Have you heard of #TarmacTuesday, an exciting new movement to collectively document the many shades and colours of tarmac? No? Pull up a chair and a brew and let me take you on a journey!

Vroom Vroom…

…a little background on why we are all taking and sharing photos of our roads.

While working on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook I noticed that tarmac comes in many more colours than I had previously supposed. If you have the book you will know that I describe this revelation in the chapter on places when I write about the A4074 road in Oxfordshire – a personal source of knitterly inspiration.

The A4074 road in Oxfordshire and the stranded colourwork which it inspired
The A4074 road in Oxfordshire and the stranded colourwork which it inspired

In the context of the book I was especially excited about this because it is a nice clear example of how even the most mundane and under-appreciated everyday context can yield a rich creative process.

My process of celebrating the A4074 began in the final year of my PhD when I spent a summer documenting it in sound and walks. Some of these recordings ended up on this radio show which aired on BBC Oxford and many others went onto the UK Sound Map. Recording the road and exploring its many facets on foot was extremely inspiring and I knew that the A4074 road was a context that I really wanted to revisit when I began work on my book. However when trying to translate the road into the medium of stranded colourwork, the wealth of material I had gathered about this road over several years was simply overwhelming.

I was thrilled about this too because I knew that many other knitters must have encountered the same problem; too many ideas at once! I was hopeful that if I could find solutions or methods for editing down the overwhelm, they might be useful for other knitters.

The breakthrough moment came when I was sifting through old photos looking for one or two signature aspects of the road which distinguish it from other roads. I realised that driving on this road is really its best feature – the one thing I’d not been able to easily capture for my radio project. There is nothing fun about walking directly along an A-road and driving along with a microphone in hand is not recommended.

I had very few photos in my collection telling the story of how the road unwinds in front of you with its chevrons but this one jumped out as an excellent starting point.

A4074 with its painted markings
A4074 with its painted markings

Around this time I’d also been reading something really interesting by Hazel Tindall in which she mentioned vertical patterns in Fair Isle Knitting. (If you look at some of Hazel’s wondrous designs like Hinnerley or Hjorki you can see what I mean about the verticalality of her patterns.) When I was looking at the photo of the A4074 with its painted markings and curves I realised that in order to recreate the sense of driving on the road the pattern would need to move vertically up the knitted fabric rather than horizontally. With these concepts in mind I set out to once again photograph the road.

I spent some time trying to find ways of showing the iconic curves and bends.

Bend in the road
Bend in the road
Bend in the road
Bend in the road

And it was then that I suddenly saw all the many colours of the tarmac. Some of the tarmac was not at all black or grey but, upon inspection, a heathery collection of blues and purples not unlike FC14 in the Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight yarn range. Not only this. There are pinks, blue areas, all kinds of shading creating through usage of the tarmac surface and the impressions and weight of tyres.

You can see the instant effects of this observation in the first section of my swatch based on the A4074 road…

trying to capture the magic of tarmac's many shades in stranded colourwork
trying to capture the magic of tarmac’s many shades in stranded colourwork

…and how I continued to develop the theme throughout the rest of the swatch whilst also reintroducing some of the more, urm, traditionally scenic aspects of the road such as the poppy fields and outlying rural beauty around it.

A4074 swatch from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook
A4074 swatch from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

In searching for the best ways to represent this process for readers of my book I was convinced that my wondrous closeup photos of tarmac really should be given pride of place in the layout. In my enthusiasm I micro-managed poor Nic and hassled her to put the tarmac up-front and centre. She sent me this.


However wondrous tarmac is, I realised when I saw this spread why Nic hadn’t wanted to make it central to the design! We laughed and she repaired the layout with her superlative skills.

The correct layout!
The correct layout!

I was still keen to show how the discovery of the many shades of tarmac had played a key role in my creative process and so for the final layout we used one of my photos of tasty Jamieson & Smith shades matched to photos of the A4074.

Many shades of tarmac
Many shades of tarmac

I revisited all this during my clown show stand-up comedy set at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, commemorating my tarmac obsession by awarding a prize featuring a framed selection of five of my best tarmac photos.

Gem wins the tarmac photos
Gemma Dudley wins the framed tarmac photos

To my utter delight the very next day the winner of this prize – Gemma Dudley (Just_Gem on Twitter) – + comrades announced their intentions to launch “Tarmac Tuesdays”. Their fantastically simple and joyous concept is to encourage you to photograph tarmac on a Tuesday and upload the image to Twitter or Instagram, hash-tagged #TarmacTuesday. Add as little or as much detail as you like including location, observations, colour notes etc. You will be contributing to a collective celebration of the many various colours present in the world’s roads.

You can see some of the tarmac photos folk have already contributed here, interrupted occasionally with photos of flashy cars (these have been tagged with the the same hash tag for a totally unrelated project). I love the impression of patchwork created by these images in their collective murk and subtlety… such variety in what might traditionally be considered a subject with rather limited scope.

I am immensely thankful to Gemma & Co. for starting #TarmacTuesday! The limitless and participatory nature of the Internet makes it a superlative platform for jointly documenting tarmac colours in all their glory. I’m not sure yet what the end product of all these amassed images might be but, at this stage, that doesn’t much matter. #TarmacTuesdays are all about the pleasure to be had in observing things along the way and in looking for gorgeousness in unexpected places… If you have Tweeted or Instagrammed tarmac on a Tuesday please leave a link to your instagram profile here so I can find your pictures.



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5 Responses to #TarmacTuesday

  1. Claire says:

    I continue to be in awe of your ability to find inspiration anywhere and everywhere, and then what you do artistically with a seemingly everyday thing.

  2. Inês G. says:

    Loved this! I had never looked at tarmac as anything else other than a dull slab of grey. This was great!

  3. James Ward says:

    I love this post. Would you like to speak about the A4074 and Tarmac Tuesday at Boring next month?

  4. Sadie says:

    I swear, one of these weeks I will actually remember about #tarmactuesday on Tuesday!

  5. Freyalyn says:

    Honestly you’re completely crackers! But as I’m in the same place, all I can say is – how fabulous! What a pity I didn’t pick this up until Thursday morning.

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