Monday, November 06, 2017

Needle Felted Remembrance Day Poppy



Every year, my daughter's school make a big effort to raise money for Remembrance Day and the children gain a lot from learning the significance of the poppy.  

Every year, I buy my daughter at least 3 poppies with a sticker on the back, and every year she's lost her poppy by the end of the school day.  

The children selling them this year were highly amused by the fact that they weren't allowed to sell the pin-on ones to children for health and safety reasons - Of course, I completely understand why!


 A couple of weeks ago I bought this one for myself and a sticky back one for my daughter and, as usual, her poppy had fallen off by the end of the day. 

I wanted to make her a simple needle felted poppy that would at least last a couple of weeks, instead of a couple of hours that the sticky back paper ones seem to.


To begin with, I took apart my Remembrance Day paper poppy...


... and I tried to use the paper shapes as a template to needle felt my own.  Unfortunately, as the red poppy part was made as one piece, it just ended up looking a bit flat, and the centre where the petals were gathered in looked a bit weird.  It reminded me a little of elephant ears!

I should probably say, I wouldn't class myself as an expert in needle felting, but it occurred to me that it would look a bit more natural if I made it out of two separate petals.


Here's the template I used to make my two poppy petals.  You can print a pdf of it at the right size here.


I usually like to blend at least two colours when I'm needle felting.  I just think it gives a more natural effect to whatever I'm making.

For the red, I blended poppy and scarlet, and for the green, I blended lawn and lichen - all from World of Wool.  The green is a little more vivid than I would like, but it was all I had in at the time.  I also used a tiny bit of black for the poppy centre.


Here's the amount of wool I used for each petal.  I usually seem to start off with a lot more wool than I need, but I'm gradually learning that less is usually better - I can always add more!


I use a memory foam pillow to needle felt onto, which has this terry toweling cover.  I'm afraid, it's not the most attractive of backgrounds, but it looks a little better than the grey foam underneath!

Needle felting is basically stabbing a mound of wool with a barbed needle, thousands and thousands and times, until it felts together into a solid shape that has a structure of its own.  There's something extremely therapeutic about stabbing wool with a very sharp needle, gradually sculpting it into the shape it wants to become.

Here, I've just shaped the wool into a basic petal shape.  The more you stab it, the more it shrinks and felts together.

I kept on stabbing it all over and turning it over.  With every minute it became smaller and more compressed.


Every few minutes I'd check my petal for size against the template,  picking up the stray fibres from around the edges with the end of my needle and stabbing inwards towards the centre.


By this point, it was starting to become denser, but it was still a little fluffy.  I tend to poke my wool in lines radiating inwards, flipping it regularly, sculpting it into the shape I want it.


When it was the same shape and size as my template, I decided to give it a little shape by pricking repeatedly in an arc shape, a few mm in from the top edge of the petal, which encouraged it to curl into a more natural shape.


I then made the second petal in the same way.


Once I was fairly happy with both of my petals, I overlapped the centres and took a wisp of black wool - both to start forming the poppy middle, and to attach the petals together.  I overlayed a little piece of black merino wool so that the small section on the right would become black shading on the petal and the larger section on the left would begin to form the round flower centre. 


Here's how it looked when I'd needle felted the black wool into the centre, with a few wisps of black felted in on the right.


I repeated the same action on the opposite side, building up the poppy centre and adding wisps of black to the left petal.


Again, here's the poppy after the second addition of black fibres to the poppy centre.


I wanted my poppy centre to be more of a dome shape and I wanted a bit more black shading on the petals, so I added a couple more wisps of black fibre in the same way, focusing my needle around the centre to shape it into a circle.


To give my flower more shape and life, I pricked the petals repeatedly from the back into the black centre.


To make the leaf, I took a section of green wool and, beginning at the base, I pricked it repeatedly until it formed a dense, narrow point.  I then needled the rest, flipping it and stabbing it in the same way as the flower until I got a basic leaf shape.  I then repeatedly poked into the side of the leaf to shape the undulated outline.  I left the top of the leaf loose and fluffy, so that I could attach it to the back of the petal.


Here's the leaf and flower from the back.  All of the loose fibres were repeatedly stabbed into the flower middle, both to finish off the leaf and to attach it securely to the back of the poppy.


In attaching the leaf to the back, some green fibres were pushed to the front, so to finish it off, I added a little more black to the centre and worked the needle diagonally into the middle, to shape and curl the petals a little more.


Needle felting is a very forgiving craft and you really can keep on prodding and poking it, adding more wool as needed, or pricking it more to shape or shrink it further.


I decided to give my poppy more of a handmade look by adding some tiny transparent red burgundy beads around the centre.


Finally, I stitched a little safety pin to the back using the same thread that I had used for the beads.


I love my daughter's little Remembrance Day poppy.  It is simple, but eye-catching and two weeks later, it's still not fallen off!



If you have enjoyed this post, but you're not quite ready to try shaping your own petals, you might want to look at my very popular post on easy needle felted flowers.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Building a corner DIY C and C style guinea pig cage with a Perspex front


Last year, we decided to get our daughter a pet. We have tropical fish, but she's been longing for something to cuddle and stroke for a few years now. I knew ultimately that it would be my responsibility, but we wanted to get her a pet that she could hold, feed and enjoy watching - something that would be good for her emotional well-being and a slight distraction from the screens that seem to dominate her free time.


After a lot of research, we decided that guinea pigs would be the best pets for our family.  They live happily indoors, are slightly lower maintenance than a cat, don't need walking like a dog, they are crepuscular and are therefore more active in the morning and early evening, when our daughter will see them most, they don't need as much space as a rabbit and, with quite a bit of time and a lot of patience, most guinea pigs will sit contently on a child's lap to be fed or stroked.


I knew that to get the maximum attention, whatever we got would have to live in the heart of our home. Guinea pigs are very social animals and crave company (which is why it's not recommended to have just one guinea pig), so a living room is a perfect location for them.  Unfortunately, when we started looking at guinea pig cages for sale, they were all impractical for the space we had to keep them in - not to mention quite unattractive.  This was going to go in the corner of our living room, so I wanted something that would fit well in a living room, as well as being easy to reach into and clean.

There is no doubt that the more space you give guinea pigs, the happier they will be.  The RSPCA recommend that a pair of guinea pigs should be kept in a cage no smaller than 60cm x 120cm, but bigger is always preferred.  The more space a guinea has, the more likely they will be to display natural, happy behaviours like pop-corning or running laps.  
Standard 60cm x 120cm indoor cage

We did have room in the corner of our living room to accommodate a 120cm x 60cm cage like a Ferplast 120, which is the smallest indoor cage suitable for two guinea pigs.  However, as access to the cage would be restricted on three sides, it would make cleaning it out virtually impossible  - especially for me!  It also struck me that all indoor cages for sale either have quite a deep, opaque plastic base that you need to look down into the cage to see the guinea pigs, or are made of wood - which would inevitably become quite smelly over time...

If I was going to get a guinea pig cage I was happy with, I was going to have to make my own...

What is a C & C Cage?

After a lot of googling and searching for an attractive cage that would work for us, I came across the concept of the C and C cage.  

C and C is short for "Cubes and Coroplast" (or Correx) and the idea was thought up by Teresa Murphy, founder of Cavy Spirit (a guinea pig rescue).  She also has a website dedicated to educating people about the benefits of C and C cages

Basically, a C and C cage is a DIY guinea pig habitat that has a rigid framework made from modular wire cubes, with an insert made from a sheet of corrugated plastic; the kind of lightweight, flexible plastic used for making sign boards, or to protect floors during building work.  



Most C and C cages have an outer framework made from grids like this one.  If you search for "modular wire cubes" you should find the cube part of a C and C cage.  For the sake of safety, you need to ensure that the holes in your grids are no bigger than 1.5 inches or 3.8cm.  If you are to have baby guinea pigs, the holes need to be smaller still.

Personally, I didn't want ours to have a cage feel, so I was hoping to give our habitat one long side of Perspex to give an undisturbed view of the guinea pigs.



The plastic insert part of a C and C cage is just like a sheet of corrugated cardboard, only plastic.  Most people building a C and C cage use 4mm plastic, but it's available in lots of other thicknesses.  I opted for 5mm, just to be on the safe side.  

If you're looking for a supplier of sheet plastic; Coroplast, Corflute, Correx, Corex, Coroflute, Cadflute, Fluteboard, Proplex, or Polionda are all trade names for the polypropylene fluted board or corrugated plastic used in a C and C cage.

There are suppliers on E-bay, Amazon or some larger hardware stores sell it.  Alternatively, you can sometimes find a local sign-maker that would be willing to sell you a sheet.  It's relatively inexpensive, but because it's sold in a large sheet, postage can be more than the sheet itself.  Thankfully I managed to buy mine here on a Black Friday discounted deal, with a free postage special offer from Protec.


The advantage of a C and C cage over a shop bought cage are:

  • You can build it to fit your space. 
  • If you are able to source the materials locally, it is much cheaper than buying a pet shop guinea pig cage.  That way you can focus on building the biggest cage possible for your pets - a larger cage makes for happier guinea pigs! (Adding Perspex increases the price substantially but does make for a more attractive habitat.)
  • They are much easier to clean than a cage with bars and a fixed top
  • They are a blank canvas, so you can decorate, fill and alter them regularly to keep your guinea pigs happy.
  • They can be dismantled, altered or extended for maximum flexibility.
  • The top can be left open for a less caged feel.  It's easy enough to add a lid if you have cats, dogs or small children that could be a danger to your guinea pigs.

How I made my corner C and C cage 

Please don't use the following as an expert guide to making a C and C cage.  It's intended simply as inspiration to help you design your own.  I couldn't find a guide to making a similar C and C cage anywhere on the Internet, so I thought it may be useful to show some of the steps involved in making mine - as well as some of the mistakes!  This was my first attempt at making a cage and there are much better guides out there to help you.  I found this page extremely helpful in working out how a C and C cage is constructed. 

I didn't use the standard wire grids that most people choose.  Partly because the grids with narrow enough holes are quite difficult to get hold of in the UK, but also, the area I had to fit my cage into was two and a half square grids wide and I wanted to make the biggest cage that I could fit into my space.  


Instead, I opted for this modular shoe storage for most of my framework.  The sides are half as wide as regular wire grids, allowing me to make a bigger cage to fit the area I had to fit my cage into.  (In retrospect, this wasn't an issue as I could have just overlapped half a grid width with cable ties, but I'm still happy with how it turned out.)

I should start by saying that I wouldn't recommend this style of cube if you are going to have the grids exposed to the guinea pigs.  Guinea pigs like to chew and they could very easily chew through the thin plastic covering the wire frames.  However, I was planning on hiding the majority of the panels and having a Perspex front to make the whole thing fit in better with my living room.


The shoe storage I used to make the frame of my cage is made up of rectangles, squares and plastic connectors.  I used the connectors to join the basic shape of my cage together.  As it was going to be a corner cage, with a long diagonal Perspex side, I made up the four right angle sides, adding a base for rigidity.  C and C cages tend to be finished off with a cable tie at each joint for security, but at this point, I just wanted to mark out the shape of my base.

To get an idea of the area, this is a plan of the final cage - 


The area of my cage floor works out at 0.9m² which is equivalent to a 150cm x 60cm rectangle - A very acceptable size for two adult guinea pigs.

I laid my framework onto a sheet of 5mm Proplex. Then with a Sharpie pen, I marked out the outline of the base directly onto the plastic.


I then added 10cm all the way around to form the vertical sides of the cage insert.  With a scalpel, I scored the areas of the base that would be folded up, and cut through the three lengths on the corners which would allow me to form my plastic sheet into a box shape.


At this point, my photos get a bit confusing, as I was really making it up as I was going along!  I knew that I wanted the cage to tone in with my living room, as the plastic Proplex wasn't particularly attractive.

I wrapped the side edges with wood effect sticky back plastic as this part would be exposed.  As you can see, I was a bit undecided as to whether I needed the plastic to run along the cage front - and I've no idea why I chopped off that lower side section...


All of the joints were folded into a box shape and stuck down with Gorilla tape.


Here's the final insert with all of the box joints stuck down.  As you can see, I decided that I didn't want the edging strip to run along the diagonal front as this would give us a much clearer, undisturbed view of the guinea pigs.


For added security, I taped down all of the base corner edges with Gorilla tape too.


Then I ran a strip of wood effect sticky back plastic to finish off the front edge.

When I was sure that my base insert fitted within my grid framework, I secured all of the panels together with cable ties at every joint.


To conceal most of the grid panels, I covered some more Proplex sheets with sticky back plastic.  This was mainly for aesthetic reasons, but also to prevent hay from falling down the back of the cage and to prevent the guinea pigs from chewing on the plastic covering the grids.


I slipped the covered Proplex sheets between the base and the grids.  They fitted really snugly so there was no need to secure them.

As you can see, the design was still very much a work in progress at this stage.  I knew that I wanted a Perspex front, but I was toying with various designs, trying to work out what style of front would be the most practical. I wasn't sure if it needed a door in the front, so I temporarily attached some of the spare grids to the front to help consolidate my ideas.  

By this point we'd moved the cage into position in our living room; sitting on top of two Ikea Lack tables (with a board underneath the base of the cage for added support) which helped us to decide how we wanted the Perspex front to work.

After toying with a few ideas, we decided that the simplest and most practical solution to putting a Perspex front on was to create a channel along the side opening and base for the Perspex to slide into.



We bought a length of L shaped 15mm x 15mm aluminium corner from B and Q and cut it to fit the length of the long diagonal opening.  


To create the channel for the Perspex to slide into we bought a length of 10mm x 10mm U shaped channel similar to this one.  This one was cut to the height of the wire grids.


After a lot of searching, one of the best adhesives I found to bond the aluminium lengths together is JB-Weld, a two-part, steel reinforced epoxy.  We glued the two u-shaped channels at either end of the L shaped strip, making sure that it was at a perfect right angle.  This was left for the remainder of the day, with a weight holding the glued joint down.

When it was completely set, we glued the Aluminium L shaped strip to the very front edge of the diagonal on the plastic base using E-6000.



After we'd inserted the Perspex into the side channels, we realised that there was just a bit too much flexibility in the long Perspex panel, so we added another U-shaped channel along the base for the Perspex to sit in and give it stability.

Once we'd inserted the Perspex, the guinea pig cage was complete - all that was left was to make waterproof fleece liners and fill the cage ready for the guinea pigs' arrival!


This was my first guinea pig layout.  Looking at it now reminds me how little I knew about guinea pig behaviour when I filled it.  Nine months on and a lot has changed...

Trouble Shooting

Most people that decide to build a C and C cage eventually discover that their guinea pigs love to chew the edges of the plastic and they need to find a solution.  Guinea pigs need to chew and they'll chew on anything they can get their teeth around.


This is what the edges of our plastic looked like after two months of the guinea pigs living with us.  After a bit of research, I found out that most people solve the problem by either covering the edges with fleece, or by placing slide binders over the edges.  I opted for the latter as it sounded like the much lower maintenance option.

After patching up the nibbled areas with more sticky back plastic, I finished off the edges with 12mm clear slide binders.


All the sites I looked at recommend much narrower slide binders, but the 12mm ones were significantly easier to slide on.  Several months on and we've had no problems with the slide binders at all and I think that the clear slide binders complement the Perspex quite well.

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If you're going to use a similar channel method of inserting your Perspex front, I would highly recommend filing down the top edges or putting some kind of stopper on for protection.


After scratching myself significantly for the third time on the aluminium channel while cleaning the guinea pigs out, I decided I needed to put something on the top edges before my daughter did the same.  



My husband found these clear chair feet that did the job, with just a little alteration to accommodate the cable tie.

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The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that we've actually got three guinea pigs now!  One of our guinea pigs turned out to be pregnant when we bought her and we couldn't bear to part with all of the babies, so we kept one little girl.  This, of course, threw up problems of its own, but I was so glad that I'd opted for a C and C cage as it meant that with a bit of creative thinking, I could alter the cage to accommodate an extra hiding space and a larger hay corner without losing too much floor.


We'd put a platform on the side to give an extra hideaway, but they very soon started nibbling away at the plastic panels that they'd just been given access to.


Here's what the plastic grid looked like after just a few weeks.  I'd been toying with changing those panels to Perspex ever since I built the cage, so I was actually quite pleased when the decision was forced upon me.


We attached the side panels simply by drilling holes close to the corners and using cable ties to attach them to the rest of the cage.

It's made a massive improvement to the look and visibility and, for the first time, we saw our youngest guinea pig fast asleep, with its eyes closed!  Anyone who keeps guinea pigs will know how rare it is to see them with their eyes tight shut.

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We've had our guinea pigs for nearly 9 months now, and the flexibility of a C and C cage has meant that I've been able to change and adapt the cage layout as I've observed their changing needs and worked out the layout that makes cleaning them out the easiest.



Here's the current layout and the setup that really works for our guinea pigs and me.

I'm so pleased I decided to build my own cage.  Unfortunately, as you will see below, by using Perspex and a slot in door mechanism, I didn't manage to save any money by building it myself.  I did however get the cage that works best for us all and fits into our living room - as well as any cage possibly can.


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Materials to make a corner C and C cage with a Perspex front


Here's a summary of all the materials and tools used to make the corner C and C Perspex cage.  I already had some of the materials and tools, but where I had to buy them specifically for this project, I've shown the price in brackets.

  • Modular grid cubes to form the outer structure. (£26.95) 
  • A sheet of 5mm corrugated plastic to form the rigid, waterproof base and to hide the grids. (£18) 
  • Cable ties to secure the grids and Perspex panels together. (£1.50) 
  • Craft knife for cutting the plastic.
  • Metre ruler and Sharpie pen for marking out the base and sides onto the plastic.
  • 2 rolls of wood effect sticky back plastic to cover the vertical sides. (£10) 
  • Gorilla Tape to strengthen the scored corners and to secure the box joints.
  • Rigid wooden board, cut to the size of the base (as the cage is not fully supported underneath).
  • Length of aluminium corner. (£5.34)
  • 2 x U shaped aluminium lengths for the Perspex to slide into. (£7.16) 
  • JB-Weld for bonding the aluminium lengths together. (£6.32)
  • E-6000 for glueing the aluminium corner to the plastic base.
  • 1 x 4mm long Perspex panel to form the front and 2 x smaller 4mm Perspex panels to form the fixed sides.  I bought mine from Sheetplastics.co.uk (£42)
  • 1 pack of 12mm clear slide binders to prevent the guinea pigs from chewing the accessible sides. (£8.59) 
  • Clear chair feet to make the aluminium edges safer. (£2.69) 
  • Drill for drilling holes to connect the Perspex and aluminium to the grids with cable ties.
In total, the materials for our cage, including the later upgrades, came to £128.55, which is possibly 25% more than an equivalent sized shop bought indoor guinea pig cage, but I'd much rather have this than any commercially available alternative.




This blog post contains Amazon.com affiliate links to products that I purchased to make the guinea pig cage.  If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
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