The Ratboyz: Fred & Nick

The silver lining of the catastrophe that was my short life at Tellme is that I adopted two new pets: Fred and Nick, the Ratboyz. Tellme encourages its team members to bring pets to the office. I thought I was going to get a fish, but clearly biology's not my thing:

It's probably Fred on top - he's the alpha rat for now, although they're still in the process of sorting all that out. Fred has a dark spot on his back, which is usually how I tell them apart. And Nick's tail has a blunt tip, due to an inadvertent injury sustained during his first real adventure outside the cage. They're brothers.

Nick is much more excited than his brother at the prospect of fame on the Internet. I could hardly keep him away from the lens. Literally.

Fred illustrates the effectiveness of the macro setting, and demonstrates depth of field. Some bits are in focus, honest!

Ratboyz Favorite Pet Store

For folks in the South Bay area of northern California: Pet Choice, at the intersection of Moorpark and uh approximately Williams (address is 5180 Moorpark, phone 408-996-3814). Small, locally owned shop in business for more than 15 years, very well stocked, no animals for sale. The owner was there when tbird dropped in. Al, the amazingly knowledgeable and friendly owner, will special order anything if he doesn't already stock it. Alas, he has no Web site.

We also like For Other Living Things where tbird got our Martin's cage. But Al's Pet Choice is right on the way home from work.

Ratboyz Favorite Links

[external links will open in a new window]

The Dapper Rat -- invaluable for the new rat-friend
The Naming of Rats -- a group poem created by the Ratlist in honour of our beloved companions
New - Jan 2006 - more photos of Ratboyz being adorable
Feline Roommates -- we're forced to live with a bunch of cats - check them out!
Fred and Nick the Ratboyz -- because self-reference is fun
Glossary of Rat Behavior -- one cool piece of the very cool Rat Behavior and Biology site
Peas, peas, peas -- rats love peas. They will eat the skins eventually...
The Rat Fan Club -- another invaluable reference, hosted by the Rat Lady herself, Deb Ducommun

Ratboyz Approved Carrying Pouches and Beds

(tbird's first attempt to write down a pattern for crochet -- please feel free to send questions, comments or suggestions)

I am not a particularly skilled crochet-er - crochetist? - but I wanted to make beds and pouches for the boyz. In hopes that the "process" may be helpful to other folks, I've tried to document what I did here. It's not exactly a pattern, because things like gauge and stitch counts really don't matter much. Instead, I've described what I did to create a bonding pouch and a half-covered bed, and tried to include some information on places where the exact details will be dictated by things like the object you're trying to create, the number and size of the rats (or other pets) you're trying to accommodate, and the kind of yarn that you're using.

Rats who like to chew holes in things will clearly get through these rather faster than those who don't. Right now, I've got a bed attached to the cage wall on one level of the Martins' cage, and a pouch that I use to carry the Boyz around in.


Fred demonstrates the "one rat" option of the bed in the cage.

Nick proves that it's a bunkbed, too. There is enough space in the bed for them both to curl up, but of course since I'd like to photograph that, they won't do it.

The bonding pouch in action. As usual, Fred is sitting on his brother. This configuration not only emphasizes Fred's alpha-ness, but completely prevents me from scritching Nick's fluffy white tummy, otherwise easily accessible at the moment. Nick's blunt-tipped tail makes a cameo appearance.

Fred may be the happiest, most relaxed creature ever to grace this planet, especially now that Oliver is no longer with us. I'm sure I've never been this laid back.

Nick checks Fred for a heartbeat - it has nothing to do with getting into the picture, honest.

Every rattie needs a bonding pouch!

My favorite yarn for this is Lion Brands' Wool-Ease Thick & Quick. It's a blend of wool (for warmth and cuddle factor) and acrylic (for durability in the face of rat abuse), which can be machine washed and dried. It's also relatively inexpensive. I wanted something pretty substantial, both for rat comfort and for the best odds of long-term survival. My first couple of "crochet for rats" projects used plain ol' worsted weight acrylic yarn (two strands, for thickness and warmth). I also tried using one strand of worsted acrylic with a strand of Lions' Homespun. Those all worked, but I like the Wool-Ease a lot more.

Bulky yarn works up quickly, and takes up a lot of space (so you don't need to do a lot of rows to cover a particular area). If you use something less bulky, you'll probably need more rows. My crochet stitches tend to be a bit larger than gauge (which doesn't matter here but may be useful info). I did these two items using a J sized hook.

The projects are almost entirely done in double crochet, for speed. I've got studly boy rats, so I haven't made them particularly frilly or decorative, but that's a matter of preference.

Both the bed and the pouch are built "on top" of circular mats. The bed has two rows of double crochet for the sides, and a canopy that covers about half the area of the base. The pouch has three rows of double crochet for the sides, and a complete (tho' smaller) circle for the cover, as well as a neckstrap. The strap is just large enough to fit around my head, so the Boyz rest on my upper bosom (as the Victorians would say) - the perfect position for sniffing and scritching and rodentistry. The rats seem to really like the curved "walls" on the pouch - they end up in absurd and anatomically improbable positions when they doze off.

We really think these pouches are the ratz' pajamas...

The base

In order to make the bag or pouch sturdier and a little more solid, I work my double crochets in the "holes" between the stitches in the previous row. In addition to the structural benefits, this makes working with such bulky yarn a little easier.

The base is a circle. Mine's about 7 inches across, composed of 4 rows of double crochet. If you already have a pattern you like for a circle, or can do it without a pattern, then do that. Otherwise, here's the idea:

Begin: Chain 5 (you may be able to get away with a chain-4 if you're using less bulky yarn). Join ends with a slip stitch, to make a ring. Do not turn.

Row 1: Chain 3 (counts as first double crochet); 11 double crochet in ring. Join with slip stitch to first chain-3. Do not turn. In fact, you never turn in this pattern unless it's specifically mentioned (which it won't be).

Row 2: Chain 3 (counts as first dc); dc in same stitch as join, then 2 dc in each stitch around. You've just doubled the stitch count. Join with slip stitch to first chain-3.

Row 3: Chain 3 (counts as first dc); 2 dc in next stitch; then (dc in next stitch; 2 dc in next stitch) around to beginning. Join with slip stitch to first chain-3.

Row 4: This is one of the places where fudging happens. In a traditional crochet circle, you figure out your repeating pattern based on row number (at least if you think in algebra, which I do). You make the circle by interspersing (1 dc in next stitch) with the occasional (2 dc in next stitch) so the rows are always increasing in size. The number of (1 dc) that you do between the (2 dc) interludes is (row # - 2).

So for Row 4, you would traditionally do this: Chain 3 (counts as first dc); 1 dc in next stitch; 2 dc in next stitch; then (1 dc in each of next 2 stitches, 2 dc in next stitch) around. If your circle is laying properly (i.e. it's nice and flat), go ahead and do this. Then join with slip stitch to first chain-3.

If on the other hand, you're like me and you tend to "crochet large" relative to gauge -- or if the issue is actually the weight of the yarn, which is unusually thick -- you may find that your circle is getting a bit wrinkly. If this is true for you, follow this modified Row 4: Chain 3 (counts as first dc); 1 dc in each of 2 next stitches; 2 dc in next stitch; then (1 dc in each of next 3 stitches; 2 dc in next stitch; 1 dc in each of next 2 stitches; 2 dc in next stitch) around. You probably won't get to the (2dc) end point on the last repeat. Don't worry about it. Also, the mat looks tidier (at least for me) if I only put 1dc in the last stitch before the join, whether or not the repeat dictates 2dc instead. Join with slip stitch to first chain-3. This ought to flatten things out.

[This size is probably good for one or two smallish rats; if that's what you want, go on to The Wall.]

Row 5: Chain 3 (counts as first dc); 1 dc in each of next 3 stitches; 2 dc in next stitch; then (1 dc in each of next 3 stitches; 2 dc in next stitch) around. Then join with slip stitch to first chain-3. [This is the size I make for my two boys.]

If you want to make a larger bed or pouch, do as many rows as you like around the circle, for each row increasing the number of (1 dc)'s between the (2 dc) interludes, remembering to begin with a chain-3 and end with a slip stitch into the original chain-3.

The Wall

When I learned how to crochet, I was taught to make "walls" or "frames" around a circular piece by working "in even stitches" around a curved edge. In the context of my base, this means that when I got to the final row, I'd just do

chain-3 (counts as first dc); 1 dc in next stitch around

This works, but I learned a sturdier, better looking trick from Judith Swartz in her book Hip to Crochet. She calls it perpendicular crochet. The idea is that instead of working in normal double crochet all the way around the edge, you insert your hook for the double crochet in only the outside loop of the previous row - basically, in "half" the previous stitch rather than the full stitch. This creates a nice sharp corner for your object, well suited to the bizarre contortions of snoozy rats. I hope I haven't violated her copyright - I can't find anything about this trick on line!

In any event, once the base is the desired size, make the walls. Chain 3, then work (1 dc in next stitch) all the way around, being careful to insert your crochet hook under the outside loop only of the preceding row. Join the original chain-3 using a slip stitch.

For the bed version of the project, I use two rows of double crochet; for the pouch I use three rows (since the boyz are apparently likelier to end up hugging the walls on the pouch, or maybe it's just that that's the only time I catch them. Do as many as you like.

With the bulky yarn, I noticed that working the walls in one-to-one stiches with the lower row tends to be slightly larger than the preceding row - this may be an after-effect of the size of my stitches, or the yarn's bulk itself. From the rat point of view, this isn't a problem, because it adds more texture and curvy-oomph to the bag. But for the last row of the wall, I decreased the number of stitches by crocheting two stitches together, with three or four regular dc's in between.

[When I learned to crochet, I decreased the number of stitches by simply skipping a stitch in the previous row as I worked around, or by stopping a stitch early at the end of the row. Later on, I read about a tidier method for decreasing. This explanation is written for a decrease in a half double crochet row, but I'm pretty sure the technique can be hacked to work for double crochet as well.]

Bed Topper [Under Construction]

Pouch Front and Strap

I was hoping to work both the bed and the pouch in a single piece, so I didn't have to assemble anything. This led to a certain amount of "un-tidy-ness" in the design for the bed, and didn't work at all for the pouch (at least, my attempts to build the front on the pouch directly on the last row of the wall really annoyed me - it was a pain to try to get the pouch in a position in which I could do the perpendicular trick, and I pretty quickly decided that the following method was easier in the long run, and more aesthetic).

So to make the front of the pouch, make another circular mat. Depending on how curvy your walls are, and how you want the pouch to look, the "front" piece may be equal in size to the base, or a row smaller. In my picture above, the front is actually the same number of rows as the base. But I ran out of brown Wool-Ease, and the Homespun I used for the last row worked up ever so slightly "shorter," so the front is slightly smaller. I kinda like the way this looked; it's a good shape, the rats like being able to lounge pretty much in any orientation they like, and the stripe of mismatched yarn qualifies as trim.

Then attach the front to the walls, leaving some fraction of the seam open for ratties to climb in and out. A smaller opening means more cave-like happiness for the fuzzbutts, but less petting. A larger opening means a little less coziness (not that they're complaining), and provides access for lots of scritching and rumpling and foolishness. It also makes it harder for the attention-hog to block the human from petting the other rat.

Finally, the strap. I've worked mine starting from the wall row corresponding to one side of the open. I've just sorted stuck my crochet hook around one of the stitches in the wall, and worked two or three single crochets around the "post" of the wall's stitching. Doing this across the width of the wall ends up being 8 stitches, for me (yours may be different).

The rats like having a thick strap, cos it gives them more real estate for fooffing and investigating and sleeping. But the full 8 stitches is kind of wide for going around my neck, so I did 6 rows of 8 stitch wide, then 12 rows of 7 stitch wide (by dropping the end stitch on the side of the strap nearest to the front), and then another 6 rows of 8 stitch wide. Finally, I attached that end to the wall at the other side of the opening.

My strap ends up being about 24" long - with this yarn, and my crochet-ing, 1 row of double crochet is about an inch wide. I have a big head, so 24" of strap is comfortable for me to put on and take off, and leaves the pouch in a great rat-cuddling position.

I hope this description has been helpful! It's taken about as long for me to figure out how to write down what I did, as it does to make the pouch - a bit longer, if I'm really honest. It's a quick project. If I've left anything out, please let me know!

Last Updated: 3 May 2006

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