Monday, 13 May 2019

Descent into chaos.....

On Friday, we travelled 40 miles to look at the bureau bookcase, decided to have it, loaded it into the car (it fitted with millimetres to spare!) and drove 90 minutes back home again.

It's going to need a fair bit of TLC.... starting with a really good clean.  I've hoovered all the surface dust and cobwebs *shudder* and am currently getting to know it and working out a plan of attack for the upcycling.

Then, on Sunday morning, a lovely lady came and bought every single one of my 500+ collection of doll's house and minatures magazines from the past 30 years.
They had all been stored on top of the big display unit, so having cleared the top, I advertised the unit on FB Marketplace and someone is coming this afternoon to look at it, with another three people interested., so I'm hopeful it will go today. *fingers crossed*

So, this morning I've cleared out all the boxes and stacked them on the worktop at the far end of the workroom.....

Blimey.... looks a lot more of them  when they're stacked like this!

...leaving the display unit empty

If the unit goes this afternoon, that will be the point of no return *gulp*

Back to the bureau bookcase, and a wonderful stroke of serendipity....

There are four drawers in the base, in three different sizes.  The top drawer is quite shallow, so I'll use that for bits and bobs, as yet unspecified.

The second drawer is deeper and will hold exactly three of my A4 storage boxes with lids.  Perfect!

The bottom two drawers are even deeper, and will hold six of these boxes, making a total of 15.  

So far so good.

The bookcase section at the top has three adjustable shelves, and will fit 3 of my A5 storage boxes across the width.  I've had a play around with various permutations and I can fit 41 A5 boxes in the top.  I only have 31 of those, but if I use box bases and lids separately in the cupboard, I'll have enough to fill it completely.

Then the latest bit of serendipity..... my larger stripey storage boxes fit perfectly, two abreast on top of the bookcase section.

Happy days.

Of course I'll need to completely re-organise all of the A4 and A5 boxes to consolidate the contents, but that's a task I have to undertake no matter what happens.

So.... plan of attack..... sell the display unit and use the liberated space to start work on the bookcase bureau.  First step will be to clean it thoroughly with sugar soap/wood cleaner....

I've a lot on this week, right through till next Monday so I won't have much time to work on it, aside from cleaning it section by section.

Extensive googling has revealed that painting over mahogany is fraught with issues, because pink stains tend to bleed through almost all paints.  So I've decided to seal it with a shellac-based primer, which will act as a stain block and provide a good surface for the subsequent coats of chalk paint.  It should also give good coverage so hopefully I won't need repeated coats of paint to cover the dark wood.

I'm in two minds about the drawer handles.... they're not very nice and would need several coats of metal paint, which I'm keen to avoid, so I'm looking for 8 shabby chic drawer handles and 4 small knobs.

I know that the glazed doors will be an absolute pain to paint.  From bitter experience, masking tape is unlikely to be 100% successful, especially as the glazing bars pattern is quite complicated, with lots of odd angles.  So I'm going to smear the glass with a thin film of Vaseline, then scrape off the paint afterwards with a blade scraper.  I've watched several video tutorials using different techniques and it does seem the quickest and easiest with the best finish.  Obviously I'll have to try a test sample first.

Inside the desk it's a bit of a mess.... 

The inset leather writing surface is beyond salvaging, so I'll remove it and fill in the gap with some thin plywood and paint over the whole of the inside.

Every inch of space has to perform, so I'm going to make bespoke storage boxes for those little cubby holes, to hold sewing tools and equipment, glue etc.  I'm also thinking about installing a strip of LED lights along the top, hiding the wiring behind the front panel.  I definitely need an electric double socket which will have to go in one of the side cubbies.... perhaps fixed onto the back panel or inside the top if possible.  Need to do more googling on that one.

I've ordered a gorgeous vintage botanical paper, which will go on the front of the drawers and line the inside of the glazed cabinet doors.  Still considering using foamboard inside the doors so that I can pin small lightweight tools etc.  

I'm sure that the design will be organic, changing and adapting as I go along, but I'm wildly optimistic that when complete it will have the WOW factor.

Let's hope my enthusiasm and optimism don't suffer too many setbacks.....

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The best bit.....6 days and counting

Often, by far the best bit of any project, are the halcyon hours spent planning.  The options seem endless and the hours spend on Pinterest and watching You Tube how-to videos are all time well spent.

With a view to upcycling my shabby chic work station I've been making lists, setting out a plan of attack, saving links to potential candidates for new drawer handles, papers for decoupage, paint for the exterior etc, right down to the minutiae of finding a small old key to use with a flamboyant key tassel in the bookcase doors.  Needless to say the original key is long gone, but since I don't need to lock the doors I'm sure I can find a pretty, purely decorative key. 

Actually,  thinking about it, I'm going to need two, one for the door and one for the bureau lid. *carefully adds to list*

Hmmm...having looked again at the photos (bearing in mind I haven't actually seen it in the flesh yet!!!) I can see that there is another keyhole in the top drawer of the base.
*amends list*

I've set up a Pinterest board onto which I can pin inspirational upcycled bookcase bureau ideas and I have a file on my laptop devoted to hints and tips I've gleaned from trawling the internet.  

In addition, I've started sorting through and consolidating my storage boxes in the big wall unit, which will have to go in order to make room for the bureau.

Here it is a few days ago before I got stuck in....

There are already several gaps but I need to lose quite a few more in the coming week then pile all the remaining boxes on the worktop at the end of the room so that I can sell the display unit *fingers crossed*   

I'll be trying to do as much of the work on the bureau as possible in the space left by the display unit.... apart from the messy sanding, which I'll do outside so as to avoid clouds of dust in my workroom.  However, the painting, decorating etc will be done in situ, on plastic sheeting.  It's quite a big project so I'm anticipating it will take several weeks, especially as I also have to work in the meantime.  However I'll be itching to get it finished, so that I can restore a sense of normality, and relocate all the boxes etc.

I'm in two minds about what to do with the surface of the drop down writing surface.  The leather insert is quite badly scratched and damaged and needs to be replaced.  But with what.....?

I could replace it with a new leather insert, but all the places who make them to size only seem to have very dark shades of leather in rather dull and uninspiring colours, suitable for antique reproduction desks etc.  Ideally I'd like a cornflower blue.... not really pale, but not too dark either.

Alternatively, I could completely replace the leather with a large pale blue cutting mat, fixed in place on the surface with little clips, so that I could easily remove it to clean it.  This would be much cheaper than a leather insert, and much more practical.  However, until I get the bureau back here and measure it accurately I can't make any irrevocable decisions just yet.

Right, back to it then... those Pinterest pins won't pin themselves.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Quart into a pint pot....?

You already know the backstory.....

Downsizing, blah, blah, de blah.... de-cluttering, blah, de blah, blah, clearing out the workroom, blah, de, blah, de blah.

If it feels like it's never-ending to you, just take a minute to think how it feels to me.
Groundhog Day doesn't even come close.

You'll know that I've been salivating over potential 'workstations' for when we eventually move house, and I've blogged before about converting wardrobes into craft armoires, or doing a cunning hack on Ikea units.

But most of the stuff I've been looking at has simply been too big.  Not in terms of all the stuff I have to fit inside, but in terms of taking up too much space in what will almost certainly be a multi-function room, as I will be giving up the luxury of an entire workroom.

Quite how this is to be achieved is a moot point, both from a practical and logistical point of view.

For example, I could wait until we have actually moved, then see how much space I can allocate to a work station, in the meantime, carrying on with the eternal emptying of my workroom, whittling down what I have, to only what I will need.

While eminently sensible, this solution does have a number of drawbacks, the foremost being that it is by far the least exciting.

So I'm going all out for Plan B, which is to buy and 'upcycle' a piece of furniture which will accommodate my streamlined work materials.  This will have the advantage of being both exciting and organic, as I can actually tailor it to my needs while still having my existing workroom to work from.

To this end I've been scouring Ebay and a range of second-hand furniture websites for some time, looking for a suitable candidate for my project.

Needless to say, Pinterest has a lot to answer for, as I've abandoned the idea of an eminently practical, utilitarian, slab-shaped cupboard, in favour of something rather more aesthetically pleasing, along these lines.....

This is an 18th century Italian bureau cabinet, and I think you'll agree it is a thing of beauty.  Personally I don't like the mirrored doors, which were a later addition, but the overall concept and execution is one which appeals to me.

Sadly I can't justify spending the £38,000 commanded by this genuine antique, but it got me thinking... so I've been looking for something broadly similar in function and style which I could customise to my heart's content.

Lovely yet affordable bureau bookcases are relatively thin on the ground and it feels barbaric to 'upcycle' a genuinely good piece.  
Ugly and affordable bureau bookcases are more readily available, but have generally been in really bad condition, with bits broken off, glass doors cracked, and drawers falling apart.
What I've been looking for is something in reasonably good condition, relatively cheap, and which wouldn't break my heart to customise.

Dear reader.... I think I've found it! 

Now.... admittedly, at the moment, a thing of beauty it is not.  It's definitely showing its age and has been knocked about a bit it, resulting in several scratches and marks.  It also has some knobs missing and is very grubby and in need of a good clean. The inset leather writing pad has definitely seen better days too.  However, as I'm going to have clean it thoroughly, prior to sanding then painting, there isn't anything which couldn't be fixed with a spot of wood filler.

I'll be changing the handles on the drawers, and replacing the knobs on the pull-out desk supports and the two little internal drawers.

I'm still pondering exactly what to do with it decor wise.  I don't want to be able to see through the top doors so I was thinking of removing the glass and replacing it with thin board, but instead I might leave the glass in situ and use either pieces of fabric or decorative paper behind the panes.  My A5 plastic boxes will fit inside perfectly, and if PP's calculations are correct I will be able to store 45 of them in the top section.  In addition, there will be a few inches spare space inside, so I can line the doors with decorated foamboard, onto which I could pin small bags for additional storage of very lightweight supplies.
I also have some sensational wallpaper I which might use to line the back of the top section.

For the base, I quite like the idea of facing the drawer fronts with a vintage botanical style paper.... similar to this

I'll make bespoke compartments for inside the drawers, depending on what will be stored. 
Also thinking of adding some LED strip lighting in the opening desk section... I'll be able to drill holes through the back to make provision for an electricity supply for the lights and hopefully a few power sockets.

I can't actually go to pick it up till the end of next week, which allows time to give more thought to what to do, as well as trying to clear a space in the workroom for me to work on it in situ over the coming months.  This will mean getting rid of the large, open-fronted display unit which currently holds all of my plastic storage boxes.  

So watch this space.....!

Saturday, 6 April 2019


..... And just like that, quarter of the year has already gone by in a flash!

How have we ended up in April already?

Time seems to be doing funny things lately... here's a 'for instance'.
This week I started sorting out the paperwork for doing the annual accounts.
Nothing unusual there you might think.... but here's the thing.
It wasn't even the end of the tax year!!!!!

I had started doing a thing for a thing which hadn't even happened yet! From the reigning Queen of Procrastination this is unheard of!  Today, on the first day of the new tax year, I'm in a position to acutually make a start on those pesky accounts, which means that they might be complete before the end of the month.

Again.... unheard of.

I think I may have inadvertently slipped into some sort of weird-time envelope, where time passes simultaneously slower AND faster than normal.  Perhaps it's a new phenomenon, previously unknown to physics and quantum mechanics.

Of course, for every 'up' there is a 'down', and projects which should be nearing completion, having started them in January, are no further forward, so maybe my newly discovered time displacement thing only works on stuff I don't like doing.

Like the annual accounts.


Monday, 1 April 2019

Memento Mori......

A few weeks ago, while I was looking for inspiration on the internet, I came across this photo of a mourning doll.....

Further research revealed some interesting facts about these intriguing dolls, which were prevalent and popular towards the latter part of the 19th century.

Death was unavoidable in the Victorian home, and it was a rare family who didn't lose at least one child, irrespective of wealth and social class.  In the 19th century, death played far a greater role in everyday life. Children and adults were frequently and openly exposed to death and deceased loved ones, and many of the death rituals are well known and such as mourning dress and jet jewellery.  However, mourning dolls are one of the more overlooked elements of the Victorian grief process.

These dolls were ideal practice for girls and young women, who if they survived to adulthood would almost certainly be called upon to care for their own dead.  Innovatively, many little girls were presented with 'Death Kits', which included a doll with black mourning clothes and a doll-sized coffin.

The 'lucky' recipient of such a thoughtful gift would would then practice dressing the doll, laying it out for visitation, placing it in the coffin, and facilitating a funeral. She might also be expected to practice attending to the grief of the doll’s mourners.

Which got me thinking.......

.... and resulted in a toy doll sized 'death kit'..... for the doll's house child who has everything.

My little mourning doll... let's call her Corvina, an ancient name meaning 'black as a crow' is cast from ivory coloured porcelain and dressed in black silks and lace, complete with a black silk mourning veil.  She has black jet earrings and a dainty gold brooch with a jet crystal in the centre.  She carries a lace edged sepia photograph of the 'dear departed' and nestles on padded silk within her doll-sized coffin box, which comes with decorated lid.

Dressing the little doll was fine but the coffin shaped box was an absolute nightmare which had me questioning my admittedly questionable sanity as I repeatedly tried and failed to get the dimensions and angles just right.  At one point last week my work desk was littered with boxes in various stages of assembly and my waste paper bin was overflowing with discarded disasters.  Who would have thought that a doll-sized coffin would be so darn tricky?! 😣

However, I think I've finally cracked it so Corvina is now available on the website, in the Inspirational Toy Dolls category.

Hmmm.... I wonder what I could do next....... 


Saturday, 23 March 2019

Crossing the line......

Blimey... almost 3 weeks since my last post.  Doesn't time fly? 

And in that 3 weeks I have been working like a whirling dervish, making up the dollmaker's workshop packs.  It would have been so much easier to do all of them the same, but as this was my last major 'all singing-all dancing' kit I wanted to go the extra mile so offered colour choices on various components.

Predictably I tied myself up in knots over that but after endless hours in the workroom, followed by extensive double, triple and quadruple checking,  I was finally able to start packaging the kits in a military operation which involved commandeering the dining room table.

Almost all of the kits have now been posted.  Several destined for UK addresses will already have arrived.... those heading for international destinations are currently in transit.
Over several days last week I bowled up to the Post Office, laden with huge bags, fully expecting to be lynched by the muttering queue which quickly formed in my wake.  Despite the fact I had weighed each parcel, calculated the exact postage payable, completed the relevant customs declarations and prepared my own certificates of posting, there were inevitable delays as the boxes wouldn't fit though the lifty drawer/hatch thing, so I had to schlepp from one end of the counter to the bit where the post lady could open the window to take each box.  

Trust me, making that walk several times on each occasion, under the mutinous glare of The Queue is character-forming stuff.  It didn't help that the post lady was intrigued at the size of my parcels.... I usually send out very small, lightweight boxes, so my large, weighty packages were the object of much speculation, which I tried to deflect, sotto voce, so that The Queue wouldn't add neighbour-elbowing, eyebrow raising, and sniggering, to their repertoire.

But my time hasn't been completely devoted to giving the Post Office visiting residents of St Leonards on Sea something to talk about.

No by no nonny no.

I've finally got round to re-doing the fronts of my lovely Ikea Moppe boxes, which over the past few years have become a bit dog-eared and faded.

Plus, while I was re-organising the drawers, I came across a little box of Work in Progress dolls from way back, for which I'd prepared all the costume pieces, pleated the silk ribbons etc, so I've had a lovely few days dressing them.....

My work area.... messy but creative
I still have to complete their boxes, and carry out their photo shoot, at which point I will do the whole 'Tah Dah' thing and show them off. 

So, all in all, a VERY busy, but satisfyingly productive few weeks, which hopefully explains my absence.

However..... I'm now girding my loins for the NEXT thing.  The looming end of the tax year, which heralds my annual grapple with the accounts. 


Tuesday, 5 March 2019

I need to get out more.....

I had a bit of excitement today.

No, nothing arrived in the post.  
No, I didn't come up with an exciting new idea.
No, I haven't finished all the Atelier de la Poupee home workshop packs.... yet.

Instead my excitement was caused by this....

Yes.... today was the day I decided it was time to buy a new work iron.  Now if that isn't exciting I don't know what is.....

This photo shows only a small selection, from the cheaper end of the shelf.  Prices at the other end were eye-watering.  Does ANYONE need to spend £160 on an iron?

Regular readers will know that I get through irons at an indecent rate.  

For example, almost 2 years ago....  Iron Woman
And 6 years ago...  Fit For Purpose
And 9 years ago.... Well... I'M Excited...!

In my defence, I do a LOT of ironing.  
Not CLOTHES ironing of course... that would be ridiculous!  
No, my ironing consists of lots of fabrics, silk ribbons, trimmings etc.  For work purposes.

My last iron finally succumbed to the nemesis of all my irons... iron-on vilene.  With some additional help from assorted glues, starch, dyes etc. 

It's once gleaming soleplate no longer gleamed.  It was scratched and blackened, and no end of scrubbing was ever going to restore its once smooth glide, over precious fabrics.

So off we went to Tesco to find a suitable replacement, and after much perusing, humming and hahhing, I finally decided on this...

.... for the princely sum of £12.  

It's perfect.  Smaller than all of the monster-sized irons and it claims to be 'Featherlight Plus'.  I'm always a tad sceptical about claims made for just about everything, but for once Philips has got it bang on.  

It is indeed extremely lightweight.  The first time I tried it earlier, I lifted it with the same force I habitually used for the old iron, and it almost flew out of my hand and straight through the window! 

It will take a day or two to get used to it, but I really like it already.  It has a proper 'silk setting' which is a boon as my old one only offered generic heat settings... cool, medium, hot, thermonuclear.... and I was forever fiddling with the dial to find a temperature which would easily remove stubborn creases from silk but wouldn't frazzle it.

It even switches itself off if I haven't handled it for 30 seconds, which is great as I sometimes forget it's on.  It heats up in seconds too, in case I fall foul of the 30 second rule.
It also has a ceramic-style ''non-stick' soleplate which I'm hoping will withstand the vagaries of iron-on vilene and the multitude of other substances it will come in contact with.

So, all in all, I'm a happy bunny.  Although such an indecent amount of excitement over the selection and purchase of a household small appliance does perhaps signify that perhaps I need to get out more....