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Santa makes salamanders!

Santana playing with his catnip salamander by Elizabeth RuffingMerry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone! I spent yesterday stuffing catnip into toys. I still have a catnip-induced headache, but the kitties were happy. Santana received his very own catnip salamander. I think he likes it.

Santana's catnip salamander by Elizabeth RuffingThe salamander is brown with polka dots on one side, and green with polka dots on the other. I’m not sure I have his legs going the right way. I was modifying a pattern, Simplicity 3953. It may no longer be in print, but there are some to be found on Etsy and eBay. I scanned the smallest version and made it a little smaller. Then I flipped and redrew parts of it in Photoshop. But you could use it as is and just fill it with catnip.

Santana playing with his catnip salamander by Elizabeth RuffingSantana loves getting special presents.

Santana playing with his catnip salamander by Elizabeth RuffingI wrapped the presents for everyone else. The cats needed a little help opening theirs. Oliver Bunny didn’t want to be bothered. I opened his wicker ball for him. He pushed it with his nose and grunted at me. I think he was more in the mood for a nap. It is unusually warm here and gray.

Santana playing with his catnip salamander by Elizabeth RuffingI received such a nice message this week, from someone who adopted a Hug Me Slug, and who has been having a rough time with stress and illness. I was touched that she read my blog, from the beginning, and found it calming. I hope she will keep feeling better every day, and that the package I sent her will bring her some joy and comfort. And, wow, someone made it through my blog. 🙂

Santana playing with his catnip salamander by Elizabeth RuffingI’m not sure what to do on holidays. I know what to do before Christmas, surely, but not what to do on Christmas. I feel like I should get back to work, immediately. We opened some presents, I ate some candy, and we’ll have dinner later. I sat outside for a while, with Henrietta. I’m trying to make a holiday of it. I would read a book, but my head hurts. Holidays make me feel like I am waiting around.

Santana playing with his catnip salamander by Elizabeth RuffingI should be good at relaxing. I have these fine furry examples all around me.

I hope you all enjoy your day!

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Catnip toy tutorial for catnip squares, cigars, and kickers with free patterns

Tabby-and-white cat playing with catnip squares and kickers
I made up free catnip toy patterns for catnip toy squares, cigars, and kickers, and a catnip toy tutorial to show how to make them.

Tabby-and-white kitty cat resting his chin on a catnip cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingThese catnip squares, cigars, and kickers are being enjoyed by all the kitties.

As I mentioned in my last post, we have additional kitties in the house. I decided I would make some catnip toys to smooth the jealous feelings and cheer everyone up. This is a tutorial showing how I made them.

Tabby-and-white kitty cat sitting on a pile of catnip toys, by Elizabeth RuffingI based the approximate sizes and shapes on catnip toys I got from Alley Cats and Angels, a local cat rescue here in North Carolina. They have a variety of catnip toys you can order by mail, and all the proceeds go to help their rescue cats. Their catnip squares, cigars, and kickers are all made by volunteers. They have additional catnip toy designs as well. They use potent organic catnip to fill their catnip toys. Our cats love them.

I made mine a little differently, with just catnip inside, instead of stuffing as well. The cats enjoy them either way.

Tabby-and-white kitty cat playing with a catnip cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingI used Frontier Catnip Leaf and Flower Certified Organic Catnip for mine. I found it online on It comes in a great big 1lb bag, shown below. You can also find organic catnip at Target, Walmart, PetSmart.

1lb bag of Frontier Catnip Leaf and Flower Certified Organic Catnip, by Elizabeth RuffingI made up template patterns for catnip squares, cigars, and kickers with a choice of cropped corners or squared corners. I made mine with the cropped corners, and my directions are for the toys with the cropped corners. Pictured below are the cigars and 4 1/2 inch squares.

Catnip squares and cigars, free catnip toy pattern by Elizabeth RuffingYou can also draw the shapes with the following measurements on card stock, and cut them out to use instead, if you don’t have a printer. If you want cropped corners like I have, mark a dot 1/2 inch down from each corner edge, draw lines across the corners, and clip the tips of the corners off your templates. These are the PDF’s of my catnip toy patterns. The sizes shown are the approximate sizes once sewn, before stuffing.

My pattern for a 4″ x 4″ catnip square

My pattern for a 4  1/2 ” x 4  1/2″ catnip square

My pattern for a 2  1/4″ x 10  1/2″ catnip cigar

My pattern for a 3 1/4″ x 10  1/2″ catnip kicker

Save them to your computer and print them on 8 1/2″ x 11″ card stock. I had a little trouble printing them, and so be sure to check that you want to print them at “actual size” in the options that appear when you print. On my computer, the only link to print them that worked was the picture link of the little printer at the bottom of the PDF page which shows up when you hover your mouse over the bottom of the PDF page.

Catnip toy templates laid out on fabric, free catnip toy pattern by Elizabeth RuffingTo start, cut your paper templates out of your printouts along the outer edges of the solid black lines. Clip off the corners of the paper templates to make the toys with cropped corners, as I did.

I pre-washed an assortment of cotton quilting fabrics to use to make my catnip toys. I followed the manufacturers’ instructions, washing the fabric on warm, after finishing the raw edges of each fabric with a zig zag stitch, on my sewing machine, so they wouldn’t fray in the washing machine.

I put the cotton quilting fabrics in the dryer for a few minutes, and pulled them out before they were totally dry. I ironed them so they would be nice and flat. I pre-wash all of my fabrics, to get rid of the chemical smell, and to shrink them, in case I want to wash them later.

Fold your fabric in half, selvage edge to selvage edge, right sides together. If you are using scraps, arrange them so the lengthwise grain is lined up and going in the same direction on each piece. The lengthwise grain line runs parallel to the finished selvage edge of your fabric.

The lengthwise grain is the grain line that stretches the least when you pull it. Give your fabric a small stretch to check, if there is no selvage edge left on your scraps.

The grain of the fabric is usually visible on quilting cottons. If you look closely, you will see threads run in two directions, at right angles to each other. The lengthwise grain goes the length of the fabric, as it comes off the bolt, and the crosswise grain runs along the width of the fabric, perpendicular to the selvage edge.

Lay the paper templates on the fabric with the arrows parallel to the lengthwise grain of the fabric. The long edge of the cigar and the kicker will be parallel to the selvage edge. The markings for the 2 inch openings will also be parallel to the selvage edge, as shown above.

Free Catnip toy patterns drawn on fabric and pinned, showing sewing lines, by Elizabeth RuffingBe sure to leave at least 1/4″ around each shape (that’s at least 1/2″ between two shapes that are next to each other) for the seam allowances.

You will be sewing right on the lines you will be drawing around the templates, and you will need to leave that space around the shapes when you cut them out.

Trace around the paper templates with a pencil, drawing the lines on the fabric, marking the opening on each one for turning. I used a mechanical pencil to draw my lines. Putting a piece of fine sandpaper, with the grit facing upright, underneath my fabric, helps keep my fabric in place while I draw my lines.

My openings are 2″ long and centered on the long side of the cigar, and in the middle of the side of the square. It is easier to sew the toys closed if you mark the opening along the lengthwise grain, parallel to the selvage edge, as I have done above, because there will be less stretch. That will help you when you stuff the toys, and it will help you when you hand sew the openings closed. It is much easier to hand sew along lines that stay flat and smooth.

After you have drawn your lines onto your fabric, pin the fabric shapes together, and then roughly cut them apart, leaving at least 1/4 inch of fabric around each fabric shape for the seam allowances.

Sewn lines shown on a catnip square, by Elizabeth RuffingSew right on top of the lines you drew on the fabric, leaving the 2 inch openings free. I used a tiny 1.2 stitch length. Start sewing immediately past the opening, sew around the edge, and stop when you reach the second mark for where the opening begins.

I wanted to reinforce my seams by sewing them twice and I wanted to reinforce the corners where I clip them. So, this is what I did: I started sewing at one opening mark. I sewed right past my turn at the corner, lifted the needle and presser foot, pulled the fabric a little so I could pivot, and then I continued to sew the next side of the shape, ignoring the crop line. I did this at each corner all the way to the other opening mark. Then, I pivoted and sewed back in the other direction along my line.

On the second pass through, I sewed the cropped corner lines. When I was back at the first opening, I lifted the needle and presser foot again, pulled the fabric free a little, and sewed across each cropped corner again, edge to edge, to reinforce it. I left the fabric right in the machine, and only pulled it as free as I needed to to sew.

When I was done sewing, I just clipped the threads to free the edges from each other. It sounds a little complicated, but I found it easier to do. As long as you end up with your sewing on top of the lines you drew, the rest doesn’t have to be terribly neat.

Untrimmed corner of a catnip square, showing sewing lines, by Elizabeth RuffingThe picture above show what my corners looked like, once they were sewn, before any trimming.

Corner of a catnip square with tip of the corner cut off, by Elizabeth RuffingNow it is time to trim your seam allowances and clip your corners. You need at least 1/4 inch of fabric around the outside of your sewing lines. Your trimming doesn’t have to be very neat. Just make sure you have the extra fabric around the outside of your sewing lines. Treat the first corner clips the same way, leaving at least 1/4 inch of fabric outside the sewing line for your cropped corners, as shown in the picture above.

(If you made squared corners instead of cropped ones, you’ll have just this one clip, at a diagonal across the outside of the corner point. You will need to be careful not to clip too close to the sewing line at the corner point. Before clipping squared corners, I sew diagonally across my corners, to reinforce them, and then I trim next to the diagonal sewing line I just made, leaving about 1/32″ or about three thread widths of fabric outside the sewing line.)

Corner of a catnip square with the corners clipped, by Elizabeth RuffingNow for the corner clips. When clipping corners, the first snip you take is roughly parallel to the seam line you are facing with the scissors, and the second snip is parallel to the next seam line you are facing when you snip. The clip shape looks sort of like a mirror version of the seam lines. If you sewed yours the way I did mine, you will have the reinforced sewing lines to use as a guide, as shown above.

Clip close, but not right up to the stitching, leaving about 1/32″ or about three thread widths from the sewing line, on the outside edge, so you don’t poke a hole through when you turn and stuff your toys.

Pressing catnip toy squares and cigars while inside out, by Elizabeth RuffingPress the shapes with a steam iron, at the appropriate setting for your fabric. I used cotton fabric, and a cotton setting on the iron.

Pressing back 1/4 inch of opening on catnip toy cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingFold back one side of your opening, along the drawn line. Press just the opening back along the drawn line. Flip the shape over, and fold the other side of the opening to match. Press just the opening.

Sewn and pressed catnip square and cigar toys inside out, by Elizabeth RuffingThe cigar and the square will now look like this, above.

Sewing Basket 5 1/2 inch Needle Grabber Hemostats for turning fabric right side out, by Elizabeth RuffingI used hemostats to turn my shapes right side out. Tube turners will work well also. I got my hemostats at Hancock Fabrics, but you can find them on eBay too. Mine have the teeth, which helps grip the fabric. The one I have is called a “Sewing Basket 5 1/2″ Needle Grabber”.

Pulling a catnip toy cigar right side out with hemostats, by Elizabeth RuffingHold the edge of the shape furthest from the opening, or one of the two, in the case of the cigar. Stick your hemostats inside your opening, and grab the edge you are holding, from the inside.

Pulling a catnip toy cigar right side out with hemostats, by Elizabeth RuffingPull gently until that edge comes out your opening.

Pulling a catnip toy cigar right side out with hemostats, by Elizabeth RuffingCarefully pull it all the way through. For the cigar, do the same thing for the other half of your shape.

Pushing the corners of a catnip toy cigar to the right side with hemostats, by Elizabeth RuffingStick your hemostats back inside the opening and use them to gently push along the seam lines to completely turn the shape right side out. Don’t poke your corners too hard, especially if you are using squared corners instead.

Unstuffed catnip square and cigar, turned right side out, by Elizabeth RuffingNow your shapes look like this, above.

Spooning catnip into a toy catnip cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingI poured my catnip into a bowl, so I could scoop it into my openings a little at a time with a spoon. I filled the cigars, shown above and below, on one end, then the other, and then filled in with catnip in the middle.

Fill your toys as firmly as you want with the catnip. Our cats seemed to prefer the ones that were more floppy, like bean bags, and weren’t filled all the way.

Sewing the opening of a catnip cigar closed by hand, by Elizabeth RuffingWhen you are ready to close your catnip toys up, pinch the folded edges of your opening together and sew them closed by hand with a slip stitch or a ladder stitch. Your closure will be neat and won’t be very visible, as shown below. You can even open the slip-stitching to replace the catnip with fresh catnip later.

Catnip cigar with the opening sewn closed, diy catnip toy tutorial by Elizabeth RuffingThe catnip squares are filled the same way, with spoonfuls of catnip. They are a little easier. You can fill them, and pin the openings together before hand sewing them shut. Just be absolutely sure to remove your pins!

Catnip squares pinned closed, diy catnip toy tutorial by Elizabeth RuffingThese are some recycled catnip squares. I bought these from Alley Cats and Angels, the local cat rescue, and after some wear, I emptied them, hand washed them inside out, pressed and sewed them using my 4 inch square templates, and refilled them. I liked the fabrics so much, I wanted to keep them going. They look almost good as new.

Catnip squares stuffed in assorted cat print fabrics, by Elizabeth RuffingBelow is one of my finished catnip kickers, which is wider than the catnip cigar, having a soothing effect on Bindi.

Black kitty cat playing with a catnip kicker toy, by Elizabeth RuffingI hope my free catnip toy tutorial is helpful to you and that your kitties will enjoy the catnip toys you make for them!

Santana the orange cat playing with a catnip square, by Elizabeth RuffingThey are popular here. Santana the Peeping Tom Cat, who is a visitor from our neighbors’ house, has his own collection.

Jojo the tuxedo kitten sneaking up on her catnip cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingHere is Jojo playing with her cigar. She loves to hide in the tub and sneak up on it. I call her a tub-shark:

I hope you enjoyed my catnip toy tutorial. Patterns and instructions are copyright Elizabeth Ruffing. Please don’t sell my patterns. You are welcome to use the catnip squares, cigars, and kickers patterns to make all the catnip toys you want. Please feel free to make toys to use for fundraisers, to donate to shelter cats, and to give to your friends!

Please buy some of Alley Cats and Angels’ catnip toys too! Cats love them!

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Lots of knots, catnip knots for Alley Cats and Angels of NC

Catnip knots by Elizabeth RuffingThis morning, I bagged up the accumulation of catnip knots in my workroom for a local cat rescue, Alley Cats and Angels of NC. They’ll be heading to Peak Fest in Apex, NC tomorrow, and the knots will be going with them. They’ll have more catnip toys and purr pad cat mats available, if anyone is local to the Triangle area of NC and would like to go. All the proceeds go to their medical fund.

The catnip toys are also available online in Alley Cats and Angels’ Etsy Shop.

Catnip knots by Elizabeth RuffingI had no idea how many catnip knots I had. I rolled and cut some more yesterday, to use up the pile of fleece strips I had sitting next to me. The bag was looking rather large. I had some cello sleeves I had ordered in a size I wasn’t using, and the knots fit nicely inside. I put five in each pack, and ended up with sixty-five packs! I closed the top edges with some Scotch tape, to keep the catnip fresh and to keep the smell inside. They were getting pungent!

Catnip knots by Elizabeth RuffingI made a header to fit the bags, and printed pages of them on card stock. I cut them out, folded each in half, and taped them onto the cello sleeves with double-faced carpet tape. Luckily, I had picked up a small pair of nonstick Fiskars scissors at Michaels. Cutting carpet tape with regular scissors was very difficult. It is so sticky. Getting the paper backing off was a bit tricky too, but all in all, they turned out really well, I think.

Catnip knots by Elizabeth RuffingI still had a big recycled box of peanuts in the back seat of the car. My mom helped out and scooped the peanuts into a bag, while I finished packaging the knots. We filled the box with the knots, and off we went to drop them off at the rescue, on our way to run some errands. A pretty good day’s work.

Alley Cats and Angels at Peak Fest 2011Update: Here they are at Peak Fest.

Feral Cheryl, sock cat by Elizabeth Ruffing at Peak Fest 2011Feral Cheryl the sock kitten was on hand too, to demonstrate how to safely trap a feral cat. She’s been working hard at rescue workshops in our area.

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Handmade catnip pouches

Fleece catnip pouchesI made some catnip-filled fleece toys for my kitty, who was a very brave boy at the vet’s this week. He needed to have four teeth and one root of a tooth, that had dissolved on its own, extracted! He’s done very well, and as nerve-wracking as it was for him and for us, I’m glad we brought him in. No one could have anticipated what was going on in there, since he wouldn’t let anyone look. After having these extractions, and the seven he had done before, I think he’s got about eleven teeth left. The vet assured me that he had a great white cat who, after age twelve, had no teeth at all. He lived to be twenty, and he ate dry food. So, even though this may be a genetic problem that may likely continue, the prognosis is excellent for his continuing to happily eat whatever he likes.

Kitty playing with a fleece catnip pouchI waited for his grogginess to wear off before giving him one of the catnip pouches I made, and he dove right on his. I just drew a shape on some fleece, knotted and inserted a finished cotton strip (a sewn piece of folded bias tape would work just fine) into the seam line (the end of the strip goes inside the toy before you sew), and sewed around the shape, leaving a small opening for turning and stuffing. I then filled each pouch with organic catnip that I got at Target, and sewed up the opening on each one with a needle and thread.

Envelope for the Kitty Tooth FairyOur vet tech gave me his teeth in this envelope for the Kitty Tooth Fairy. She even drew a cute winged tooth on it. So, in addition to a catnip pouch, he may have received something special from the Kitty Tooth Fairy’s visit. If it was food, I think he ate it before I woke up. He was very hungry the next day after his surgery, and very cheerful too. He’s been on pain medication and antibiotics, and he’s not to have any dry food for a few days, so it won’t disturb his stitches, which will dissolve on their own.

Kitty playing with a fleece catnip pouchCatnip pouches also make great pillows on which to rest your chin while napping. He’s been doing a lot of that.

Kitties playing with catnipThe rest of the crew was a bit upset I didn’t make enough catnip pouches for everyone, and I am planning to rectify that as soon as possible. In the meantime, they all got some catnip to roll around on and sniff. I just put a few teaspoons of it on the carpet. They all react differently, playing or just zoning out and falling asleep. Either way, the catnip was a big hit.

Kitty taking a catnip nap