A story and pawject about fillable and un-fillable voids.
I remember waking up to cold, wet toes. My tired eyes struggled to recognize Barça as she lay across the foot of the bed, almost camouflaged in the dark against our chocolate-brown blanket. Her eyes glistened in the sliver of sunlight peeking through our bedroom window and her tail flailed wildly as our eyes met, thumping rhythmically as it struck against the bed.
“Hello, sweet girl,” I cooed, sitting up and tousling the fur atop her head. “Were you licking my foot?" I already knew the answer. Before she could respond, I continued, "You’re so gross.”
Her tail sped up and she excitedly yipped as if to proudly exclaim, “Thank you!"
Carlos groaned and rolled at the noise, startling Barça onto her feet. This was our usual morning routine.
Barça jumped from the bed and trotted to the bedroom door, her groggy mom in tow. As I pushed the pile of sheets from my body and moved my feet toward the bed’s edge, the top of my foot snagged on the blanket. I struggled to wriggle my foot free and realized that it hadn’t just caught on the fabric, but that my foot had gone right through it. I quickly came out of my sleepy haze, and reached down to my wet (and sticky) toes to find them surrounded by an equally saliva-soaked ring in the blanket, a hole crudely chewed out of its center. My foot now free, I sprung to turn on the light and found not one, but two fresh, wet holes in the bedding, the centers spat out onto the ground.
“Barça!” I whined, turning to her with a frown. She looked so self-satisfied, her mouth agape and tail still swishing to and fro.
“Just don’t do it again, okay?” I tried to reason with the puppy delinquent. Scrappy to the core, Barça’s demeanor remained unchanged. Our blanket suffered two more injuries on separate occasions before Barça renounced her late night vandalizing habit.
The blanket had been with Carlos and I from the very beginning of what was then our third year of cohabitation, so there was no way I would get rid of something so sentimental because of a few holes. Between paw-renthood and work, dealing with the holes was very low on my priority list, and they remained unpatched for over a year. Every now and then, my inner neat freak bemoaned the missing chunks while my inner conservator carefully considered the best methods to fix them. I eventually determined that I would patch over the holes, retaining the shapes Barça created. As upset as I should have been by the whole situation, I secretly wasn't sad that she left her mark on something already so special to me, which in turn, made it all the more cherishable.
The idea of writing “Barça was here” on each patch was initially a nod to her scrappy-and-proud-of-it attitude and her early life on the streets. Carlos and I joked that if she were human, the equivalent of her actions would be tagging buildings with similar phrases in the middle of the night.
When Barça grew ill and it became clear that she wouldn’t be with us much longer, “Barça was here” took on a very different sentiment. You see, when pets die, society doesn’t necessarily expect that they should be mourned the same as humans. I knew that family, friends, coworkers, and other people aware of my loss might not necessarily fathom the way in which I internalized it. They might not understand that to me, it was my baby dying. Once the inevitable happened, it seemed as though some people expected me to move on. One acquaintance even went so far as to bluntly suggest, “Just get a new one.” If you've ever loved and lost a pet, you know that moving forward is not simple or quick and that your companion is not replaceable nor forgettable as some would like to believe. Your pet was a living, feeling, and loving creature and their life, no matter how long, meant something to you and to this world. They weren't your flesh and blood, but they were a part of -- if not, your entire life, and they were here.
Barça was my life, and It was incredibly difficult to move forward after she died. At first, I wanted only to stay in bed so as not to face life without her. When I finally motivated myself to go out into the Barca-less world, each moment felt like a struggle against a meltdown... but it slowly became more bearable. I returned to work. I eventually revisited our favorite haunts to take the walks that we couldn't enjoy together in her last weeks. Now, when I arrive home each day, my heart still sinks to know that she's not waiting to meet me at the door, but as I wrap myself in my patched blanket each night, I wrap myself in my memories of her and am happy to know that in some way, Barça not only was, but always will be here.
Barça and I patched the blanket a few weeks before she passed away. It was a nice way for us to bond and didn't require significant effort on her part. With that being said, this can be done before or after a pet's passing and is perfect for pets of any ability and at any life stage (it's also perfect for humans of various life stages with minimal sewing skills!). It's a wonderful way to [literally] make memories together.
What you'll need:
- Any household item made of fabric that has sentimental value to you and your pet (it doesn't necessarily have to be destroyed)
- Enough fabric to patch over holes (or to create patches in the shape of your choosing) when folded, plus a little extra for good measure
- Tracing paper
- Marker for tracing (use a pen or pencil at your own risk. They might accidentally poke a hole in your tracing paper)
- Straight pins
- Cutting mat
- Precision knife or craft scissors
- Fabric shears
- Sewing needle (or sewing machine)
- Thread to match (or complement) your fabric
- Non-toxic fabric paint or fabric marker(s)
- Tailor's chalk (optional)
- A four-legged companion (optional)
- Grooming/paw wipes (optional, but strongly recommended if your four-legged companion is participating)
- Lots of treats (definitely not optional if your companion will likely go for their paws!)
What to do:
1.) Prewash and dry the item to be patched and the patch fabric. Craftsy has a useful guide for washing several kinds of fabric, here.
2.) Lay the dry item to be patched face up so that the hole (or area where you plan to place a patch) and the immediately surrounding area are flat and taut.
3.) Tear off a portion of tracing paper larger than the hole to be patched and pin it so that it is smooth and taut over the hole. Trace around the hole about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch wider all the way around the hole (the more frayed the edge of the hole, the wider you should trace. You'll need uninjured fabric to sew the patch edges onto). Repeat for each additional hole. Set aside the item to be patched.
- If you can't differentiate between which side of your tracing paper is inked, label the inked side "up".
- You can make your patch(es) whatever shape you want; however, if the patch(es) are covering a hole, it/they should be large enough to cover the hole with room to spare.
- Another idea is to trace the perimeter of your pet's paw to create paw-shaped patches (perfect for small or no holes). If your pet fidgets, you could try to get one good trace to use as your master shape.
4.) Lay the tracing paper flat and ink side up on the cutting mat. If the paper rolls, pull the paper taught and tape the corners to the mat. Using a precision knife, carefully cut around the traced shape(s). OR carefully cut around the traced shape(s) using scissors.
5.) Retrieve the dried patch fabric and iron as necessary. Lay the smoothed fabric on top of the cutting mat or another flat surface. Fold in half to create a thick patch and smooth until flat.
6.) Lay the tracing paper patch shape(s) face up on top of the fabric, along the folded edge. Pin the shape(s) to the fabric, pulling them taught. Pin as close to the edges as possible. Leave 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch between each shape, in case you accidentally over-cut.
7.) Using fabric shears, carefully cut around your shape(s).
8.) Begin removing the tracing paper from the fabric shape(s). To keep the sides of the shape(s) together, I suggest removing the pins one at a time, repinning each through only the fabric shape(s) before unpinning the next portion of the tracing paper.
- If you think you'll have difficulty differentiating between which side of your shape(s) is/are face up, mark the reverse (face down) side with a tiny line with tailor's chalk.
9.) Sew the edges of the shape together to create a patch. You can sew it however you want, but if you are a novice with a needle and thread, I suggest trying your hand at simple a blanket stitch. This will prevent the edges from fraying in the future.
10.) Once you've created the patch(es), it's time for the most fun part (in my opinion): decorating! Fetch your fabric paint and/or markers and hop to it! Make sure you allow the paint and/or ink to dry completely before continuing!
- Get your pet involved (if possible)! I stamped Barça's paw onto my largest patch, and tagged, "Barça was here" beside it. I initially used a fabric ink pad to stamp, but later filled in her paw print with a marker since the stamp barely showed and I worried it would eventually disappear in the wash. Word to the wise: dip your pet's paw in paint for a more natural print. Thoroughly wash the paint from your pet's paw after. Follow the wash with a grooming wipe for good measure and make sure to give your pet lots of praise and treats for being such a paw-esome helper!
11.) Lay the item to be patched face up on a flat surface. Smooth out and pull taught. Using straight pins, carefully tack each patch over the corresponding hole (or wherever you want).
12.) Thread your needle. If you are hand-stitching, seal the edge of your thread with a knot. I always like to triple knot to be sure! Sew the patch to the other piece of fabric, keeping your stitch close to the patch's edge (less than 1/8 of an inch) . If you are hand-stitching, start by pushing the needle through the fabric from underneath both the large piece of fabric and the patch's edge. Make sure that your needle pierces both the large fabric and the patch, then pull all the way through. Continue to stitch around the entire perimeter of the patch. (I used a super simple straight stitch.) Seal your stitches with a knot in the thread, ideally on the face-down side. Repeat for each patch.
... And voila!
Kate is Barça's mom, as well as the founder and content author of Barcelona & Company. When she's not doting on her adorable pup, Kate is a full-time art and architectural researcher and writer.