or ‘pet’ them as such, but clearly I am in the minority here!

So, here’s what is widely regarded as the UK’s top ten pets:

1. Fish kept in tanks: 20 – 25 million (9% of households)
2. Fish kept in ponds: 20 million (5% of households)
3. Dogs: 9 million (24% of households)
4. Cats: 7.9 million (18% of households)
5. Rabbits: 1 million (2.4% of households)
6. Domestic fowl: 1 million (0.8% of households)
7. Caged birds: 1 million (1.4% of households)
8. Guinea Pigs: Half a million (1.1% of households)
9. Hamsters: 400,000 (1.4% of households)
10. Lizards: 400,000 (0.7% of households)  

Lizards… really? The tenth most popular pet ahead of horses and ponies? Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather from one of the 1 million of No.6. And it’s slightly unnerving to envisage half a million Guinea Pigs chomping away in their little cages, but they are sweet pets and one of my daughters was totally besotted with hers.

Other popular pets are, unsurprisingly, horses and ponies (400,000 – 0.3% of households), snakes (400,000 – 0.5% of households), pigeons (300,000), tortoises and turtles (300,000), frogs and toads (100,000), newts/salamanders (100,000), gerbils, rats, mice and insects (100,000 of each).

I’ve clearly led a sheltered life where pets are concerned, my own selection being restricted largely to dogs and most of those being spaniels. What pets have you owned? Are you conventional, like me, or have you been seduced by salamanders or been besotted with a budgie? I’ll bet there are some unusual ones out there… I’d love to hear about them!


So who is top dog?

Moss, a German Wirehaired Pointer.My partner in crime writing Julia, has a lovely puppy called Moss, who we featured on this blog a few months ago. Moss is a German Wirehaired Pointer. This is not a common breed and Julia is amazed at how often she is stopped in the street and asked what sort of dog Moss is.

Devon is a very doggy part of the world with it being such a great place to walk and also home to lots of farms where working dogs are used. You will find lots of collies – used to work both sheep and cattle and, of course, those wonderful feisty little characters, Jack Russells – used as ratters, rabbiters and general farm watchdogs. They also seem to be the regular driving companion to farmers in their tractors!

And so I started wondering about what the ten most popular breeds of dog in the UK were. The figures I came across are from The Kennel Club so don’t take into account non-pedigree and non-registered dogs so you won’t see a Labradoodle, a French Pug or a Cockapoo on the list! Generally, the most popularly owned and bred dogs in the UK stay fairly consistent year on year, with the same breeds of dogs appearing in the list over and over again. Today’s most popular dogs are:

Our late, beloved Wellington, a Cocker Spaniel.1. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador remains a firm favourite within the UK, and consistently appears near the top of the list every year. Bred as gundogs originally, they make loyal, loving and friendly family pets, great with children, intelligent and easy to train.

2. Cocker Spaniel (my favourite!)
The Cocker Spaniel is statistically the dog most likely to win the Best in Show title at Crufts. But the Cocker is not just a pretty face – like the Labrador, the Cocker achieved its popularity as a working gun dog, and got the ‘Cocker’ name due to its proficiency at hunting the Eurasian Woodcock. Did you know that… 

3. Springer Spaniel (English)
Gun dogs currently hold all of the top three rankings in the popularity stakes, with the English Springer Spaniel coming in third. Affectionate, fun loving and incredibly good natured, the Springer Spaniel loves to play, chase and run.

4. German Shepherd
The German Shepherd (or Alsatian) is a large dog of Germanic origins, and relatively young in dog terms, with the breed originating towards the end of the 19th century. It is prized for its fearlessness, loyalty and A feisty little Border Terrier.intelligence, and can often be found in working roles alongside of the police or military.

5. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier comes in at number five, but if you include non-registered Staffys and Staffy cross breeds, you might well find the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the number one spot! Squat, muscular and businesslike, the Staffy is a loyal dog that forms close bonds with his family and makes the perfect companion for young and old alike.

6. Border Terrier
The Border Terrier is a small rough-coated terrier hailing from the Scottish borders, and they are comical, fun loving and lively little dogs that tend to be hardy and full of pluck! While the Border Terrier generally gets on well with children, they often don’t extend the same affection to cats and other smaller pets- except as a snack!

7. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the third spaniel to make the list. Sharing the traits of loyalty, sunny dispositions and kind natures with the Springer and the Cocker it is one of the smaller spaniel breeds, and Zelda Zen, a friend’s gorgeous little Pug.often popular as a lap dog.

8. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is a medium-sized and intelligent dog that loves water! They are also renowned for their loyalty and ability to work with people, and can be found in many working roles such as search and rescue, assistance for blind or deaf people, and as sniffer dogs.

9. Pug
The Pug is often referred to as the comedian of the canine world and is an intelligent, entertaining and good-natured dog. It would certainly be fair to say that their looks are unique and distinctive, with their short, squat bodies, curled tails and squashed faces!

Lennox, a beautiful retriever in training to become a Guide Dog.10. Boxer
The boxer dog, so named for the ‘boxing’ motions they make when fighting or play fighting, has fallen in popularity in recent years, with the incidences of newly registered puppies down 40% in 2010 compared to the 2001 census.

If you have had dogs as pets, what breed did you have, and why…?



The peacock – something to be proud of?

The peacock is a mightily impressive bird, both admired and feared throughout the world. Not only does it have the most breathtakingly beautiful tail, or ‘train’ as it is called, enormous, dramatic and covered in iridescent ‘eyes’, it also emits the most terrifying scream said to be loud enough to wake the dead! I am always somewhat disappointed when I hear their call as such a beautiful bird should make a much more pleasant sound, but I digress…

I bought a rather lovely storage box online recently with a beautiful peacock design on it and, while searching for it, the number of peacock designs I came across, used on all sorts of products, was quite astonishing!

The blue peacock, or peafowl, that we see most often in this country, originates from India and Sri Lanka and is related, unsurprisingly, to the pheasant. While it would be natural to think their stunning train feathers contain vivid pigments – they don’t. It’s much more complex than that and involves ‘barbules’ – fibre-like components. Slight changes to the spacing of these barbules result in the different colours.

Peafowl – oh let’s just call it a peacock and have done with it – are forest birds that nest on the ground, but roost in trees. They have an interesting diet and are omnivorous and eat mostly plant parts, flower petals, seed heads, insects, reptiles and even amphibians. Wild peacocks are not picky and will eat almost anything they can fit in their beaks and swallow! Domesticated peacocks have a slightly different and a more varied diet than their wild cousins. Sometimes they eat grass, different kinds of seed, flower petals, insects and whatever their owners feed them. This is usually similar to the food given to chickens, such as corn and oats and even cheese and rice. 

The peacock appears as an important symbol in many cultures and religions. In Christianity, the peacock symbolism represents the ‘all-seeing’ church, along with the holiness and sanctity associated with it. The peacock also represents resurrection, renewal and immortality within the spiritual teachings of Christianity.

Hindu mythology says the peacock is a magical sacred bird that’s often associated with the god of thunder, Indra. The story says that the peacock will dance when rain comes.

Chinese mythology sees the peacock rather differently to Hindus. They see it as a symbol of dignity and beauty and it is often associated with the resurrection of Christ according to Christian art. This is because the peacock will moult its tail feathers only for them to re-grow again later.

To many Europeans, the peacock is an evil bird, the ‘eyes’ in the tail feathers are related to the ‘evil eye’ and it’s a sign of impending doom to look upon them!

As a crafter, I find their colours entrancing and their shape and intricate feather design inspiring and versatile, while peacock blue is a definite favourite colour of mine. I just typed ‘peacock’ into our craft shop and found we have no less than 12 items listed… OK, so one of them is a peacock butterfly, but still…