Knit And Natter Is Back!

Over the last few weeks the group have started to meet again online, using Zoom. Of course it is very different this way, but it’s been lovely to reconnect with some of my knitting friends. The group was set up as part of our local GP practice’s Social Prescribing initiative and is one of several activities set up to support patients that may be isolated or could benefit from some social activity, though it is open to all.

It is months since I wrote a Knit and Natter post. The group at Alnwick Medical Group last met in early March and the following week I had to post that it was cancelled until further notice as the COVID pandemic started to take hold.

Our group has joined forces with a similar one from the Berwick area to go online, so we’ve been meeting at 12 every Friday for the last few weeks. As well as sharing what we’ve been making and swapping patterns, it’s also been a great way to pass on information about other activities that may interest our members. For example our local Age UK branch recently produced a pack full of things to do in isolation, from puzzles and craft activities to online virtual gallery and museum tours.

Of course there’s some great knitting going on which you can see in the picture above. (clockwise from top left) . One of the group organisers has taught herself to knit and is perfecting her garter stitch – her work is growing rapidly as she gets neater and quicker. I’m busy with some brioche handwarmers. The pretty pink knitting is going to be a waterfall front cardigan. The gorgeous baby cardigan has just been completed by one of the group – she shared a photo from her phone. Finally our Berwick organiser shared a Book Club recommendation (she’s actually working on an amazing blanket at the moment).

I couldn’t resist taking a screenshot of this cuddly pup made by one of the group for her grandson. She even got a proper collar and lead for it. He is going to be one very happy little boy!

We’ve also been asked to give information about the group to a knitting magazine who are including a a feature about us!

Of course not everyone gets on with online activities like this, but at a time when more people are having to isolate themselves through a second wave of the virus it’s great that we can carry on with a safe social activity that connects us with others who have a shared interest.

Have you been able to continue any of your social knitting activities online?

A Mystery Object From An Old Friend.

A dear friend and her husband visited today and brought this. Can you guess what it is? I’ll come back to that…….

We’ve been friends since our teens (more years ago than I want to think about) and it’s lovely that we stay in touch, even though we are at different ends of the country. They were travelling to visit their children who are both at university in Edinburgh and called here for socially distanced coffee and cake in the garden. It was so lovely to catch up. I couldn’t believe it was ten years since we last met up.

We talked about our families, including my friend’s mother, a remarkable lady who had been a missionary in her youth, working in remote parts of the world, including the Solomon Islands. Mrs L was still travelling in her sixties, when she visited Egypt, trekking on horseback to visit sites of interest.

My friend was interested to hear about Daughter’s riding as she used to have a horse of her own which even attended their wedding reception and posed for photos.

Solo the horse -wedding guest.

She very kindly brought some horsy items that she no longer has any use for to pass on to Daughter. I was able to give her some of my home-made preserves (I always make far more than I’ll ever use so it’s nice to be able to give the surplus away to friends and family.

All too soon the visit was over and they continued their journey. I hope we’ll see them again soon.

….which bring us back to the mystery object. While souvenir shopping during her Egyptian trek, Mrs L must have been thinking about her daughter’s horse and bought this. It is a horse’s breast collar, a traditional adornment worn tied around the horse’s neck with the tassels hanging down over it’s chest. Whether Daughter will ever use it remains to be seen (Christmas maybe?). It’s a great story though!

Did you guess what it was?

The Science of Autumn Colours

I’ve been watching the trees change colour over recent weeks. They are probably at their best around now. I always hope they’ll stay around for a long time, but invariably we get gales and the trees go bare overnight. Some of them that are growing in exposed spots have already lost almost all their leaves.

Others are still green.

Of those that have changed, I love the range of colours, from the buttery yellow of this willow…

…to the deep orange-red of this ornamental rowan (complete with bright yellow berries).

Some of the Acer (maple) family are the stars of autumn. This one positively glows!

Have you ever considered the science of this spectacle? The leaves are key to everything the tree does. In spring and summer, they are full of the green pigment, chlorophyll. This enables the tree to use energy from sunlight to convert the carbon in carbon dioxide to sugars (by the process of photosynthesis) The sugars fuel growth, flowering and seed production: everything else the tree does. Like a factory needs down time for maintenance and replacement of worn out parts, the tree’s leaves reach the end of their life in autumn. It is the breakdown of the green chlorophyll pigment that gives rise to the yellows, oranges and reds of autumn leaves.

Shorter day length stimulates the tree to produce a layer of weak cells at her base of each leaf stalk. This is called the abscission layer and causes the leaves to detach easily and fall.

The trees will now remain dormant during winter until fresh green leaves emerge in spring, ready to go into full production. Nature is pretty amazing!.

Having been out and about looking for autumn leaf colour, I forgot this in our own garden. It’s a little Japanese maple we’ve had for years that always looks stunning at this time of year.

How are the trees looking where you are?

Bedtime for the Boat

Today was the day for taking our little boat, the Isla Mia, out of the water and putting her into winter storage. Sadly we’ve not really used her this year. Throughout the spring we were in lockdown. Collecting the boat from where she’s stored and towing her 12 miles to her summer mooring at Alnmouth could hardly be described as an essential journey. It was therefore much later in the year that we’d planned when she was finally back in the water. Conditions had to be totally perfect to get out of the estuary as the river channel had changed position so sailing out to sea was always going to be tricky. After lockdown was lifted everyone seemed to migrate to the coast so parking became an issue. No wonder we never managed to do more.

Today there was a very high tide so K took the trailer down and positioned the boat ready to winch on to it. Son joined him to help…

… and Buddy supervised.

There was quite a lot of traffic on the river today. The sailing dinghies were racing and this rather beautiful skiff came in.

One dinghy crew were launching off the ramp and kindly lent a hand to keep the boat straight.

We watched a young girl take her paddle board out – she made it look quite effortless.

There are still quite a few boats in the water but many of the smaller ones will be brought out over the next few weeks. If we get severe winter weather boats can be torn from their moorings or damaged by debris such as fallen trees floating downstream. As the tide inched higher over the salt marsh it formed tiny islands.

A group of children were having a brilliant game of pirates. Sword fights determined which band of pirates won control of a tidal island. Actually they were using toy light sabres but that hardly matters in a game of imagination! Their dog was enthusiastically fetching a ball and digging in the mud. Every one of them was wet and muddy but they were having such a great time. They looked like they had escaped from the pages of old children’s adventure stories like Swallows and Amazons or The Famous Five series.

With Son operating the winch and K guiding her on to the trailer as the rising tide lifted her up, Isla Mia inched onto the trailer The engine at the stern of the boat adds a lot of weight so the water does all the heavy lifting work.

Eventually she was fully trailered, secured and hitched up to the car.

The backboard with tail lights was put in place and she was towed away to her winter home. Happy hibernation Isla Mia!

Do you have to make any preparations for winter?

Quizzy Wednesdays

With a total lockdown earlier in the year and various degrees of restrictions ever since (seeming to change on a daily basis), my social life has changed radically. Most of it is now online.

It began with a group of female friends having a virtual coffee morning on Zoom which became a weekly event. …..then went international as one of our group now lives in Australia and joins us most weeks. Several of us were in the same ukelele group and that went online too.

Our partners were beginning to feel left out so we started doing a fun quiz on Zoom. I know that during lockdown quizzes have been really popular for online get togethers of family and friends. This is how we run ours. Currently four couples take part. It can be quite onerous for one person to set a whole quiz worth of questions so each couple sets a round of ten questions and takes their turn to ask them. They give the answers after their round and we all mark our own scores. Of course you can’t score on your own round. It works well and we get a great variety of questions – it’s probably more interesting than with a single question setter. Some of us devise our own on a theme, but its as easy to look up quiz questions online if you run out of time or ideas. We’ve had questions based on the Monopoly board game, famous brothers and sisters and song lyrics to name but three. Anything goes! We do keep the scores and announce the overall winner, but it’s all just for fun really.

This week I found out that Wednesday was World Desserts Day, so we set our questions on that theme. I have a very sweet tooth and was feeling quite hungry by the end of it! I thought I’d share them.

  1. Which dessert was created for a famous opera singer? Ingredients include raspberry sauce and ice cream.
  2. What is the main flavouring in a traditional tiramisu?
  3. Which Italian dessert literally means”cooked cream”?
  4. What is the name of the upside-down French dessert made of apples and pastry?
  5. In Doctor Who, the 11th Doctor famously ate fish fingers and which dessert to revive himself after regenerating?
  6. Which very sweet Greek dessert comprises layers of filo pastry, syrup or honey and chopped nuts?
  7. Which dessert is traditionally served on US Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  8. Which dessert was named after a famous Russian Ballerina?
  9. Which chocolate and cherry confection is known as Schwartzwalder Kirschtorte in its native Germany?
  10. Which British cartoon cat and dog were named after a popular UK dessert combination?

I’ll post answers in the comments section. Have fun!

Have you been taking part in any online quizzes? I’d love to hear about them.

It’s Good To Sing.

I’m a member of the Newcastle City Council Choir. We formed several years ago when I worked for the Council. It was originally one of several staff health and well-being initiatives at a time when pressure of work often meant people would grab a sandwich at their desks for lunch and never took a break. That’s never good for stress levels and productivity! Since then we’ve continued singing both for our own enjoyment at hour-long weekly lunchtime practices and also performing, including at a number of civic events. Fortunately I wasn’t kicked out when I retired. We actually have several retired members, along with current staff who attend when they can, work commitments permitting.

We had to stop our sessions earlier in the year as the pandemic took hold and lockdown became imminent. After a few weeks our lovely choir leader started to run our weekly sessions online on Zoom. She’s done an amazing job keeping things going this way. It’s not exactly the same. We mute during the session while she is teaching us and we are singing along to the backing tracks she has created with all the different parts that harmonise together. Singing this way does have a few advantages though. Nobody can hear you screech if you make a mistake! If you normally sing a particular part (soprano, alto etc) you can experiment a bit and try other parts (again, nobody can hear you screech!). It takes time to learn all four parts of a new song. You can practice your own part to learn how the harmonies work together with the others as they learn theirs without disturbing them. When we met face-to-face I had a 60 mile round trip to get to Newcastle for choir practice, so I’d combine it with a shopping trip or maybe lunch with a friend – so I’m saving time, petrol and money. Above all it means I can stay in touch with my lovely choir friends and still do something that I really enjoy.

The jury was out for a long time on whether singing carried an additional COVID infection risk, in terms of projecting exhaled breath further during singing, but more recently scientific study has revealed that singing carries no more risk than talking. With the second wave of the virus taking hold there is no sign of getting together in person anytime soon but Zoom is working well as an alternative. We can share music and lyrics on the screen or through our shared Dropbox account, which also includes audio tracks to practice with in between sessions. The others kindly gave me permission to share some screenshots from yesterday (but I blanked out their names)

It was such a lovely session yesterday. We have a wide repertoire of material and we sang a fun Danish Halloween song, a pop classic (Titanium) and a couple of slightly Christmassy tunes. A beautiful, haunting lullaby (Lully Lulla Lullay) and Gaudeamus (that’s Latin for “we praise”). We finished off with one of our favourite rounds (and so appropriate to end the session): it’s called “Adios Amigos”.

I love singing with my choir!

Sea Glass Spheres

Being on the beach a lot, walking Buddy the Labrador, provides lots of beachcombing opportunities and lots of craft materials for me, especially sea glass and driftwood. This is only a small selection of the sea glass K has gathered on his dog walks.

The action of the sea and sand has two effects on glass. The surface becomes abraded giving it a frosted appearance, then the corners and edges are smoothed away. Eventually a piece of glass will be transformed into a rounded translucent pebble and these, especially those in interesting colours, are the most sought after. Much of the sea glass in our collection is still quite angular, So I’ve been thinking of more ways to use it, especially since I made some mosaic coasters earlier this year. I had an assortment of polystyrene balls, so I wondered how they would work covered in a sea glass mosaic to make Christmas tree baubles.

I started with the loop to hold the hanging thread. I cut a piece of wire about 12 cm long and bent it round a pen to form a loop.

I threaded the ends through a glass bead and pushed them into the ball. I kept the ball in position on a toothpick pushed into a piece of polystyrene packaging, then began to glue the pieces of seagrass in place. I tried PVA glue first of all, but it doesn’t dry quick enough and the glass started to slide off. I needed a quick drying alternative.

I ended up deploying my trusty glue gun. I’d avoided it at first as I thought the hot glue might melt the polystyrene but it was fine. I continued hot glueing the glass pieces to the ball, occasionally cutting a piece to fit with the tile cutters.

It was soon covered with glass sections. I then mixed up some grout and filled the gaps, pushing it into the spaces with a finger. I allowed this to dry slightly then wiped over the glass with a damp sponge to remove the excess.

Then it was simply a case of adding a hanging thread. You can spray with polyurethane varnish to protect the grouting and give the glass a sheen, or even shine it up with a tiny drop of vegetable oil.

I think this would work even better using a clear plastic base. I’ve see these in craft shops, with a hanging loop incorporated. This would make the whole bauble translucent.

Overall I’m happy with it. It might be a little bit early to think about Christmas decorations, but I can live with that!

Have you started thinking about Christmas decorations or presents yet?

Wildflower of the Week: Hedge Bindweed

I haven’t written a Wildflower of the Week post for a while as there are not too many wildflowers in bloom at this time of year. There is still Hedge Bindwood in flower however.

Hedge Bindweed grows rapidly, twining anti-clockwise as it grows upwards, smothering out other plants. On a warm day when it is growing rapidly, it can twine a complete revolution in an hour. It’s not popular with gardeners being a pernicious perennial weed. If you try to dig it out and leave the tiniest fragment of root behind it will grow back!

The plant is hairless with arrow or heart-shaped leaves.

The large white flowers are trumpet shaped, formed from five fused petals.

The flowers are popular as a source of nectar for bees, butterflies and moths, including night-flying moths as the flowers do not shut at night. Hedge bindweed is the food plant of the Convolvulus Hawkmoth.

The plant is toxic, containing alkaloid chemicals that have a purgative effect. It is also considered harmful to livestock and thought to cause colic in horses. The stems are tough so can be used as string in an emergency.

The plant has many country names including Windweed, Devil’s guts and Granny-Jump-Out-of-Bed. Children played a game, squeezing the calyx and making the flower “jump” off the end, giving rise to that name.

As one of the few wildflowers still about in October (and quite an exotic looking one) Hedge Bindweed is quite a welcome sight….unless you are a gardener!

Crafty Throwback: Proggy Heart Cushion

I haven’t posted about any crafty makes in a while but I found some pics of this so thought I’d write about it.

Known as proggy mats here in the northeast of England, but variously called clippy mats, peggy mats among others names elsewhere, they were a way of recycling old fabrics to make rugs. This would provide welcome warmth underfoot when carpets were unaffordable. In that respect I suppose it has much in common with the American quilting tradition of producing beautiful home furnishings from old recycled fabrics. I’ve seen some amazing proggy work in local heritage museums like Beamish and Woodhorn .

The technique involves poking strips of fabric (cut from old clothes and bedding) through a backing of hessian (recycled sacks) using a “progger”. This was basically a spike either whittled from a piece of wood or made from anything else that did the job. A similar technique, making hooky mats, involved hooking loops of the fabric strips through the backing fabric.

I’d seen a demonstration of it done using old t-shirts. When these are cut into vertical strips and stretched slightly the fabric curls up to form a sort of tube, which gives the finished object a really interesting texture. I had to give it a try. I had lots of old t-shirts that Daughter had grown out of, that seemed to be mainly in shades of pink and red, which made me think of the heart design. A cushion seemed a good starter project – not to big for a first go at proggy. I cut the t-shirts into strips, about 2cm by 10cm, lining up vertically with the grain of the fabric. I found a few other old red and pink items that were destined for the charity shop and when the project progressed and I was running low on fabric I supplemented these with a couple of very cheap t-shirts from Primark. Men’s size XXXL represented the best value!

I drew my heart shape onto a square of hessian, hemmed the edges and tacked them onto a tapestry frame which could be wound tight to hold the backing fabric taut. Then it was time to fill in the heart outline with the fabric strips. I put them in quite close together to create a thick pile and each subsequent row would tighten up the weave of the hessian, locking the strips tightly into place.

The different shades of pink and red and varying fabric thicknesses gave a lovely texture to the piece.

When full. I cut out the heart shape with a 2cm margin, zigzag stitched all the way round to stop it fraying, then machine stitched it to a heart shape of plain canvas, leaving a gap for stuffing with polyester filling, which was hand stitched closed.

I was really pleased with the finished article, with it being my first go at proggy.

Do you have a favourite item that you’ve made from recycled old fabrics?

Coastal Capers

Here in Northumberland we have the most beautiful coastline, with glorious sandy beaches, expansive mud flats and romantic rocky shorelines. Somehow I can never stay away from the sea for long so we had a couple of trips along the coast this week. It’s so much quieter since autumn arrived and the tourists left.

The first took us to Sugar Sands. which I’ve blogged about before. It’s a hidden gem, reachable down a gated farm track. It was pretty deserted apart from a few seabirds and a lone seal that came in quite close to shore.

It was day of showery rain with sunny intervals which led to some moody clouds.

Buddy and K dodged the rain and had a good walk.

Our second trip began early in the morning and took us to the north of Budle Bay. We parked by a gate with a good view towards the coastal mud flats

K and Buddy set off for a walk, but before long I had some visitors.

They soon lost interest and wandered off.

We at the peak of the bird migration season right now and the coastal flats and fields are filling up with geese and ducks. You always hear them first, then look up to see the V-shaped formations or skeins of geese far overhead.

We’ve seen Brent, Barnacle and Pink-footed geese recently. They have been spending the summer in Siberia and Northern Scandinavia and have arrived to spend the winter here.

My next visitor was a hare, than ran up the field towards me.

Hares are common here and we see them often. They are easily distinguished from rabbits by their larger size, black-tipped ears and because they run rather than hop. Hares also have the most beautiful big hazel eyes when you see them close up. They seem to stare straight through you and it gives then a strange mystical quality. It is no surprise therefore that the hare features strongly in myth and legend. It is associated with witchcraft, fertility and the moon in folklore from many parts of the world. It is one of my favourite animals.

I also saw this young roe deer.

The roe deer is also very common in Northumberland. They seem to be present in even the smallest piece of woodland. We see them more often in winter when they venture into the fields to feed. They can be quite a hazard on the roads at night. Several times I’ve had to brake hard to avoid hitting one. I’ve learnt to drive off very slowly and carefully when this happens as there is always another one! This one eventually left and bounded through the undergrowth on the field margin.

We set off back down the coast, next stopping at Budle Bay. The tide was out leaving a huge area of mud.

This is an important site for birds, especially waders and waterfowl, that feed on invertebrates in the mud.

We saw various ducks and geese, swans, gulls, oystercatchers and redshanks. There were huge numbers of shelducks further away. From Budle we headed for Bamburgh andNorthumberland White Hart Rock.

The image of the deer is repainted regularly. Looking south, Bamburgh Castle looked stunning.

Out to sea, Inner Farne was clearly visible.

Our final stop was at Howick. The sea was calmer than it had been, so we did wonder if we would be able to spot any dolphins, but there were none about. We enjoyed watching a group of gannets feeding.

It had turned into a beautiful day. It’s such a privilege to live in such a stunning part of the world.