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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Kingfishers

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. 

 

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Never mind Eastenders, this is Dartmoor Soap!

I enjoy watching Countryfile on BBC One, it is always full of interesting stories and last week’s was no exception. One item focussed on South Devon where we are based and I was particularly taken with the lady making her own soap – the main ingredients of which were beeswax, goat’s milk and vegetable oil! What started as a cottage industry has suddenly take off in a big way and, since being featured on Countryfile, I think they have been somewhat swamped…

The Dartmoor Soap Company operates out of the tiny and picturesque village of Belstone, high up on Dartmoor. When Sophie Goodwin-Hughes’ son was born four years ago, he suffered from eczema, so she decided to create a completely pure bar of soap from the most natural oils. The results were almost immediate and within days his eczema had disappeared.

Sophie says: “This discovery got us thinking about our own skins and how they were affected by the products we use on them. We researched the debate surrounding the use of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) in skin products, familiarised ourselves with the role of parabens and became obsessed with reading labels, much to the annoyance of many a shop-owner!”

She embarked on a mission to put her soap-making skills to the test and created a range of beautifully scented, yet 100% natural soaps and The Dartmoor Soap Company was born.

The soap is handmade using natural ingredients which, wherever possible, are sustainably sourced and harvested on Dartmoor. The soaps are free from chemical irritants such as Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, parabens, petrolatum and artificial colours and made without the dreaded palm oil.

In a mission to support and raise awareness about Dartmoor’s natural environment, 5p from each bar sold is donated to Butterfly Conservation, a registered UK charity that is working to protect butterflies, moths and the environment. Among other projects nationwide, the charity is working hard to combat declining numbers of the Fritillary butterfly on the moors.

The range of soaps Sophie makes is wonderful and I have to say, my absolute favourite is her Dartmoor Gardener’s Soap – a hard-working soap with olive oil and pumice. It is great at removing dirt and leaves your skin beautifully soft. An absolute winner! There are lots of other products to choose from and they would make gorgeous gifts

Goodness knows how she finds the time, but Sophie also runs soap-making courses… I think I might just have to take a drive across the moor to Belstone before too long!

PS. You can follow them on Facebook too.

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For evergreen…

Top to bottom: Pieris, Daphne, Fatsia japonica, Mahonia, Photinia.Where would we be without evergreens at this time of year? Glossy holly and its red berries, spiky scented pine, or delicate trailing ivy – the reliable backbones of so many Christmas decorations! But there are so many more lovely evergreens out there that could not only be cut to add to your Christmas decorations, but also provide interest in your garden for you and your local wildlife!

Evergreen shrubs provide permanent structure in the garden and all-year-round interest. Some have beautiful flower displays or are highly scented in winter when little else is growing, while others have variegated or colourful foliage – a real treat during the deepest winter days.

Here are a few suggestions for interesting evergreens:

Pieris
Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ is an absolute favourite of mine as it seems to keep itself busy doing something gorgeous throughout the year! Pieris are compact evergreen shrubs with leathery, dark green leaves. ‘Forest Flame’ is a large variety and the young foliage is bright red, becoming pink and cream and finally green. It has beautiful small cream bell-shaped flowers in large branched clusters.

Daphne
I love Daphne for their small but incredibly fragrant flowers which appear in winter and early spring, when little else in the garden is growing. There are both plain-leaved and variegated varieties available. Daphne is fairly slow-growing making it a great little evergreen shrub for the garden. Grow Daphne in sunny or partially-shaded mixed borders, woodland gardens and rock gardens.

Fatsia
Fatsia japonica is exotic-looking but surprisingly hardy and copes well with coastal conditions and tricky shady areas of the garden. Large stems of creamy white flowers, appear in the autumn, which are attractive to bees and a great source of late season nectar. Fatsia plants are very architectural and striking and can be grown in borders or large patio containers – they certainly make a statement!

Mahonia
Like Fatsia japonica, Mahonia plants have an architectural form, while their glossy, spiny leaves are similar to holly. They produce late winter and spring flowers that are bright yellow and have a wonderfully strong fragrance. They are also a fantastic early source of pollen and nectar for bees. Coping well with coastal conditions, clay soils and heavy shade Mahonia makes an unbeatable, low-maintenance addition to shrub borders and woodland gardens. You will find several in my garden.

Photinia
Photinias are tough, versatile shrubs, the most popular variety being ‘Red Robin’, whose glossy leaves are bright red when young, gradually changing to bronze-green through to deep green. Photinias light up shrub borders in the spring and make a good foil for summer-flowering plants.

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Grassy triangles and other unusual wild spaces!

Recently, as I was trying to turn out of a tricky junction on one of the narrow and winding lanes near my Devon home, I wondered why there are so often mounded triangles of grass at road junctions? How did these not entirely convenient features come to be?

When I looked into it there is, of course, a perfectly logical reason. As horses and carts, farm animals, carriages and eventually cars, turned left or right over the years, a wide splay often formed at the junction of country roads. Between the turning curves, undisturbed by traffic, grassy triangles were often left untouched when the roads started to be covered with tarmacadam. And so, these little oases of green are often home to all sorts of plants and wildlife – a mini nature reserve. 

I find it so interesting to see how nature makes the best of things in often the most hostile surroundings created by man. I recently sat transfixed for 10 minutes in a motorway service station watching the thriving wildlife in a scrubby hedgerow at the side of the parking area. A blackbird was busy feeding her young, two robins were having a punch up, and I even saw a tiny mouse skitter past. All around were fumes and noise and litter but they carried on with their lives perfectly happily.

Roundabouts are also havens for all sorts of wildlife too. Obviously when I am a passenger and not driving (she says hastily) I have caught sight of gorgeous wildflowers, butterlies and glimpses of wildlife too, slap bang in the middle of a very busy road system. Their inaccessibility to man is their saving grace.

To me, the most unexpected area for flora and fauna has to be motorway verges. Now that many have been established for decades, they have truly become nature reserves. Often covering quite large areas, these are inhospitable places for man, but they are often smothered in wildflowers and I have often seen merlins, and other birds of prey, hovering overhead their beady eyes fixed on a rabbit or other mammal happily hopping around in the vegetation below. How quickly nature adapts and accepts and then conquers these remote places. It gives me great pleasure to know that, given just the slightest chance, nature will always overcome in the end…

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