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!

Just for you…

We have been keen on guinea pigs in our family for many years. My daughter Pippa had 13 at one point and until she started ‘collecting’ them I had no idea what characterful, communicative little creatures they were.

This card is made using our “Out of the Hutch” guinea pig decoupage. Once made up, this decoupage doesn’t need a huge amount of embellishments to set it off. And the great thing about this particular design is that the embellishments are just trimmed pieces of leftover card – so very economical, yet it looks great!

My personal recommendation when you are making up decoupage is to use some Pinflair Glue Gel – but some people prefer to use the small white foam pads, or silicon glue. All of these methods are fine and it’s just a personal choice as to which product you prefer!

Crafting is all about what works for you, so always go with what suits you best rather than feeling you ‘have’ to use a product because a crafting expert says so!

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Letterboxing on Dartmoor

As you know, I live on the coast in Devon, but a few miles inland from us lies wild and wonderful Dartmoor, sometimes known as ‘England’s last wilderness’. This granite moorland with it’s craggy tors, patches of remarkably soggy ground and a lack of footpaths can be a bit off-putting unless you can handle a map and compass… as well as being downright spooky!

So all the more strange then to see youngsters (and adults!) burrowing among the rocks, engrossed in a search… but for what? In these days of Facebook, Twitter and texts, how does Dartmoor still attract today’s youth. 

Guest blogger, Sue Viccars, editor of the Dartmoor Magazine and a professional outdoor writer (how’s that for interesting job descriptions?!) explains all…

“People have been using Dartmoor as a place of leisure since the early 19th-century Romantic Movement. This was when parts of the country such as the Lake District and Exmoor – previously thought inhospitable – suddenly became popular through the work of writers such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

“On Dartmoor, local guides opened up the moor to visitors, in particular James Perrott of Chagford, who in 1854 came up with a novel ‘tourist attraction’ by building a cairn at Cranmere Pool, a peaty moorland hollow far from civilisation. The idea was for anyone who made it out to this remote part of the North Moor to leave their card at the spot for the interest of later visitors.

“Little did he realise what he had started! After 1907, visitors began leaving stamped addressed postcards in the box, recording the date of their visit, which were subsequently collected and put in the post by the next person to make it out there. This practice continued right up to the 1970s when it was replaced by a stamp system, And so, modern Letterboxing was born – the practice of following clues to find concealed ‘letterboxes’ all over the moor and collecting the stamps contained inside.

“The idea of Letterboxing has since spread to other parts of the world, and the number of letterboxes on Dartmoor has ballooned so that the number out at any one time has to be controlled. Biannual Letterbox Meets, at which clues for new letterbox routes are sold in aid of charity, attract hundreds, it not thousands, of people keen to get out and explore.

“In this way, thousands of people have been introduced to the delights of the moor through Letterboxing. It’s also a great way of persuading children to leave behind their computer screens and go on a moorland ‘treasure hunt’!”

To find out more about Sue’s wonderful quarterly magazine, click here: www.dartmoormagazine.co.uk

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Corks galore!

This cork mat was made by a friend’s son for me many moons ago but I have always planned to make some more like it and so the collecting of corks began!

If you are thinking: “Wow, I enjoy wine but not THAT much!” – then there are lots of ways to get corks. Try asking nicely at your local pub, restaurant, club or boozy friend’s house!

The basic frame here is made from recycled wood but you could just buy a plain wood photo frame and frame a piece of hardboard and then distress it. The fun part comes with laying the corks onto the hardboard and gluing.

It’s important to use strong glue. I used Pinflair Glue Gel when I made a teapot stand to match but it did use quite a lot and I felt it might be too expensive to recommend for this job. We now sell a glue called “Yes” which is all purpose glue and would work well. But any strong glue would be fine.

Take care when you are attaching the corks – to me this is the fun part – choose the prettier, more decorated sides of the cork (if they have some) to be visible and mix and match different varieties if possible. You can find some really pretty ones and the overall effect is very rustic and French and rather effective I think.

To finish your mat/stand – add some baize to the underneath or you can buy little pads to stick on as feet. This is important to ensure that no tables get scratched when it is in use!

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Gorgeous granola!

This week, I’ve got a guest blog from Sharon Davies who runs a super business making THE most delicious granola up on Dartmoor, a neighbour of my Hen Pal! 

“My Granola business sort of grew by accident really. I was a trained florist and had my own flower shop for years. Eventually I decided to have a change and ran a B&B business in my home. While I was doing this, I started making my own granola from an American recipe that I’d been given… and my guests raved about it! They wanted to take it home with them so I started making batches and selling it – and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I adore living in the country and have horses, chickens and three Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs and somehow still find time to run the business with my husband Brian.

“I’m a keen forager and fruit and veg grower and am always experimenting with recipes and ideas for new products. We sell a range of granolas and our customers (a very loyal bunch!) often email me with recipe ideas, or product suggestions.

“I’ve recently produced a couple of recipe cards for different ways to use granola and I often go to country shows and farm shops giving demonstrations and the recipes are very popular – it’s great fun and I love meeting people who enjoy my products.

“Granola is very versatile ­– mix it with freshly picked berries, or sprinkle it on porridge in the winter or ice cream in the summer. It makes a fantastic crumble topping or, as here, a great filling in an easy and delicious dessert. Enjoy!

Midfields Granola Strudel

Ingredients

Serves 3-4

  • 1packet filo pastry (you will need 4 sheets to make one strudel)
  • 1 large cooking apple or 2 eating apples
  • Approx 30g granola
  • 30g brown sugar
  • 30g butter for brushing pastry
  • Icing sugar for dusting
  • Baking tray

Method:

Preheat oven to 200ºc (180ºc if fan assisted), Gas mark 6

Take filo pastry out of fridge 20 mins before using, keep covered with damp tea towel to it drying out.

Peel and slice apple thinly, place in bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice to stop apple browning.

Melt butter gently in saucepan. Take one layer of filo pastry and place on baking tray, brush with melted butter using a pastry brush. Take the next sheet, place on top of the first, and repeat the process until you have used 4 sheets of filo pastry.

Place sliced apples in centre of buttered sheets, followed by sugar and Granola. Keep mixture about 2 inches from edge. Fold the sheets of filo over the top of the filling, firming gently with you fingers. Use one or two more sheets of filo crumpled on top of strudel and brush with melted butter.

Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 mins. When cool dust with icing sugar

Serve warm or cold with custard, cream or yoghurt – delicious!

You can find out all about Sharon’s business, Midfields Granola, on her website: www.midfieldsgranola.co.uk

You’ll find a link there to her Facebook page too.

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Hearts of stone…?

I love using aerosol paints and paint finishes – so quick and easy (usually) assuming all goes well! We sell these lovely MDF heart shapes and I thought it would be fun to make them look as though they were made from a totally different material. A spray can of stone effect paint is available at any of the large DIY stores.

I would advise against spraying out in the garden with a dog nearby (can’t think why I would say that!) and take care that you don’t choose a windy day either – but it’s nice and quick to coat the heart on the front – leave it to dry (several hours) and then spray the back too so it looks neat and tidy. It’s really effective and the hearts look as if they should be really weighty.

Once you have a sprayed heart it’s easy to choose something to decorate it with. You could use paper sentiments from a CD or printed card kit that you have. Bits and pieces from some pot-pourri as I have used here, or some rosebuds or lavender, ribbons and other embellishments – or of course, it could be time to go foraging!

Tie some pretty ribbon through the holes to hang your heart – and hey presto you have a unique and pretty little gift!

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