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!

Perfect drying weather!

We have been enjoying some terrific weather down here in Devon, and I think most of the rest of the country has too. It has been what my Mother would have called ‘perfect drying weather’ – warm and sunny but with just enough breeze to move the washing about on the line.

There are lots of positives to working from home (although quite a few minuses too!) and being able to hang washing out – and being around to take it in if it starts raining – is most definitely a positive. I always find it an immensely uplifting chore, in fact hardly a chore at all. The smell of fresh line-dried bed linen is definitely high on my list of ‘top smells’! It is also, of course, a very great deal better than drying them in a cash-guzzling tumble drier. If it does start to rain, don’t despair, it is claimed that rainwater acts as a fabric conditioner.

I was thinking about washing lines the other weekend (yes, I know, I am a sad person…) when I was at a lovely local garden event. Alongside plant stalls and garden ornaments were lots of stalls selling upcycled, recycled and traditional products, including one that was selling the old-fashioned ‘wooden dolly’ clothes pegs. Instant nostalgia trip for me! I can remember my Mother using these pegs and having a dolly made from one of them – such a simple toy, a little headscarf, painted face and bit of cloth for a dress wrapped around the peg. I’m not sure granddaughter Grace would thank me for one of them, but hey, we enjoyed our simple pleasures back then!

Another stall at the event was run by a young lady who had very cleverly recycled some old metal garden chairs into unusual planters. She had planted Sempervivum, or house leeks, within the decorative metalwork. Sempervivums are survivors by nature and originate in mountainous and arid regions of southern Europe and North. Their succulent leaves arranged in rosettes enable them to survive for long periods without water as they store it in their thick leathery leaves. This makes them useful plants for containers that get only occasional water, to fill crevices in the rock garden and to create imaginative arrangements with very little soil. Perfect for this unusual and very pretty planting idea – very clever I thought!

What a clever and attractive idea!

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Backing Papers come to the front!

How about a different approach to designing a card? Why not experiment with just using backing papers and some dies?

These sheets come from my latest – Volume 5 – collection of backing papers. All together in one neat pad – you get 4 sheets of each design and there are 25 designs in a pad. So 100 sheets, that should keep you quiet for a while!

The card on left uses a sheet of backing paper as the base and then there are several bits and pieces of flowers and plants that you can cut out from a second sheet. Add a die cut vase or some words and you have something unique.

The card on the right uses a very different style of backing paper – this beautiful misty dawn or dusk (not sure which!) picture of flowers is gorgeous just on its own and then some die cuts have been added with Happy Birthday words and a corner from our Fabulous Corners Die Set.

Sometimes if you take a step back and look at something a little bit different, your craft stash can come up with some really surprising ideas! Have fun!

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A very special anniversary – or wedding!

There are some special occasions we celebrate that are perhaps just a little more special than an annual event like a birthday – and this card for a silver wedding celebration is simply out of this world! It’s OK I’m not patting myself on the back – this was made for us by Suzanne Saltwell.

Basically, there is the main card front – and just that as a card would be wonderful and special, whether for a wedding day or 25 years later. Then inside there’s a printed message saying the gift is two theatre tickets (fantastic idea – yes please!) and on the other side a more general message and a verse.

The detail on these inside pieces and the front is all gorgeous. Before you think “Nah too fiddly for me,” it’s not as hard as it looks, thanks to great dies and lovely papers.

The backing paper (isn’t it fantastic?) is from our latest Volume 5 backing papers. This gives the most wonderful dreamy look to the project for starters and then the clever combination of colours in the bouquets completes the feel of the card. The die used is our recently released Signature die ‘Vase of Flowers’.

If you are looking at the pictures thinking, “I wish I had more help!” – then help is at hand! If you send me your email address then I will ask Suzanne to chat with you and explain the details. Email me at joanna@joannasheen.com

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Tina’s Travels – a piece of cake!

Warning – this article could seriously damage your waistline!

I am always fascinated by the crafts, cultures and cooking of other countries and now that Tina Dorr has moved to France we have a perfect ‘on the spot’ reporter to share some local specialities with us. Today Tina has written a piece about cakes… cakes yum, who can resist? Well, I do try to but these look amazing!

Galette Des Rois

“When you think of France, many things come to mind, Paris, French wines, cheeses, and of course patisseries. The patisseries are wonderful places to visit and to just stare at all the stunning creations on show –  they truly are amazing.

I would like to share just a few of the magnificent cakes with you and will start with Galette Des Rois – or King Cake. This is a huge thing in January when you will find them everywhere, from boulangeries to supermarkets. Here in the North of France, they are made with puff pastry and filled with almond paste or apple. Each cake has a paper crown and inside is a ‘charm’ that someone will find in his or her slice.

Opera Cake

One of my favourites is Opera Cake. You can buy this as a large cake to share, or by the slice in most patisseries. This is made from layers of coffee-soaked almond sponge, coffee buttercream, ganache and a chocolate glaze. It all sounds very rich, and it is, but it’s great to share.

If you have a really sweet tooth then you would love a Religieuse, which means nun and it is made to look like one. There are two choux pastries, one larger than the other, filled with crème patissiere, usually coffee or chocolate flavour. The smaller one is put on top of the larger, covered in ganache and joined with buttercream. It really is very sweet.

Religieuse – two little nuns!

The Paris–Brest Cake is named after a cycle race. This is a layered French cake in the shape of a wheel, made from a ring of choux dough and filled with hazelnut and praline cream, then topped with sliced almonds – delicious.

Other popular little cakes you will find everywhere in France are the Madeleines, a small light cake in a shell shape, and the Macarons, very sweet meringue-based cakes made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder and lovely pastel shades of food colouring. If you are in the Bordeaux region (or most places nowadays) you will find Canelés, a hard caramel-covered cake with custard inside and flavoured with rum and vanilla. Produced in numerous sizes, they can be eaten for breakfast, for snacks, and as a dessert. Canelés can be paired with red wine and all sorts of other many other drinks.

There are so many beautiful cakes and desserts in France, I could go on forever! If you visit France, try and make time to call into any little café or patisserie and try some of these for yourself.

Left to right: Canelés, Macarons, baking Madeleines and the wheel-shaped Paris-Brest Cake.

 

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We love Thomas Kinkade!

Every time we release a new set of pads with Thomas Kinkade images I remember how much I love working with his art. I have just been to Las Vegas (poor me!) for a meeting with the company, which was fun as always. His family must be so proud of the legacy of images he has left – such a talented man.

This release, like the last, has not only images in the pad but also backing papers. It seems everyone is loving the changes and I for one am very happy to be able to combine papers so easily. The other thing that stands out on these cards is the use of our new Signature die decorative corners – the card on the left uses the new ‘Marseille’ die and the card to the right uses ‘Bordeaux’. Enjoy!

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