Saturday, 14 December 2013

How did you MAKE that?

So many blogs I read are on arts and crafts and I enjoy looking at all the lovely things being made - so I thought it's probably time to show my work. It will have to be something a little bit novel as my crafting skills are just average. This latest project surprised me when it came out as well as it did.

I make laundry bags for Aussie Hero Quilts and Laundry Bags, to send to Aussie personnel deployed overseas.  I enjoy it because I know the bags will help people keep track of their laundry and that saves time often spent trying to find a clean uniform.  Also I can also be as creative as I like.  More information is available on the AHQ blog -

Laundry bags - cotton drill, and printed duck with kangaroos

Probably most of the AHQers make quilts - I've not done a large project like that for years, and quilts are mostly repetitive - that's not a put down, I love quilts, I love traditional patterns and modern styles. I love the fact that so much work goes into them. I especially love scrap quilts and crazy quilting, but - for me, once the design is decided the most interesting part is over.  Until it's completed, that is - holding up a quilt you have made yourself, or that has been made for you, is a very special feeling.
We had a dinner in Brisbane for the Qld AHQers and along with speeches, door prizes and a pretty good raffle, there was a laundry bag competition.  The theme was open, but the Aussie flavour seemed to be the most popular. I wanted to enter just to be in it and thought maybe I could have fun and be really creative.

I had a picture in my head of a photo bombing giraffe I'd seen on line and a painting by my little grandniece, Izzy. I thought of making a wall hanging or cushion from that image - but with an Aussie animal. Earlier in the year I'd used left over strips of fabric for the desert landscape above, with Ayres Rock and a kangaroo -  I could do that again.

Giraffe by Izzy
My plan was to draw onto calico with fabric pens, fuse that to the bag and see if I could draw more into it with the sewing machine - not embroidering, I'll leave that to the very clever ladies with wonderful computer embroidery machines -  just drawing with sewing thread using the common straight and zigzag stitches.

Now to the design.  Australia = big blue sky, bright sunshine, orange earth, lots of green, and blue ocean. Recently I'd made a block for a group quilt with these colours - it was included in the quilt they raffled at the dinner.

Aussie theme patchwork block
Choosing animals. I like kangaroos but they are not easy to draw - they can turn into huge mice or rabbits if you aren't careful. I wanted something orange to contrast with the blue I'd chosen as a background so I tried a kangaroo.

Years ago I made papier mache animals as stage props. They were the size of small children and were carried across the stage by the small children.  One was an emu. He'd be perfect.

Drawing animals is not easy for me and I always need to research. Once upon a time I'd be searching through books and magazines, then photocopying the pictures, but now we can google anything. I cfound animals in the positions I wanted, copied them. turned them black and white, erased the details and outlined the shape - just love PhotoShop.   I worked out the size I wanted then cut the pictures up in the program, as my printer only takes A4.  When printed I stuck the bits together, cut out the shape and used it as a guide to get the outline and proportions, drawing around it with a 3B pencil. The choice of picture is important because any foreshortening does not translate to a flat image.

Once the outline was on the fabric I filldc in the details with ink, looking back at the original photo on the computer screen. The pose or expression can be changed at this stage.  Colour and shading was done with fabric ink pens I bought on line.  When I felt it was ready I cut out the calico animal. The kangaroo looked uncomfortable - but they look that way in photos too. I had high hopes for the emu.

The background had to be sky blue but I didn't have the right colour. I like to use a medium weight cotton drill or printed duck for the laundry bags because it's sturdy and nice to sew and comes in lots of colours.  But my usual ebay sellers couldn't help me with sky blue drill or similar so I was forced to actually go to a shop. I'm not an expert on fabric but love to handle it and finally found some cotton chino in the right colour. I'd never seen Chino before.  It was a bit lighter in weight than the fabric I usually use, and felt a lot softer, but looked almost the same.... hmmm.

The blue alone lacked richness so adding a strip of bright yellow desert, in cotton drill, to the bottom made a big difference. Using a fabric fix I ironed/glued the animals to the chino.  Ugh. Chino is not the same as drill.  It stretched out of shape and twisted. Also it was very humid that day and the fixative came away from the backing and didn't iron on properly. That turned out to be a good thing as I was able to pull the calico off and stretch the chino in the other direction - almost flat.  But, it meant the glue didn't take hold at the edge ... so all the edges would have to be covered by stitching. These little accidents along the way have a part in defining the finished piece, and I love that. Art often wanders in a different direction to the pattern.

Heat fusing the sketches on calico to the backing and stitching on Kangaroo

Stitching, stitching, stitching. I changed top thread colours but kept a neutral in the bobbin. The back of the piece was almost as interesting as the front. Some areas were straight stitched first, outlining the eyes and some long feathers, but most were zig zagged in different widths, making sure feathers or fur stitches covered all the raw edges.  I worked on the stitching for 4 or 5 days - in spurts. I loved it.  Maybe it wasn't exactly like drawing with thread, a little more like painting at times, I was learning what my machine would do in the way of free stitching and it was exciting to see the animals develop under the sewing machine.  I love the eyes on both of them and Emu's little grin is his own. Kangaroo looked a bit nervous so I added a stalking emu and then Emu needed a kangaroo to chase him.

Ironing the back of the fabric to smooth out puckering  - stitching feathers onto Emu

There are no instructions to give because the stitching is like drawing, you go with what feels right at the time. I did spend time unpicking tiny stitches when the Chino stretched our of shape, several times. And no, I didn't win the competition - I didn't really expect to. I find the sort of things I make never get the popularity vote, I think my designs have to grow on people - and, the judges were male soldiers. They are not into fabric art, they want something to give them a laugh, to tell jokes about and that's what they chose.  Congratulations to the winners, who understood the nature of their recipients.

At this stage the bag was one flat piece. I decided on where to fold it, ironed, stitched the side seam (three rows of stitching), ironed, added the channel for a drawstring, lined the bag with flannel shirt type checks and ironed again. While sewing the bottom seam I realised the bottom of the Emu and Kangaroo would meet in an ugly, thick lump. All I could do was sew in another folded strip of fabric to at least make colour break. The final job was to thread the drawstring through. I use cotton sash cord because it feels so nice.

OOppppsssss I had cut out a yellow sun which was to be over-stitched in white, but I  forgot to attach it before sewing on the drawstring channel. By that time I'd done so much sewing and unpicking ... I just couldn't do anymore. The sun was left off.

One flat piece - side seam stitched and ooopps, the sun wasn't included - bottom seam done with inset strip
- Kangaroo on a full laundry bag.

I posted the bag away and found I missed Emu's face for days, almost like losing a pet. When I saw it in the display a week later he seemed to have settled down and was sitting fairly flat.  I wonder who will open a parcel one day, pleased to get a new laundry bag, and find my Emu looking back at them. I'd love to see that.

The finished bag - Kangaroo's side with the lining hanging out, Emu in all his glory
and demonstrating how he'll look on a full laundry bag. He might be a little bit scary.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

What next?

It's impossible to prepare for everything, even though we try.  This 2013/14 summer began with threats of bush fires, damaging storms and cyclones - not all at once but it seemed like it  And a year ago we couldn't have guessed that a brand new baby would now be part of our extended family. Two years ago we didn't think we'd still have a dog. Disaster or delight, tremendous or trivial -  there are no guarantees. And when we do survive and find that new kind of normal something else will come along ... what next?  We just can't imagine.

Our family and friends know our dog and how much a part of our lives he is.  Now coming close to his 13 birthday (March 2014) we are aware he won't live forever and we've tried to prepare for that while avoiding the toe tapping wait mode. As a medium size male dog his life expectancy is about 10.  Being an active male Staffie could lower that - but, he is de-sexed, on a good diet, exercised daily, lives inside the house and sleeps on a soft surface - so his life expectancy is 12+. 

For the first five years we had very few problems, apart from noticing we had a hyperactive dog who madly chased anything that moved. And we soon found we had to check him daily for ticks and remove those, every day. Short haired dogs don't need brushing and a squirt from the hose can extend bathing for weeks.

There was a broken tooth, caused by chewing big logs and a split claw, possibly caused by rolling big logs in the paddock and both of these had to be removed under anaesthetic. A wound received when he was attacked by wild dogs required the vet's attention. Then he began growing warty things and a few mystery lumps on his legs. These were cut off and a grass seed embedded in his bottom lip led to the removal of the lip, so now he looks up at you and shows his bottom teeth.

Along the way he suffered pancreatitis which required not one, but two trips to the all-night vet hospital, in heavy rain, followed by a low fat diet forever. When a lump that had been growing on his nose was diagnosed as a mast cell tumour the vet felt we would only have him for a few more months - that was in Dec 2009. We held our breath and prepared. Half his nose was taken off in July 2010 and he went onto a homeopathic remedy. He recovered well, though he sneezes more than other dogs.  However arthritis was developing in his hips - we hoped it would slow him down. That was enough, and we looked for a smooth run ahead.

In March 2011 his right back leg went limp and we were told the knee had to be rebuilt. When you have a dog with a huge personality, who communicates well, is usually obedient and never chews your shoes how can't say 'no'.  Three months convalescence was hard on all of us and then in December the other knee went and we went through it all again. What next?

Time passes and we forget. I changed his diet to almost no commercial food and we added sweet potato, pumpkin, oats and psyllium husk powder to his home cooked meat. We had a healthy, happy dog.

We try to keep Rufous close to us, always on a rope or lead but there are still times when he can't resist the call of the wild by running after a kangaroo or dashing off to welcome a visitor and changing direction to chase a kookaburra - and he comes home limping. Our hearts sink until he's had a good rest and recovers. It's sad to hold back a dog who loves to run. His high need for activity has to be satisfied by several walks a day and a short run on a long rope.  He loves being outside so playing with ants under the clothes line or watching RJ weed the crop is good for him.

Early one Friday morning, hubby RJ was tending the new ginger on the far side of the farm, near a neighbour's house. The neighbour was upset about the loss of several chickens overnight and they were discussing the possibility of foxes or wild dogs, with Rufous sitting quietly nearby. As usual the rope on his collar was attached to a long stick which he drags along when walking as a reminder to him, and which can be tucked under something heavy if he has to stay put.

Something moved in the bush. Without warning Rufous was off - rope flying behind, stick bouncing along the ground until it caught between two trees, held for a split second, the weathered rope broke ......  dog gone.

I knew nothing of this, being asleep in bed at home. The phone rang about 8am and I didn't get to it in time. A message on the answering machine identified Lisa who said she had found a 'little' Staffie and could I phone her back.  What?
I phoned RJ and asked, "Where is Rufous?"
His uninformative reply was, "I don't know".
"Um .... isn't he with you?"
That was no help. I phoned Lisa and asked her to describe the dog.
"He has a sore nose," she said.  "The phone number was scratched on his registration tag."
Oh yes, I remember - I'd done that months ago when two adventuring Staffies had turned up at our house and we contacted the owners through the phone number on one of the collars.

Lisa and I swapped addresses - she was actually in our street but right at the top of the very steep hill and on the opposite side of a deep gully. To get there Rufous would have run uphill through dense bushland. There are deep gorges, a creek and several springs in there as well as thorns and spiky plants and possible wild dogs, foxes, snakes and kangaroos. She offered to drive him home as she was about to take her girls to school.  I couldn't suggest walking up to their driveway because I can't walk Rufous home on the lead without being molested by all the other dogs in our street.  I waited by our letter box with his lead and soon saw a little red car approaching, very slowly. Behind the L plates was a teenage driver in school uniform. In the back seat, beside another girl in school uniform, sat my darling boy, looking as if he was always chauffeured by pretty girls.

Lisa jumped from the front passenger seat and helped Rufous climb out of the car, still trailing a wet broken rope. I snapped his lead on quickly. He didn't look at me but turned away to sniff grass along the roadside.
"He's a lovely boy," Lisa said. "He had a good play with our boy before we knew he was there. We've had Staffies in the past and we know a good one when we see it. Now we have a Neo Mastiff".

I was numb, still thinking of what might have happened if I'd not scratched the phone number onto his tag.  Mastiffs are big dogs, aren't they?  We waved goodbye. At home Rufous had a huge drink of water. I wiped him down and he was soon asleep. RJ came in feeling guilty. I just hoped Ruffies new knees would be okay. He limped a bit, but at the hip, not the knee. Phew.

I googled.  'Neapolitan Mastiffs are one of the largest dog breeds with males weighing up to 80kg and measuring 65-75cm (26-30"). They are heavy boned and thickset with a big broad head.  They salivate heavily particularly when they are hot or after eating and drinking. If they want to come inside the house you'll have to wipe their mouths and faces with a towel.'  That's a big sloppy dog.

Monday morning at 8.30 I was asleep (I stay up late). RJ stuck his head around door and said, "I've just phoned the vet and they say to bring Rufous up straight away".
"What? Why?"
"He's peeing blood".
"He'll be okay, go back to sleep".
As if.  "Ask them to cut his nails while he's there".

There were two phone conversations during the day and then they said we could collect him at 4.30.  He had been sedated to have his bladder x-rayed and blood samples taken (and nails trimmed). Urine had been collected and they walked him around until they got a poo sample. He was howling with boredom when we arrived.

The x-ray showed an odd shape in his bladder. Tumour?  The samples were sent away for testing and the x-ray went to a specialist for diagnosis.  We came home with 10 days' supply of antibiotics and a receipt for a lot of money.  A few days later the vet phoned to say Rufous had an E-coli infection in the bladder and needed another 30 days on antibiotics.  What about the bladder shadow?  No one knows what that is.  Oh.

I googled.  'E-coli is the most common bacterium isolated in canine urinary tract infections. Dogs may have an urinary tract infection at any age but in male dogs it is generally classified as complicated. E-coli can invade the host's immune system. One possible source of E-coli is drinking water contaminated by faeces.'

The antibiotics were big white tablets, just right to feed to a dog ... NOT.  They have grooves in them so they break into four small pieces ... if you have huge muscles in your fingers.  Give with food - that should be possible if they are not too bitter.  I licked one - errrk.

The dose was three half tablets twice a day. I experimented with cooked oats, rolling little balls, pushing the half tab inside and then dipping into melted coconut oil (he loves it) or peanut butter (loves that too) and convince him it was a treat. He often swallows treats whole if there is another one waiting - but he can also swish it around his mouth, swallow the good bits and spit out the tablet.

That was good for the morning tabs. In the afternoon I tried to deprive him of snacks and fed him a little bit late so he was hungry enough to eat up the loaded oat balls hidden in his cooked meat and sweet potato. They all went down, mostly. If food was left in the bowl I temped him with a smear of peanut butter - but even with good fats I have to be careful because of his history with pancreatitis.

I was quite good at serving up his meds after 40 days. The follow up urine test showed no blood or infection.

It's not easy keeping Rufous tethered all the time, but it's much safer at his age. He likes to be outside and can still get up to mischief, eating possum poo when we aren't looking, getting bitten by ants when he tries to play with them, lunging at toads, biting the heads off lizards, trashing cardboard cartons. He plays hide and seek games with me and chasing with RJ.  He has a good life but he's not pampered - all dogs sit on the couch to watch TV, don't they?

Many other dogs are not looked after as well. There are dogs around here that run wild all day, sleep outside on hard ground, get chilled in wet weather, eat crap and tinned food and don't even have their ticks removed.  If Rufous picked up that E-coli infection during his two hour escapade up the hill why don't all these other dogs get it too?  And that is the mystery parents of young children wonder about. 

You just never know what will happen next so look after your pets and your children and all the other people you care for, treasure them and let them be a blessing - there are no guarantees for safety or long life.