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!

The special talent of Marjolein Bastin

Marjolein Bastin is a Dutch artist and has been painting and contributing to Dutch magazines for many years. Just recently she and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary which is always such a happy achievement.

One of the reasons I love Marjolein’s work is that it’s so gentle and serene. I am a huge fan of flowers and all things related to Nature but especially the prettier bits. I was recently approached by an artist who also painted Nature in all its glory but unfortunately his idea of glorious pictures from Nature included huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’… sorry but dead fish are never going to make it in the greeting card world and no matter how talented the artist, a fox with a dead rabbit in its mouth might not really be our first choice for a wedding or anniversary card!

Anyway, I digress – Marjolein’s work is just gorgeous. If you have a look through her latest Pad 5 and Pad 6 on our website you’ll see that every image brings a smile, they’re so pretty. I don’t envy many people in this life but Marjolein is definitely one of them – I would so love a tiny part of her talent – so special.

I feel if you have strong, beautiful images to work with it makes your job much easier. It’s the same with food – have fabulous ingredients and it’s fairly simple to produce a delicious meal. Have leftovers and poor ingredients… well, of course, a good cook can produce something tasty but it will mean a lot more effort! Marjolein Bastin’s pads make card making a breeze!



You knead to know about massage!

As physical work goes, sitting in front of a computer in a nice warm house is not exactly high on the list of tough jobs, but it does do awful things to your neck, shoulders and arms. Similarly, if you spend too long hunched over your craft table, you’ll get the same knotted shoulders and stiff neck. I am sure we all dream of a relaxing massage, but unless you have an obliging partner, such a thing is hard to come by and can be a bit of an expensive luxury in a spa or salon. But it is possible to give yourself a massage…

Like so many things, just stopping and giving yourself a little ‘me’ time can make all the difference. A DIY massage is a great way to unwind and ease away those aches. I get a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders and if I just remind myself to stop and do a few simple exercises, it can help. Some simple stretches can really help relieve tension – why not write yourself a little list, pin it up somewhere obvious and then set a time to spend 10 minutes doing them. Perhaps at 11am coffee time, or if you stop for an afternoon cuppa?

Stretch & relax

Sit with your back straight (you have a nice comfy crafting chair, don’t you?!) and drop your chin to your chest. Roll your head in a circle one way, right around nice and slowly. Yes, you may well here crunching sounds, but don’t worry, it’s not about to drop off! Then do the same thing in the other direction.Next raise your head up – as if someone is pulling your hair up by the crown – and then scrunch your shoulders up to your ears, hold and then drop them down like an enormous shrug. I love that exercise, I can instantly feel my shoulder muscles saying ‘yikes’! Do that three times.

DIY massage

Sitting up straight, reach one arm across in front of you onto the opposite shoulder and squeeze and knead the muscle along the top of your shoulder. It’s a big muscle and you can be quite firm with it, use your fingers and thumb. Knead all the way along and up to the base of your skull. Then return to the shoulder and lift and squeeze the muscle again, like a pinching movement. The do all that again on the other side.

If you have ‘neat hair’ you might want to perform your DIY massage first thing in the morning or last thing at night, as this next bit could wreck your coiffure! Gently, but firmly, use both hands to massage your scalp, as if you are shampooing your hair. Make sure you work on the temple areas and the base of your skull.

And finally, treat your ears to a little love too. Rubbing your ears between thumb and forefinger is a really comforting movement. Start at the front and work your way right round to the lobe and, again, don’t rush…

There! I enjoyed that, as I performed all the actions as I wrote this – LOL! I am now thoroughly relaxed, even if I do look like I’ve been through a hedge backwards. Enjoy!






Barbara Anderson flowers to bring a smile!

There’s nothing like a beautiful bunch of flowers to bring a smile to my face! Having said that, there are plenty of times when physical flowers are not an option. I know you can send flowers anywhere these days, but it does involve quite a bit of money and, sometimes, all you want to do is cheer someone up, or say ‘thank you’, or a million other reasons.

These cards can deliver beautiful flowers for you, although only 2D, not 3D, they are still gorgeous! The artist is Barbara Anderson. Barb is American and uses vintage floral images which she tweaks and twists and adds original little extras as varied as birds to calligraphy or teacups to wheelbarrows!

I only discovered Barb last year and I have really enjoyed working with her designs. We have two pads available, Collection One and Collection Two, and both pads give you 24 sheets to make cards, and almost everything you need is on that sheet. Just add blank cards, some of your time and a dab of glue!

I love using anything vintage – I define vintage as anything older than me – it makes me feel better! You can see here on the centre card I have added pearly buttons from my button box, which has inhabitants that have been there for generations. It was my grandmother’s box first, then my mother took it on and now I have it in my craft room. I must admit I rarely use the buttons on clothing – I add them to other craft projects because I think they are just so pretty.

So looking at all three cards, you can see that apart from a little extra cardstock and a blank card, these pads really do give you lots to work with and the results are pretty good I reckon.


Light my fire!

This welcoming fire is in a cosy Cornish pub!

I know it hasn’t been that cold this winter, but it’s been so wet and miserable I think we can all do with a bit of treat now and again. Sitting in front of a log fire, or a log burner has to be classed as a real winter treat! While not all of us have real fires, we all seem to love it when we enter an ‘olde worlde’ pub and see logs blazing in the grate. We are lucky here in the Westcountry as there are plenty of such pubs about.

Sadly, I’ve always found that the romantic ideal of putting a match to the kindling and settling back with a book and a glass of wine on the sofa (oh and with Richard of course!) while it blazes away is very far from reality. Lighting a fire is an art… and an art that has so far escaped both of us!

Sofa, wine, fire… perfect!

There is always much debate about what is the best way to light a fire. Should you use firelighters (smelly), or is that cheating? Everyone has their own idea about how best to do it, but after extensive research online and consultation with some friends who are successful firelighters, this is my definitive guide:

  1. Make sure the grate is clean, so sweep away any ash from the hearth if it is an open fire or if a log burner, clean out the tray. You need airflow to get the fire going, flames feed on oxygen.
  2. Scrunch up balls of newspaper and lay them in the grate. Don’t skimp, and make sure the paper is dry. Some people swear by making the newspaper into a tube and then knotting it – I am told this is a lot of faff and makes no difference!
  3. Plenty of kindling and newspaper are essential.

    Place very dry pieces of kindling onto the newspaper. Kindling is small pieces of wood or twigs that are essential to get the fire going. Again, don’t skimp on these, and poke them in amongst the newspaper to ensure a good base.

  4. Place a couple of well-seasoned logs (small to medium-sized, don’t swamp it with a whopper) on top of the pile and then light the newspaper with a match. If you are using a log burner, close the door, and make sure the vents are open to draw in the air.

Ta-da! That should be the perfect recipe for a blazing fire! If it doesn’t work either paper or wood are very probably damp, in which case… cheat, and use a firelighter or go and have a hot bath, or simply snuggle up under the duvet!

PS. Don’t throw your ash away, mix it into your compost!



Thomas Kinkade’s beautiful skies

I chose to group these cards together to show off Thomas Kinkade’s talent when he painted skies. The light and the effects are just stunning, aren’t they?

He produced several pictures of boats and maritime-themed images but the central windmill scene is one of my favourite skies in the latest collection we have produced. These are from the Thomas Kinkade Pad 5 and Pad 6.

Judging by the hugely enthusiastic response we have had to the latest couple of Thomas Kinkade pads, the concept of mixing backing papers and images in the same pad is going to be a good ongoing idea.

You can see three of the papers included in the pads here – the stripes to the left and a couple of lovely cloudy skies. I do find it convenient having reached for the pad, almost everything I need is there at my fingertips! I am talking to the powers that be at Thomas Kinkade’s management team and hopefully we will have four new pads coming out in the next six months, including some very pretty Christmas ones.