I knitted my cat!

Cats and knitting. My two favourite things. Last week I knitted a cat for the first time. Way overdue. This week I knitted one of my cats – Herbie.

Herbie and his new friend

 

I was going to add a tail but I ran out of fluffy yarn (darn!) But Herbie didn’t seem to mind. In fact he was quite pleased with his new pal.

 

 

 

 

I’ve managed to make toy Herbie look totally dim. Maybe I could knit a brain for the next one. Still, real Herb is great big daffy kitten so in a way toy Herb is a good match for him. Herbie has been going around for days with a faint orange blob on his forehead from where he got in the way of me serving up some pilchards. Fortunately it doesn’t show on these pictures.

I changed the shaping slightly on toy Herb to give him a bit of a neck and a necktie. But I’m still not 100% happy with the proportions. I wonder if I should get over it and knit all the legs next time?  Knitters, what do you think?

 

Till next time,

L x

 

 

Raw Feeding my Cats

I started raw feeding my cats in January 2011. There was no dramatic reason for the switch. It was just that the more I learned about raw feeding, the more it made sense.

I first read about raw feeding cats on a forum. Switching to feeding raw had very quickly cured a nasty case of cystitis in a cat, where vet-recommended food and medication had persistently failed. As someone who had never thought to question a vet’s judgement, this was fascinating and I wanted to find out more about it.

At that time I had two young kittens, Larry and Monty, and my elderly cat Barney. The kittens were on top quality kitten kibble (ha! that’s what I genuinely thought at the time).  Old Barney was on ‘senior’ kibble, and had been mostly kibble-fed all of his life. I had always fed my cats dry food, from the ‘better’ brands like James Wellbeloved and Iams. None of the cheap and nasty Go-Cat or supermarket’s own brand stuff. I believed the blurb on the packaging and I believed that was a good diet for them. In 20 years of cat ownership, no-one, including vets, had ever suggested to me that it might not be the best option for my cats’ health. After all, my cats were perfectly healthy. Or were they?

Looking into raw feeding, the same stories came up over and over again. Switching to raw had miraculously cured all manner of niggling health problems which conventional veterinary medicine could not alleviate. A good raw diet had even stabilised the health of cats with more serious conditions such as kidney failure, diabetes, and irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, bladder infections, allergies, and dental issues. On top of this, it was claimed, fur became softer, silkier, less matted; teeth cleaner; poop did not smell any more and there was less of it; cats had more energy and zest for life.

Well this just sounded amazing. But what really gave me the push to switch, the real eureka moment for me was this. The top two causes of death in the domestic cat are cancer and kidney failure. I knew this. Every cat owner knows that lots of cats die of kidney failure. Very common. And cancer. Look at my own past cats. Kibble-fed. Died relatively young of: cancer, and, uh, kidney failure. Hang on a minute! Had I been responsible for shortening their lives via their dry food diet? It was a devastating thought.

Of course, this was speculation. There is no way I can know for sure if long-term kibble feeding had caused their deaths. I had to conclude though, that it must have played a part. The idea that I might have given them a longer, better quality of life by simply feeding them a better diet was a terrible revelation to me.

So I set about making the transition to a raw diet. I found that there was a lot of useful information out there and friendly raw feeding groups for cats. An invaluable resource was (and still is) the Feline Nutrition and Education Society, founded by Margaret Gates. I wish I had found this site first. It is so comprehensive and well-written, and it answered all of my questions.

Larry’s turkey drumstick

Fortunately, Larry and Monty didn’t need much persuasion to switch to raw. In fact, Monty was wild about it. He thinks he is a wild animal, after all. It was hilarious seeing him with a chicken wing. Lots of melodramatic growling. He never growled over his kibble. As they are young, I didn’t see a dramatic difference in their health or appearance. But their poop was easier to cope with: less of it, dry, and almost odourless. There is very little waste matter with raw.

Monty’s turkey drumstick

Barney, however, was a different story. The change in him was unbelievable. As a kibble junkie with bad teeth, it took much longer to get him fully onto raw. But even before he was fully transitioned, he had more energy, softer, shinier fur, and cleaner teeth. He was up and about and in our faces just like when he was a young cat. He started to jump onto chairs and laps again. He looked and acted like a cat half his age. It was wonderful to see.

Barney

Sadly I discovered that raw feeding carries a lot of controversy and not everyone would accept what I was doing or my reasons for doing it. It is still a hot and sometimes heated topic on many forums. For me it always comes down to this. The domestic cat is a carnivore, 100%. Cats are not able to digest vegetable matter or carbohydrates. They rely on meat, meat, meat (i.e., meat, bone and organs, in the correct ratio) for their nutrition. Just like the big cats. So why is commercial cat food so often more than 50% vegetable matter, and the meat protein of such questionable quality? No wonder feline health problems abound. And typically, this poor quality, species-inappropriate food is promoted by vets who should know better. There are powerful commercial interests at stake here.

Till next time,

L x

Knitting a cat

For a long time I have wanted to combine my two favourite things and knit a cat. If only I could get around to working out how to do it. Of course, I could have just bought a pattern and knitted a cat. But for me that would be a cop-out. I’m supposed to be a designer, after all. I looked around the web for knitted cat patterns. There weren’t very many out there, and in any case, typical me, I wanted to do it in my own way.

There are so many creative decisions to be made for a project like this. Firstly I had to decide how much detail to include. I could knit a blob with ears and a tail and it could be a cat. Or I could go for a lifelike, every-last-detail design. The more detail you include, the more parts there are to knit and sew together. You could end up with a complicated design which requires a lot of tiresome fiddling around. It might be a great result, but complex construction can be very off-putting.

So I had to decide on a basic shape, and then decide which details should be included whilst keeping the design as simple as possible.  I took some time out from the studio and had a cup of tea in the garden. I have a cute garden ornament in the shape of a cat. Actually, it is not in the shape of a cat at all, it is just a sphere with a cat’s face on it and a couple of ears. Uh….bingo! There was my knitted cat, right there. Inspiration strikes!

I really wanted to nail this design so I took the rest of the week off my day job and shut myself in the studio. I knitted for 8 hours with barely a break. I got a blister on my left index finger where I push at the needle with every stitch. I didn’t even realise I did this!

Herbie helping me in the studio

I worked the bottom circle in the same way as my cupcake. With some well-placed shaping, I added a snout panel – a protrusion to indicate the cat’s muzzle. I knitted up a couple of test snout panels before I was happy with the size and shape.

The decreases for closing the cat’s head were tricky to get right. I can only work out shapings like this by writing out every stitch on squared paper and counting out the decreases row by row. I wasn’t sure how steep the sloping should be. The first attempt wasn’t right so it got unpicked. More squared paper. I tried again, not sure if the snout panel was at the right height or not. Fortunately this time the shaping worked well, and it so happened that the snout panel landed neatly in the centre of two decreases, as if I had planned it. A lucky accident like that spurs you on.

The ears were easy, but the paws took five attempts to get right. It had to be a strange shape with corners which when folded over achieved exactly the shape I was after. Next job was the face. There was no getting away from it – it had to be embroidered on, and it had to be right, because the whole design depended on an appealing face. Several attempts later, I was satisfied with it. Then I added a tail, and voila!

 

I’m already looking at my yarn stash and sizing up which yarns to use on the next version. I may go fluffy.

I love the patterns which emerge in stocking stitch when you are shaping with increases and decreases. Those fluid vertical lines merge and separate in a very pleasing way.  Knitters, you know what I’m talking about….

Till next time,

Lx

The Cinnamon Trust

I have never owned a dog. But I love their company so I am an occasional dog-sitter for friends. I am also a volunteer dog-walker for The Cinnamon Trust. This is a UK charity which helps the elderly or terminally ill to look after their pets. Their many wonderful services are detailed here.

Imagine that you have become ill and you can’t walk your dog any more. Or take him to the vet. You can’t drive a car any more and your mobility is restricted. What is the effect on your pet? Their quality of life suffers yet you can’t bear to part with them. It may even be your pet who is keeping you going every day. The stress and anxiety this causes could make you even more ill.  Not everyone has friends and family nearby to support them.

A call to the Cinnamon Trust will get you a friendly volunteer in no time. They will walk your dog, take your pet to the vet, give your pet its medication, and provide temporary foster care for your cat or your dog if you have to go into hospital. You can leave your pet to the Cinnamon Trust in your will, giving you peace of mind that when you are gone, your pet will be well looked-after, either at one of their pet homes or with a long-term foster family.

The Cinnamon Trust understands the bond that exists between people and their pets. They know how traumatic it is, for the person and the pet, when they are forced to separate due to old age or long term illness. They have spearheaded a campaign for more care homes to accept residents with their pets. They have compiled a list of pet-friendly residential care homes, which is growing each year, so that people in that situation may not have to part with their best friend.

When my Grandmother-in-law broke her hip and went into residential care, she had to leave behind her beloved cat Susie. To us, Susie was a cantankerous old moggie who used to give you a nip without warning. But to Nana B, she was wonderful. Every time we visited Nana B in the home, she would say how much she missed Susie. She could still remember how soft Susie’s fur was, and what it felt like to have Susie on her lap. Nana B was 92 and we all knew it was Susie who had kept her going for so long. Susie was an old lady too and she had gone to live with our friends nearby, where she had a fine time terrorising the neighbourhood in her twilight years. But that was no good to Nana B, who just wanted to spend her last days with her companion. She was too frail to be moved and animals were not allowed in the home. It broke her heart, and mine too. I hope I am never in a similar situation. If I end up in a care home, it would mean the world to me to have my cat with me.

I am walking two West Highland terriers once a week for Ken. I really look forward to our walks.  The dogs are as keen as mustard to go to the park. They are very nicely-behaved towards other dogs and people. Having said that, I haven’t let them off the lead yet because I’m terrified they won’t come back to me. But Ken says I shouldn’t worry. As long as I’ve got their doggy treats, they’ll come back all right. He wants them to have a good run about off the lead. Maybe next week I’ll give it a try.

Here they are:

They had just been bathed and groomed and they looked gorgeous! It was a beautiful warm evening and I took them up to the local park on the hills where there is a fabulous view. It’s a great place to watch the sunset.

Till next time,

Lx

Tools of the Trade

A knitting needle is quite an elegant object in itself, before you even wind some yarn around it. I like having a big pile of needles to choose from, in the same way as having a big stash of yarn to drool over. As I come from a family of knitters, I have been lucky enough to inherit sets of knitting tools from my mother, aunt and grandmother. Each set is wrapped up in a home-made fabric holder, with the needles sorted roughly into sizes.

Most of the needles are the old-fashioned Aero steel needles, with some wood and some plastic in the larger sizes. There are two of these lovely little bell gauges:

bell gauge

I spent a happy evening checking the sizes of all the needles in the bell gauge and I found I had lots of duplicates.  A bit of a clear out was required, and Larry was on hand to help.

When we’d finished, we had one roll of everyday, mid-sized needles:

One roll of oversized needles:

And one entire roll of double pins:

Jesus, my ancestors must have knitted a lot of socks!

I hope you have enjoyed this little tour around my toolbox.

Till next time,

Lx

Marvellous Monty

Monty is one of those once-in-a-lifetime stand-out cats. He is very intense. If it isn’t his idea, then it isn’t happening. But when he makes a decison, he carries it out with the utmost commitment, determination, and ability. Whether it’s a run, a jump, or a cuddle, he does it better, longer, higher than anyone else.  Usually with a huge grin on his face.

The first thing that struck me about Monty was his lovely shades-of-grey colouring. When he stopped running around the room for a second, it was clear he was the most handsome kitten of the litter. He really seemed to fit with my idea of a Maine Coon. No wonder I couldn’t stop thinking about him, and jumped at the chance to give him a home.

Monty on guitar amp

The day he arrived, he shot out of his carrier and started tumbling around the kitchen with his brother Larry, who had arrived the week before. He looked like a little wild bobcat. His oversized kitten ears were lavishly furnished with great tufts of grey fur and he had the keenest expression I had ever seen. He wasn’t intimidated by his new surroundings but equally he didn’t care to be approached. Even at 14 weeks old, he was very much his own cat.

I knew a kitten flop would happen sooner or later.  When Monty finally ran out of steam, I plonked him on my lap and we started to get acquainted. He was too tired to argue with me. This was the first time I’d ever seen him up close, and I was bowled over by his sheer feline beauty. He had filmstar good looks. He was stunning. He was bloody gorgeous! And I told him so.

Monty windowsill

Then a surprising thing happened. He stood up, put his big soft kitten paws around my neck, and started licking my face. None of my other cats had ever done this and I wasn’t sure how to take it. Little claws paddled up and down on my shoulders and then, slurping and sucking noises.  Heck, I thought, he thinks I’m him mother. He’s only little. Perhaps I should take it as a compliment.   Not particularly wanting to be nibbled and covered in cat slime, I rearranged him on my lap and he went off to sleep with the quietest purr.

Monty has his own quirky way of doing things and this was an early example. Thankfully the suckling phase has passed, but he still sometimes pounces on me at night. I appreciate the show of affection, but I really don’t want to be licked to death. So we wrestle. He is very strong. He laughs at me. Eventually he settles down like a normal cat.

Extreme Knitting Cushion

I made a cushion.  Not a cushion cover, but an entire cushion, in one.  This is extreme knitting, folks!

Rocking chair with cushion

I started with a 400g ball of aran weight yarn.  I needed 20 strands, so I took my digital kitchen scales and started winding into 20g balls.  I was expecting a ‘baker’s dozen’ of yarn, but was surprised to find that my 20th, final ball of yarn weighed only 13 grams.  So actually the  ‘400g’ ball was 393g.  Bah!

I placed the 20 strands together, threw the 20 balls into a box, and started to cast on.

I used the knit cast-on, and I deliberately twisted the yarn a bit with each new stitch, to give a nice firm edge.  One stitch equals 2.6cm (one inch), so only 17 stitches were needed.

I discovered that the essential thing with this technique is to keep all 20 strands as even as possible.  With every stitch I was combing through the yarn with my fingers to keep it straight.  Each time I wound it around the needle, it formed a natural twist.  The twist gradually built up down the yarn as I progressed.  Every couple of rows some untwisting and untangling was required.

It took me 3 false starts before I was happy with the tension.  I didn’t know how many rows I would be able to work, so I just kept going until I ran out of yarn.  I was about 4 rows short of a perfect fit for my kitchen chairs.  So really I need 500g for a complete cushion.

The cats were fascinated by what I was up to.  A large cardboard box is one of their favourite things in the world!  And it was filled with little balls of yarn – second favourite. And said balls of yarn were being constantly jiggled about!  This was heaven in a box for them so I had to distract them with loads of other toys and then wait till they were sleepy.

What I like about this cushion is that it’s firm and soft, and it doesn’t look like you’ve just knitted a rectangle in garter stitch.  It doesn’t really look like garter stitch at all.  Just big, chunky ridges of yarn.

Hope you are seeing some progress with your own projects,

Till next time,

L x