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!

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.

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Are there fairies at the bottom of your garden?

The ‘real’ fairy house Julia found on Dartmoor!

Your response to my recent Fairy Doors products shows just how popular these little folk are! Even in 2018, there are signs of fairy life as discovered by my partner in crime writing, Julia, when she moved to a new village on Dartmoor. On one of her first exploratory walks with her dog, Moss, she came across two wooden fairy doors in the base of a living tree. Fascinated, she has kept her eye on this magical phenomenon as she passes the tree at least once a week… She has seen tiny figures come and go, little offerings left at Christmas and Easter, and coins pressed into cracks in the tree’s bark. Yet, she has never seen anyone else nearby…!

Intrigued, I decided to have a scoot about online and see what other fairy evidence I could come up with…

Most of us think of fairies as beautiful, tiny creatures, flitting about on gossamer wings, – but history and folklore tell a different tale. When belief in fairies was common most people didn’t dare mention them by name and referred to them as the Little People or the Hidden People. Many explanations have been given for belief in fairies. Some say that they are like ghosts, spirits of the dead, or fallen angels, neither bad enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven. There are hundreds of different kinds of fairies – some are minute creatures, others grotesque – some can fly, and all can appear and disappear at will.

Sometimes the term fairy is used to describe any magical creature, including goblins or gnomes, while at others it describes a specific type of more ethereal creature or sprite. As so often happens when I look into ‘traditions’, I find that the Victorians are largely responsible! They were the ones who made fairies tiny and twee… resulting in fairy tales for children. It was during the Victorian and Edwardian eras when fairies were extremely popular that winged fairies became the norm. In folklore, wings were very rare and even tiny fairies flew by magic, sometimes flying on ragwort stems or the backs of birds.

Hobgoblins are guardian fairies – they are the useful ones that secretly come and do housework and odd jobs around the house. Unfortunately, they never seem to come and visit me! In Aberdeenshire, Scotland they are hideous to look at, they have no separate toes or fingers and in the Scottish Lowlands, they have a hole instead of a nose. Banshees are less common and more sinister, they usually only appear to foretell a tragedy. Goblins and Bug-a-boos are always malignant – and we should avoid them if possible!

Most of the nature fairies are probably descendants of pre-Christian gods and goddesses or are the spirits of trees and streams. Black Annis, a blue-faced hag, haunts the Dane Hills in Leicestershire and Gentle Annie who governs storms in the Scottish lowlands, are believed to be descended from the Celtic goddess Danu, mother of Ireland’s cave fairies. Mermaids and mermen, river spirits and spirits of pools, are the most common nature fairies.

A famous fairy story

One of the most famous fairy stories, and the photos that we have probably all seen was of the Cottingley Fairies who appeared in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford. In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 and Frances was 9. The pictures came to the attention of world-famous writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he of Sherlock Holmes fame), who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed – some accepted the images as genuine, but others believed they had been faked.

Interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually faded after 1921. Both girls married and lived abroad for a time after they grew up, yet the photographs continued to hold the public imagination. In 1966 a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper traced Elsie, who had by then returned to the UK. She left open the possibility that she believed she had photographed her thoughts, and the media once again became interested in the story and I can remember reading about it myself and wishing the photos were genuine.

In the early 1980s Elsie and Frances, by then very old ladies, finally admitted that the photographs were faked, using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children’s book of the time, but Frances maintained that the fifth and final photograph was genuine. The photographs and two of the cameras used are on display in the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

How extraordinary that such a hoax could go on for so long, even deceiving Sherlock Holmes’ creator. It just goes to prove how many of us dearly wanted to believe it was genuine and to believe in fairies… do you?

 

 

 

 

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The chandelier – a touch of glamour in the gloom…

Goodness – I am glad to see the back of January – what a wet and miserable month it has been. February is our shortest month… so before we know it we’ll be in March and spring will be well underway! In an attempt to avoid the gloomy weather, I’ve been distracting myself with some very fanciful ‘window shopping’ although these days, it’s more a case of ‘screen shopping’ as I sit in front of my laptop. I have been cheering myself up rummaging around websites full of lovely bits and pieces for the home. Do I need anything new? Of course not, but it’s fun to look and it’s free!

A snazzy pink number from Next.

One of the areas that seems to have undergone a massive change in the last couple of years is lighting, both indoor and out. Solar powered fairy lights are brilliant and mean we can all light up our gardens without any need for an electrician or any DIY skills at all and they are quite cheap to buy too and cost nothing to run… although it’s true they do need sunshine to charge! For interiors, there are some absolutely stunning lights around and metallic effects seem to be very ‘in’ at the moment and there are some lovely copper lampshades and light fittings to be had. Copper is lovely and warm and would give a soft light for winter.

A dramatic smokey style from B&Q!

But if you want to really ‘go for it’… what about a chandelier? Years ago, a chandelier was the height of opulence and only really wealthy people with large, high ceilinged rooms could have them. But not any more! There are some terrific ones available now from as little as £20 and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Dunelm, B&Q and Next (to name but a few) have an amazing range and most of them just fit onto your light fitting like a normal lampshade. Their twinkling light cannot help but cheer up the dreariest winter day.

Originally, chandeliers were made from expensive materials such as rock crystal and bronze so they were well beyond the means of anyone except royalty. The name ‘chandelier’ comes from the French ‘chandelle’, which means candleholder. It was that modest monarch, Louis XIV of France, who really bought into the chandelier when he filled the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles with them. It must have been the most breath-taking sight in an age (1600s) long before electric light, and when the soft glow of a few candles in a candelabra was normally all you could have of an evening. Louis’ massive crystal chandeliers were themselves lit by candles, but their light was reflected both by the thousands of crystals and the mirrors on the walls so it must have been an absolutely dazzling spectacle – can you imagine!

What an amazing spectacle the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles must have been, lit by hundreds of candles, their light reflected thousands of times.

Murano glass tends to be a very ‘Marmite’ design, either loved or loathed!

During the 18th century, glassblowers developed more elaborate creations with bevels and facets. Then the Venetian glassblowers of Murano got their hands on the chandelier and transformed it, yet again, into a sprouting profusion of flower-festooned stems and leaves. You can still buy this style of chandelier made in Murano, but they will set you back a bit!

After candles came gaslights and then electricity and the chandelier has continued to evolve. The development of plastics and Perspex in any shape and colour today gives us inexpensive chandeliers that are lightweight and just plain fun. And why not? I’d quite like a natty little aqua blue one to hang in the bathroom… but I’m waiting for just the moment to suggest this to Richard!

 

 

 

 

 

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Fairies at the bottom of the garden?

I just love the idea that little winged people might be happily living near our stream and willow tree, or in the roses and, of course, in their little toadstool houses behind their fairy doors! OK, Joanna enough of the fantasy. Regardless of whether you do believe in fairies or not, they are still a fun subject to use on a card!

Last week we launched the fairy doors on Create and Craft and I really enjoyed demonstrating the cards. Here are some of the samples to inspire you – whether you use a door or not!

There’s a fun selection here from something as simple (and useful) as a bookmark, an embroidery hoop and of course some toadstools. I created the miniature card and it’s something I would do again as it was such a pleasing little result. You could use this as a gift card, put a message behind the door or just make somebody smile!

We all, (and I am more guilty than most) tend to focus on cards that are at least 6” square – I love 7″ and 8” square cards as well as 8 x 6” etc etc. Maybe we should have a break and give miniature cards a go? They take fewer materials, look really cute and still have the desired effect of making the recipient happy.

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Time for tea – part two!

There’s nothing most of us like more than a hot drink and, in the midst of this wet and gloomy January, I am sure everyone’s kettle is in very regular use! A hot drink revives, comforts and warms you all in one go – can’t be bad! I wrote a blog about tea a couple of years ago and lots of you responded and said you’d enjoyed it… so here are a few more thoughts on what is, surely, Britain’s national drink.

I can remember when tea bags first became popular (yes, I am that old!) and loose-leaf tea was suddenly regarded as old hat and rather a lot of faff. In my family, we still used a teapot, but with the new-fangled bags. Nowadays, most people tend to just plop a tea bag into a mug, dunk it a bit – and there you have it. But tea times are a-changing… just as coffee has become a huge industry, with bean grinders, expensive coffee makers and exotic types of beans, so tea is reinventing itself as a healthy ‘on trend’ beverage. Actually, trendiness aside, the amazing range of teas that are now available to make tea drinking a lot more interesting and, in health terms, it’s pretty good for you.

 

Freshly picked tea leaves.

Returning to loose leaf tea isn’t just a trendy thing, you actually get better quality tea. Loose-leaf tea is made from whole leaves or large pieces of leaf that still contain aromatic oils. As you wait for it to infuse, or brew as we used to say, the flavour is slowly released into the water. Commercial tea bags are filled with small pieces of the lowest grade tea, making them quick to infuse. Like so many things in life – what you gain in time, you lose in quality. There are better quality tea bags around now, some with the pyramid shape that gives the tea more room to brew, but loose-leaf tea is still the best for taste.

Going back to brewing your tea properly will also help give you a better cuppa. Just as with coffee, there are now books and websites on how to do this, plus oodles of fancy equipment. But let’s be sensible here – we don’t all have time for an elaborate tea ceremony – so here are a few simple tips for how to get the best from your tea.

  1. Treat yourself to some loose-leaf tea
  2. Use fresh water in your kettle. If you live in a hard water area, filtering your water would be good but it’s an added faff.
  3. Get your water temperature right – black tea (the sort most people drink, like English breakfast, Assam etc.) wants boiling water, as do herbal teas. If you are making green tea, oolong or white tea, use cooling water. Boiling water burns the leaves of these delicate teas, making a bitter taste. Now I know where I have been going wrong with green tea!
  4. Make sure you get the right ratio of tea to water, read what it says on the packet, or do what my mother always did – a teaspoon per person, plus one for the pot! Then leave your tea to brew. Black teas need about three minutes.

But let’s not forget something very important… if we went back to loose-leaf teas we’d be able to see our fortunes! Tasseography is the art of reading tea leaves or fortune-telling. As a child, I remember my grandmother doing this and I was always enthralled! Make a pot of loose leaf tea, pour yourself a cup (ideally a white cup) sip your tea, leaving the tea leaves and a little liquid in the bottom. Then, swirl the contents three times and upend your cup carefully over a saucer, getting rid of the last bits of liquid. You then need to squint closely into your cup at the tea leaves still clinging there and look for the symbols. The common ones include stars for good luck, spirals for creativity and parallel lines for travel or change. Just think what we have been missing all these years!

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