Monthly Archives: January 2015

Textures in black and white - Scots Pine bark

Textures for Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge

Textures appeal to our sense of touch as well as creating interest visually. I love natural materials and for Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge this week I am sharing some of my favourite natural textures with you.

My header image shows the heavily textured bark of a Scots Pine tree. Tree bark is wonderful for touchable texture with different species providing us with everything from rough to smooth. This Scots Pine tree stands on one of our regular woodland paths so we can enjoy its textured bark as we pass by.

Textures in black and white - medieval stonework
Medieval stonework

In our part of the country sandstone forms one of the geological layers and was used as a building material of choice for many centuries. The stone was normally quarried very locally to where it was needed, though often not much ‘quarrying’ would have been needed as there are many sandstone outcrops from where it would have been readily available. The sandstone in my photo has been hewn into large blocks and built into this fortified medieval manor house. Sandstone is another wonderfully touchable texture. For me, its rough surface speaks solidity and security.

Textures in black and white - decaying log
Decaying log

Wood can have so many textures during its lifespan. In this decaying log the solid wood is gradually being broken down into soft and crumbly fibres. As it is decaying, the log provides us with lots of visual textures.

Textures in black and white - frosty bracken
Frosty bracken

In Summer when we are out on a ramble and want a comfortable seat for our picnic lunch, we will often make bracken ‘cushions’ to sit on. As the year draws on into Autumn, the bracken turns brown and by Winter it lies on the ground like a cosy patterned blanket keeping the earth warm. In my image the light picks out the fronds of bracken that have been painted white with frost.

Textures in black and white - seaweed and limpets on rock
Seaweed and limpets on the rocks

Seashore environments can exhibit a wonderful mixture of textures. Our North East coastline certainly provides a lot of interest through its flora and fauna and in its Magnesian Limestone rocks and geological features. The rocky coastline in itself has plenty of exciting visual texture but getting up close to some of those seashore rocks reveals more temptingly touchable textures … such as this smooth and leathery Knotted Wrack seaweed with its bumpy air bladders that clings to the rough limestone rock alongside the resting limpets hiding in their ridged shells and clamped firmly on the rocky surface waiting for the swish of the returning tide before they venture forth to feed.

Textures in black and white - fungus gills
A worm’s eye view of fungus gills

To complete my texture tour I wanted to include a couple of my son’s images of fungi textures. He likes to be quite creative in his photography, so he often chooses unusual angles. I love the way he has managed to capture the texture in this worm’s eye view of the gills underneath the cap of this fungus.

Textures in black and white - ear fungus on elder branch
Jelly Ear Fungus on elder branch

Jelly Ear Fungus is a strange and fascinating fungus that we find growing on elder trees. When this fungus is freshly grown it is pliable with a slightly squishy texture and a soft downy covering. Its shape is often reminiscent of an ear with prominent veins … though perhaps an ear from some alien life form rather than a human!

To explore more textures please do take a look at Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

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Mending a Woolly Jumper - craft project progress

Mending a woolly jumper: finishing my craft project

When one of my favourite woolly jumpers became worn and raggy, I decided to give it a bit of a thrifty makeover. I’ve been sharing my progress on this craft project from time to time over the past couple of months. In my last post I was showing you how I’d darned the holes and caught up the ladders in the knitting using a crochet hook. I was then ready to sew on the bright crochet patches I’d made to fit each of the worn areas.

Crochet patches sewn on - just the raggy edge to sort
The crochet patches are oversewn in place … just the raggy edge to sort out now

To sew on the crochet patches I chose to use the pearl grey woolly yarn I’d used as the edging on the patches so that the stitching would be almost invisible. You can just about make out my oversewing stitches around the patches on the close-up image above.

Crochet patches sewn on my jumper
With all the crochet patches sewn on, it’s time to think about how to complete my jumper mending project

As I had hoped, the loosely woven darning reinforced the ‘holey’ parts of the jumper and helped retain the jumper’s shape while I was sewing on the crochet patches. When all of the crochet patches were sewn on, I hung up my jumper to consider how I felt about the overall look.

I’d been pondering previously on whether the crochet patches would stand well enough on their own or whether they needed ‘a little something’ to help them hang together as a design. Now that I had all of the patches in place, I really felt they needed that ‘little something’. Whilst I was continuing my pondering, both my husband and son admired the ‘flowers’ on the jumper. Interesting! I hadn’t designed the patches as flowers, but I could definitely see the possibility.

Beginning the crochet repair on the jumper edge
Completing the circle of crochet chain stitches around the edge of the jumper

I decided to develop the design and have my ‘flowers’ growing out of the new border that I was planning to add to strengthen the lower edge of the jumper. Using the dark grey yarn, I began by crocheting a line of chain stitches close to the edge of the jumper. I was careful to avoid any damaged parts of the lower edge as I didn’t want the border to easily pull away from the bottom of the jumper.

When I’d finished the ring of chain stitches around the bottom of the jumper, I began to add some stems and leaves to the ‘flowers’using crochet embroidery. To keep the finishing simple, I continued with the same dark grey yarn.

Crochet embroidery links the crochet patches
Stems and leaves in crochet embroidery link the crochet ‘flowers’

As the flowers are geometric and stylised, I developed the stems and basic leaf outlines in a similar stylised way. I think my leaves have also been partly influenced by another project I am now working on, harking back to the designs of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau.

When I’d completed the crochet embroidery, it was time to consider how I might work the border around the lower edge of the jumper. The ring of dark grey crochet chain would form the point of attachment. Using the dark grey yarn and working into both loops of the crochet chain on the outside of the jumper, I crocheted a row of half treble crochet (half double crochet in US terms 😉 ). I then worked a row of spike stitch using the pearl grey yarn. As I worked each of the spikes, I pushed the crochet hook right through the jumper edge so that these stitches caught the original lower edge of the jumper and formed a binding row.

Crochet border to bind the raggy jumper edge
Working the reinforcing crochet border on my jumper in spike stitch using two colours of grey yarn

Keeping with the alternating greys, for my next row I changed back to the dark grey yarn, again working in spike stitch and my final row of spike stitch was worked in pearl grey. To complete the new jumper edging, I worked a row of double crochet (single crochet in US terms), alternating between the two grey yarns on each stitch.

Crochet patch and new  crochet edging on my jumper
The new crochet border in spike stitch

I like the slightly woven and slightly tweeded appearance of my new and strengthened jumper edge. The edging is tougher than the knitted part of the jumper, but as the edge seemed to be wearing out in several places, I am hopeful that a stronger edge will help.

My Woolly Jumper - mended and wearable again
My Woolly Jumper – mended and wearable with its new flower design and crochet edging

… and here we have the finished jumper! My jumper full of holes has been transformed into a unique garment for the cost of nothing but a rummage through my yarn oddments and a few hours of crochet. I am pleased with the way my thrifty makeover has turned out. Now all the loose ends have been carefully tucked in and my favourite woolly jumper is finally ready to wear again!

J Peggy Taylor

10 noisy jackdaws for the Big Garden Bird Watch

Jackdaw in flight over our street
Jackdaw in flight over our street

Did you take part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch over the weekend? We did and I’d said last week I’d let you know what we saw for this annual wildlife survey. Though as expected, there were no unusual sightings for us, just our normal jackdaws.

Our first attempt at the Big Garden Bird Watch was cut short after being hijacked by a black and white cat! It sneaked into the yard and suddenly appeared on the window ledge! What?! I can’t record a feline fiend for the Big Garden Bird Watch!

Fortunately our second attempt followed a rather more normal pattern. The bird food is put out. The boisterous jackdaws descend from their rooftop hangouts. We frantically count them as they swoop and jostle each other for a position on the wall where the food is waiting.
“One, two, three, four, five, six,” we chorus as the jackdaws land in turn.
“Did you get the one on the roof?”
“No, just the two on the fence.”
“There was the one on the post too.”
“There’s one on the tree – well, it’s on the window ledge now actually.”

When most of the pastry and cheese shreds have been devoured, the black cloud lifts. Individual birds then return from time to time to seek out any leftovers. The porridge oats and fruit are less popular with the jackdaws. Sometimes we see blackbirds, house sparrows and dunnocks, so we try and cater for all tastes. But none of the others put in an appearance during our Big Garden Bird Watch hour this year.

Today I added our survey tally to the RSPB’s results web page. I don’t mind that we usually only end up recording jackdaws for the Big Garden Bird Watch because we see so many other wild birds nearby to us every day.

J Peggy Taylor

country lane in black and white

Roadscapes for Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge

Roads form the physical connections between our human settlements – towns, cities, villages or even single houses. Most of us use roads every day as a vital means of communication.

In our area, many of our modern roads can trace their history to a web of tracks that took our ancestors from A to B for all their various purposes, from collecting food and fuel to marching to war. I find old maps are a fascinating source of detail on the places visited by people in the past and the roads that took them there. We can often see how busier routes developed and others fell into disuse as settlements changed according to the needs of their inhabitants or sometimes due to other external factors.

The road in my header image climbs to the top of the hill from our village as it connects our valley to the Tyne valley to the north. In Summer we like to walk up here to admire the view from the hilltop. On a clear day we can see as far north as the Scottish border and a good few miles south too, across the North Pennines. As quite a busy route, this road has gradually been resurfaced and widened over the years. Originally, around 400 years ago, this section of the road would have been a track leading from the village squire’s grand hall up to an adjoining hilltop road that linked to other significant properties nearby.

Old road through the woods in snow - black and white
Cold and snowy but still well-trodden – the old road through our woods

It may be snowy but the old road through our woods is always a very popular route. This single track road used to be the main road that linked our village to other villages nearby and it is still well-used for this purpose though it is no longer the main road traffic route. Its route travels over the Victorian railway bridge that I’ve written about previously. In 2002 the road was closed to road traffic and adopted by the Forestry Commision. To preserve the old stone bridge, use of the road is now restricted to walkers, cyclists and horse riders, with vehicles being restricted to essential access only.

Road to our rural village in black and white
The main road into our village provides amazing views across the Derwent valley

The main road into our village drops down from the north east, twisting and turning as it goes. Here is one of those turns as the road suddenly lurches rightwards along the valley side. Driving towards our village along this road, it is at this point the whole vista of the valley comes suddenly into view. Impressive cloudscapes, Winter sunsets or just many layers of grey in a classic demonstration of aerial perspective draw the eye south westwards through the river valley. This photograph is taken from the ‘end’ of the old road through the woods that I showed you above. The route heading right in this image links the two adjacent villages and developed into a main route sometime in the late 19th century – the same time as coal mining became a prominent industry in the area which created increased transport needs in itself as well as via an increased population.

Clockburn Lonnen ford over the River Derwent in black and white
An ancient road – Clockburn Lonnen ford over the River Derwent

This river ford is part of another interesting old road in our valley. The old road that crosses the River Derwent here is known as Clockburn Lonnen – lonnen is a local dialect word for ‘lane’. In the past this lane formed part of the main route from the cathedral city of Durham to Scotland and I believe it probably originally dates back into pre-Roman times. From the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 through to the English Civil Wars in the mid-1600s, war and conflict between England and Scotland feature regularly in our local history here in North East England. As a main thoroughfare in those days, Oliver Cromwell’s baggage train, complete with heavy guns drawn by teams of oxen, travelled via Clockburn Lonnen and the Derwent ford on the way to the Battle of Dunbar in the September of 1650. This old road must have been rather wider then than we see it now in the foreground of this photograph.

Coast road by Souter Lighthouse, South Shields in black and white
Coast road by Souter Lighthouse, South Shields

In my final photograph the scene changes from countryside to coast. We often visit this part of the North East coast during the Summer months and enjoy the picturesque walk along the clifftops overlooking the sea. The National Trust now take care of this section of coastline with its fascinating limestone rock formations and the Souter Lighthouse. When our walk is done we make out way out onto the coast road here, halfway between South Shields and Sunderland, and wait for the bus to take us back into the town centre.

I hope you have enjoyed roaming along with me and taking in some of our favourite roadscapes. Do take a look at Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge for more roadscapes this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Birdwatching toddler

Are you ready for the Big Garden Bird Watch?

Do you live in the UK? Can you spare an hour to watch the birds in your garden next weekend? 24-25 Jan 2015 is the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch.

The annual Big Garden Bird Watch is the world’s largest wildlife survey, organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds here in the UK. The survey provides a really useful snapshot of the birds we are currently seeing in our gardens. Now in its 36th year, the data from the Big Garden Bird Watch builds up with all of our results each year. Hundreds of thousands of us across the country will spend an hour of our choice over the weekend watching the birds in our gardens. Around half a million of us counted 7 million birds last year! It is so easy to take part, many of us drink tea and eat biscuits at the same time 🙂

To do the survey, all we need to do is record how many of each bird species we see in the garden at any one time. You can record the birds you see directly onto the RSPB website.

Most of us will see our common UK garden birds – but if you aren’t too sure about identifying the birds you see, there’s help at hand on the RSPB website. Here on the What to look out for page you’ll see the birds that most often visit gardens, along with information on the kind of food they prefer and whether they’re the acrobatic type that hang on bird feeders or if they’re more likely to be seen down on the ground. There’s also the Bird Guide that can help you out with any less-common species.

RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch

Bird populations are a good indicator of wider wildlife health in our countryside, so as a keen nature watcher I always like to take part in this survey. If you can spare an hour this weekend to help find out how our feathered friends and other wildlife are faring, please visit the RSPB’s website here and register to take part.

Our 10 jackdaws were the only entrants from us for last year’s Big Garden Bird Watch. After we’ve done our survey this weekend I’ll let you know which birds we see this time. If you do take part in the survey, it would be good to see your results too.

J Peggy Taylor

sprouting acorn in fallen oak leaves in black and white

Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge: Wood

I love natural materials and wood is one of my favourites. When Cee asked us to focus on wood for her Black and White Photo Challenge this week, I knew this was a perfect challenge for me. Wood is such a natural part of my life and I find it is an amazing and beautiful material. Let me share with you some of the ways I enjoy wood in my life.

The entire lifespan of wood, from tree seed to decayed wood, is a story of life-giving processes and for me these processes provide endless inspiration. The sprouting acorn I used to open my post is for me a symbol of the birth of something new, perhaps a new project or venture that I want to nurture and grow to achieve its aims.

Sunlit woodland in black and white
Sunlit woodland in black and white

We live surrounded by woods and walk there often, so we experience all of the natural world’s seasonal variations that woodland has to offer. One of the many pleasures of a woodland wander is wending our way homeward along the old railway with the afternoon sun of early Autumn filtering through the trees, casting lengthening shadows across our path. The wooden bench at the edge of the track offers the opportunity to sit and take in the calming atmosphere of the wood.

fallen oak branch in black and white
Fallen oak branch and wooden fence

The wilder weather of recent years has taken its toll on trees in many places, including here in our woods. This substantial limb from an oak tree has been ripped away by the wind and now lies on the edge of the horse field. Fallen timber provides an amazing habitat for a whole array of creatures. The process of wood decaying is helped very much on its way by the many mini-beasts that live on dead wood. The wood of the oak branch may be dead, but it is still teeming with life.

working in wood in black and white
Working in raw wood – shaping a tenon on an ash pole with the axe

As well as walking in woods, we also enjoy working with wood. My son is shaping a tenon on one end of an ash pole as part of his pole lathe project last year.

 turned wood candlesticks in black and white
Learning to turn wood – some early candlesticks

When the pole lathe was completed, it was time to practice turning green wood. The candlesticks may not quite be a ‘pair’ in the traditional sense, but they did demonstrate a certain level of success and dexterity with the turning chisels. I love the way wood turning brings out the grain and other points of interest in the wood.

hand carved spoon in black and white
Cherry wood hand carved spoon

I was delighted to receive this hand carved spoon in cherry wood from my son as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. The carving has revealed the varying tones in the cherry wood. This wooden spoon has a special role in my utensil jar as my morning porridge-stirring spoon.

Decaying log monster in black and white
My Decaying Log Monster complete with fungi ‘teeth’

I laughed when I first loaded this image onto my computer. While I was out in the beechwood composing the shot, I never noticed the grinning monster. I only saw the sunlight picking out the rough textures in the decaying log that contrasted so well with the smooth fungi growing on the wood. I hope it makes you smile too.

If you too delight in wood, take a look at Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge this week for more inspiring wood images.

Cee's Black and White Challenge Featured Blogger Award

J Peggy Taylor

Mending a Woolly Jumper - craft project progress

Mending a woolly jumper – craft project update 2

When one of my favourite woolly jumpers developed holes and was in need of some serious mending, I decided to give it a bit of a thrifty make-over. In my last post on this project I was showing you that I’d designed some colourful crochet patches to cover the unwanted holes in my jumper. I’d accepted that a subtle approach to mending was no longer a possibility on my well-worn woolly.

Creating the crochet patches didn’t really take too long, but then time ran into mid-Winter festivities and now here I am ready to progress with this thrifty mending project, especially as warm woolly jumpers are currently an essential item of clothing for our chilly January days.

Before sewing on the crochet patches, I wanted to increase the stability of the underlying knitted fabric. To do this, I chose to make a preliminary darn of each holed area of the jumper. The darned areas would then be covered over with the crochet patches.

Quickly darned holes to give worn knitted fabric stability
Darned areas of jumper to give worn knitted fabric stability

For the darning, I used some odd lengths of red double knit yarn I had left from creating the patches. First I stranded the yarn – separating it into its three constituent yarn threads as I wanted to work with thinner yarn than the original double knit. Using a darning needle, I worked my way across each of the damaged areas. I darned quite loosely as I didn’t want a really dense fabric underneath the patches. The images in the gallery below show you this process.

On my jumper, I had identified that some of the holes also had ladders running from them and the knitting loops had come undone. I’d noted the ladders on my mending plan.

Mending a Woolly Jumper - my to-do list
Task 1 of my new craft project: make a plan

It is a fairly simple process to mend ladders in knitted fabrics using a small crochet hook. I chose a 1.5mm hook for this task. You start by finding the loop wherever it is lurking at the bottom of the current ladder and insert the crochet hook into it. Then it is simply a case of hooking through each successive ‘lost’ knitted loop, working your way towards the top of the ladder. You can see this process in the gallery of images below.

When you’ve caught up all of the ‘lost’ knitted loops, it’s best to leave the final loop on the crochet hook until you have your darning thread ready to catch down the loop and secure it.

Mending a ladder in a wool jumper using a crochet hook
Secure the loop at the top of the mended ladder with the darning needle and yarn

Now that all of the holes have been secured by darning and the ladders have been repaired and their loops sewn in, I am finally ready to begin sewing on the crochet patches.

I’d measured the holes and crocheted the patches to the appropriate sizes. I pinned each of the hexagonal patches in place. I decided to orientate them all pointing skywards and earthwards … because it just felt right 😉

Sewing a crochet patch on my jumper
Sewing the first crochet patch on my jumper

Next, I’ll be sewing them all in place, again using the darning needle, but this time I will use a length of the pearl grey yarn I used to edge the crochet patches and this will make my stitching invisible.

When I have sewn on all of the crochet patches, there’s still another part to this thrifty mending project, as the lower edge of the jumper needs tidying up too. Hopefully I will have that done soon and then I shall show you how my Mending a woolly jumper project has turned out.

J Peggy Taylor