Monthly Archives: March 2015

Weathered wood - old wooden fence

Weathered Wood for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Wood is one of my favourite natural materials and it can always surprise us with its beauty. From seedling trees to decaying logs, for me wood provides a metaphor for the cycle of life. For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week, we are looking for weathered wood. Weathered wood is often a visual feast as it develops its own individual natural character with unique grain patterns, shapes and textures.

When we walk in our local woodlands we see many tree stumps, fallen trees or logs where the forces of nature and time have left their mark. Along some of our regular paths we have observed the effects of these natural processes on particular stumps and logs over several years. With the gradual effects of decay and weathering, some of our old log ‘seats’ have cracked open to reveal their woody chambers within.

Weathered wood - old tree stump and fungus
An old tree stump with some Sulphur Tuft fungus growing on it

On damp days in early Autumn colourful fungi will sprout from the weathered wood of old tree stumps and logs. The Sulphur Tuft fungus Hyphaloma fasciculare is one of the more common and easily recognisable species that grow on old wood from deciduous trees. Here it is growing on a small Beech stump in one of our favourite beechwoods. We find beechwoods tend to be quite rich in fungi.

Weathered wood - fallen tree
A fallen tree with its remaining stump on the forest floor

This dead tree on the woodland edge was felled by the wind last Spring and now it has developed its own little niche under the holly hedge. The thick grey vines of ivy continue to thrive on the weathered wood of the fallen trunk. On this particular day the late Winter sun was streaming through the trees and lighting up this normally unremarkable spot on the forest floor. I thought it looked quite beautiful and a little magical. You could almost expect The Little Grey Men to suddenly appear from under the fallen tree.

Weathered wood - decaying log
A decaying log

This old tree trunk sits on a steep bankside in a small stretch of ancient woodland within one of our local woods. I love the shapes and patterns that have developed in this old wood and the contrast between rough and smooth. In Autumn this is another old tree trunk that we have previously seen covered in fungi – not the Sulphur Tuft as I showed you earlier, but hundreds of smooth, white Stump Puffballs Lycoperdon pyriforme .

Weathered wood is such a fascinating material. Do take a look at the weathered wood others have found for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

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Inspiration by Dallas Clayton

After a trying day of broken washing machines and other irksome irritations, THIS book was just what I needed! Do take a look at it – I really enjoyed the animated version from the link in Chris’s post. Dream those dreams!

J Peggy Taylor

Crochet jute and willow garden screen - crochet close-up

Abstract views for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Spring is always the ‘busy’ season for those of us who enjoy gardening and for me this week has flashed by in a whirl. To capture my Spring ‘busyness’, I decided to browse through all of the photos I’ve taken this week and create an abstract vision of my week.

Abstract - crocus in Spring greens
Crocus in Spring greens

This image contains some of my Spring favourites. Some milder, sunny days have encouraged our crocuses to bloom this week. I love the contrasting colours – the purple and orange of the crocus against the new season’s greens. I love the heart shaped ‘wild food’ leaves of the Garlic Mustard with their energy-rich texture of veins. I noticed in my image the triangle shape of the crocus is enclosed and echoed by a larger green triangle, both pointing upwards in this picture as if towards the source of their renewed vitality, the sun.

Abstract - willow weaving
Willow weaving to tidy up my willow garden screens

My willow garden screens have survived well over the cold and windy Winter but before I put them to use again as climbing plant supports I decided they needed some aesthetic attention. Some readers may remember me writing about creating my willow and crochet jute garden screens last Summer. When I originally made the willow screens I left the tops quite wild-looking and unfinished but this year I’ve gone for a neater cottage garden finish.

In this project I have also been using some of my home-grown willow that grew on from last year’s willow cuttings. This week I have turned the tops of my two garden screens into willow arches and bound them in place with the home grown willow. I’m sure there will be a gardening post or two to come on this project 😉

Abstract - rustic wooden planter
Turned wood pegs in our rustic wooden planter

My plan from last Spring to build a wooden planter trough for my willow cuttings has finally reached fruition this week. The wooden planter has been a woodwork project that my son has worked on with me over the past few weeks. The idea was to build a rustic planter entirely from locally available raw materials and I have been really pleased that this was possible. The logs are pegged together with turned wood pegs that my son made on his pole lathe.

In my abstract image of the new wooden planter I have exaggerated the contrast to show the turned wood pegs in the hand-hewn timber.

Abstract view - solar eclipse
Friday’s partial solar eclipse – our pinhole image at 9.40am

The partial solar eclipse on Friday was one of those phenomena that should not go by unnoticed. We have been preparing for the eclipse during the week and then on Friday we were ready with our pinhole projectors to observe the moon passing between Earth and the sun. For us this was between 9.15am and 10.00am. ‘Pinhole projectors’ sound very scientific don’t they? Actually, they were simply small squares of cereal box card, about 8cm (3″) across, with a pinhole approximately in the centre. Whilst we didn’t enjoy constant clear skies during the eclipse, there were enough sunny spells to be able to observe the moon’s movement. The sky noticeably turned darker and the air colder during the eclipse.

The abstract image I have chosen of this event is one of my son’s photos of the eclipse projected onto another piece of card.

I hope you have enjoyed my week in abstract images. For more abstract images please do take a look at other entries for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Learning by observation and photography

Caution! Children learning … for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Watching your children learning about the world around them is one of the pleasures of parenthood. For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week our theme is ‘Catching People Unawares’. As a home educating family, taking photographs is one way we use to record our children’s learning experiences. This means I take a lot of photographs of our boys getting involved in all kinds of interesting activities. For this week’s challenge I decided to pick out some unusual or fun images from my archives.

History and the out-of-doors are two favourite family themes for our educational excursions and sometimes they overlap, making double the learning fun.

Trying out blacksmithing
Trying out blacksmithing under expert guidance

A woodland and heritage skills activity day in one of our local woodlands gave Matt the irresistible opportunity to try out the old craft of blacksmithing. We have previously seen blacksmithing demonstrations and also visited a renovated blacksmith’s shop complete with working forge. Entering that old building was like stepping back in time!

In days long gone, every village would have had its village blacksmith to make or mend items locally in iron and steel. Nowadays, it is mainly by people blacksmithing as a craft and as an art form that has prevented this heritage skill from dying out. On this occasion Matt produced a rather impressive pendant under the patient guidance of the visiting blacksmith.

Learning to build a two-stroke engine
Where does this piece go? Learning to build a two-stroke engine.

At last year’s annual Heritage Skills Festival, Matt learned how to put together an old two-stroke engine with the helpful assistance of an engineer from the local museum service who was overseeing this activity. Learning to maintain two-stroke engines was once part of the standard apprenticeship training for young engineers and was a particularly useful skill in our north east region as two-stroke engines were widely used in industry and ships. Shipbuilding used to be a huge industry on Tyneside up to the late 20th century.

Studying Roman history -John Collingwood Bruce's bookcase
Learning about John Collingwood Bruce and Roman local history

The UK-wide Heritage Open Days are often a good chance to visit places and learn about things that are not always open to the public. One such event we enjoyed was at the end of our ‘Roman Summer’.

We’d visited special touring exhibitions and been on guided tours of Roman forts with a renowned expert on Roman history. We’d learned about “the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain” – the Vindolanda tablets, among many other Roman treasures at Vindolanda.

Then in September, the Heritage Open Days gave us the opportunity to spend a morning with the county archaeologist, learning about a very significant nineteeth century local historian with a keen interest in Roman history, John Collingwood Bruce. Bruce is best known for his systematic study of Hadrian’s Wall. His “Handbook to the Roman Wall”, now in its thirteenth edition, has continued to be the main academic guide to Hadrian’s Wall.

On our visit, we were able to examine a copy of Bruce’s original “Handbook to the Roman Wall” – the large brown tome you can see on the table in my photo is Part 1 of this work. We also saw other books, maps and artefacts belonging to John Collingwood Bruce, including the rather magnificent wooden bookcase at the end of the room. Incredibly, the bookcase is made from old bridge timbers.

While dredging work was being carried out on the River Tyne, Bruce arranged to have some old bridge timbers salvaged from the river bed. At the time, he believed these timbers were from the original Roman bridge across the Tyne – Pons Aelius. However, the archaeologist explained to us that it is now understood these old timbers were from medieval bridges that had subsequently been built in the same place. The timbers were then carefully dried out and Bruce had them made up into this elaborate bookcase. The bookcase now stands in the Archaeology Education Centre at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields.

Getting close to nature - ground level photography
Sometimes nature photography requires meeting the subject face to face

When studying the natural world, sometimes there is no better way than direct observation. For our boys, this often seems to include lying on the ground to capture the best view of the object or creature under scrutiny …

Getting close to nature - ground level photography
Getting a close-up on nature means getting down in the dirt

… especially when there is the possibility of a competition with your brother for ‘best shot’ 😉

The creature under scrutiny in these images was the rather beautiful, though predatory, Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris.

Tiger beetle near its burrow on a sandy bank
Tiger beetle near its burrow on a sunny and sandy bank

This relatively large beetle is about 1.5cm (5/8th inch) long and is irridescent green with yellow-gold spots. Green Tiger Beetles have quite long, maroon legs that enable them to run around rather energetically on this steep sandy bank where we find them on sunny Spring days. These beetles choose bare earth or sandy banks for their burrows as it warms up faster in the sun and this is beneficial for the Tiger Beetle’s hunting technique.

I hope you have enjoyed my ‘candid camera’ shots of our boys engaged in active learning. For more images of ‘Catching People Unaware’ do please visit Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Autumn in the woods

European Tree of the Year … and the winner is …

Did you vote for your European Tree of the Year 2015? Now the votes are all in and counted and we have a winner … Estonia’s “Football Tree”! Congratulations, Estonia!

Estonia’s oak tree on a football field received nearly 60,000 votes so is clearly very well loved by its community. This oak tree stands right in the middle of a football field and the players play around it! Who says trees can’t be the centre of attention? 🙂

The Major Oak was England’s first entry in this competition and came in sixth in the vote.

You can find out all of this year’s results on the European Tree of the Year website. All of the trees that were finalists in the competition also become part of the ‘European Trail of Trees’. This means people can find out more about each of Europe’s chosen trees.

Whilst winning is always fun, in this competition it was the taking part that was the most important. The number of votes Estonia’s tree received (about a third of the total votes cast) shows the high regard this special tree has in their country. Here in England we don’t do so well at caring for our special trees and we need to try harder. Hopefully, the interest and support enjoyed by all of the entrants in the Tree of the Year competition will help to make more of us love our trees, especially our very special ancient trees.

J Peggy Taylor

Hooky mat chair cover project

Hooky Mat Chair Cover Project – Update 2

The worn chair cover of one of our dining chairs needed mending. This gave me the prompt I needed to try my hand at an old upcycling craft – hooky matting, as we call it here in North East England. Upcycled textiles are cut into strips and hooked into a strong base material to make rugs or other textile items. I thought this technique would work well for a hard wearing chair cover.

In my last post I showed you how I used the charcoal transfer process to draw up my design on the heavy linen I’ve chosen as the base material.

After some practise with the handmade wooden hooky mat tool, I’ve now begun hooking the textile strips into my chair cover design. To gain further practice with the hook tool, I decided to work the flower stems first. The green t-shirt material I’ve used for the stems provided two different greens, depending on which way up I used it. I largely chose to use the darker green side, but I also made use of the more faded green on some edges and on one of the lower stems.

Hooky mat chair cover - starting to hook the design
Hooky mat chair cover – starting to hook the design

The next part of the design I have begun hooking is the outline of the largest flower, using some thin black strips of textile. This is one aspect of my hooky mat chair cover project that I have been trying out before I made a start on the actual thing. I don’t want the black outlines to be too heavy within the design so I experimented with different widths of textile strip. The close-woven nature of the linen base material is helpful in that it will readily hold the narrower textile strips in place.

I’m quite pleased with how this first stage of the chair cover has gone. Having the linen stretched on the frame certainly helped with keeping the design in place while I worked.

Hooky mat tool - now shiny from use
Hooky mat tool – now shiny from use

The hook tool has worked out well for me too. I’d made a few minor amendments to it using a file and I’ve noticed the hook end has already worked very smooth from pushing it through the rough linen. The smoother the hook the easier it is to work through the linen. I can imagine it is faster to hook textile strips into a more loosely-woven base fabric, but I have developed a reasonable rate of working … so it’s so far, so good.

I’ll post another update when I’ve made some more progress on my hooky mat chair cover project.

J Peggy Taylor