Thank you!

 

‘Thank you’ truly is a magic phrase at times. It’s amazing how powerful just saying thank you – or forgetting to say thank you – can be. We all feel good when someone thanks us for a card or a present and it’s obvious that you have pleased them.

In the old days, we would perhaps dutifully write thank you letters and this has understandably changed a bit over the years, I am just as chuffed with a thank you email or text these days! But a particularly lovely way to say thank you is to make a beautiful card like this one.

The main butterfly image comes from the Jane Shasky Vintage Butterfly paper pad – I can’t rave on enough about how beautiful the images are and every sheet will make a fabulous card for loads of different occasions.

The backing paper, which blends perfectly is from our Age of Elegance CD. This is such a handy resource to have tucked away in a drawer. There are dozens of quite gorgeous papers on here apart from the main toppers/images etc. My favourite component of this CD has to be the William Morris paper collection.

There’s nothing complex about this 8” x 8” square card – but it proves absolutely how heavy techniques or tricky ideas are sometimes outshone by simplicity!

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Feed the birds …

birdseeddownThis is just the time of year when we ought to think about our feathered friends the most.

We may live in nice warm houses but poor birds are huddled outside somewhere and wondering where their next meal is coming from. Well… not so if you are a bird in a 100-yard radius of my house! We have a weight watchers class for pigeons (who can barely waddle in mid summer), there are polite queues of assorted birds waiting for the fat balls to be renewed and picky birds sifting through the birdseed for their favourite varieties.

We feed the birds all year round. Monday to Friday it’s the task of Dave the ‘goods in and out’ chap to replenish the bird food tree. Yes, a whole tree is devoted to hanging bird seed holders, half coconuts and fat balls and often we scatter more seeds around the base of this long-suffering tree. It’s a weeping pear and quite short so we get a lovely view of the birds indulging themselves!

birdseedhangingYou know I often mention making your cards into small gifts by adding a little something. Well, this House-Mouse card has bird seed added. It’s not difficult – you just design a landscape card and then staple(or glue) the clear bag of bird food in position. I think this would make a lovely little present for an avid bird feeder. It is enjoyable on a slow day to be able to just (in my case) lean on the kitchen worktop and gaze out of the window at the bird canteen!

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DIY bird feeding station

I’ve just been watching a dear little robin through the window, head cocked, eyes bright – that’s the robin, not me! I always start to fret about the garden birds at this time of year as it gets colder.

I don’t know if it is significant, but I have never seen so many rowan berries as there have been this year, and also lots of holly berries… does that foretell of a bad winter or a mild one? Anyway, forearmed is forewarned and I recently saw this lovely idea for winter bird feeding, so I thought I’d share it with you…

The pine cone, beloved of crafters and flower arrangers everywhere, makes an excellent natural base for a bird feeder. Its open structure is just asking to be stuffed full of titbits for our feathered friends.

  1. Begin by collecting some medium to large pine cones. Don’t worry if they are tightly closed as, once you bring them indoors, they will open. If they are bit reluctant, give them a short warm in the oven.
  1. Attach string to the top of the cone ready to hang it up.
  1. Now, the world is your oyster, or indeed your pine cone! You may want to put rubber gloves on at this point as it gets messy… Spread suet, fat or even peanut butter over the cone, making sure you get it into the gaps between the scales and cover the whole thing.
  1. Place a mix of birdseed on a tray and roll your sticky pine cone until well coated. If you go for a general bird mix, you’ll attract a variety of birds. You could make several pine cone feeding stations and roll others in specific seeds, such as niger for example and you should attract that beautiful, colourful little bird, the goldfinch.
  1. Put your bird feeders in the fridge for an hour or so to make everything set.
  1. Finally, hang your masterpiece in a secluded area of your garden close enough to a hedge or shrub to give a safe haven for the birds if need be, but not somewhere that is likely to help any passing cats get at the birds!
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The original version of ‘twitter’…

BirdSong

Top to bottom: Blackbird, skylark, robin, song thrush, chaffinch, stone chat, kingfisher.

It always makes me smile when people talk about ‘the peace and quiet’ of the countryside – as it can be really noisy! Farm animals, especially sheep, are actually  quite loud if you live close to them and then, of course, there’s the inescapable tractor and other clanking bits of farm machinery. But most deafening of all can be the dawn chorus! Of course, when I say deafening, I mean that in the most wonderful way, a magical wall of sound that, in spring and summer is the most glorious thing to wake up to, even if it is rather early!

While I really appreciate the background beauty of bird song, I am not all that good at identifying different birds, or what the different tweets and chirrups of our songbirds actually mean. But being able to recognise a species by its melody means you will see more when you are out walking, so I was interested to find some tips on how to become a better bird song expert!

Birds are the first to warn when there is a predator about. If I hear a noise out of place (blackbirds have a particularly strident alarm call), I stand stock still and wait to see what happens. Sure enough after a little while a cat, stoat or other mammal will usually emerge.

Although bird’s songs sound cheerful, they are actually expressions of aggression used to warn off competitors or noisy serenades to attract a mate. Generally, the prettier the tune, the more confrontational the bird that is singing it!

Here are some tips I found online to help recognise bird song:

1. Start with signature tunes
Among the UK’s native species there are definite ‘songsters’. These are birds with beautiful voices, like blackbirds, robins, skylarks, song thrushes and chaffinches, and each has its own, distinct signature tune. Once you’ve learned a bird’s song, you can always pick out, even if it only sings a few phrases of the melody.

2. Build on what you already know
You may not think you know anything about bird song, but most of us already have a basic knowledge – think of the hoot of a tawny owl or a cuckoo’s call. It’s not difficult to add to this the ‘Repeat, repeat’, repeat’ of a song thrush or the noisy chittering of a wren. For such a tiny bird, a wren’s song is very loud!

3. Fit the sound to your surroundings
If you are by a river or a stream and you hear a loud, piping call then look out for the electric-blue of a kingfisher as it flashes past. Grey wagtails make a sort of ‘chiswick’ call that is so loud you can hear it above the sound of running water. On the other hand, if you are walking across moorland, or a ploughed field, and you hear the most joyful stream of song – look up! It’s most likely a skylark and probably one of my favourite songsters.

4. There’s a clue in the name…
Cuckoos, curlews, kittiwakes and chiffchaffs are named after the calls they make.  Listen out for the ‘chiff’ ‘chaff’ next time you are walking through scrubland or woodland. Walking on the moorland down here in Devon, I often hear the stone chat who, unsurprisingly, says ‘chat’!

5. Add some lyrics!

It is said that some bird songs sound like nursery rhymes. A yellow hammer sings: “A little bit of butter and nooo cheeese”. And then there’s the wood pigeon’s eternal and, quite irritating, refrain of: ‘My toe hurts Betty; my toe hurts Betty; my toe hurts Betty. Oooh’. Once you’ve got lyrics in your head it’s easier to remember the tune.

Fascinatingly, birds actually have local dialects. A British chaffinch, for instance, sings a slightly different tune to a Siberian one. But the difference is something only a really committed ornithologist with experience of listening to a range of species across Europe needs to know… so I think we’ll need to pass on that one!

Happy listening!

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Homespun beauties…

I regularly post photos of gorgeous wall art created by ‘Homespun from Devon’. The very talented lady behind this company, Sue Lewis, lives nearby and our paths have crossed in the crafting world before… so I thought it would be interesting to ask her about her work and how she produces her stunning wet felted masterpieces…

Sue Lewis at the opening of her current exhibition in Devon.Sue has always been interested in crafts and trained originally as a graphic designer. Always busy with hobbies, she worked her way through textiles, home furnishings and painting and eventually arrived at ‘painting with wool’ as she calls it.

Sue explains: “Having read an article about wet felting, I was intrigued. Unable to find any local classes I taught myself. I was immediately hooked with this method of painting with wool. As I got more experienced I introduced freestyle stitching to my pieces and started to hand dye fleece to add texture.

“Using locally sourced, rare breed fleece is important to me. There’s a certain satisfaction in collecting fleece straight from the sheep, washing it, hand dying it and transforming it into a work of art. I take my inspiration from nature and the beautiful countryside that surrounds where I live in Devon.” 

Sue works with a range of different fibres.

In the flesh, Sue’s pictures are fascinating as they have such depth – both in colour and actual texture. They Wet felting is hard work!are mounted in deep box frames that draw you in but which sadly also make them impossible to send by courier or post. “I spend quite a lot of my time delivering the pictures myself as I can’t get them insured for transporting,” says Sue.

Her landscape pictures are her most popular works and Sue particularly enjoys creating dramatic skies. If you think it’s a relaxing and gentle art form… think again! Wet felting takes up a lot of room and a lot of strength! 

Sue says: “I create the picture ‘dry’, laying the coloured wool fibres where I want them to form the picture. Then it is sprinkled with a water and soap solution. I lay bubble wrap over the top and smooth it down, very carefully. The wool can be up to 3” thick and I then have to roll it up to start the ‘meshing’ process of the wool fibres. The knobbles on the bubble wrap are very good for this process.

“I have to roll the wool in different directions to ensure the fibres lock together. It is quite hard work and also leads to a degree of ‘randomness’ which (usually!) results in creating lovely effects that I hadn’t necessarily planned!”

Different fibres create different effects and Sue uses all sorts of things in her work  including, silk, hemp, rose fibres, banana fibres and different types of wool. And then of course, there’s the issue of shrinkage. “The picture will shrink about 30% when it dries out, so I have to plan that into the design. Different fibres also shrink at different rates, so that can also lead to unexpected results.”

Before and after – stunning foxgloves!Since October 2014, Sue’s hobby has become her full-time job and her house is full of bags of wool, grouped by colour, a large table top to work on – and she spends a lot of time in the bathroom! “Once the picture has thoroughly ‘felted’, it has to be rinsed in cold water then very gently squeezed to get rid of excess water, so I spend a lot of time hauling the heavy felt in and out of the bath!”. If the weather is kind, Sue’s work gets to dry outside in the sunshine, otherwise it finishes off on top of her Aga.

Her work sells widely through galleries across the country and she also sells through the National Trust. As well as her stunning landscapes, she also makes gorgeous felt flowers. Having made red poppies for a British Legion fundraising event, Sue received a commission for felt flowers for a winter wedding – such a clever idea!

You can follow Sue on Facebook or see her work for sale on Etsy, or find out where she is exhibiting by dropping her a line.

PS. Sue has also just launched place mats and chopping boards based on her designs.

 

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