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!

Pretty cards with pressed flowers

Pressed flowers can look so pretty when used as a simple decoration on a card that I feel you don’t always need a picture as well – here the words and embellishments are enough.

If you have never tried pressing flowers then it’s worth a go as it’s so rewarding. There are instructions on pressing flowers on the tuition section of our website. However if you want to get started right away, or experiment with flowers on cards instantly, then you can buy packs of ready pressed flowers from the website too.

Start by deciding which die you would like to use and the words. This will obviously depend on what stamps you have (this is from our Wordy stamps) and which dies. The labels series from Spellbinders is very handy and any one of those may be perfect, depending on the shape of the words you are going to stamp. Create several layers under the words as shown in the photo.

The base is cream and the layers are an olive green, then some more cream that has been embossed with a folder (Cuttlebug’s Swiss dots is a perennial favourite) and the edge punched with border punch. So, layer some green card, then a piece of tonight backing paper, add the cream embossed card and then wrap some dotty ribbon around this stack. Attach this to the blank card.

Add some flourishes and a rose, rosebud and touch of gypsophila to each corner. Then cut a sheet of acetate to the size of the card blank and hold down in each corner with a pretty brad. This covers and protects the pressed flowers as people simply cannot resist rubbing them (and destroying the card) when they receive it!

Finally add the layered words on top of the acetate.

 

 

 

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Get down and dirty this autumn!

This week, my hen pal, Julia, reports back on a recent willow hurdle making course as a guest blog and gives some interesting alternatives to your usual pruning… whether I have the strength and enthusiasm to follow suit I’m not sure but it makes interesting reading!

I‘ve been at it again – tackling willow that is! After my success at making willow sculptures I set off full, of confidence, on a course to make willow hurdles. I think they are lovely – so aesthetically pleasing and great as fences, screens or edges. I’ve always wanted some in my garden but was put off by the prices. “Easy, I’ll just make my own!” I thought… wrong!

To start – sturdy, straight hazel poles were stuck at 6” intervals into a sleeper, to give the uprights to then weave around. Despite having a very good tutor, the initial ’tie’ that makes the free-standing hurdle secure at its base is really complex and is an utterly exhausting process! Despite being shown twice, I’m not sure any of us actually ‘got it’.

The first few hours of the day were spent on my knees shuffling side to side across by 6ft hurdle’s length, weaving the willow. Then, as the hurdle grew in height I was able to stand but had to maintain a very uncomfortable bent stance and my hands and thumbs became increasingly sore and tired.

At the end of the day, I came home with a respectable looking hurdle. My other half did say ‘It looked like a proper one’, so it wasn’t a complete disaster – but wow, was I shattered! I now appreciate the work involved and why they are so expensive!

However, talking to the tutor, and others on the course, I realised that you don’t have to weave structures in such a structured way. You can ‘have a go’ with all sorts of off cuts and whippy bits of shrubs and trees. If you fancy weaving a little bit of fencing – perhaps to edge a flower bed, or to form a small retaining fence on a slope, you can simply stick some sturdy off-cuts of hazel, or a thick stemmed shrub (all leaves removed) into the ground where you want the structure to be – and start weaving. As your structure is fixed and isn’t free-standing, the initial ‘tie’ isn’t essential. You can weave with long whips cut from pretty much anything. Dogwood, for example, is lovely, as the stems are a wonderful red colour.

It just so happens that it’s a bit of a bumper year for growth – with all the rain we’ve had, I’ve got shrubs 12 to 15ft high in my garden. So, rather than trimming with hedge clippers as I would normally, I am going to get down and dirty and get in underneath the shrubs and prune some of the really long stems at the base so I end up with long whips that I can then use to weave my mini hurdles. Don’t get carried away though – make sure you prune things at the right time.

What have you got to lose? If it goes wrong, pull it out and have another go. It will cut down on the clippings that you’ll need to burn or shred, the leaves you strip off can all go into leaf mulch and, if it works, you’ll get some really pretty and useful structures in your garden. There’s lots of information on the internet – go on, have a go!

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Keeping it clean – and fresh!

As autumn draws its misty veil around us, it’s time for a bit of pampering me thinks. Apart from natural beauty products being good to use, making them can be soothing and therapeutic too. Here are two cleansers and a skin freshener to suit different skin types. Enjoy!

Olive oil cleanser – for dry skin

You will need:

  • 10ml (2 teaspoons) olive oil
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) runny honey

This recipe could not be easier, and the cleanser works brilliantly.

Simply mix the two ingredients together until well combined. Then apply to the face and neck rubbing well in well with the pads of your fingers. Rinse off with a mild herbal infusion or tepid water.

Mint and Thyme cleanser – for oily skin

You will need:

  • 15ml (1 tablespoon) thyme infusion
  • 15ml (1 tablespoon) mint infusion
  • 15ml (1 tablespoon) milk
  • 1 heaped teaspoon wholemeal flour
  • 1 level teaspoon cornflour or cornstarch

For the infusion, use 30g (1oz) of dried herb to 600ml (21/2 cups) of boiling water and leave to steep for at least an hour. Keep any unused infusion in the fridge.

Put all the ingredients except the infusions into a steep-sided bowl or wide-knecked glass jar standing in boiling water. Stir until it begins to thicken. Add 1 tablespoon of each infusion and allow to cool. Pot and keep in the fridge.

Massage gently into your face with cotton wool and remove with toner or rose water.

Parsley freshener – for all skin types

  • 25g (1oz) parsley leaves
  • 600ml (21/2cups) boiling water 

This parsley infusion is lovely and refreshing used from the fridge.

 

 

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Nashville – Home of Country Music

I know country style music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but I am a massive fan and would happily convert the world! Richard and I have just been over to Nashville for a few days for some concerts and we had the time of our lives.

The home, or heart, of country music is the Grand Ole Opry – a lovely building that has seen performances from almost all the late, great, current and climbing stars. The thing that made me so happy to be there at the concerts was the feeling of family, warmth and massive respect for talent whether old or new.

One night we were there, the age span of artists performing went from 20s to 90s – Little Jimmy Dickens popped up on stage and at 92 gave a rip roaring performance and told some funnies… and his voice was still lovely. He said his latest album had been released in 1967 (!) and made fun of his age, but everyone stood and applauded his continuing talent.

The ladies performing were all pretty – whether they were 80+ or in their 20s – and their singing made some current stars look a bit dull. The ladies in the picture, right, range in age from early 20s through Crystal Gayle, who is 60, to Loretta Lynn, who is 80 … they look fabulous, don’t they!

The southern states in America are full of charming, warm people and Tennessee was no exception. We made new friends waiting in bus queues and in bars and were always waited on with a smile. The main lesson I came home with was just because you are 60, 70 or 80 – you can still look wonderful (OK skip the page 3 career maybe!) but the country artists we saw were still loving every minute of life and I would like to remember that if I am ever lucky enough to make my eighties!

Now maybe I should take up line dancing ……. yee-hah!

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My Lethal Christmas Pudding!

As you all know, I am a bit of a Christmas-aholic! I am already thinking of presents, some decorative ideas and, of course, the Christmas pudding! I always make mine in October so it is suitably steeped, so I thought you might like my recipe now so it gives you plenty of time…!

Joanna’s Lethal Christmas Pudding

The Christmas pudding carried into the dining room with flames licking around its base is a very traditional and exciting climax to the Christmas meal. Using Calvados instead of normal brandy has worked well for years, including one year at a friend’s house when she was rather too generous with the Calvados and it refused to be put out!

You will need:

  • 100g (4oz) currants
  • 175g (6oz) sultanas
  • 175g (6oz) raisins
  • Juice and rind of one orange
  • Juice and rind of one lime
  • 50g (2oz) dark brown sugar
  • 50g (2oz) chopped walnuts
  • 175g (6oz) granary breadcrumbs
  • 5g (1oz) ground allspice
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 100g (4oz) melted butter
  • 30ml (2tbsp) brandy
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) port
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) Calvados
  • 150ml (1/4 pint) brandy for adding later
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) Calvados for serving

Combine the grated orange and lime rinds, breadcrumbs, walnuts, allspice and brown sugar with the dried fruits. In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange and lime juice, melted butter, eggs and alcohol. Do not add the large amounts of brandy and Calvados at this stage. Stir the two mixtures together until well combined.

Butter a 1.2 litre (2 pint) pudding basin and pour the mixture over it. Leave to stand for half an hour, then cover with a double layer of well-buttered greaseproof paper and secure it around the basin with string. Take a large piece of muslin and wrap a double thickness around the pudding basin and again, secure with string or tie in a knot at the top.

Half-fill a very large saucepan with water. Place the pudding basin inside, keeping its top clear of water, and steam for between 7-8 hours. The saucepan must never be allowed to boil dry. Once the time is up, remove the pudding and leave it wrapped until it is completely cool, then remove the muslin and greaseproof paper. Using a skewer or knitting needle, make some holes in the top of the pudding and pour over about 75ml (3 fl oz) of the remaining brandy. Wrap the pudding securely in buttered greaseproof paper and aluminium foil and store in a cool place.

Approximately one month later, open the pudding and, using the same skewer technique, pour the remaining 75ml (3 fl oz) of brandy over the pudding and wrap it up again securely. The pudding will keep for up to one year in a cool place. I usually make mine mid-October, so the second dose of brandy has plenty of time to do its work before Christmas.

To serve the pudding, either steam it for about 2-3 hours or microwave it for 5 minutes on high, and then allow it to stand for a further 5 minutes. Remember to remove the aluminium foil first if you are microwaving.

Once the pudding has been reheated, place it on a decorative service dish, warm the 300ml (1/2 pint) of Calvados and pour it over the pudding so that a small puddle accumulates all round the bottom. Place a sprig of holly in the top and set light to the Calvados. Take care – this is not called ‘Lethal Christmas Pudding for the amount of alcohol involved as much as for the spectacular flames of the Calvados! Serve with cream, custard, brand or rum butter… or all of them!

 

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