Sunday, 13 September 2020

Feeling hot, Hot, HOT!

After several weeks of fairly autumnal weather.... cool mists, grey skies, rain etc.... summer has returned for a last hurrah, and the next three days are set to be sizzling.

Which is why I'm now berating myself for choosing today to do a full bisque kiln firing.  This is the current temperature it has reached, thankfully the top temperature, which it has to hold for 15 minutes before switching itself off.



Which I time to make sure it does.....then


Inside it's hotter than Hades.... a white heat that would melt your face off if you were ever mad enough to open the lid.


It will gradually cool down over the next 24 hours and around this time tomorrow it will be cool enough for me to open the lid, although the contents will still be uncomfortably hot to handle.

Contained within are around 300 assorted tiny dolls, with their respective arms and legs.... so approximately 1200 limbs.  It's taken many months to cast, soft fire then laboriously soft clean each piece ready to bisque fire, and it will be several months more before all of the faces have been meticulously china painted and fired 2-3 times more.  Then arms and legs will have to be re-united with their bodies and carefully strung to create jointed, movable limbs.



Despite packing the four kiln shelves with military precision, I was unable to fit everything in, and I estimate that there are enough limbs left over to half fill the kiln for a future firing, so I know I will be tempted to cast more in order to fill the remaining space.  Seems such a waste not to.


Opening the kiln after a bisque firing is always a nail-biting, trepidatious time. Hopefully I will discover a perfect fire, no breakages, bubbling or cracks.  The vitrified porcelain should be a velvety matte, not chalky, or more disastrously, bubbled and shiny.  

An underfire, although frustrating can be remedied by re-firing. An overfire is impossible to rectify and the entire kilnload would have to be dumped.  In all my 30+ years of dollmaking, this has only ever happened once, a long time ago, in a previous kiln, where a piece of porcelain fell against the kiln sitter, preventing it from tripping the kiln off when the correct temperature was reached. As a result the temperature climbed and climbed, and we were only alerted by the smell of burning as the floor beneath the kiln melted.

Thankfully we found out before the whole house went up in flames, but since then on I mount the kiln on a piece of old kitchen worktop and ensure that I am always present in the final stages.  Of course it's much easier to monitor what's going on inside with the aid of the computerised panel on my current kiln, which accurately relays the internal temperature, and stage of the firing. 

However, it's impossible to gauge exactly what's gone on until the lid can be opened. Pieces can shift, shelves and shelf supports can collapse, kiln elements can slip out of their grooves.... any of these could cause catastrophic results.

So fingers crossed.  In the meantime we're trying to disperse the heat by leaving all the doors open.  I'll keep you posted on the grand opening tomorrow..... 

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Website woes......

You know that thing, where you're doing really well, focused on the task at hand, making progress slowly but surely, while things generally seem to be ticking along nicely?

Well up until Monday afternoon, that was me.  However, at precisely 4.07 pm, I heard a loud, anguished groan from the office, followed shortly thereafter by a forwarded email pinging into my inbox.

Apparently, the company who hosts our website is planning a major upgrade to their servers including moving to a newer version of PHP.

Now, I hold my hands up to not having a clue what PHP is, but the net effect will be to render our website instantly obsolete.  It's already very elderly and creaking at the seams, having developed a rash of irritating and apparently insoluble back end glitches which only a complete rebuild and overhaul would fix.  We've been putting that off and attempting to keep it limping along, having extended our hosting package for a further 18 months, but this news has sealed its fate.

It doesn't help that the upgrades are due to take effect between 28 Sept and 2 October, so only a few week's time.  There followed much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a chorus of "Oh buggrit.... what are we going to do.....?" 

An emergency meeting was called (Small Dog agreed to attend, but only on suffrance) and we brainstormed potential solutions.

None of the options looked particularly attractive.

  • Rebuild the site from scratch using the same shopping cart software, which was a nightmare
  • Pay someone an eye-watering sum to do it for us
  • Cancel the hosting package and relocate elsewhere, using a simple website builder, such as Weebly or Wix.
  • Stay with our hosting service and use their in-house website builder
All of the options except the last one involved financial cost, which given the parlous trading conditions this year we are keen to avoid.  So we checked that we could create a new website, using our current hosting provider and simply switch over from the old one when we were ready.

So far, so encouraging.  Yes, we could do that.  No, there was no additional cost.  Apparently it was easy to do.

To say we were sceptical is a massive understatement.  All DIY website builder programs have pros and cons, and despite their claims to be easy to use, experience tells us that's true only up to a point.  However, with the clock ticking we decided to give it a go.  At the very least, our hosting package does provide excellent technical support which is available at all hours, 24/7 to address any of the problems which will inevitably arise.

Yesterday was spent deciding on a layout, and trying out the various elements, getting the look we wanted.  Today I'll be attempting to get to grips with how to list an item, with the first major issue looming on the horizon.... setting up shipping charges.  There seems to be only two choices... one flat rate charge per order, which doesn't accommodate shipping to different postal zones internationally, or a charge per item, which also doesn't taken into account varied international shipping rates.  We think we might have a workaround, but it's far from elegant.

I'm also juggling working on The Book, which is coming along nicely after years of languishing and gathering dust.  I have completed about 75% and finally feel as though I'm on the home straight, which probably means that I'm going to hit some insurmountable software issue and have to start again.

That's me.... always looking on the bright side. 😂









Thursday, 13 August 2020

Weather woes.......

We get a lot of weather here in the UK, which is probably why it's brought up in almost every conversation the length and breadth of the country.

It's always...too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too windy, too foggy, too icy, too muggy...... sometimes all in the one day.

Not for us the monotony of day after day of similar weather, stretching for weeks and months throughout the seasons.  We have more of a 'lucky bag' approach where you never know what you're going to get from one hour to the next.

So it always comes as a shock to the system when we get the weather we're supposed to.  You know, like really hot, sunny weather in August for example.

Living on the coast, we can usually rely on cooling breezes from the sea to leaven the heat, but any breezes we've had for the past week have felt as though someone just opened a huge oven door.  Temperatures have been in the mid-30s Celcius day after day, with night time temperatures remaining resolutely over 20 degrees.

It's been brutal.  MS and extreme heat are unhappy bedfellows at the best of times, but my workroom faces south and it's been unbearably hot in there.  I tried opening the window furthest away from me, but any slight breeze immediately managed to find its way straight to my desk to whisk up silk ribbons and feathers into mini cyclones.  For the same reason, relocating my bedside fan into the workroom just creates instant chaos.  

So I've been working in short bursts, with the blinds closed and a small hand held fan to hand.  In between times, I've wandered out into the garden to sprawl in the shade, guzzling iced water and gasping like a landed guppy.

As if the heat and humidity weren't bad enough, the insect population has gone into overdrive.  Swarms of flying ants, armies of land-based ants, gazillions of wasps and my own personal nemesis.... mosquitoes.

Long years of painful experience have taught me to be extremely careful to avoid mosquito bites.  Apparently I am entirely delicious and in any given group of people,the others will be avoided as the bitey little buggers make a beeline for me.  Bites invariably swell into large blisters, filled with straw-coloured fluid, which burst and leave crusty, yellow trails as they drain, only to fill up again and repeat.  A collection of multiple bites in one area results in hard, hot, painful swellings, and it's not uncommon for a bite to become infected, necessitating medical treatment to avoid developing cellulitis.  Despite covering up in the evenings, and liberal applications of mosquito repellent, usually at least one of the most persistent mosquitoes will find an unprotected speck of skin. 

Thankfully, yesterday evening, the extended heatwave came to a temporary halt as the heavens opened and it rained for several hours.  Sadly it will take more than a few hours of rain to restore the area of garden we laughingly call our 'lawn'.  It currently has the colour and texture of Ryvita and even the weeds are struggling.

Early this morning, when everything was freshly washed, the air definitely felt cooler, although the temperature has been climbing again as the sun breaks through the clouds. However, the breeze is breezier and somewhat fresher, and I have been able to work without constantly having to refresh cold cloths to wrap around my neck.

I'll take that as a win.....

 





Friday, 17 July 2020

KDF Online Showcase

EDIT - Since the showcase opened this morning, several dolls listed on the website have now been sold. If you want a similar doll to one that has sold (bearing in mind that I never repeat exactly the same doll) please feel free to contact me.

Visit my page here....

***

An early casualty of the Coronavirus lockdown, the cancellation of the renowned Kensington Dollshouse Festival was a great disappointment to exhibitors and collectors alike.
However, thanks to technology, this weekend sees the first ever KDF online showcase, where artisan exhibitors, past and present, are able to show off their work.

As a previous KDF exhibitor, and workshop tutor, I know just how much work goes into preparing for the Festival, so it's lovely to have this opportunity to showcase my little dolls for dolls.

I've been making tiny dolls for over 30 years and am as much in love with them now as I was way back then.  As a collector of miniatures, diminutive dolls tick many boxes, as they can exist in the most doll-phobic doll's house, portraying as they do, children's playthings rather than people.

My dolls are completely handmade, beginning life as a few thimblefuls of porcelain slip, then undergoing up to 6 kiln firings to transform them from fragile greenware to impermeable porcelain, complete with multiple china paint firings.

They have jointed arms and legs, which allow for movement....


Costumes are created using sumptuous silk fabrics, many of which I design myself and are professionally printed.  Similarly, to achieve just the right shade I often hand dye silk ribbons, trimmings and lace to complement specific outfits.

Dolls have silk underwear, dainty leather-soled shoes and lace petticoats, while dresses and jackets are carefully fitted onto the tiny dolls.

Finally, I use delicate ringlets and curls to create elaborate coiffeurs,  often finished off with be-ribboned and feathered hats and bonnets.

Once complete, I make a colour-coordinated box with illustrated lid, which is lined with tissue paper and the doll is nestled inside.  Each doll  also comes with its own signed and dated Certificate of Authenticity.

Dolls come with a lovely, bespoke box to match their costume.



I often make little dolls based on wonderful original dolls discovered on Pinterest, using the photos as inspiration.....


Images of original costumes form inspiration for tiny dolls

Colours are as closely matched as possible










Vintage Mourning Doll!



Not all dolls are listed on my website yet, but may be available to purchase, so if you see something you like simply contact me and I'll let you know if I have it.

Prices for dressed dolls range from £35-£60 and I am happy to offer layaway payments for up to 3 months.


Shades of lilac and lavender.....

Shades of blue....

Scarlet, crimson and vermilion....



Blues, from pale aqua to cornflower...

Pretty in pinks....

Old gold, peach and sunshine yellow...

Autumnal shades of russet, sage and leaf green...

Plum, mauve and amethyst....

Early 19th century china and parian dolls

Silk and vintage lace....

Pretty pale pastels

I am also willing to take commissions.... perhaps you want a miniature copy of a doll that you had as a child, or saw while browsing Pinterest.  Just contact me to discuss your requirements.

Visit my page here....

EDIT - Since the showcase opened this morning, several dolls listed on my website have now been sold. If you want a similar doll to one that has sold (bearing in mind that I never repeat exactly the same doll) please feel free to contact me.

Friday, 3 July 2020

FOMO...? Hell no!

Warning - Rant Post.  May contain nuts.

There is a definite anticipatory frisson in the air and the media is awash with 'independence day' references, swathed in patriotic red, white and blue.  The reason, for those who don't live in the UK, is the restoration of the "ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom, to go to the pub".  From tomorrow, pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants will be throwing open their doors for the first time since 23 March, to await an influx of parched and desiccated, zombie-like patrons, moaning and shuffling uncertainly through their hallowed portals.


A few days ago, HMTreasury (who you'd think would know better) tweeted “Grab a drink and raise a glass, pubs are reopening their doors from 4 July,”  while a graphic carried the message: “Pubs are back!”

The resulting Twitterstorm, opining that the tweet was in remarkably poor taste, given the current UK Covid-19 death toll of 44,000 (and rising) caused the inadvisable tweet to be removed, but not before it had been re-tweeted and disseminated all over the interweb to widespread derision and condemnation.

This total lack of taste/empathy/discretion/diplomacy exemplifies the government's response to events over the past 4 months.  You could almost be forgiven for thinking that Boris has been taking lessons in statesmanship from his US counterpart.

Boris belatedly put out a statement re the re-opening of pubs, addressing the great British public, renowned for their common sense, with the sage advice...."Don't overdo it....." 

Wonderfully consistent, is Boris.  Always the dispenser of crystal-clear, completely unambiguous advice.

I am supremely confident that by lunchtime tomorrow, legions of pub-goers will be sitting sedately, maintaining social distance, chatting quietly over their pre-ordered pints.


By closing time, having visited several favoured drinking dens throughout the day, in order to spread their largesse evenly, thereby boosting the economy, there will be absolutely NO fights breaking out and definitely NOT a combination of blood and vomit sluicing though the streets.  Underused emergency services will be stood down, and A&E departments the length and breadth of the country will remain echoingly empty.


<insert eye-rolling emoji here>


Perhaps the government is hoping that if we all get absolutely bladdered, we'll forget about the 20,000+ deaths in UK care homes, seeded by discharging elderly patients from hospitals without being tested.

Boris apparently loves history, so he will no doubt be aware that during the Middle Ages, victims of the bubonic plague were used for biological attacks. Infected corpses were catapulted over castle walls with obvious, catastrophic results. The parallels are obvious.
It beggars belief that there was no joined-up thinking... lack of testing, lack of PPE.  All efforts directed at protecting the NHS to the detriment of the less 'glamourous' poor relation, social care, specifically care homes.  Some might think of it as deliberate,wilful negligence, (naming no names of special advisers who may or may not make up their own rules as they go along, safe in the knowledge that their 'boss' would take a bullet for them).

Still, Boris doesn't do scrutiny.  Really hard to make a catchy 3-word slogan out of... probably.


Meanwhile, we have the dubious distinction of having the highest death toll in Europe, and we're in a world-beating 3rd place globally, behind the US and Brazil, with their own irresponsible, populist, grandstanding leaders.


Back in April, the UK watched aghast at the escalating daily death tolls in Italy and Spain, their ICU units overwhelmed and mortuaries overflowing.  

No way that would happen here though.   
Perish the thought.  
Heaven forfend. 
Because... British exceptionalism, herd immunity, unicorns.
Still..... good to be beating Europe at something though.

For those of us who are more concerned about our inalienable right not to be infected with a deadly virus, the apparent abandoning of anything approaching a common sense approach to infection control means that things are rather less cut and dried.


This morning, for the first time since mid-March, we drove to our local Lidl.  As we entered the car park, a chap was walking through wearing a full-face plague-beak mask, which was somewhat startling, but then, this IS Hastings, so, you know.....fair play.

I opted to stay in the car, but PP got PPE'd up,  homemade mask and surgical gloves.  I'd have been happier if she'd had a full hazmat suit but you can't have everything.
After a record-breaking brief foray, she was back, dousing her hands and credit card in antibacterial gel and saying that everyone was very well behaved, lots were wearing masks and it wasn't as scary as she'd thought it would be.

Scotland is going to make masks compulsory in shops from 10th July, when social distancing rules will be loosened.  I do wish that England would follow suit, but Boris won't impose it until it's too late and we're in the grip of a deadlier second wave.  There's probably an inalienable right about it somewhere,  plus we have the awe-inspiring daily examples of US Covid-deniers who scream at/cough over/spit at/shoot people who politely ask them to wear a mask.

Because 'freedom' apparently.  
And the 'fact' that if they breathe in their own carbon monoxide for longer than 10 seconds, they'll suffer irreparable brain damage in all three lungs.  
Not sure how anyone would know, but there you go.  Natural selection in action.
The concept that wearing a simple fabric mask helps to protect other, more vulnerable people from being infected by asymptomatic carriers cuts no ice.   Doing something for others? That's practically communism.

Really hope that if/when they succumb to Covid-19 (and the infection rate in the US is currently sky-rocketing) the doctors, nurses and surgeons treating them, who wear proper medical grade N95 masks (which DO inhibit normal breathing to a certain extent and which the general public shouldn't have access to anyway), for up to 12 hours a day, all the while carrying out life-saving procedures to save their ungrateful, sorry asses, don't respond in kind and abandon all infection control measures because they don't fancy it.  Also hope they all have belt and braces health insurance in place, as really ill Covid patients who survive have been receiving eye-watering bills, including one poor bugger who was handed a 181-page bill totalling $1,122,501.04!!!


Also Trump won't wear a face mask because he says they make him look like the Lone Ranger.  Am I the only one who sees a serious flaw in his usually inarguable logic.....?



Just. Wear. The. Damn. Masks!




Wednesday, 24 June 2020

June Online Show....

Doesn't time fly... ?  It seems like no time at all since I was gearing up for the May Mini Miniature Show and here we are at the June show already.

I set myself a target of having exclusive new kits ready for each show during the lockdown, and although it's been a challenge, I've managed thus far, with different themes for each.

This time I've created 5 new kits, all on a theme very close to my heart..... tiny dolls.

First up.....


Kit includes 3 assorted precision cut printed dolls on wooden block

During lockdown I've been working on some new dolls for my book and these little printed dolls on colour-matched blocks showcase just some of them.  The dolls are precision cut and double-sided, mounted on little Mignonette doll blocks... I'm using them as a display in my doll shop but they would look lovely in a toy shop window, or in a doll's house nursery.  There are 9 different colours and the kits will contain 3 assorted dolls.  On orders of more than one kit I will ensure that colours are not repeated.

Next....


Vintage Board Game with tiny dolls, dice and box
Another kit in my vintage board game range.  The tiny dolls are cleverly magnetised so that they can be moved around the board without falling over! 



Boxed Antique Paper Dolls Kit
This kit includes two Tete Jumeau paper dolls and a selection of gorgeous costumes, plus a teeny weeny doll and costumes, all in a storage box with illustrated lid.



Boxed Vintage Postcards Kit
A kit to make a boxed set of 12 double sided vintage photographic postcards featuring children with their dolls. 


Set of 4 mini doll-themed books
Finally, as set of four doll themed illustrated books which are scaled for doll's house children.

These kits, plus ALL the previous lockdown kits are now available on my dealer page HERE

Phew, it's been a bit of a scramble this month and my final flurry of activity today has coincided with the hottest day of the year so far! So I'm off now for a lie-down in a hopefully cooler room with a glass of something chilled. Cheers! 

Monday, 15 June 2020

Lockdown life....

Throughout lockdown, I have been revisiting languishing projects, completing some, developing others.

With no other calls on my time than work, I have eschewed my traditional procrastination methods, and have instead cracked on, working wonders in the workroom.

My main efforts have been dedicated to my book project, and over the past 12 weeks or so, it has taken a different turn and seems to have developed a life of its own.  Every day I have epiphanies over various aspects, which is, of course, why it has never approached completion.  It's been impossible to nail down.

That said, I've actually been enjoying the process, rather than stressing about it.  Over the years I've imposed no end of deadlines for finishing it, so I'm not doing that any more.  It's enough for me to simply enjoy the act of creation.

Long time readers will know that it's a 'how to' book on making little toy dolls, which has undergone several iterations over the years. I have kept the very early versions on file, and revisiting them recently has demonstrated that it would have been a monumental mistake to have published them.  

The current version is by far the most enjoyable, particularly as I've interwoven the 'how to' chapters with a fictional element.  No idea whether or not it 'works' but I'm having fun and that's the main thing.

As the 'story' unfolds, I'm being taken down no end of scenic highways and byways, researching historical facts and testing various hypotheses.  This morning, for example, I ended up on the Thomas Edison National Historical Park website, following the trail of a particular photograph.  The museum is based in New Jersey, and due to Covid-19 is currently closed.   Contacting them isn't a straightforward matter.  Despite an extensive list of ways to write, telephone or fax, there is no email option.

I can't help thinking that Mr Edison would have lobbied strongly for the inclusion of that universal, simplest, most instantaneous method of communication.

Undaunted, I continued down the rabbit hole, and fetched up on their FB page, where I left a message with my question.  Whether or not it is monitored, I don't know.  I considered leaving a message on their Twitter feed, but it has an abandoned feel, with only 3 published Tweets in the past year.  

If I don't hear anything in the next few days I'll have to resort to the mode of communication which Edison spent his life attempting to supercede..... I'll have to write a letter, print it, put it an envelope, find a stamp and take it to the postbox, from where it will be collected and taken to a local hub, before making its way to an international mail hub, loaded onto a plane and flown 3,500 miles over the North Atlantic, where it will repeat the process in reverse, eventually landing on a mat in the museum in New Jersey.

All to find the answer to a question which should take minutes.

Mr Edison will be turning in his grave.....