Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world | Video on

Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world | Video on

I got very excited when I saw the mushrooms growing out of the ants head!Very satisfying.

In Abruzzo we have just about every type of ant including the ones that climb our walls then disappear into a tiny hole then into a beam.

Termites are even more of a problem and I think theres somthing known as a Capricorn Beetle that is eating it's way through someones roof beams in the village unless they can halt it's progress!

So far we just have a few woodworm and ordinary ants but I'm open to anything 'green' that could kill the littel blighters.I dont want the house doused in lethal chemicals -especailly the way that some Italians use them!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Happy Solstice Day!

According to a google search 'Saturnalia' is celebrated on 17th December but its today that us pagans look forward to the slow return of the sun and long spring evenings.

During Saturnalia,which I believe went on for more than a day knowing the Italians,red and gold decorations along with food were hung in trees to please the gods and servants were waited on by their masters.The tree hangings remind me a bit of our wassailiing tradition of soaking toast or bread in cider and hanging in a tree.

This Saturday(16th December) the Wassail took place at Cotehele and apparently 100's of people turned up to watch.

A bit different from when I started it with Rob and Rosie Fierek in 1997 and only us and our children came along!We took it in turns with Lewis and Grace Eynon to host a special Wassail tea each year cooking apple cakes and scones and serving cider.Harry Juniper, a lovely man who ran Bideford Pottery made us a beautiful Wassail Jug and I'm really pleased that it's stil being used for the Cotehele Wassail.Even if the spirit of the Cotehel Wassail has changed some things remain the same

Monday, 21 November 2011

Rome Pass

Just booked to go out to Rome in February-hopefully it will almost be spring in Rome by then! Last year it cost us quite a lot to buy tickets for museums and sites so I decided to investigate buying a pass for 25 euros which lasts for 3 days and allows you to travel all over the city o the metro or by bus.

You get 2 free entries and after that a concession.

I can't wait!I've been to the forum 3 times now but it still remains a completely magical place for me.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

£12 an hour

My sister in law has a cleaner.She pays her £12 an hour.

My daughter who is extremly talented and has a degree earns less than £7 per hour and for my work I rarely earn more than £15 an hour.That's for 50 years experiance!

I wonder why we bother when we'd earn more cleaning toilets!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

MISI Handmade | Craft Supplies | Haberdashery

ome useful craft stuff here:

MISI Handmade | Craft Supplies | Haberdashery

Handmade Christmas at Cotehele

I was at Cotehele yesterday running Handmade Christmas workshop.It seemed to go very well although I think I was a little over ambitious with the number of projects I tried out!


Almost certainly my least favourite month of the year.

This November it's been so warm that I dont feel winter has arrived just yet and since summer for me began in April and lasted until 5th October when we returned from Italy I'm feeling slightly more positive.

I'm hoping for a 3 month winter;not least because of the cost of wood and heating oil!

One morning last week I opened the door to let Pippin out and saw this.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

On Vegetarian Food

My local Transition group held a film and discussion evening recently;should we stop eating meat to save the planet? As a result some of the group are trying to go veggie,at least for most of the week.20 years ago we knew a young couple from Scotland who had watched The Animal Film.They were so upset that they decided to go veggie,but they knew absolutely nothing about cooking so they ended up eating tinned tomaroes poured onto pasta.Not a terribly inspiring dish to have 7 times a week.

Some members of our group are also finding things tough now they need to replace their chops and stews with a meat free alternative.

I've put some of my tips on the SEA blog;most importantly about the importance of good flavouring.I've just dressed a salad with some delicious vinegar that I made earlier this summer by leaving blackcurrents in a jar of white wine vinegar.I added a spoon of sugar.On my allotment as well as fruit and veg I grow tasty herbs like sage,rocket and flat leaved parsley.We have a couple of bay trees to as I find that bay leaves are an essential ingredient in winter stews and roasts.

Sometimes I need spices I cant grow at home like nutmeg,cinnamon and lime juice.

Whatever you cook remememer the herbs and spices and it will taste wonderful!

Friday, 11 November 2011


My uncle Frank died a few weeks ago.He was 92.

When we first talked to him about Abruzo we were amazed to find that he'd been posted the in WW2.

The place he stayed at no longer exsists -I'm not sure why?It was called Salarola in the 1940's but I think it was completly destroyed by German bombing after they left.

3 of Frank's friends from Essex died there.They were trapped in a small cave when the Germans threw a shell in.Frank could not go in and retrieve their bodies as there were German snipers everywhere.

I took some pictures of the 'Salarola Valley' in 2009.I like to imagine the farmers that sheltered Frank all survived and that the old house here perhaps also survived.

Sad abandoned house

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Gesso or Gypsum?

We bought a bag of white powder plaster at Orsini builder's merchants which we were told was pure Gesso.The countryside around Manoppello and Roccamorice in particular seems to have deposits of this mineral that is a dirty yellow grey colour with quite large crystals.A company called La Farage still make Gesso in Abruzzo.
Locally several villages are named after this mineral;Gessopalena being one such place.

thanks to website panramio for photo

The mineral is burnt in a furnace and the resulting white powder is called Gesso in Italy and Gypsum elsewhere.It is actually Calcium Sulphate.The process can also create 'plaster of paris' which apparently gets its name from the plaster used by specialist French masons who came to work in English cathedrals during the middle ages.Its not something that naturally lends itself to stone pointing or building but maybe it was mixed with some other substance?

The term Gesso in England is really only used to describe a 'ground' for paintings on canvas or wood panels.

thanks to The National Gallery for this information:

Gesso is the Italian word for the white mineral gypsum. It is used as a ground or preparatory layer to ensure a smooth surface for painting or gilding on wood. It was also sometimes used for the priming of canvas.

Gesso consists of gypsum bound in size (an adhesive made from animal skin and waste). The common practice was for a coarse lower layer to be applied (gesso grosso), followed by a finer upper layer (gesso sottile). It has to be scraped and sanded to make it absolutely smooth. In some unfinished or damaged pictures parts of the gesso layer can be seen.

The gesso could be built up to form a low relief on the wood known as pastiglia. It could also be cut or incised - much of the fine details of picture frames is cut in the gesso rather than in the wood below. In panel painting north of the Alps, instead of gypsum chalk or some other form of calcium carbonate was generally used bound with size as the white ground.

I imagine that the gesso made in the north used lime putty or dry lime rather than gesso powder?

Beach Houses in Pescara

Monday, 24 October 2011

frugal life?

What do we realy need? What can we do without? If you think about the things we seem to see as indispensible to our modern lives the list is endless:
washing machine
central heating

I suppose thats not really a very long list compared to some buteven so I've discovered just how difficult it is to live for any length of time with these things.

When we first arrive at the house I feel quite positive;after all we have electricity even if it is only through one long cable with a socket on the end! We have cold water through a single tap at floor height (thanks to a very stupid plumber) and an old gas stove. Keeping everything running smoothly requirs lots of effort.With no sink it's most practical to take a bowl of water outside and wash up there, transfering all the clean stuff into another bowl and taking it back to the kitchen to be put away in lidded boxes to stop it getting covered in dust.

A solar shower that gets laid on the van roof all day to heat up is then fixed ,with a stretchy elastic cable, to the branch of an old olive tree.

Two clay roof tiles form a primative base and stop your feet getting muddy and an old seatless chair stands close by to hang towel and clothes on. At first this seems a brilliant solution to our lack of an indoor shower but as the days wear on it becomes more and more irritating;the floor tiles get invaded by ants that crawl up your legs and nip you. The soap slips out of my hand and falls into a pile of dry olive leaves(thank God for Lush shampoo bars) which then stick to it.And even more annoyingly a neighbour who normally choses the early morning to walk past along the lane changes their routine and now has to be accounted for when deciding on a time to set up the shower!

I end up showering in the dark with a wind-up torch giving off a weak ray of led light -illuminating the ants.And if I'm really unlucky the Hornets which always fly out to investigate a light.

In the end the effort of performing these everyday tasks under such circumstances starts to become almost unbearable and each day they seem to take up more and more time which I feel that I am wasting.Yet if I was living 100 years ago I would just accept them as part of my normal routine.The difference is that I have got used to having all of the things I think that I am entitled to and doing without them seems in some way unfair.Very childish I'm sure.It certainly makes you think about how we take things very much for granted.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

diy project: autumn leaf bouquet | Design*Sponge

diy project: autumn leaf bouquet | Design*Sponge

Quattro Volte -4 lives

Feeling withdrawl symptons from Italy last week I ordered this wonderful film from lovefilm on DVD.The title comes from Pythagoras,having four lives within us – the mineral, the vegetable, the animal and the human – "thus we must know ourselves four times".

The cycle of the four lives begin and end with images of charchol burning(once in a little stove top burner and later in a huge charchol furnace in the woods)and although it is a film that will make you feel very sad it also has moments of high comedy such as the incident when an ape van rolls back and crashes into the goat pen allowing the animals to rush out and create mayhem around the village - whose inhabitants are away re-enacting a Roman ceremony! The accident appears to have been triggered by Vuk the sheep dog - who won an award at Cannes for his part in the film.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

What I miss now I'm back in Cornwall

What I'm missing most now I'm back in Cornwall

Bread -there's nothing as good as the bread we buy in Italy
Amadaeus Pizzeria where we can have a huge pizza with fresh porcini mushrooms a bottle of superb Montepulcino wine and tiramasu with coffee for 30 euros!I could never bring myself to eat a Pizza Express pizza againg.
Sunshine - it's still summer there
9 olive trees - which are pretty old and gnarled but I can tie up my hammock and relax
Sunday market in Lettomanopplello

Billy and Shelia but not the 2 annoying puppies who stole my flipflops
Veg that has flavour - not what we get in the UK
Coffee that costs 1 euro and tastes wonderful

lime and clay workshops in 2012

I've found it very difficult getting the right help and information in Italy to help us make the best choices with our house restoration.

It's easy to read lots of books or look on websites but there's no substitute for actually doing it yourself!

So in 2012 I plan to run some one-day workshops in Abruzzo on using lime and clay to make plasters and paints.From basic stone work and repointing to appling a natural limewash paint I'd like to share my knowledge with you.

old cob from an earth building - still pretty strong

Making lime putty in buckets

If you are interested please email me and I'll be in touch in the New Year once I have sorted out some dates!

my email is

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Folksy :: Buy "Hand Printed Lino Print Christmas Tree Card Pack"

I know its some time off but I'm preparing for running some handmade Christmas workshops in Cornwall.

One of the projects will be to produce some printed cards and wrapping paper but these are so lovely It would be hard to produce anything better!I'll post my results later once I've found my lino!

Folksy :: Buy "Hand Printed Lino Print Christmas Tree Card Pack"

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Recipes for Lime Wash | The Earth Pigments Company

Recipes for Lime Wash | The Earth Pigments Company

Roman wall painting in The National Museum of Rome - using lime and natural pigments.

A wash has less texture than a liming coat, but still masks the surface. To obtain the best result, stir between every stroke.

•2 part water
•1 parts lime powder
•Additive binder at a ratio to the total volume of limewash mixture of 1-10%
•Pigment by weight (ratio to lime powder) of no more than 22% Ochers, 15% Oxides maximum

Work in Progress

Making Lime Putty

We got through about 12 tubs of lime putty - lucky for me they only cost 2 euros each when 1 make them myself!

Lime putty should look like Mozzarella.

New plastering with Pete Mold

Pete Mold and me plastering and straightening the walls in one of our upstairs rooms;this plaster has marble dust mixed into putty and sand.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Going to Abruzzo Soon

Its September and I'm heading south with the swallows again! We have arranged for an experience earth plasterer/builder to come oiut and work on our house.

When we arrived in May we found this Gecko in the bathroom!

making jewellery

Lots of time recently to concentrate on making some 'upcycled jewellery' I've added these to my etsy shop.

The inspiration is endless once you get going with scraps of material.


I've also made some covers for A6 notebooks using these curtains with Bambi on them

These bracelets are made out of scraps

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Tamar Valley Center

The center where our workshops will run is situated in the Tamar Valley about 5 miles from Tavistock.

Tamar Valley | About

Upcycling Workshops 2011

Chloe and I have arranged to run some workshops in the Tamar Valley Center,Gunnislake in November and December.One will be Handmade Christmas Presents and the next Handmade Christmas Decorations.

The cost will be about £25 per person and that will include delcious homemade cakes!

To book contact me

Monday, 11 July 2011

Hand Made Nation Movie

Hand Made Nation Movie

abruzzo dogs and flowers

Rex and Shelia (the post lady called the 2 abandoned puppies Billy and Shelia)outside the house.

No idea what variety this rose is but its still blooming against the side of an old ruin near us.It's wonderful to think when things were so bad years ago that someone planted a rose which did not produce food but looked beautiful!

The plaster behind the flower is lovely!It's an old earth chalk mix I think.

My etsy shop


I've been updating my etsy shop with some new necklaces I've been making in between restringing yards and yards of beads this week for my customers.I love etsy and I've bought some lovely things from the shops there.Including some hand-made silver clasps that i used with the very old trade beads I've restrung recently.

Yesterday I went to a new carboot and got lots of upcycling goodies so I'm going to be making more things this week.I bought a very wonky suede belt that looks as if it will make several bracelets and necklaces!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

cooking by candlelight

When the electricity is needed somewhere else i have to light a candle!

and the bricks go down!

Sunday, 19 June 2011


Yesterday me and a friend went over to Embercome in Devon to take part in their midsummer fair.It was not a great sucess for us finacially - too many creative types making their own stuff and not wanting to buy it off us!

As the sales weren't exactly overwhelming we both had plenty of time to wander around and take in the other stalls and events.

My favourite was the sycthing demonstrations as our 1 year old strimmer has just broken wand will probably end up 'scrapped' I was impressesd on how easy the cutting seemed to be.Apparently its all in the knee action!

Embercome is an education center and smallholding with space for meetings and events think I they also welcome volunteers to help them.

Abruzzo Trip

It's over a week now since we got back and I'm still feeling tired!But that could be connected to the Craft Fair yesterday at Embercombe in Devon.More on that later.

The journey out in our van was as usual pretty tedious but we were lucky to have glorious weather and we stopped for our picnic lunch in Gurtnellen in Switzerland. The town is just off the autostrada for St Gotthard and is in a truly stunning poistion by a river.This was probably the high point of the journey with the low point following the next morning at 5am when we got diverted into Ancona when the motorway suddendly closed!No diversion route of course.

At the house nothing seemed too wrong -it's been a long winter and I was so pleased to be able to buy the bricks or mattone for our living room floor.

It took three trips in the Berlingo to bring them all back but seeing the floor actually laid before we came back to England was a huge thrill!

Of course I can't forget that it was my 50th birthday in May. We spent the day in Rome and had a picnic in the Forum followed by an afternoon on the Palantine Hill.

That evening we went to have a Pizza at one of Rome's 'best' Pizzerias:Da Baffetto.

Let's just say the staff there arent 100% customer centered (an American couple decided they couldn't cope and walked out)and it was a long wait but we enjoyed a totally different experience from eating in other Rome restaurants.I'd go again but early because its packed out after 8pm.

photos Simon Read

Monday, 16 May 2011

Great blog

This blog has great advice on Craft fairs -I'm not a great fan of them but theres some good stuff here and on photographing your work

Hellish Customer

Its been really stressful this weekend as I've had the customer from Hell right in the middle of sorting out the house and loading the van up for Italy!

I do lots of restringing work for people including a customer who regularly sends £800 necklaces for me to string and although there can be problems with things I've always been able to sort it out with the customer.I also offer the service of restringing the piece for free if it breaks in 6 months or half price after that!Thats more than any high street chain will do.

This customer got her necklace back but the Royal Mail had managed to chip a bead - at least that's the report but I've not had anything like this happen with a wrapped necklace inside a padded envelope - and a photo shows not damage to the out casing!So the whole thing looks a bit fishy.

She chose a cheaper postal service rather than one that offers compensation so I've now had the amount I charged her 'taken' from my Paypal account even though I offered to have the necklace back and restring it replacing the bead that was broken.seems theres not much I can do.

Sometimes working on your own can be really hard work -its so much easier when you are in an office and can share frustrations with your colleagues.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Now for some abruzzo images!

Cachi Trees in October with the fruits getting ripe -they'll be ready in December

The olives needed lots of pruning and really some need a chainsaw to take off most of the branches.It does mean quite a few years without fruit but once they make new branches the crop is much heavier.

This gnarled olive tree must be 100's of years old and it's home to a variety of insects and reptiles including snakes! I did once hear about someone who was bitten in the neck by a snake in an olive trees so I usually keep a look out whenever I'm walking or sitting underneath one. So far the most serious 'attack' I've been subject to was when a lizard leapt off a tree onto my head!It did give me a shock but I think the lizard was the more surprised.They can get very aggressive early in the summer and guard their territories ferociously.

For more about Abruzzo

Flickr: My Web Address

Flickr: Your Flickr Web Address: "com/photos/italianflowers/"

Its been a struggle but I've finally found a way to do a link to my account on flickr where I've saved some beautiful images of upcycled fabric jewellery as well as other interesting crafts and a Bird gallery!

Quilt that's nearly finished

Nearly there!I started this over 20 years ago and its almost finished I just need to do the actual quilting now!

I'm trying to create some new necklace designs based on scraps of material I've been saving from other projects.I'm not sure if looking at images on flickr is inspirational or off-putting as some of the designs are so beautiful!

Meanwhile my chickens are loving this fine spring weather - and unfortunately some of them have decided to go walkabout and have suceeded in destroying some newly planted beans.Its lovely to have fresh eggs but I sometimes wonder if keeping chickens is just not more trouble than its worth!