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 Proof is in the Pudding

Drum roll… today sees the launch of the  final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries – ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’! 

Some of you sharp-eyed readers may notice that the cover is different to the one we showed you a few months ago. We just didn’t feel the initial design was quite right and, as this book is set in the winter, I really wanted to use one of Julia’s lovely atmospheric photos, so we managed to get it changed – phew! ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ is available now in paperback from my website for £6.99 and it is also on Kindle for £3.99.

Here’s what it says on the book cover: “Victoria West’s first Christmas in sleepy Swaddlecombe looks like being a traditional country affair… but then, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. A Christmas wreath making course, liberally lubricated by local wines, comes to a tragic conclusion. Farmer Albert Moreton has things on his mind and the Reverend Ruminant has been busy plotting…

The whole village is getting festive with a ‘Caroloke’ in the pub and, of course, there’s the infamous old folks’ Christmas party to navigate.

Handsome men abound but are they really what they seem? Is the Lord of the Manor a philanderer? Is the gardener safe with his axe? Why would Tipple the pug’s owner abandon him, and how far would anyone go to get their hands on a fortune? Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.”

I do so hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.

I will be on Create & Craft today (13th October) from 12 noon and throughout the weekend for lots of lovely demonstrations… and you can be sure I will be waving the new book about at every opportunity too! Remember, all dates are subject to change so please check the TV schedules on the day.

 

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Rainy birthday!

Rainy birthday? Oh dear… It would be nice if there was a rule of Nature that it never rained on your birthday… nope not happening. If it didn’t rain on anybody’s birthday, we’d live in a desert Joanna, be sensible! But it does always seem sad when you wake (as I did this year) on your birthday to hear rain pelting against the glass of your bedroom windows!

However, with luck the younger generations think rain is fun and like dancing in puddles and this is reflected in this lovely birthday card.

The teddies are from a great pack of decoupage that has a lot of occasions covered. The John Bindon set of decoupage has so many different occasions that it could help with card ideas. It’s temporarily on offer on the website at the moment, so that’s a fair bit of inspiration for £4.99 as well as £5 saving. See I knew we saved money by being cardmakers!

The backing paper is from Volume 1 of my collection of backing papers and the umbrella die is (SD157) from the Signature dies range, unsurprisingly called Umbrella! It’s a quick and easy card to make and hopefully your recipient won’t need an umbrella on their birthday!

 

 

 

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Shelf life…

With the publication of our next novel imminent (next week!), I have been thinking rather a lot about books. It’s always so exciting when the courier delivers the batch of heavy boxes and I get to slit one open and actually take a copy of the paperback out and hold it. I find myself reading the cover (even though I obviously know EXACTLY what it says!) and flicking through the pages… then I take out another one and start reading that too – as if it’s going to be different – LOL! But there is just something so very tactile and wonderful about a printed book.

I love books and I have hundreds, actually, it’s possibly thousands. Looking at a bookcase with all the coloured spines and titles is, to me, like a visual memory bank. I remember where I was when I read a particular book, or can recall a specific character or event and remember why I enjoyed reading it so much.

All well and good, Joanna, but nowadays of course… we have the electronic book, most commonly, the Kindle. I probably have hundreds of Kindle books stored as well! It’s such a convenient way to read, especially if you are travelling and don’t want to lug heavy books about. But, somehow, it doesn’t have the same romance as reading a book and, of course, you lose the ‘visual’ delight.

If I walk into someone’s home and see a well-stocked bookcase, my heart does tend to lift and, given half a chance, I will take a sneaky peek and see what they read… and also how they store their books. Do they line them up alphabetically (that’s my co-author, Julia), group them by spine colour for visual effect (my designer friend Karen) or have a random selection with ‘current reads’ stashed closest to the sofa – me! How do you arrange your books, or do you now only have a Kindle so books no longer feature in your home?

I confess I find books comforting. When everything else in life might seem to be stressful or chaotic, my books will still be there, full of wonderful stories and characters just waiting for me to open one and restore order to my mind.

And so… as the copies of ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ the fourth and final book in our Swaddlecombe series, are in the process of being printed and bound, I am already planning where I will be storing my copy! I should add that it will also be available on Kindle, if you prefer! Happy reading.

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Patchwork Fish!

This is a fun shaker card that has bubbles or snow inside the fishbowl! Shaker cards are simple to make once you have made your first one (I always found them really intimidating) and the swish of the ‘bubbles’ adds another dimension to the card.

The background patchwork paper is from the Joanna Sheen Paper Collections Pad (Volume 3) – there’s a blue version of this pink patchwork too – so pretty. The size of the card is 8” x 8”  – yes I use this card size a lot and love our own brand cards that size as they really are 8” x 8”, whereas most manufactured cards measure the envelope or have slight tolerances with size etc..

The shaker part is created like this:

  1. Take a piece of white card about 4” square and put to one side for now. Cut a piece slightly larger say 4 ¼” square. Stamp or die cut a fish bowl (Sue Wilson does one on the website CED21001) on the larger piece and attach to the centre of the card. Now cut away the centre of the fish bowl. Cover the back of the fish bowl with some acetate.
  2. Die cut some tropical fish (Signature dies Tropical Fish) in white card and colour as you please. Glue these onto the smaller piece of card, checking that you are happy with their placement by hovering the fishbowl over the top.
  3. Place a strip of foam tape all the way around the smaller piece of card – and I mean all the way around. Cracks between the corners can spell disaster. One way to combat this is to place a strip all round and then cover that strip with yet another but staggering where the cracks are.
  4. Now you need to cover the fish and sticky layers with your fishbowl square – do this carefully and leave a small gap once you have most of it covered – pour in your glitter or snow effect crystals or seed beads, whatever you want to use. Don’t add too much or you will just obscure the fish. Now seal down the last bit of tape.
  5. This can then be added to the card and should shake very satisfactorily!
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Tulip mania!

The humble tulip, so often seen wrapped up in cellophane on a garage forecourt, actually has a fascinating and exciting history that’s as good as any romantic novel!

It started life as a wild flower until it began being cultivated in Persia, probably in the 10th century. Rather sweetly, the name ‘tulip’ is thought to come from a Persian word for turban, which it may have been thought to resemble. It then carries on growing quietly, relatively unnoticed… but all that changed in the 1630s when the tulip became the ‘It girl’ of its era, an incredibly valuable commodity on which fortunes were made and lost.

Tulips finally came to the attention of the west in the sixteenth century, when diplomats to the Ottoman court observed and reported on them. Tulips were rapidly introduced into Europe and botanists started to hybridize the flower and they soon found ways of making even more decorative and tempting specimens. Hybrids and mutations of the flower were seen as rarities and a sign of high status – definitely the Burberry handbag of its day!

In the months of late 1636 to early 1637 there was a complete ‘Tulip mania’ in the Netherlands. The enthusiasm for the new tulips triggered a speculative frenzy and tulip bulbs became so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency, or rather, as futures. Some examples of the flower could cost more than a house in Amsterdam at this time.

There was an inevitable crash in prices in 1637, when people came to their senses and stopped purchasing the bulbs at such high prices. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, interest in the tulip remained, but the Dutch became the true connoisseurs and stockists. To this day, tulips are associated with the Netherlands, and the cultivated forms of the tulip are often called ‘Dutch tulips.’ The Netherlands has the world’s largest permanent display of tulips at the Keukenhof.

In their natural state tulips are adapted to mountainous areas with temperate climates. Flowering in the spring, they become dormant in the summer once the flowers and leaves die back, emerging above ground as a shoot from the underground bulb in early spring.

Nowadays, there are many different tulip varieties to choose from and you can still buy some of the original ‘wild’ varieties, often called ‘species’ tulips.

Not everyone loves tulips and not everyone seems to have much success growing them, I certainly don’t! Is it one of your favourites, or would you rather be presented with a bunch of something else?

 

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