Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A plus quilt for Ruby...

If someone had told me this time last year that I would not only sew but hand-quilt a quilt for a dog I would have laughed long and hard. So it is almost inevitable for me to report now that not only does Ruby have a corner of sofa for herself, she also has a quilt for herself. Fleece blankets are great for cover ups and quick washing and drying, but not so good when using a lint roller to remove stray springer hair! So I had the great idea to make a quilt, as the smooth cotton makes for easy maintenance between washings.

After the complexities of the disappearing nine-patch quilt, I was determined to use simple piecing in a way that would result hopefully result in a pretty quilt. I chose the 'plus' layout - once I understood the principles of the layout (from Pinterest pictures!), the sewing was fairly straightforward.

I decided to hand-quilt again, but this time with finer hand quilting cotton which works fine. It took a few evenings, but, again, I think it was worth it - others think I was mad. I think Ruby does appreciate the extra effort.

I found a navy single duvet cover reduced in the sale which was perfect for the backing. I used only half and supplemented it by adding in a couple of pieced strips for interest, binding it with a classic stripe. Lesson learned: hand quilting a high thread count sheet is not a bundle of laughs - I had many punctured finger tips.

Now we all have a cosy corner on the sofa to relax in! Happiness all round...

Liberty Tana lawn quilt

Four years ago I visited the fabric department at Liberty in London for the first time. I had heard so much about the beauty of the design of their Tana lawn fabric from my GCSE Textiles teacher, that it was somewhere I had always wanted to go to see them for myself. I indulged in a sample pack of fabric that included 12 different designs. I plotted and planned and researched the possibilities for using the fabrics - for a while I though of trying some English paper piecing, but was reluctant to cut up the fabric into tiny pieces and to lose so much in seam allowances (again, my love/hate relationship with patchwork!).

Eventually I decided on the simplest possible design to make the most of the fabric. The detail in pattern is amazing - the quilt really showcases each as a work of art. Seaming the fabric in simple strips made for a single bed sized quilt. I completed it a year ago after machine quilting it in random straight lines across the width. Initially I was happy with it, but over time I began to imagine what it might be like with hand quilting instead. So, I unpicked the machine stitching and began to hand quilt it with Perle cotton. I used 2 inch masking tape to mark the stitching lines and begin to stitch...

I picked three different colours of cotton so I could chose the best one for contrast depending on the particular fabric I was working on. The result has transformed the quilt to one that I am so much happier with. It has a much softer handle and a bit more body. Hand quilting is definitely my favourite finish so far. It does take time but is very therapeutic and is great for supplementing the central heating in the depth of winter while in progress, not to mention the value in using the finished quilt.

A finished disappearing nine-patch quilt - cut, sew, cut, sew and sew again!

This quilt was started last Easter and I managed to piece it for quilting in August. It's my first full size, king size quilt and I'm really happy with it.

The fabric is mainly Daysail, designed by Bonnie and Camille for Moda. The designs and colours are so clear and fresh - I really enjoyed working with such quality cotton.

Knowing it would be impossible to quilt it on my own sewing machine, I had it long arm quilted and the quilter chose a super swirly design that works well as a contrast to the sharp angles in the piecing.

I chose a red script design fabric for the binding to outline the edging and a plain white calico for the backing to try to offset the overall cost of the quilt. It's given me a great sense of achievement to complete this project - but now I am almost reluctant to use it!

In many way this quilt epitomises the reasons why it took me so long to get into patchwork. You take a perfectly lovely fabric, cut it unto small pieces, sew them together, cut them up again, sew them together again in a different pattern, take all the pieces and sew them back into a bed-sized piece of fabric. Sometimes I still don't get it, but, when you have the finished object to use and enjoy, it begins to make sense! Have you ever had a similar experience with your creativity?

Friday, 1 April 2016

Rescuing Ruby - our first six months with an English springer spaniel

We first met Ruby in May last year when we visited our local Dog’s Trust. She was an unwanted pet, having been with her family since she was a puppy. While we really liked her, we knew it wasn’t the right time and decided that if she was still there in September she was meant for us. Over the summer she remained there – much to our surprise – and so began the adoption process.

Ruby had a difficult summer; she arrived to the Dog’s Trust in season and with a nasty cyst on her leg. She then developed a phantom pregnancy – the prolonged treatment of this delayed her spay and the excision of the cyst on her leg which had been biopsied over the summer. She had been taken out by a family and returned the next day due to her snappy behaviour and this really affected her chances of adoption.

The staff at the Dog’s Trust were very supportive of our adoption of Ruby. They were honest and transparent about her behavioural challenges and we worked out a strategy for visiting and walking her every day for a fortnight so we could all get used to each other and develop some trust and understanding. During this time she had her surgery and, once her stitches were removed, we worked out a strategy to bring her home for a visit each day before the adoption was finally processed in early October.

She seemed to settle very quickly, chasing neighbouring cats and any birds that ventured into the garden. The next day she refused to eat, licking obsessively at the wound where the cyst had been removed. She was prescribed a week’s antibiotics and a Buster collar of shame. Getting a dog who refuses point blank to eat or drink to take antibiotics is an interesting challenge, particularly when you are new to each other and she was adjusting to a new environment. We resorted adding the tablets to hot sausages and this seemed to help her thirst and she began drinking but not eating. We tried hand feeding her – but this worked only once.

Eventually the course of antibiotics finished and the Buster collar came off and things began to settle down into a routine. Her appetite returned and with around 3 miles of walks each day she soon began to lose the extra 3 kilograms she had gained over the summer. Unfortunately she continued to lick at her leg and eventually the biopsy results diagnosed acral lick dermatitis or granuloma. We discovered that this is a common condition in larger dogs and can be linked to stress, separation anxiety and a variety of issues that reflected her experience over the summer. There seems to be a general pessimism about the chances of a cure for the problem with a wide variety of potential treatments to manage the condition. Over a couple of months we tried (on the advice of the vets):
  • Lavender cream
  • Tea tree oil
  • Vicks vapour rub
  • Isoderm cream (hydrocortisone and fucidin)

Each of these relieved the symptoms for a short time but eventually the licking began again. As the affected area seemed to be getting worse we revisited the vet and she was prescribed a three month course of antibiotics. This time we found that crunchy peanut butter works a treat for disguising tablets. The treatment seems to have finally worked – her skin has healed and the fur has re-grown. Better still she seems to have forgotten all about it. Nevertheless we are still vigilant when she shows any licking behaviour - just in case.

Ruby is a delight; we do love her so much and it has been super to see her settling in and developing her personality. Independent of mind, she quickly figures out what situations require of her and with some training she is growing responsive to us and the wrinkles in her behaviour are smoothing out. 

What we have learned (in no particular order):
  • Cats are public enemy number one, followed by blackbirds, magpies, postmen, heating oil delivery men, anyone in a high visibility jacket and the dog groomer.
  • The ability to sit and look out the window provides entertainment for hours.
  • Walks are the best thing ever (after food).
  • Never to let her off the lead – we have a walking lead and a 50 foot long training lead which is great for letting her run off steam.
  • The basics of how to groom a springer – it’s always good to learn new things!
  • Soft toys will be destroyed – Kong toys are the only ones that last long enough to justify the cost.
  • Establishing routines is essential to moulding desired behavioural responses – otherwise a squeaky toy or a treat is a great distraction or motivator (as required).
  • We are not too old to adapt to changes in our routines or respond to new challenges.