Friday, March 15, 2019

How to Make Waterproof Guinea Pig Fleece Bedding

Two years ago we introduced a couple of sweet guinea pigs into our little family and I blogged about the corner guinea pig cage that I'd built for them.  They still live very happily in the corner of our living room and almost everyone that sees them comments on what an impressive habitat they have.

I made waterproof fleece cage liners for our guinea pigs at the end of 2016, and after two years, those original cage liners have sadly reached the end of their lifespan - and so it's time to make some more.  (Unfortunately, the waterproof backing degrades over time - especially in the areas that get more frequently used as a toilet.)  I was really pleased with how they turned out - both functionally and aesthetically, so when it came time to make more I thought I'd write a tutorial.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of using waterproof fleece liners in a guinea pigs' cage, I would compare it to using washable nappies instead of disposable ones, but significantly easier!  Like washable nappies, there is a polyester fleece surface that wicks the urine away from the guinea pigs' feet, an inner cotton toweling core that absorbs the wetness, and a waterproof backing that prevents the urine from transferring onto the bottom of the cage.

I love the look of waterproof fleece liners and I feel they fit in so much better in a living room setting than traditional alternatives.  Admittedly, they are probably more work than sawdust, Fitch, Megazorb, Carefresh or other disposable absorbent substrates, but fleece has to be softer and more comfortable for them to sleep on.  If you look around, you can find fleece to fit in with the colour scheme of your living room and, over the course of a couple of years, it saves quite a bit of money too.  (Mine would have actually lasted longer if they hadn't been asymmetrical, as I would have been able to rotate them.)

Materials needed to make waterproof fleece guinea pig cage liners.

 These supplies should be enough to make two full-sized liners for my 90cm x 130cm cage.  I'm also hoping that I'll be able to salvage parts of my original cage liners to make a few house liners that can be brushed down and removed between full clean outs.

  • Extra large 230cm x 255cm throw from Primark. (After trying a few fleeces I've found this one to be excellent for easily brushing down and removing hairs and hay, as it's so silky.)
  • Microfibre bathmat from Wilkos. (This will go under the main bottom house, one corner of which often gets used as a toilet.  Our guinea pigs also like to sleep on this mat in front of the house.)
  • Cotton towels to go inside the cage liners to absorb any urine.  The Haren from Ikea is one of the biggest towels I could find.
  • Waterproof, cotton toweling mattress protector.  The Superking Gokart from Ikea will be big enough for me to get a couple of liners out of and possibly some small house mats too.
  • I'm going to be repurposing the usable parts of my old cage liners to make house mats.  If you are starting from scratch, you will need another towel and another waterproof toweling mattress protector to make removable house liners.
  • Fabric Scissors
  • Pins
  • Metre ruler
  • Fabric pen
  • Sewing machine
  • Sewing thread.
  • Heavy duty sewing machine needle.  I used a size 120/20

How to make Waterproof Guinea Pig Bedding

The most important step, before you start cutting out your fabrics is to wash everything, at least three times.  Wash and dry them at as high a temperature as the fabrics will stand without damaging them.  You need to do this for two reasons  - to remove any oils that might have been added during manufacture, which will reduce the absorbency of your fleece, but also to encourage your fabrics to shrink.  If they are going to shrink, it is much better that they shrink now rather than when you've made your cage liners.

Once all of your fabrics are dry, you need to trim away any edgings that will prevent your materials from laying flat - making it difficult to cut them out.

Cut off the elasticated skirt from around the waterproof, cotton toweling mattress protector.

Cut off the edging from around the towel.

Cut off the edging from around the fleece blanket.

When I made my cage, I also made a template of the base out of Proplex for future use.  I laid this template on top of the towels and marked 5cm all the way around it.  This gave me a 2cm seam allowance, plus a little extra to allow for possible shrinkage.  Making it a little larger, also makes it a lot easier to fit on clean out days.

Once I'd marked on my pattern, I pinned the two towel pieces together and then cut them out.

I laid one of the towel pieces on top of my waterproof mattress protector and fleece, right side up.  The mattress protector was cut out toweling side up (shiny side down) and the fleece was cut out right side up.  My cage is asymmetrical and so the arrangement of fabrics is very important.  If your cage is a rectangle, then you don't need to worry about which way your fabrics are facing when you cut them out.

Once your three fabric pieces are cut out, you need to pin them together, as in the photo above, with the towel on the bottom, followed by the waterproof mattress protector, facing shiny side up and the fleece with the right side facing down.

With a 2cm seam allowance, sew all the way around your three fabrics, leaving a 30 to the 40cm gap for turning it the right way round.  I made sure that the opening was placed on a part of the liners that wouldn't be seen ie. under the houses and hay/litter tray.

Cut the corners off at 45 degrees.

Turn the cage liner the right way round, making sure that the toweling is sandwiched between the fleece top and the waterproof base.

Pin and then stitch the opening closed a few mm from the edge.  There you have one finished waterproof guinea pig cage liner!

Making a Large Heavy duty Microfibre House Mat

I love our guinea pigs, but they do require quite a bit of regular cleaning.  Over the last couple of years, I've strived to find ways of reducing that maintenance as much as possible, while still giving them a hygienic and clean living environment.  One of the main methods I use to keep them clean between weekly full clean outs is to put separate waterproof mats at the bases of their main sleeping and resting areas.  That way they can be brushed down, or replaced if necessary, with clean ones without having to empty the whole cage.

Our guinea pigs have a litter and hay tray, which they mostly use as a toilet, but they also like to use the lower house, right next to the litter tray as a toilet, so this house needs a much heavier duty base.

These microfibre bath mats from Wilkos are ideal as they are very thick and comfortable for the guinea pigs to lie on, and if you cut them in half and trim off the edging, they are wide enough to fit under a good sized guinea pig house, leaving a cozy area that extends in front of the house for them to sleep on.

Making the house mats is pretty much the same as the bedding, but on a smaller scale.  The main difference is that the bathmats are much thicker, so they can be quite difficult to sew through.  You definitely need a heavy duty sewing machine needle for this.  I used a 120/20 needle for the house mats, but there's no harm in using this same needle throughout this whole project.

It's at this point that I realised that I didn't have enough of the new waterproof mattress protector and toweling left to make the house mats, but I was able cut sections of towel and mattress protector from my original bedding from the large areas that hadn't degraded.  I was glad to be able to reuse part of the old bedding, rather than throw the whole lot away.

Stitch all the way around the house mat, leaving an opening to turn it the right way round.

Clip the corners close to the stitches at 45 degrees.

Turn it the right way around and pin it closed.  I found that I had to hand stitch the opening closed this time as my sewing machine just couldn't cope with that amount of fabric.

Making smaller house mat liners.

I use two of these Ferplast pet houses with one side removed (to give them easier access to the hay corner) in my guinea pig cage.  They are actually sold as rabbit houses, but I'm sure they are much too small for even a dwarf rabbit.  They do however fit two adult guinea pigs quite comfortably.

Here's the template I use to make my house mats.  I haven't made a photo tutorial for the house mats as the process is exactly the same as for the previous two but on a smaller scale.  These smaller house mats are perfect for resting areas that don't get used quite so heavily as a toilet.  I have three of these in my guinea pig cage, one in the upper house and two in the small hidey areas to the side of the tiered houses.

These can be easily brushed down every day and changed if they get wet.  I rarely find that they get saturated though as our guinea pigs don't often like to wee where they sleep...

Here is a complete set of waterproof guinea pig fleece bedding that I use every week in my guinea pig cage.  I made two sets - one to use and one to wash.


Do you save money using washable guinea pig bedding?

I was intrigued to work out if I really do save money in using washable fleece bedding as opposed to disposable substrate so I decided to do the maths.  Here is a breakdown of everything it costs me to maintain a clean guinea pig cage, assuming that the bedding will last me 2 years ...

  • 1 large Primark throw - £11
  • 1 Wilko's bath mat - £6
  • 3 x Haren bath sheets - £15
  • 2 x Gokart mattress protectors - £28
  • 2 years' worth of Fitch to fill a 53cm x 34cm litter tray - £82
  • Very approximate guestimate of the cost of washing fleece bedding over 2 years - £45
Therefore using and washing guinea pig bedding and Fitch over 2 years costs me £187, which equates to £93.50 a year.  (This doesn't include the savings I made by repurposing sections of my old bedding to make small house mats.)

At the moment, I use Fitch, which is a paper-based bedding, just in the hay/litter tray.  If I decided to use a disposable substrate instead of washable bedding, I would continue to use Fitch as it is absorbant and very low odour.  My current litter tray is 0.18m², but my full cage is 0.9m².  At the moment I use 20kg of paper-based bedding a year, which costs me £41.  If I were to fill my 0.9m² cage with Fitch it would cost me £205 a year.

So that's an annual saving of £111.50, plus the savings I made by repurposing usable parts of my cage liners the second time around.  I'm pretty pleased with that!

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make the guinea pig bedding. If you click through and purchase anything, I may receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Printable Yarn Gauge Reference Tool

If, like me, you've despaired at the results you get with a WPI gauge, or you've struggled with a spinner's control card, here's an idea for a resource that could be a more tactile and visual alternative.


Last year I blogged about some handspun yarn labels that I'd designed, so that I could organise my stash of yarn that I'd spun myself.

I spent a good many hours weighing, measuring, calculating the wraps per inch (WPI) and labeling all of my handspun yarn so that I knew exactly what I had.  Unfortunately, when it came to actually knitting up my handspun yarn, I realised that I'd got nearly 50% of the gauges wrong.  

To further add to the confusion, there doesn't seem to be an industry standard for WPI and after a quick search, I found at least 3 different systems that give a wide range of figures, especially for finer gauge yarns, which pretty much makes the whole WPI system completely redundant!

If you're new to calculating the gauge of yarns, I should probably tell you that the wraps per inch method is widely considered to be the quickest way to calculate the gauge of any yarn. To put it simply, you wrap your yarn around a ruler or inch gauge and count the number of wraps it takes to fill up an inch.   Unfortunately, I'm coming to realise that this method is not without its flaws - especially when it comes to handspun yarn made from unusual fibres.  

Take the rose yarn above, for example.  I was comfortably getting 13 to14 wraps per inch on my inch gauge (on the left), making it between a 4 ply/fingering and a baby/sport yarn on the Ravelry WPI system, but when I came to knit it, it was knitting up much, much bigger and tighter than it should.  After quite a bit of swatching, I realised that it knitted up much closer to the stitches and row measurements of a worsted weight yarn.  A worsted weight yarn would have 9 WPI on the system I was using, so in an effort to work out what I'd done wrong, I wrapped my rose yarn around my homemade inch gauge, 9 times, as loosely as possible.  As you can see with the gauge on the right, there is definitely room for more yarn on there, but I'd already confirmed with swatching that it was a worsted weight yarn.

These three yarns are another example of how basing yarn gauge on thickness alone is an unreliable method.  The yarns above are all classed as double knit, yet at first glance, they decrease in thickness from left to right. The first is a loosely spun plied yarn, the middle is a densely spun single ply and the third is a mohair yarn with a halo - making it very difficult to determine the WPI.

The problem is, WPI does not take into account the density, elasticity, loft, drape, halo or the inconsistencies of a handspun yarn.  It's also incredibly easy to unknowingly stretch or compress a yarn - giving you a false WPI reading.  
Undoubtedly, the only truly effective way of working out the gauge of a mystery yarn is to knit a tension square to make sure that it knits to the correct size for that yarn gauge.
However, I decided to make myself a reference tool, so that I could learn exactly how WPI should be measured and I would then have a resource that I could compare future handspun yarns to.  I'd much rather knit a swatch for gauge once, rather than four times - as I did for the rose yarn.

My theory was that if I have a lot of yarns that I already know the gauge of, I can make a visual and tactile reference tool that would show me exactly how those WPIs should look, as well as being a useful resource for quickly trying to establish the gauge of handspun yarn.

Fingering / 4ply
14 wpi
Sport / Baby
12 wpi
Double Knit
11 wpi
9 wpi
Heavy Worsted / Aran
8 wpi
Bulky / Chunky
7 wpi
Super Bulky / Super Chunky
5-6 wpi

I used the Ravelry standard yarn weights to give me the WPIs of all the yarns that I knew the gauge of and worked backwards from there.  (I'm from the UK, so I'm used to slightly different yarn gauge terms than the US.  I've listed the UK gauge second - although we rarely use 'worsted' to describe yarn weight in the UK.)

How to make your own yarn gauge reference tool

Materials I used to make a Yarn Gauge Reference tool

First print out the sheet of yarn gauge tags onto cardstock.  I used some 250gsm linen card from Craft Creations.

Here's a close up of the tags, but if you print out the PDF here, the inch measurement should be accurate.

If there's one thing I've learned from making this inch tool it's that yarn needs to be wrapped as loosely as possible when you are measuring WPI on the Ravelry WPI system.  I realised that if you don't somehow attach your yarn to your WPI tool, it's virtually impossible to measure the WPI of a yarn, without inadvertently putting a little bit of tension into it.  I taped my yarn to the back of the tags and then wrapped it around the appropriate number of times for that yarn type.  The yarn above is labeled as a sport/baby weight, so I wrapped it around 12 times and then taped it to the back of the tag.

After writing on my yarn weight details I used my Crop-a-dile to punch holes in the top and bottom of the tags and then inserted the eyelets.  I used 1/8" and 3/16" eyelets as I found that yarn thicker than worsted would not fit through the 1/8" eyelets.  I had the Crop-a-dile and eyelets left over from my scrapbooking days, but if you're buying eyelets specifically for this project I would recommend the larger 3/16" eyelets.

I attached a 12mm jump ring to the top of the tag, opening and closing it sideways with pliers.

It's quite difficult to see in this picture, but I used a Big Eye Needle to thread about 30cm of yarn through the lower eyelet.  As mentioned previously, I needed larger eyelets for worsted/aran and above yarns. 

Here's one of the tags finished, with yarn attached with a lark's head or cow hitch knot.  I made 21 of these, 3 for every yarn gauge I wanted to reference.  I'll probably add more in the future to give me a wider reference for comparison.

I opened up the 2-inch loose leaf binder ring and threaded on my newly made tag next to the other two baby/sport yarns, making sure that the jump ring was facing in the same direction as all of the others.

Here's how my yarn gauge reference tool looks with 21 tags on.  I love it!  It's so visual and tactile and just seeing the yarns gradually increasing in thickness is going to really help improve my skills in determining the weight of a yarn.  It's going to be so much easier comparing yarn with yarn, rather than a line on a piece of paper or wood. It will also be an aid in reminding me of the different idiosyncrasies various fibres have, and the effects those characteristics have on WPI.  I don't for one minute think it will eliminate the need for swatching, but I'm really hoping it will help me to get it right first time more often.

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make this yarn gauge reference tool. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.


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