The Kardiac Kitten: A Feline Masterpiece

In December 2008, I met a small sickly kitten who would become my constant companion and my unfailing friend during the time when my mother died from cancer.

Mom lived with my sister Julie, and Julie never met a cat she didn’t like (it runs in the family). Julie had adopted a couple of kittens from a litter of barn cats. Sierra looks like a purebred Siamese. Chevy looked like a weedy little scrap of a thing. I met them at Christmas 2008. Mom’s last Christmas.

Squib December 2008I was in Indiana for most of 2009, spending time with Mom (who was going downhill in stops and starts) and helping Julie, who was working full time and has two kids. Chevy quickly adopted me as the human who was most likely to save her from the various dangers in her new life. Mostly the kids, because they were too young to tell the difference between toys and live animals.

It became clear that Chevy was going back to Texas with me, an arrangement that suited all of us. She’d be better off in a quieter home. And in 2009, she had health problems — mostly asthma at that point — that could be fixed. I could help Chevy feel better, when none of us could really do anything to help Mom.

[In addition to a new home and new friends, Chevy got a new name when she came to Texas. My husband David started calling her Squib. A squib is a small firecracker, and that suited her far better than her original name.]

Squib was scrappy and smart and reckless. She was the top cat, even though our other four cats were much larger — she had cat voodoo. She loved road trips. She slept on my pillow and was always with me when I needed another soul to touch, especially when Mom died. Her ideal weight, according to our fabulous vet, was 7 pounds. She never got there. My friend Jenny refers to her as a perma-kitten.

Squib and ISquib had a number of health problems, most significantly an immune-system condition that gave her horrific gum disease (we were able to fix that) and a congenital heart condition (not fixable). She was the Kardiac Kitten. She survived a number of health crises, but we finally had to let her go in February 2014.

I’d had four years with the most important cat ever.

I’ve lost friends and family and other animal companions. Losing Squib has been like losing Mom, and I’m massively frustrated because I don’t know how to explain it to people. I can write. [Looky here, I’m writing.] But “my cat died” either gets blank looks (from folks who aren’t into animals) or condolences (from people who do share their lives with animals, and understand what losing a companion is like).

I don’t have words for the difference between losing other cats that I loved a lot, and losing Squib. It’s vastly larger and harder, even more than most humans I’ve lost, no insult intended to the people.

Worse, no one realizes that they don’t understand what I mean. “My cat died” seems pretty straightforward, and there really aren’t a whole lot of other ways to say it.

After Squib died, I made a scrapbook. It’s way bigger than she was, and it’s got pictures and poetry and yes, beadwork, all in the attempt to capture what was special about my cat, and why I was so devastated. The scrapbook does that, but I found that I hadn’t gotten the need to express my loss out of my system.

So 2014 has become my year of the cat, as far as jewelry making is concerned. I’ll be starting a gallery of the pieces I’ve already done (and eventually, even stuff that’s not related to cats at all).

Right now, I’m working on the largest piece of beadwork I’ve ever tackled, called A Feline Masterpiece. The title quotes Leonardo da Vinci, who said “Even the smallest feline is a masterpiece.” Well, she was.

It’s been slow going. I don’t have a lot of great pictures of Squib because we just didn’t expect her to die so soon. The picture I wanted to use needed a lot of love and attention in Photoshop, which my husband David generously provided. Converting the pattern to a beadwork design involved a program called Bead Creator Pro, which is by no means “plug and play” – I spent about 40 hours tweaking the pattern into something that captured Squib’s expression and personality. (I’ll write up what I’ve learned about making the best pattern possible, at least with BCP, in a later post.)Cover page from loom patternIn addition to designing a pattern I liked, I had to figure out ways to handle such a large piece. The finished picture will be about 9″ by 9″, and is built out of 23,940 beads.

There’s remarkably little advice out there for bead weavers who want to make large tapestries. I’m making it up as I go, somewhat desperately. I knock containers of beads off my table and I can’t keep track of the number of warp threads I’ve added, and we have kittens who don’t understand about staying off the desk, and… well, you get the idea. I can’t just whip out a few vials of Delicas and get to it.

I’m hoping that what I try will be useful to other beaders, both those doing loomwork and those looking for ideas about how to “organize their process.” It’s under so much construction that my readers should be wearing hard hats.

If I’m really lucky, the experts will leave comments that will help all of us.

I began weaving on 13 June 2014. You can track my progress in the upper right hand corner of this page, and I’m posting photos here on the blog.

As of this post, I’ve finished about 20% of the work. It’s going to be a couple of days before I can dive back into it – I changed one of my background colors and ran out of beads. Argh. Waiting for beads. Again. [I suppose I can start the edging on the left side….]

Progress 16 June 2014My hope is that the emotional significance I can’t put into words will be communicated, or at least implied, by the time and effort it takes to weave this picture. I will always have feline companions. But there will never be another Squib, because the unique combination of circumstances and personality and time spent together can’t ever happen again.

If you’ve made it all the way through this absurdly long post, I’m very very grateful for your attention, and I hope that as I add bead-related content to this blog it will be useful for you.

I can’t count to 180 warp threads – help!

[The next few blog entries are going to discuss the various problems I seem to always run into when I bead — sometimes only on the loom, sometimes for off-loom weaving as well. I haven’t found a lot of guidance for klutzes or people who aren’t confident about loading up 180 beads at a time. If I’m lucky, more knowledgeable weavers will give me better ideas :-)]

I don’t know why this is such a problem for me, but even on small loom pieces, I have a hard time counting warp threads accurately. I get started, and somewhere around 30 or 40, I lose track of where I’m at. Combine this with remembering to add the 1 extra warp thread, doubling the outside edges, and (sometimes) using Erin Simonetti’s “Trice Weaving” trick for adding an edging as you go, and things get ugly really fast.

In addition to bead weaving, I knit lace. I’d literally be lost without my stitch markers, which indicate the boundaries between different sections of the lace pattern. These help me keep track of my location within the pattern, and to check that I’ve got the correct number of stitches on my knitting needles.

What has this got to do with loom weaving? I haven’t thought of any way to add a physical “marker” to my warp threads. But I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of equivalent method for the loom, and a couple of days ago the light bulb went off.

As I read through the Mirrix documentation, and a lot of other Web sites, I discovered that you can occasionally skip warp dents (the spaces between the warp spring coils) while you’re dressing the loom, without impacting the finished tapestry. I think it’s normally done if you’ve got bead sizes that don’t fit perfectly into any of the available warp coils.

This is brilliant because it means I can skip warp dents while I’m warping the loom, and use the skipped spots to help me count. My current piece is 180 beads across. After every ten warp threads, I’d skip the next slot (on both my top and bottom coil).

Skipping warp dents to help count!Now I only have to count to 18, and the gaps are easily visible. Talk about lifesavers.

Today I finished the first piece of the tapestry, and as this picture shows, the skipped dents really don’t have an impact on the tension or appearance of the weaving.Progress Day 1 - 7% finishedToday I added 1, 848 beads to the tapestry. There’s 23,940 in total, so I’m now done with 7% of the total. Yay!

Adding a tubular clasp to a woven bracelet

In the world of “no warp ends” bead weaving, I’m a throwback. If I’m making a bracelet, I will weave the warp ends in to finish the piece unless I’m in a screaming hurry. Yes, it’s time consuming — but it’s not much worse than hand hemming a dress, or blocking a lace shawl, or any other thing I’ve spent time and effort and money to create. The end result looks great.

There’s an invisible benefit that’s even more useful. Weaving the warp ends back into a bracelet reinforces the strength of the “fabric” exactly where it takes the most wear and tear: on the ends, where the clasp is attached.

After all the tedium of end-weaving, I want the clasp to be consistent with the rest of the workmanship. It has to be secure, both in terms of staying attached to the bracelet and in keeping the bracelet around my wrist. It needs to be attached elegantly, or at least in a way that doesn’t detract from the quality of the design or the weaving — I don’t want to see the stitches that hold the clasp in place on the front of the bracelet.

[My last requirement is inspired more by repairing torn clothes than reweaving broken jewelry. I’d like to attach the clasp in a way that minimizes stress on the thread I’ve used to weave my bracelet, as well as on the individual beads. If the clasp is sewn directly into the thread (without going through any beads), the movement of the bracelet as it’s worn will eventually cut through the thread. And if you’re sewing the clasp through your beads, are your beads strong enough to take the stress? I don’t use Delicas for their structural integrity…]

You can deal with all these issues by lining the whole bracelet with embroidery backing or denim or some other sturdy fabric, and then sewing the clasp to the lining. But you can get the same benefits, without the added weight and drape of fabric, by attaching the two halves of the clasp to a small tab of sturdy fabric and then sewing the fabric to the bracelet.

I’ve used this trick on loom woven bracelets that are sized about a quarter of an inch shorter than the length I wear, so it presumably can be used for no-warp-ends loom weaving without much modification. I haven’t tried it on other bracelet styles, but that’s probably only a matter of time…

I want to add this 5-ring clasp to my cat yoga bracelet. I tried just sewing it together and it looked like cr….awful. So instead, I’m sewing each side of the clasp to its own little piece of embroidery backing, which I’ve cut to the same width as my bracelet (not including the edge embellishment).

clasp-tabs-1The tabs are the same width as my bracelet, but the clasp isn’t. So I (roughly) centered the clasp piece on the fabric tab, and then stitched the clasp to the tab.

After I attached the tab to the first half of the clasp, I slid the clasp back into one piece:

First hafl of claspThis lets me position the second half of the clasp on the second fabric tab, so the pieces will line up correctly when they’re attached to the bracelet.

Positioning second tabI trimmed the tab on the left so it was a closer match to its partner.

Both pieces of clasp attached to fabricFinally I attached each fabric tab to an end of the bracelet. I stitched the short ends of the tab through the edge Delicas, and stitched across the long edges directly across the warp threads. The fabric tabs distribute the strain of the clasp across the entire tab. The “protective layer” between the clasp and the weaving minimizes the risk of damaging the weaving through normal wear and tear. The image below shows me sewing through the edge Delicas.Attaching first tab to bracelet

I kept an eye on both sides of the bracelet as I attached the tab. Otherwise I might not have noticed that the black tab is starting to show at the bottom of the bracelet — I can adjust its position as I sew around the tab.

Tab out of position

Sew the second tab onto the bracelet, checking that it’s in the right position relative to the first half. Here’s what the finished piece looks like:

Finished bracelet - frontFinished bracelet - backIt’s a great fit, and the clasp stitching is invisible.

I hope this helps, and if this has been documented anywhere else please leave a comment so I can add the reference.