Sunday, 28 November 2021

Thinking outside the (music) box.....

During this past summer, between eye surgeries, I spent some of the downtime working on a challenging kit.  I do like a challenge.  Coming up with an idea and running with it, then working out how to get over (or around) the various obstacles which inevitably crop up along the way.

I get a LOT of ideas.  ALL the time.  They just pop unbidden into my head and take root.  Admittedly, the majority never get off the ground.... either due to their complete impracticality, or being too expensive, or too time consuming.  Or a combination of all of those things.  Or the fact that, with the best will in the world, they would NEVER work.

Over the years I've filled many notebooks with ideas for miniature projects and I'd estimate that maybe 45% have seen fruition.  For the remaining 55%, some of those I worked on for ages, before admitting defeat.  It's dispiriting and frustrating, but I've learned something new from every one.  Very occasionally, I've been able to revisit an abandoned project, when a suitable component has come to light, or an interesting workaround has presented itself. 

My most ambitious project kit to date is based on a French automaton doll and I've been working on the prototype for a while, in fits and starts.  I have to admit I'm waaaaayyyyy out of my comfort zone on this one, as I'm working with unfamiliar materials and techniques, but if I wanted a challenge I've most definitely got one!

That said, I am making progress, albeit slowly. 

This was the inspiration.... the piano-playing automaton in Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. 

Despite the whole "I relish a challenge" thing, I sensibly decided that making a doll which could actually PLAY a piano was not within my capabilities. However, making a piano that would actually play was certainly, probably, possibly achievable.

Initially I looked around for a small hand-cranked musical movement.  There were loads available but the choice of 'music' was limited and I didn't think that the tinny, plinkety plonk of a musical movement was quite what I should be aiming for.  I wanted real piano music, certainly, but music which sounded as though it might be played by a doll.

After several weeks of entertaining, but initially fruitless research, I finally found a solution, which would enable me to fill the air in a doll's house with proper music.

In addition, during my wanderings I came across a wonderful facsimile of an original catalogue by Roullet & Decamps, famous French automata makers, who almost certainly created the Lanhydrock doll.....


The whole thing is coming along nicely, although it definitely won't be finished in time to release before Christmas, which was my original intended deadline.

Regular readers will know that I'm hopeless without a deadline, plus, at the moment we have the added complication of dovetailing lengthy hospital appointments at destinations diverse and various.   So any deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, run the risk of being derailed by circumstances outside my control.

So it was serendipity when I recently received an invitation to participate in the Kensington Dollshouse Festival Spring Showcase, which will be held online (yayyyy!) and will take place on February 4-10 2022.   Admittedly a tad early for spring but eminently doable from the point of view of my automaton kit and all the other 'works in progress' which have been languishing since early summer this year. 

I've booked my spot and have unearthed my box of notes and components for the automaton and this week I shall be cracking on.  My #3 prototype is tantalisingly close to completion.... I just need to work out a few niggly, naggly problems challenges, which have so far eluded my problem-solving skills, but I know there's a solution if I just keep at it.

Also, that wonderful facsimile catalogue I mentioned earlier.... I'm painstakingly miniaturising it to accompany the kit.  Along with a copy of an original automaton receipt, for a frankly eye-watering sum, which will also be included in a little envelope.  

See.... this is what happens.  I somehow always have to further complicate an already complicated  project.  

It's definitely one of my less useful, special skills.  
 















Saturday, 27 November 2021

Pot Luck Fabric Boxes......

This week I've been tidying and sorting my workroom (whenever am I not?!) and came across the box of fabric packs remaining from my Super Sale.  Too many to combine into one mega pack, but not enough to go to the trouble of listing them all on the website.

So, I spent a few hours dividing all the packs between 10 boxes, counting them out so that each box had some of each pack, including plain and shot silks in pastel and jewel colours, shadow stripe silks, special patterned silks, cotton/lawn fabrics in stripes and checks, suiting fabrics and much more.  Plus assorted trimmings, including lace, braids, trimmings and ribbons, soft leather pieces.

There are a minimum of 30 pieces of fabric in each box.... mostly large squares, but also some offcuts.  Minimum value £45.

Cost per box £15, plus shipping.

Contents of one box... all are slightly different.

Several have already gone so if you fancy adding to your fabric stash just let me know and I'll put one aside for you. 😊

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Nailed it.....?

One of our major preoccupations at the moment, is making sure that PP gets enough calories every day to avoid weight loss.  

Six months ago we had the opposite problem, and were waging a constant battle against weight gain, although, to be fair, PP was doing much better than I was.

Now though, she is struggling to maintain her  current weight, and each quarter pound loss is met with dismay.  So she is in the possibly unique position of her dietician advising her to eat as much  of calorie dense foods as she can manage.

In the spirit of helping her achieve her daily calorie target, I've decided to take up home baking again.  I say 'again' as I used to bake regularly.  My grandfather was an enthusiastic baker and as a child I was often propped on the end of his enamel-topped table in the kitchen to help.  It's there where I learned how to make all kinds of pastry, feather-light sponges, wonderful fruit cakes and delicious biscuits.  I baked through my teens and into my 20s and early 30s... but around 30 years ago my baking gradually tailed off until it became non-existent.

When I decided to take it up again recently, I imagined that it would be like learning to ride a bike and I'd soon find my forte again.

Not so.

My first attempt at scones a few weeks ago was disappointing as they had weight and texture of rock cakes.  I put it down to the self-raising flour being out of date, and to be fair, they did taste fine.  Not classic scones perhaps, but perfectly edible when served with clotted cream and jam.

Since then I've bought a baking recipe book and today decided to try these.....


They're bloody not!  They took almost 3 hours!!!

It all started off fine and dandy....


I'd bought new flour (won't be making THAT mistake again) and assembled all the ingredients.  I don't have a posh baking mixer thingy so it had to all be done by hand, but I've made no end of cupcakes (or as they used to be known back in the day.... fairy cakes) before and there's no crumbling or kneading so I thought it would take no time at all.

2 hours later (yes, TWO. WHOLE. HOURS) I ended up with these.....


I know what you're thinking..... what's my problem?  Well, for a start the recipe, which I followed religiously, maintained that it would make 12 cupcakes.  I ended up with 22.  Perhaps my cake cases were too small. 

Also, and I'll accept that this is no fault of the recipe, the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it.  I used every container, bowl and spatula, all of which were covered in the chocolate mixture. When pouring it into the paper cases the mixture inevitably dripped all over the place, requiring me to wash all the worktops and mop the floor.  I honestly don't remember baking being quite so tiring or labour intensive.

While they were in the oven, I made a start on the chocolate buttercream, which I intended to pipe onto the cupcakes, in a Great British Bake Off styley.

This is sort of what I was aiming for...



I'd watched a video on how to do it, and it didn't look too tricky.  My chocolate buttercream seemed to be the right consistency.... not too stiff, not too runny.  I even managed to get most of it into the piping bag.  However my piping skills were sadly lacking and they looked way too much like a cowpat, with no definition. 

More of a splat than a swirl.

So I scraped the buttercream off and spread it on instead, aiming for an artlessly 'rustic' look, which, if I say so myself, was much more successful.  Although it took another hour to ice them all.

The final pièce de résistance was to be a scattering of assorted chocolate balls and sprinkles, which I fondly imagined would elevate them to a thing of beauty.  However, they wouldn't stick to the buttercream and rolled off the cupcakes, off the table and all over the floor.

By that time I'd definitely had enough and decided that further embellishment was unnecessary so after I'd crawled around to pick up all the renegade balls and sprinkles then tackled the veritable mountain of chocolate encrusted washing up I felt no sense of achievement or satisfaction.  Just sheer exhaustion.

Back in the day I used to have a designated 'baking day' and in the same time as I managed to turn out 22 decidedly lacklustre cupcakes I'd have created several batches of bakes, including biscuits, flapjacks, muffins and at least one larger cake.  Possibly also some bread, or focaccia. 

Either I was some sort of super-baker, or, as is more likely, in the intervening years my multi-taking skills have taken a serious downturn.

I'm not completely disenchanted though.  I just need to appreciate that my baking skills need a thorough re-training, and to set myself more achievable expectations.

In the meantime, we're going to have a cupcake each after dinner this evening.  At the very least, at probably eleventy hundred calories per cake, they should fulfil the brief of providing a calorie dense sweet treat for my ailing PP. 

EDIT:  We each had two (well... they were quite small) and they were delishus. 



Monday, 15 November 2021

Fairy Tale Phantasmagoria.......

The November Mini Miniature Show is now live and you can find my dealer page HERE

Those of us, of a certain age, will have grown up with fairy tales, in all their wonderfully amazing, often scary, sometimes gory, always magical splendour.  As a child, I vividly remember having a favourite book of fairy tales with the most incredible illustrations. 

Published in 1967, when I was 9 years old and already a voracious reader, I spent many hours immersed in the book, spellbound by both the tales and the sumptuous illustrations.

During the summer, I inadvertently stumbled across a vintage copy on the internet, and as well as bringing memories flooding back, it rekindled my enthusiasm and seeded the idea for a kit to celebrate all things Fairy Tale-ish.

As is my wont, one thing led to another, and over the past four months I've developed not just one, not two, not even three, but a frankly astonishing nine fairy tale themed kits!


The centrepiece is a wood-framed toy theatre with a colourful proscenium featuring opulent private boxes and an orchestra pit.  It includes nine different interchangeable pieces of scenery and backdrops, as well as sixteen precision cut, double sided fairy tale characters, which are cleverly magnetised so that they stand unsupported on the stage.  

Miniature toy theatre

A cast of characters perform different fairy tales

Scenery and backdrops can be changed

All the characters stand unsupported and can be moved around the stage


Included is a box to store the characters


Next comes a set of two different vintage boxed fairy tale games, each featuring 40 colourful game cards which store in boxes with illustrated lids. These can be used as is, or made into a nursery frieze, or framed in sets of 4 as nursery prints.  In all, 20 different fairy tales are featured.


Each set contains 40 cards depicting scenes from 10 different fairy tales


A set of 4 game cards showing scenes from Little Red Riding Hood

Then a fairy tale board game* with box and illustrated lid. The magnetised game board uses characters from the theatre and includes game cards and dice.




*Please note that as this game uses characters from the toy theatre, it is only available as part of the complete kit

Continuing the theme....a kit to make a boxed set of 6 wooden puzzle blocks, featuring six fairy tale scenes, including cards to show the completed puzzles.



Next, the inspiration for the whole kit, a set of eight wonderful fairy tale books, each beautifully illustrated in colour throughout.  The set includes Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, Babes in the Woods, Hansel & Gretel,  Puss in Boots, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.








Not finished yet though, as I couldn't leave out my favourite fairy tale (not to mention Small Dog's) Little Red Riding Hood and a set of boxed, precision cut, story cards.



Last but not least, a set of fairy tale themed paper dolls, and a set of dressing up masks.

Paper doll with a set of 5 precision cut costumes (costumes will vary) 

Set of 8 assorted precision cut dressing up masks, scaled for doll's house children
 (designs will vary)

Although most are available individually, for the duration of the online show they will ALL be available as one mega kit at a significant discount on the prices of individual kits.

The show is now LIVE and you can find my dealer page HERE!

Hope to 'see' you there! 


 

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Best laid plans......

 

The past 5 months have been a bit of a write-off workwise, due to my two eye surgeries.  I finally pick up my ‘forever’ glasses later this week so at last I’ll be able to resume micro dollmaking, which I’ve really missed.

However, just as our lives were getting back on track, we’ve been completely derailed by PP being diagnosed with a serious health condition, which will require months of debilitating treatment. 

As we wait to move into her treatment phase, all positive thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

This will have a major impact on everything, including Tower House Dolls.  I am currently up to date with orders, but going forward there will be inevitable disruption, for which I apologise.

That said, in the relative lull before treatment commences, I’ve been able to put the finishing touches to a new kit, which I started over the summer and will be unveiled at the November Mini Miniature Show which begins on Wednesday 17th.

Well, I say unveiled…. I’ll be posting a sneaky, sneak preview here tomorrow, when I’ve finished all the photos.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Surpreyes........

So. 

I had my first cataract surgery on 19 July and in August I had my post-op check, at which the optician confirmed that I would be referred for surgery on the other eye.  At that point I anticipated a fairly lengthy wait, probably until sometime next year.

Last week I was contacted to make an appointment for a pre-op assessment, which was carried out by phone on Friday.  At that point they said that they anticipated the surgery would be scheduled within 14 weeks, so then I was cautiously hopeful that it might be done before Christmas.

Yesterday I had a phone call offering me an appointment to have the surgery..... next Monday!!!!!  I'm still in shock.  To have both eyes done within 11 weeks is frankly unbelievable!  In some areas of the UK patients are having to wait up to 2 years for cataract surgery, the delay likely exacerbated by the effects of Covid.  

We are so lucky to have a stand-alone Opthalmology unit in Bexhill, which must help.  Also their policy of doing both eyes is a factor.... in other health authorities the second eye is not treated as a matter of routine.

I also suspect, that being of working age, (while the majority of cataract sufferers will be retired) and my work being reliant on excellent binocular vision, may have helped secure me the speedy appointment.   

I was very apprehensive last time, but having experienced the surgery I'm much less nervous this time.  Also my appointment is for 8.00am so I won't have time to get worked up on the day.  I should be home by lunchtime.  

In the immediate aftermath, after a few days for my vision to stabilise, I should be able to use some cheap single vision reading glasses (unfortunately my temporary ones will no longer work for the second eye) to enable me to resume close work.  I've been driven demented by having to put them on and take them off every few minutes while working, so at the 4 week post-op check I've decided to opt for varifocals, so that I can wear them all the time I'm working without the tedious on-off-on-off mallarkey.  

All being well, I should be fully operational again by the beginning of November, which I'm so looking forward to.  In the meantime, as I'll be unable to do any tiny doll work, I'll be concentrating on my new kits, which I'm tentatively hopeful will be ready to release sometime in November *fingers firmly crossed*.









Sunday, 26 September 2021

Guilty as charged.....

I am soooooo bad at sticking to one project at a time.  I invariably have at least two or three projects on the go, which I'm sure is a common issue familiar to miniaturists the world over. However, at the moment I have a grand total of six, all competing for my attention following my eye surgery lay-up.

SIX!!!!! 

Even by my standards that's quite a lot.  To be fair, it's all completely my fault, as just a few weeks ago I only had five, which, admittedly, is still quite excessive.  Then I was sorting through my ideas box and one thing led to another and now I have six.

Of course, instead of parking the sixth project, to concentrate on the others, which are all much more advanced, I did the complete opposite, and plunged head first into the sixth one and now I'm starting to panic as juggling six projects is just a one way ticket to misery and madness and the workroom is a complete mess and I'm getting all muddled up with what I should be doing......

*STOP! Calmly.... breathe*

So anyway, only two of the six projects are for myself.  Namely a 1/24th scale shop kit which PP got me for Christmas 3 years ago, and my Mignonette Doll Box which I'm doing along with members of the Mignonette Doll Club as our 2021 project.

Don't you just love a project which has a set timescale?  Back in January I was convinced that a whole year was more than enough time to complete my box, and I did get off to a flying start...

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

I have made more progress since then, including installing a musical movement plus all the layers and compartments,  and I've made a start on the 1/12th scale doll but as my eyesight has been compromised she's not quite finished.

I'm sure I could complete it in the next three months, but I'm not making any promises which I know I will probably break, even if those promises are to myself.

The other four projects are all work-related kits, and I'm tantalisingly close to completing two of them.  So it would make so much more sense to push on and get them sorted than starting a completely new one, but hey....... that's just the way I roll.