Saturday, September 05, 2020

My Ultimate Guinea Pig Hay Corner

We've kept guinea pigs for nearly 4 years now.  They live in our living room, in a habitat that I built myself and over the last few years, I've learned quite a bit about guinea pig behaviour.  Our cage has slowly evolved as their needs have changed and I've observed their little idiosyncrasies.  

Apart from adding more hiding places, the main thing that has changed is that their hay corner has got bigger and bigger.  I've learned that plenty of hay makes for a contented piggy.  Hay should make up 80 to 90% of a guinea pig's diet and they spend most of their active time eating. They don't just eat hay, they hide in it, drag it around the cage, pull it out for fun, and lie on it, so why not enrich their environment by surrounding them with as much hay as is practical? 

Can guinea pigs be toilet trained? This is something I was intrigued by before we got guinea pigs.  Some people say that you really can't litter train a guinea pig, while others say that it is definitely possible.  The conclusion I've come to is that you can't really teach a guinea pig to go to the toilet where you want it to, but you can observe their behaviour and set up their cage so that they are more likely to go to the toilet in a preferred area.  Guinea pigs would rather go to the toilet in a shady corner, but they also go to the toilet where they eat. It is my observation that they are much more likely to use a litter tray if it's in a corner, topped with hay, has some kind of roof, is surrounded by hay and they can all comfortably fit on it at the same time, with room to move about.

I prefer maintaining a hay tray and hay bag, rather than just putting a pile of hay down for them because it greatly reduces the amount of cleaning I need to do.  The hay tray acts as a litter tray, which I do a surface clean out of every other day and so I only need to do a full cage clean out once a week.  Guinea pigs often go to the toilet where they eat, so the advantage of a hay bag is that the hay is off the floor and so it doesn't need to be replaced as regularly.  I also find that a full hay bag gives them a bit of a work out too and reduces boredom.  

They like to burrow into it to find a tasty piece of straw, but they also enjoy standing up on their hind legs and stretching up to reach the newest hay at the top.  We have one little guinea pig that actually jumps up and down on her hind legs to try to reach higher, which is just adorable!  

If I neglect to fill it up for several days, they might climb inside it, which is highly amusing, but it does mean that I’ll probably have to change all of the hay, as chances are, they would go to the toilet in there too!

When we first got guinea pigs, like many people, we wondered how long it was OK to leave them alone?  It's a tricky question to find an answer to, but after asking around and observing their behaviour we came to the conclusion that as long as they had plenty of clean hay, an extra water bottle and extra pellets, leaving them alone for one night away is preferable to the stress and upheaval of travelling in a carrier and being left in a strange place for just one night.  Giving them a large hay bag that is always full of clean hay is one way that we could be certain that they had enough hay to keep them happy while we are away for a short time. (Disclaimer - this and everything else in this post is just my personal opinion as a guinea pig owner.  It is in no way to be taken as expert advice.)

The Hay Tray

I've said that this is my ultimate guinea pig hay corner.  In truth, I'd love to give them an even bigger hay tray area, but unfortunately, the one they have now is really the largest tray my cage set-up can accommodate.  It's actually a 53.5cm x 34.5cm Zak Gallery serving tray.  I altered it with Gorilla TapeFablon and slide binders to seal up the holes, change the outer colour and to stop the guinea pigs from chewing the Fablon.

If I had room to accommodate a bigger cage I would probably go for something more like this 60cm x 60cm tray for their hay -

Maybe one day...

Making a Hay Bag

To make and attach the corner hay bag I used -

I think this is the 4th hay-bag I've made and each time it's got a little bigger, but fundamentally, the height of the bag and the size of the holes have remained the same.

I haven't exactly provided a pattern template, as the hay bag is specific to my cage, but hopefully seeing the plan of my hay bag pattern will help you design your own -

The corner that I want my hay bag in is 36cm along the back to the corner, and then 60cm from the back corner, extending forward along the right side.  I added a 2cm seam allowance on either side, which gave me a nice round 100cm total width for my hay bag pattern piece.  

I used a very large fleece blanket to make the hay bag as fleece doesn’t fray much when it’s cut and it’s quite stretchy.  If I’m cutting a single piece of fabric, to save time I like to tape my pattern onto the fabric rather than pinning it.

The size of the hay bag holes is pretty important.  I designed them to be big enough for an adult guinea pig to get their whole body in and out of (for safety reasons) but not so big that all the hay would fall out.  Having said that, this kind of hay bag is really best suited to longer, softer hay as they do like to burrow their little heads into it.  A stiffer, stalkier hay could lead to a hay poke injury.  Personally, I use a good quality ings or meadow hay in the hay bag, making sure that I pull out any woodier stems.

Here’s a link to my hay bag hole template to print out.

The first time I made a hay bag that fitted around a corner, I realised that I needed a much bigger gap between the two holes on either side of the right angle crease. When the bag is filled with hay, the two holes would otherwise be hidden within the fold.

Once I’d decided on my hole spacing, I marked out the corners of the hay bag holes with pins...

... and then cut two diagonal lines across the middle of the hole area between the pin markings.

From the front, I folded the 4 cut triangles over to the back to create rectangular holes...

... and then moved the pins to the back of the fabric ready for sewing.

With a zig-zag stitch, sew all the way around the hole...

...then cut off the excess fabric close to the stitching. 

Thankfully, fleece fabric doesn’t fray much, but as I was using a particularly fluffy fleece fabric, I used a sticky roller to remove any excess fibres that had come loose.

The hay bag holes are finished now, so it’s time to fold it over (right sides together).  I stitched a 2cm seam up either side of the folded hay bag...

...  and then turned over and sewed a single fold, 3cm hem all the way around the top of the hay bag.

Turn the bag the right way round.  To prevent the hay bag from falling open too much, I stitched down the centre of the fabric between the two holes on either side of the corner crease.

To clean it up and remove any tiny flecks of fleece fibres, I went over the whole thing again with a sticky roller.

I attached my hay bag using a combination of bulldog clips and garden twine threaded through the bag with a large wool needle.  As a guide to how high to place the hay bag, there is just enough clearance under the bag for an adult guinea pig to crawl underneath.

Making a Hay Corner Roof

I think I’d had my first hay bag for a week before I learned that I really needed some kind of roof to act as a barrier.  

We had one tiny baby guinea pig that would leap from the hay tray, straight into the top of the bag!  She was an excellent shot, but every time I saw her do it, my heart was in my mouth, worrying that she might go over the side.  After putting the roof on, she started jumping even higher - using the fabric roof as a backboard to bounce off into the bag.  As she got bigger, she stopped doing, it but I realised that the roof served a couple of other purposes too.

Guinea pigs don’t like feeling exposed and prefer corners and shady areas to go to the toilet. Adding a roof over the hay tray was one extra method of encouraging them to use it as a litter tray.  I also like to fill the hay bag until it is overflowing to enrich their habitat and encourage them to stretch and stand on their back legs.  I can pack the hay in so much against the fabric roof that the guinea pigs almost get a roof made of hay.  

As a guide to making your own, here is how I designed the pattern for my hay roof.

I wanted the short side of my hay roof to measure 37cm and the long side to measure 64cm (including 2cm seam allowances).  I added these numbers together to give me a circle diameter of 101cm that my pattern is based on.  The two sides meet at a 110-degree angle as this makes the roof arch upwards when it's attached, rather than sit flat to the cage.

To make and attach the Hay Roof I used - 

If you want to make a roof to the same dimensions as mine, you can download the 8 pattern pieces that I used here - 

I cut all of my pattern pieces out and taped them together.

To make my fabric hay roof, I decided to use some upholstery fabric that I had left over from making resin-coated fabric beads with Hillary's Blinds fabric.  I folded my fabric in half, right sides together and pinned on the pattern.  As it's based on a circle, there isn't a right or wrong way to position the pattern.

After cutting out the two pattern pieces, I sewed almost all the way around, leaving a small opening at the short side before the curve to turn it the right way round.  I snipped the corners off and cut into the curve, up to the stitching at regular intervals.

I turned my hay roof the right way round and then ironed all of the seams and the curves so that they sit as flat as possible.

I topstitched about 1.5cm along the curved edge to create a channel for the boning...

... and then hand-stitched the larger section of the opening closed, leaving the channel open for inserting the boning.

I inserted the metal boning into the curved channel and cut it to size.  I should say here that I tried plastic boning first, but it just didn't have the rigidity to hold the roof up.  Metal boning is much more robust but unfortunately much more difficult to cut.  (I find cutting a notch with wire cutters and then folding the boning forward and back on itself until the metal weakens and breaks is my preferred method for cutting metal boning.)

Once the metal boning was fully inside the channel, I hand stitched the opening securely closed.

All that was left to do was attach the hay roof to the sides of the cage using bulldog clips.

I made this little time-lapse film to show how my hay corner encourages my guinea pigs to stretch and move about more. because of the hay bag.

As you can see, hiding vegetables in the top of the hay bag makes for a great boredom-busting, enrichment activity for my guinea pigs.

Enjoy and happy crafting!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my other guinea pig craft posts - 

Building a corner C and C Guinea Pig cage

DIY washable waterproof guinea pig bedding

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

Please be sweet and share the love. Leave a comment, like my Facebook page for regular updates or follow me on Pinterest,  Blogovin' or Instagram


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

How to measure the length of handspun yarn using a counter app

There are many ways of measuring handspun yarn and I’ve tried most of them.  After a while, I learned that my most favourite method was to very slowly count the number of rotations my yarn swift took to empty a bobbin, (trying not to lose concentration), measure the length of a single loop of washed yarn and then multiply it by the number of rotations of the hank winder.  Inevitably, I would almost always end up losing count when I got into the few hundreds and so I would have to go back later and count every single loop of yarn.  Either way was either very laborious or extremely frustrating.

A few months ago, wollwebfarben posted on Instagram about a turns counter app that she had discovered to count the rotations of her swift. This was a game-changer!  I was so intrigued, I downloaded the free app straight away, played with it for a little while, bought the full version, and then put it away until I had a serious amount of yarn to measure.

Turns Counter on the App Store

It's a very simple and unassuming app, originally designed to calculate the number of turns when winding inductor coil.  I doubt very much that the developer realised just how useful it could be for hand spinners when he programmed it.  The app cleverly uses the phone's built-in magnetic field sensor to detect when a magnet has passed over it and so, with a little creativity, it can be set up to count the rotations of a yarn swift or hank winder.

I recently finished plying 500g of 6ply merino/silk to knit the Camelia cardigan from Refined Knits.

Camelia from Refined Knit

This was the first time I’d used the turns counter in earnest, so there was a little bit of a learning curve, but once I managed to calibrate everything properly, I was ready to go.

Materials needed to measure the length of handspun yarn 

The first thing you need to do is calibrate the turns counter app.  You somehow need to position the arms of your swift or yarn winder so that the ends will pass a few centimetres over your phone or tablet without touching it.  I have a 30-year-old umbrella hank winder, which did the job pretty well.  I was able to lower the main part of the yarn swift so that it sat just above my iPad on the table it was clamped to.

With the magnet well away from the phone or iPad, and the swift in the desired position, touch the zero in the top right to calibrate the device.

My yarn swift’s frame is mostly steel, which makes things interesting...  

My stack of neodymium magnets attach themselves to the swift arms securely, but initially, I found that the app was counting the end of every metal arm as it passed, so I had to experiment a little bit to find the ‘sweet spot’.  I had to spend a good few minutes altering the magnets’ distance from my iPad and increasing the threshold level until it was only counting up when the magnets passed.

If the arm ends of your yarn swift are non-ferrous you would need to either glue a magnet onto there, or wrap some steel wire around the end so that you could attach a neodymium magnet. 

It took a little trial and error, but the moment I got this to happen was very satisfying!

If you look carefully, (and ignore my shaky camera work,) you can see that I’ve got the threshold set to 50.  (All of the functions I’ve used so far come with the basic free app.)

Attach the start of your yarn to the swift using your preferred method.  I like to wrap the end of my yarn around itself several times on the second pass to hold it in place.  As I'd made two loops around the hank winder I used the plus symbol to move the counter onto 2.

Now it’s time to fill my yarn swift in the usual way...

I made this short animated gif of the turns counter in action, but I’ve made a YouTube video where you can see it in a much better resolution.

 I mentioned earlier that I’d bought the full version of the turns counter app.  This was purely because I wanted to be able to take a photo of my yarn on the swift with the turns count on the image. 

I could certainly have managed with the free version, but as I often take days or weeks to see a project through, it helped to quickly record the count in my photos app so that I had a visual reference.

To prepare your handspun yarn for washing, tie it in four places, wrapping the yarn through the middle, in a figure of eight.

Then give your yarn a wash and a rinse.  Soaking it relaxes the yarn and allows the twist to even out and set.  Washing also removes any oils that entered the tops during the blending and combing phase at the mill.  Depending on the fibre, you will probably also find that yarn will have puffed out and so it will probably be thicker and shorter than before its soak.

I tend to just add a splash of shampoo and leave it to soak for a while, then rinse and squeeze off the excess water in a towel.

...Then leave it to hang to dry. Unlike some spinners, I don’t hang a weight on my yarn while it dries as it can prevent it from shrinking and I’d rather it shrank before I knitted it.  I have read that hanging a weight on yarn is advisable if you’re going to weave with it though.

Once it’s completely dry, it’s time to measure the circumference of the hank.  It’s much harder to work out the circumference of an extremely large skein compared to one with much fewer loops

I’ve actually got three hanks to measure - two quite large ones and a small one that is 6 plied from the end of a couple of bobbins.

As all of the yarn was spun and washed in the same way, from the same fibre on the same skein winder, I can use the smaller skein to find out the approximate circumference of all of them.

Pull the hank tight with both hands and lay it down on the floor.  It’s important that you don’t put any tension on the yarn as it’s very easy to stretch it at this stage.

With a tape measure or metre ruler, measure the length of the skein in its relaxed state and double it.

In this case, the circumference of my skein is 2 x 71cm = 142cm.  Of course, the larger skeins would have a slightly larger average circumference as the yarn builds up further away from the central loops as it wraps around the skein winder, but it’s always better to underestimate how much yarn you have.

So the turns app tells me that I have 24 + 395 + 175 = 594 rotations of the yarn swift.

594 rotations x 1.42m = 843.48m

So hopefully I should have enough yarn to knit the Camelia cardigan.  

I like to wind my yarn into a centre-pull ball and attach a handspun yarn label so that I can work out how much yarn I have left over when I've finished my project.

I’m so glad I learned about the turns counter app!  In the past, I would have dithered and procrastinated when it was time to wind off and measure my yarn, but this does my least favourite part of the task for me.

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

If you enjoyed this DIY, you might enjoy some of my other spinning themed blog posts -

Free Handspun

Spinning Dog Hair

DIY Hackle

3D Printed Modular
Yarn gauge reference tool for hand spinners

Please be sweet and share the love. Leave a comment, like my Facebook page for regular updates or follow me on Pinterest,  Blogovin' or Instagram