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Sunday Dog Walk: Newton-by-the-Sea

Sunday was a dull, dank sort of a day, but we headed up the coast to Newton-by-the-Sea. Daughter, K and Buddy went along the sand and I took the dune path, which is more scooter friendly.

Behind the dunes are a series of ponds that are a magnet for waterfowl. I could hear a flock of geese fly by. As they came down in an adjacent field another flock flew up. What a din they made!

Further on there are reed beds.

The bird hide that overlooks the main pool is locked up at the moment – (another consequence of the pandemic) .

At the side of the path is this rather interesting seat

Sheltered by a woven willow screen, a simple bench has been decorated with driftwood and bits of discarded fishing gear washed up on the tide.

There was so much moisture in the air that dew was condensing on to plants like this Burnet rose.

The cobwebs looked bejewelled with raindrops.

The only wildflowers I saw were an occasional hogweed flower…..

…and bright yellow gorse.

The gorse, known locally as whin, blooms throughout the year. At the end of November it brings a very welcome splash of colour.

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Knit and Natter 27th November

We had another lively meeting of Online Knit and Natter on Friday. Having completed this Christmas stocking tree decoration…..

…this member is continuing with her waterfall front cardigan. Isn’t this a lovely shade of pink?

We’ve had more gorgeous colour work from Lorna. She’s finished this cowl……

…and made a pincushion….

… but has now begun this.

I’m crocheting a horse!

And we mustn’t forget the elephant in the room!

Even his toenails are taking shape!

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Fascinating Feathers

Cock pheasant tail feathers

After I posted about the pheasant feather Christmas tree baubles that I made, Tinaor from asked how I had so many feathers. Before I come to that, I have to say that I do think feathers are pretty amazing.

Feathers are pretty multifunctional. First of all, they keep birds warm. The soft fluffy down at the base of the feather traps air to provide an insulating layer. by fluffing up the feathers in cold weather, more air is trapped and the bird stays even warmer. This is particularly important in chicks – they are covered in warm down when very young and their proper feathers grow in later.

cock pheasant feathers are a rich chestnut colour

They can also keep the bird dry – waterfowl have an oil gland at the base of the tail. The bird spreads the water-repellent oil over the feathers so any water landing on them simply runs off – water off a duck’s back!

Water droplets on a duck feather

Feathers enable flight. They have a central hollow stem – the vane, with hair-like barbs growing out the sides. each barb has a line of tiny hooks known as barbules that hold the barbs together, rather like velcro. We’ve all played with feathers as children, zipping and unzipping them.

Hen pheasant flight feather with close-up to show interlocking barbs

This structure is strong but very light. The flight feathers, on wings and tail are the strongest of all – they overlap to form the thin rear edge of the wing, angled to gain lift and steer the bird.

Feather colour varies enormously. It may be dull to camouflage the bird against its background habitat. This is vital to ground nesting birds, to protect them and their eggs and from predators when on the nest. In many species the sexes are different, with the males’ more colourful plumage used to attract a mate. In some cases the feathers might be structurally different too for use in courtship displays. The spectacular fanned tail of the peacock , with shimmering “eyes” is a prime example of this.

Peacock “eye”

Pretty remarkable really. But it doesn’t explain why I have so many!. Well, a few years back I went on a one-day course about making fascinators. I thought I’d make some with pheasant feathers. Now I knew that a local farmer friend has a pheasant shoot on his land, so I asked him if I could have some feathers. He explained that someone comes in after a shoot and plucks and dresses the birds, after which they go off to a game dealer/butcher but he’d be happy to save some tails for me. A while later he told me he had them and brought three sacks full of pheasant and duck tails and wings out of the back of his Landrover! I spent three days cleaning the feathers!

I did make some nice hats and fasinators though.

Bolcked felt beret with cock pheasant feather trim

I wore this one for a friend’s wedding.

Fascinator with cock pheasant feathers

My conversation with the farmer was overheard by a lady who asked me if I could make use of peacock feathers too. She explained that there were peacocks living wild where she walks her dog. Apparently someone who used to live nearby had kept them as pets and they escaped – the owner moved away but the peacock colony had become established in a patch of woodland nearby. She was always finding moulted peacock feathers on her dog walks and gave me a few she’d found the next time I saw her. I didn’t see her for a few months, then she phoned me. She’d collected a load more and wondered if I could collect them , which I did. There was a massive armful of them, some almost four feet long!

I have some really generous friends. I will of course never ever be short of feathers for craft projects!

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Skirting Day

A while ago I was given a huge bag of raw alpaca fleece. So far I’d only processed a very small amount of it, which I spun and knitted to make baby socks and hat as a gift. Today I did the first stage of processing the rest. This is known as skirting. The fleece (known as a blanket when it comes to alpacas) is spread out on a mesh table and agitated to remove dust. Any stained fibre and pieces of vegetable matter (hay, pieces of grass, seeds etc) are removed as well as very short second cuts, (where the shearer has gone over a second time), which are too short to spin. The fibres are then sorted into the various grades, from the finest longest fibres on the animal’s back through to the shorter pieces on the neck and sides – well that’s what the professionals do. I can’t say I did such a thorough job!

I think the alpacas like to have a good roll about because the fibre is very dusty – everywhere in the conservatory where I do all my crafting was covered just from processing a tiny amount. Lesson learnt, I needed to sort through the rest outside! K has made me this little skirting table. It’s basically a wooden frame with chicken wire stretched over it – he’s added tape and some pipe insulation to stop the edges of the wire catching. This just rests on a couple of garden chairs.

It’s not quite big enough to spread a whole blanket out but it’s perfect for my purposes.

I’d been waiting for a sunny dry day without much wind. Alpaca is light as a feather and if I’d tried doing this in the gales we’ve had recently most of it would have ended up in the next county! As I tipped the fibre out on to the skirting table there were clouds of dust. I kept agitating the blanket to release as much of the dust as possible.

I picked out the larger pieces of vegetation – there wasn’t a great deal of it and some of the tinier fragments will come out of the fleece during the later stages of processing. You can see a couple of small pieces of leaf towards the bottom of the next photo.

I separated out the best long fibres, which are around 5 inches long, from the rest This is mostly around 2-3 inches long so still perfectly good to spin. Now most of the dust is out I can sort this more fully indoors and not need to rely on the weather. You can see the layer of dust left where I ran my finger across the green tape.

I’ve now got all the fibre in labelled plastic bags.

Buddy took great interest in what I was doing.

As you can see there was quite a lot of spillage, mostly the very short second cuts. He did offer to sweep the patio though!

I’ve been promised more fibre from Aero and Wispa, our friends’ alpacas (how lucky am I?). I think I’ll definitely wait until the Spring for my next skirting session. By then the birds visiting our garden during the nesting season could really make use of the bits of fibre that I drop!

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Lockdown Crafts: Pressed Fern Pictures:

For yesterday’s Crafty Monday session I opened up the flower presses to see what I had. I’ve been pressing flowers since I was a kid, when my lovely grandfather made me a press. He even put my name on it. I also have a tiny flower press that’s ok for smaller items

I’ve made pictures and greetings cards in the past but nothing recently. Earlier in the year I came up with the idea of doing pressed fern pictures as they would look great with the curtains in my living room – the fabric has a fern design.

I picked and pressed a few different kinds of fern, mostly from the garden , but also some I’d found growing wild – I’m always careful only to pick what is growing in abundance. For the best results choose perfect specimens, free of insects and completely dry. Most leaves dry quite well. Flowers are more variable. Fragile petals are even more fragile when pressed and very full double flowers such as roses are too three-dimensional to preserve in this way: flat blooms work better. Brightly coloured flowers tend to keep their colour. White ones go brown. You don’t need a flower press – you can press flowers, leaves and ferns inside the pages of a book, preferably weighted under other books. Put the items between sheets of scrap paper to protect your book from pollen or other stains. Within a few weeks the plant material will have dried out and you can use it.

The presses revealed quite a selection. These cranesbills were a bit too fragile and pressing them had separated the petals from the flower centre.

The cosmos worked really well. The centres of these are quite thick so I cut holes out of the centre of several paper sheets to place over these to ensure that both the petals and centres were properly pressed.

I was really pleased with the way the ferns turned out. They have retained colour well through the pressing process.

I wanted to recycle the frames and mounts from some prints that I no longer use. I cut sheets of card to size and for each picture I positioned the fern frond until I was happy with the placement within the mount. In some cases I trimmed off the lower part of the fern to get a better fit.

Using a small paintbrush I applied clear PVA glue sparingly to the back of the frond and stuck the fern in place.

I allowed the glue to dry thoroughly before reframed the pictures. Framing always takes me ages. It is so annoying when you seal the picture inside only to find there’s a large speck of something stuck on the inside of the glass! I take the time to make sure everything is clear and free of dust before I close the tabs or tape on the back of the frame.

I’m happy with the way the pictures look. I haven’t decided exactly where to hang them yet but I will put them somewhere out of direct sunlight to help them retain their colour.

They work with the curtains too!

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A Day at Druridge

Sunday was a lovely day, cold but sunny. We met daughter at the Country Park and walked through to Druridge Bay. The sunshine had brought a lot of stir crazy lockdowners out for a beach walk in the fresh air. Although there were a lot of people out, there was plenty of space for everyone’s walk, from near Ashington to the south……

…to Amble in the north

There were children building sandcastles and flying kites. We even saw this remote control truck.

At one point we noticed a large flock of gulls had gathered the shoreline, with a few more feeding in the shallows. We reckon that a large shoal of small fish had come in, possibly chased ashore by predators. There was no sign of dolphins. It could have been predatory fish like bass.

There were lots of dogs being walked. Buddy made friends with a handsome Rhodesian Ridgeback named Charlie and they played together for a while.

It was getting colder so we went back to Daughter’s house to warm ourselves up with hot chocolate. Buddy fell fast asleep on the rug, exhausted by his game with Charlie.

What a beautiful afternoon.

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Thrunton Woods in November

Daughter, K and I took Buddy Dog for a walk in Thrunton Woods yesterday. Last time we were here it was full of Autumn colour and fungi, but the woods have much more of a feel of winter now, though are still very beautiful.

There are some patches of autumn colour on the occasional broadleaved tree than has retained a few leaves in a sheltered spot.

The mustard-yellow needles of larch add a splash of colour.

The bracken has taken on a pale russet shade.

The only flowering plant we saw was this solitary yellow hawk bit.

As leaves have fallen, the evergreens take centre stage. Thrunton is primarily a coniferous forest, but even among the conifers there are many shades of green as you can see here in this stand of young trees.

Among the evergreen shrubs is this Rhododendron ponticum. It is an absolute beauty in spring with exotic large lilac-purple flowers, but it is a thug of a plant! It is a non-native that was often introduced into parkland as dense cover for game, but it is so dense that it shades out native ground cover plants. It spreads rapidly by runners and native grazers and insects don’t eat it. Many years ago K and I were members of a conservation group that spent many a happy Sunday “Rhody Bashing” : removing these plants from neglected parts of a country park near where we lived at the time.

There is also quite a lot of gorse (locally known as whin) with its vicious spines.

Broom grows on the trail margins too, and some of the bushes have the remains of the seed pods still attached.

There is also an occasional holly bush, like this one hiding behind the gorse.

Closer to the ground is wild bilberry, which loves the acidic peaty soil here. They are delicious and make wonderful pies and crumbles, staining your tongue blue if you eat them. Bilberries were available in the shops when I was a child but I have not seen them available commercially for many years. We did try picking them once. The fruit are so tiny that after a couple of hours we only had a small saucerful so haven’t bothered since!

Also associated with the peat is this moss – there are some wonderful mosses in the woods

Although the bracken has gone, some ferns have retained their green fronds.

Buddy adores running about the woods. We saw several other walkers, dogs and cyclists too. The car parks were overflowing but this woodland is big enough to accommodate all the visitors easily without seeming at all crowded.

From the woodland edge we could see the farmland below and the Cheviot Hills in the distance.

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

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Knit and Natter 20th November

Some great projects were in progress at the Zoom Knit and Natter Group on Friday. This colourful crochet blanket is now finished and the bold diagonals look great.

For a complete change, this group member is now moving on to pink patchwork hexagons.

Also completed this week are some Christmas Tree decorations.

The Christmas stocking and tree have now been decorated with sequins. You can never have too much glitter hanging on the Christmas tree!

We’ve seen our beginner knitter’s grey stocking stitch rectangle get longer and longer over the last few weeks. We talked about how that is now big enough to become a cosy cowl. She’s going to check out some You Tube videos before she casts off and sew the ends together.

Speaking of cowls, look at this colour work one, knitted in the round. Lovely isn’t it?

I’m working on a soft toy – can’t say much yet as it’s a gift.

Our newest member has been given some yarn and needles and has completed this lovely baby hat. She’s now on to another – they are to be donated to a hospital baby unit.

This Zoom group is an amalgamation of two knit and natter groups from Alnwick and Berwick run through GP surgery social prescribing. With hopeful news about COVID vaccines this week, we were speculating about the future. When we go back to our separate face-to-face groups and cafes reopen we could perhaps arrange a halfway meet. 2021 has so many possibilities.

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Lockdown Crafts: Pheasant Feather Baubles

With Daughter taking Mondays off work (with annual leave allowance to use up by the end of the year), we’ve decided to use those days for a bit of craft activity. Welcome to Crafty Mondays! Unlike the wax melts we made last week, this week’s makes took me until Thursday to finish off. I’m pleased with the result though.

I have quite a collection of feathers, mainly pheasant. How I came to have these is another story.

Daughter had seen these Christmas tree decorations on Pinterest and had wanted to try making them for a while. The tops of the baubles are made with the ends of cartridge cases, so she’d asked some friends who shoot for some spent cartridges we could use. The brass part is attached to a plastic tube so I looked online and found a great way to separate the plastic from the metal – you pack the cartridges into a shallow box with the metal parts upwards, proud of the box, then rest an iron on top, turned to the highest heat setting. After a few minutes the metal heats up enough for the plastic to start to melt and the two components pull apart quite easily.

For our decorations we used polystyrene balls as a base. We painted these with acrylics first – the darker ones worked best. I wouldn’t use such a bright tan colour next time as it showed through the feathers. Impaling each ball in a toothpick was the best way to hold each one and these were stuck into a piece of polystyrene packaging to dry.

We only used the tip of each feather, snipping off 1-3cm pieces.Further down the feather the central vane is too thick and rigid to bend round the ball shape.

Starting at the lower end, with the smaller feather tips of similar colour, we glued these on in a circle, overlapping slightly with the tips meeting in the middle.

We continued gluing on the feathers (using a light coating of PVA glue, thinned slightly with a drop or two of water). Each circle of feathers overlapped the previous one, covering the cut feather ends.

At the top end the last circle of feathers was glued in place with the cut ends together, close to the toothpick.

Where there was too much of the base colour showing through, I simply touched this up with a black Sharpie. The feathers were then sealed in place with a thin coat of clear PVA glue.

Next we cut about 12 inches of gold thread, knotting the ends together to form a loop. The knot was then glued to the inside of the cartridge end with hot glue. Holding the thread to each side of the cartridge, hot glue was applied along the edge of the cartridge end. It was quickly positioned centrally over the cut feather ends and held firmly in place until the glue set.

The loop was then threaded through a gold-coloured bead which was secured to the top centre of the cartridge with another drop of hot glue.

We made seven baubles altogether in different sizes, a couple with the barred dark brown and cream hen pheasant feathers, and the rest with the rich chestnut, black and cream cock pheasant ones. The brass tops go well with them.

I just need the tree up now…maybe at the beginning of December!

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My First Completed Handspun Project: Alpaca Socks and Hat for a New Baby

I’ve been skirting, washing, carding and spinning some of the gorgeous alpaca fibre that was given to me recently. When I took up spinning (I got an Electric Eel Wheel Nano e-spinner for my birthday) I thought it would be wonderful to be able to make something beginning with the raw fleece and taking it right through to the finished garment. With enough yarn spun and a dear friend’s new baby granddaughter to knit for. This was the perfect opportunity.

I started with the socks (Perfect Baby Socks by Hey Sister Yarn Co) The pattern gives a choice of designs, cable or rib: I chose the rib one. Knitted on DPNs I have to say these were fiddly to do and with all the complexities of turned heels and Kitchener stitch toe grafts, they probably took almost as long as adult socks to make, so I probably wouldn’t use this pattern again, but they do look so amazingly cute and feel so soft.

The hat was much simpler to make – the Maine Baby Hat, also from Ravelry. This is such a useful pattern. It gives the cast on stitch numbers for three sizes and several different yarn weights. My handspun alpaca is probably on average somewhere between DK and 4ply so I was able to find the right one. Then it was pretty straightforward to knit up on circular needles with a K1P1 ribbed band and the rest in stocking stitch, only moving on to DPNs for the last of the decreases.

I’ve also learnt a new cast on – the sock pattern recommended the German Twisted cast on to give a nice stretchy edge. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and soon got the hang of it. It really is very stretchy so I’ll be using this on all socks (or anything else that needs a stretchy edge) from now on.

My spinning still lacks consistency in that the thickness of the yarn is rather variable and this certainly shows up in the stocking stitch, Even after a very light press!

The socks and hat feel so soft and warm though – so the baby will be very snug and cosy in them. Daughter was delivering them today. Baby’s mum is a close friend of hers. I hope she likes them!