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!

Howard Robinson’s beautiful boathouse

Howard Robinson is a British artist with a very distinctive style and, if you look through his decoupage pack on the website, you’ll find a beautiful array of houses and cottages, he has been in the licensed art business for over 35 years.

It’s fun to make up the decoupage (I use Pinflair glue gel) but more importantly there are so many different occasions to use the cards. An obvious one is a new home card, but it could be a ‘happy holiday’ card, if someone is staying in a cottage in the country, birthday, thinking of you (as this card is) and many more.

If you are looking through the images and thinking, ‘I’m sure I’ve seen something like this before’ … perhaps you are a jigsaw puzzle fan? Howard licenses a massive amount of artwork to jigsaw companies and, having made up a few with my late Mum and Dad, good fun they are too. I love all the intricate detailing and of course the main house image – I love houses!

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Think of summer… and think of sunflowers!

Think of summer… and think of sunflowers! Surely the sunniest flower there is, their huge golden faces cannot help but bring cheer.

I think most of us will have grown a sunflower at some time in our lives. Well, this year, we have had the pleasure of watching our granddaughter Grace plant and nurture her own sunflower. She planted the seed herself and waters it every time she comes to visit – and it has now grown to about 7 feet high! Pretty good for a first effort Grace!

The sunflower is actually an important plant in many areas. Grown as a crop for its edible oil and edible fruits – those delicious sunflower seeds – sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient.

The tallest sunflower on record achieved an extraordinary 30ft, or over 9 metres! Goodness knows how they kept the thing upright, perhaps it was draped over something?

Sunflower seeds are sold as a snack food, raw or after roasting in ovens, with or without salt and seasonings added. Sunflower seeds can also be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter, which sounds pretty yummy to me.

Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel, as it is cheaper than olive oil. Sunflowers also produce latex and are the subject of experiments to see if they can be used as an alternative crop for producing non-allergenic rubber.

A common misconception (and one that I thought was true) is that the glorious golden sunflower heads track the sun across the sky. Actually, it’s only the immature flower buds that do this, the mature flowering heads point in a fixed, usually easterly, direction. Ah well, that’s another lovely image shattered!

But these gorgeous plants are useful across so many areas of life – have a look at the list of facts below, I think you’ll be surprised…

Here are a few sunflower facts for you:

  • There are two basic types of sunflower seeds: black and stripe.
  • Young sunflower plants orient their heads toward the sun – a phenomenon known as heliotropism.
  • The sunflower is the national flower of Russia and the state flower of Kansas.
  • Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamins of the B group and vitamin E, and minerals such as copper, phosphorus, selenium and magnesium.
  • Black sunflower seeds are a rich source of oil that is used for cooking.
  • Striped seeds are popular as snacks.
  • Seeds of sunflower are an important food source for birds, squirrels and insects.
  • Sunflower seeds are used for the production of biodiesel, an eco-friendly type of diesel, designed to reduce pollution of the atmosphere.
  • The sunflower is able to absorb heavy metals and toxins from the ground and it is often planted in the heavily polluted areas. These plants were used to reduce nuclear pollution after Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. How amazing is that?
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Gruffies rock!

I just love the Gruffies – have you discovered them yet? They are friends of the famous House-Mouse and Ellen Jareckie, the artist, has drawn both bears (Gruffies) and Hoppers (rabbits) as companions and as you can see from these cards – the occasional panda sneaks in too – I don’t believe she had named those.

The Gruffies and Hoppers CD is on the website and has oh so many bits for you to use. I love the images (obviously) but there are handy backing papers too. There are hundreds of pages of co-ordinating backing papers, inserts, decoupage, sentiments, bookmarks, mini cards and lots more!

The nice thing about Ellen’s work is that although the bears are ‘cute’ they are not simply suitable for younger people, they appeal to all ages and they never cease to make me smile!

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Have a Birthday Margarita!

Have a birthday Margarita! But, come to think of it why limit it to just a birthday margarita, margaritas are for any day! The same applies to this card, if you have a friend that loves cocktails or specifically Margaritas (I am waving my hand here) then this is a perfect card for them.

You could extend the idea by using the card to accompany a present with all the ingredients to make a nice margarita – and then invite yourself over to try them? Just a thought, maybe it would be mean-spirited to give a gift and plan to consume half of it!

This image is by Lisa Audit and is in her cardmaking pad number 2 on the website. Have a look through the images on each of her pads, they are really interesting, a good mix and some outstanding ideas for cards – flowers, olive oil, coffees, wine, fruit and yes I’ll mention them again, beautiful flowers – have a flick through, they are all there to see.

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Knitters are up in arms!

I am always fascinated to read about new and different crafts. Being what I would term a ‘lazy knitter’, I have been much impressed by the giant knitted bedcovers and cushion covers created using very chunky wool and huge knitting needles. To me, it looks much faster than ordinary knitting and I might just give it a go… but wait! Even better than that I may have just found the perfect answer to my quick and chunky knitting aspirations – arm knitting!

Needle-free arm knitting has arrived on the scene! It is such an amazingly simple concept you wonder why no one has thought of it before. If you already know how to knit, then you have a distinct advantage as picking up arm knitting is meant to be really, really easy. Quite simply, your arms stand in for the huge needles and everything is super-sized, from the massive skeins of wool (more like ropes!) and the patterns. If you are not already a knitter, experts say a quick arm knitting project will help build your confidence and encourage you to get more adventurous.

 

As ever, there’s lots of information available online, but a website that really caught my eye was www.simplymaggie.com Maggie describes herself as an ‘arm knitting expert and home DIY enthusiast’. Her website includes a range of patterns available for free including some lovely scarves and an amazing blanket. She makes it look so easy, I really think I might have to give it a go!

Elsewhere, I came across some great advice on how to solve arm knitting problems – my favourite was this FAQ – I confess this was an aspect of arm knitting that had me very worried!

What do you do when you’re elbow-deep in an infinity scarf and your doorbell rings? Don’t panic! Stopping in the middle of a project is both possible and surprisingly easy. Simply move each stitch, one-by-one, onto a stitch holder. “And what might one of those be?” I hear you cry! But being the imaginative crafters that you are, I expect you’d soon come up with the answer – the cardboard centres from sheets of wrapping paper –oversized toilet roll centres really. Carefully slide your stitches onto the cardboard roll and try to remember which arm your last row of stitches was on so that when you’re ready to get back to work, you can quickly pick up where you left off. Easy!

Have any of you tried arm knitting? If you have, I’d love to hear how you got on!

Photos copyright SimplyMaggie.com

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