Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 30 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, walking on Dartmoor, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could share with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!

Willow Sunset

Stamping has had a real surge of interest over the past couple of years – and quite rightly so. It is a craft that is relatively inexpensive once you have a collection of rubber stamps.

Unmounted stamps are a great way to go for so many reasons, saves space, saves money all that good stuff! You can choose to use EZ Mount (my choice) or Rock-a-blocks, glues and various other ways of attaching the stamps to clear acrylic blocks.

This card has a pretty background created with the Inkylicious brushes or the Inkssentials Ink Blending Tool and the Tim Holtz distress ink pads. Just build the layers of colour – taking care to overlap and gently keep adding depth of hue. You can make every card completely unique to you as you choose the colour, the depth of hue and the ‘look’ of the background. Then stamp the willow tree – in this case from my countryside stamps “Garden of Dreams”.

The artist Michelle Radford actually sat and drew the tree looking at the willow in our garden that was a collective present from all the staff at JS Limited when Richard and I got married (ahhhh!).

There are so many fun techniques you can do with a silhouette style stamp such as this – it works really well if you stamp and emboss – for example a white embossed or silver embossed tree on a black background. Another look I like is using a sepia coloured ink pad on a cream background – the options are endless – have fun!

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Hedgerow rummaging again!

Spring is wonderful and, as I’ve said before, my favourite time of year! All the obvious things like baby birds, lambs and flowers bursting into life are lovely… but one of the most gorgeous things to me is the emergence of beech leaves. I know, a bit weird, but there we are!

One day, the hedge seems dull and uninteresting, speckled with narrow brown pointed buds – the next, it is smothered in delicate lime green tissue paper fluttering in the breeze. Beech leaves are so delicate and so fine and tissue-thin when they emerge, they are just breathtaking.

Goodness knows what my neighbours think as the arrival of beech leaves is yet another reason for me to be spotted rummaging around in the hedgerow, but rummage I must!

Fresh from the tree, beech leaves are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture.

My friend, Julia Horton-Powdrill – she of the food foraging in Pembrokeshire, uses beech leaves to make a potent liqueur called Beech Leaf Noyau.

Julia says: “Pack a glass jar about nine tenths full of the very young, delicate, clean leaves. Pour gin into the jar, pressing the leaves down all the time, until they are just covered. Leave it to steep for about two weeks.

Strain off the gin which should now be green in colour (although mine is quite often more brown!). To every 500ml of gin add 300g sugar dissolved in 250ml of boiling water. You can add an optional splash of brandy if you fancy it! Mix the warm syrup with the gin and bottle when cold.”

Sounds great to me – cheers!

Joanna

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Dandelion – weed or wonderful plant?

What do most of us think when we see a dandelion? WEED!!! But wait – this is such a negative view of what is actually a very versatile and edible plant. If we can train ourselves to see it as such, just think how much more relaxed we will be as gardeners!

As we all know, dandelions grow very well in the UK for pretty much most of the year. The dandelion is used by the French and Italians in their cuisine and is even cultivated. Did you know almost all of the plant can be eaten?

The leaves: The leaves of the dandelion plant are best eaten young. The dandelion has a bitter taste similar to chicory that grows stronger with age and leaf colour. Pick the young and tender leaves and you can include them in salads. You can mix them in with other greens such as spinach or cabbage or even use them in a stir-fry.

The roots: The roots are also edible and can be washed (not peeled) roasted and ground to make a caffeine-free coffee alternative. Large roots can also be roasted like small thin parsnips – delicious, but you will need a lot to make it worthwhile. They cook very quickly, so keep your eye on them!

The flower: The flower is really very attractive – I know, hard to see it in this way – but it is! Pull off the petals and scatter them in salad – it looks lovely. Or, you can use the whole flower head as a garnish or dip it in a light batter and deep-fry the flower heads as a snack or starter – they go really well with a hot chilli sauce.

If picking now, make sure you go for the smallest, newest plants. Do be careful not to pick ones have been chemically sprayed. Also avoid picking dandelions by the roadside as they will have absorbed petrol fumes. But if, like me, you have a garden full of them – pick away!

Here’s a simple little dandelion idea for you to try:

Dandelion tea

Most warm herbal teas have a comforting effect. Dandelions are a diuretic and can help to reduce water retention and bloated feelings. Many people find this tea a useful treatment for rheumatism too. The tea also acts as a mild laxative, so don’t drink too much at once!

You will need:

  • 5-6 dandelion leaves
  • Boiling water
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)
  1. Remove any stems from the leaves. Break them into strips and put in the bottom of a mug. Pour on enough boiling water to fill the mug and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Strain, discard most of the dandelion leaves and drink. If you prefer a sweeter brew, add a small teaspoonful of honey.

PS. And don’t forget, guinea pigs and rabbits adore dandelion leaves too!!

Smiles, Joanna

 

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The wonders of willow!

This week, I’ve asked my ‘hen pal’, Julia Wherrell, to produce a guest blog. As well as keeping hens Julia also grows lots of veg and enjoys doing battle with a steep garden up on Dartmoor.

“I’ve been wondering about working with willow for some time now. I often buy little decorative willow items such as hearts, or wreaths and really fancy some willow sculptures for the garden. As these can be quite expensive I thought – why not have a go myself?

So, I booked myself on a day’s course at Musgrove Willows up in Somerset entitled ‘Birds and beasties’. Our tutor Sarah Webb, a very experienced basket maker and willow sculptor, was very laid back and let us create whatever we liked. Predictably, I opted for a chicken!

I was amazed at how flexible the willow was. We were working with 3ft lengths that had been soaked before hand. Initially, I found working in 3D a little strange (I usually only draw or paint) but once we all got the hang of thinking about how to create the structure – a series of hoops linked together and then built up into a flowing shape – it wasn’t too difficult.

Working with willow was good fun, and I found it very therapeutic, I concentrated so hard on what I was doing that I lost all track of time! It’s very easy to get started and you don’t need any previous experience.

Willow is amazing stuff! It grows incredibly quickly, depending on the type – anything for 5ft to 13ft a year! It can be worked wet, as we were, or dry and you can plant ‘living’ willow and create amazing garden structures that you prune back in autumn, and watch burst into life in spring.

I came home armed with my wicker hen (proudly displayed here, next to some of my ‘real’ hens!) and a bundle of willow to make some more. I intend to build a living willow hedge in my garden and make some other willow items so, if Jo will let me, I’ll update you in another blog later in the year!

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Turning ‘nothing’ into ‘something’

Whether you refer to it as Folk Art, Barge Art, Canalboat Art – or even the modern version One Stroke or Fusion Painting – they all cover roughly the same territory. The artwork is bold and simplistic and once tutored, even a relative beginner can produce some really fun pieces of artwork.

Many moons ago my mother and I signed up for barge art evening classes and for ages, we plagued the entire family with decorated gifts for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries – you get the drift! But joking aside, it is a fun way to decorate the most inexpensive household bits and pieces.

These enamel items are all painted using glossy paint (small pots of Humbrol) but you could use other mediums on cards or canvas. I think it’s a great way to pretty something up and it encourages me horribly to hoard more dilapidated bits and pieces ‘for when I have time…’!

We’ve decorated wonderful flat irons, horseshoes, hat boxes, coal scuttles, washing up brush containers, bottles, trays, jars… the list is endless, and many of these bits and pieces we managed to collect for nothing.

One of the joys of crafting I guess… turning nothing into something and creating a really pretty thing that takes pride of place in your home!

Smiles, Joanna

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