Sunday, 22 November 2020

The final countdown.....

Phew.... it's been a very busy few weeks!  I've spent hours every day listing items on the new website.

It's not an easy task. 

Photos have to be taken and retaken.... resized and optimised to fit.  There's no option to copy/paste listings, so each one has to be done manually, in a series of steps which have to be taken in the correct order otherwise I have to start again.

It's time consuming and frustrating, and every few hours I have to take a break and do something else.

I spent a fruitless half day trying to insert a snippet of code to provide a currency converter for international customers with no success.  I've handed that task over to PP, who has more technical skills than I.  She also sorted out my information pages, which didn't look quite right.

It's clear that my skills are better suited to dollmaking than website management and I'm looking forward to Friday, when the site is scheduled to go live and I can hopefully relax.     The KDF Christmas Showcase will run from Friday 27th November till Friday 4th December, and during that time the December Mini Miniature Show will also be live. 

On an even more exciting note, the final copies of my book have arrived and I've been carefully checking the delivery and making preparations for the launch on Friday. 

Having worked pretty much every day since March, I'm looking forward to some much-needed downtime and decorating our house for Christmas.  Of course, at the moment, we still have no idea what we'll be doing over the festive season.  A big, family Christmas is out of the question, but we're hoping that some form of celebration will be possible.... either virtual or actual.

In the meantime, this week, I'm on the final countdown to my book launch and the KDF showcase.

No pressure then.... *deep breaths*


Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Moving on.....

It's done.

The old printer has been deposed.  Long live the new printer! 

I ordered it at 4.30pm yesterday and it was delivered at noon today.  How is that even possible? Dark magic perhaps.

It took just 45 minutes to unbox and set it up.  The whole process went smoothly... print was calibrated and software updated.  It effortlessly reached through the ether and found my laptop and they instantly hit it off.

It printed wirelessly at first time of asking, purring quietly without all the hooing and haahing and cartridge shuffling which characterised my interactions with the old printer.

It does my bidding without kicking up a fuss or spitting sheets of paper at me.  It hasn't mangled anything.... yet.

Of course, it's currently on its best behaviour, minding it's p's and q's and going out of its way to anticipate my every need and complying immediately.

It's small and neat and sits unobtrusively on the window shelf by my desk in the office.  The old printer was a hulking great thing.... really heavy and it boded big time.  It's currently boding in the dining room while I decide what to do with it.  I don't want to consign it to landfill so I'll try to freecycle it.  Perhaps someone with much more technical nous than us could return it to health.  At the very least it has about a dozen brand new ink cartridges which might do someone a turn.  

We've never really seen eye to eye... the old printer and I.  It was only a few weeks old when it maliciously chewed up a sheet of adhesive labels and was never the same again.   I'm guarding against getting lulled into a false sense of security by the newcomer though.  Just because everything's fine and dandy at the moment doesn't mean it will stay that way.

The first test will be a batch of double sided A5 leaflets, which I need to print by this weekend.  Of course before I even attempt that, I need to order more inks.  For some inexplicable reason, printer manufacturers supply new machines with 'starter' cartridges, which contain a mere scintilla of ink and last about 10 minutes. 

Which brings me to my next pet peeve.  Why are branded cartridges so damn expensive?  Granted the new printer takes XL capacity cartridges, which are claimed to print 600 pages for the colours, more for the blacks.  However, as that depends on the print quality used, it's practically impossible to check the claims made.  My leaflets have to be reasonable quality so I'm dubious about how many pages I will actually achieve.

However, for the time being, I'm back in business.  Being printerless always makes me a bit twitchy so after two days without it's a relief to have one again.  But two days of faffing about have put me hopelessly behind on my weekly To Do list so once again I'm playing catch up.

Best go and get on then......

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Buggrit.......

I just knew that things were going too well.  Having given the go-ahead on my book to the print company I turned my attention to the next most pressing item on my burgeoning to-do list.... getting the website shop up and running.

I spent all weekend setting up items in the shop (they're not visible yet though!) and working on what I still have to do for the London Dollshouse Showcase.  I have to get all new photos and write up done for my exhibitor's page and the deadline of Nov 18th is looming on the near horizon.

Anyway, everything was going tickety boo, which is always an ominous sign and I should have realised that things were due to go skew whiff... which they duly did.

Our office printer, which I had used yesterday morning to print out address labels for orders, suddenly decided that life was no longer worth living and gave up the ghost.  It's done this a few times before, being a temperamental little sh*t, but we've always been able to get it up and running again by a combination of threats, menaces and doing a hard reset.

It was having none of it.

You Tube videos suggested lots of different fixes, all of which we tried several times, including removing the print head unit and cleaning it, resulting in ink all over the show.

This is the second time a Canon printer has died on us and despite spending ALL DAY YESTERDAY giving trying to administer life support, we have accepted that it will have to be consigned to the great printer scrapyard.

Having washed our hands of it... literally, with bleach, in an attempt to remove the indelible ink, we set about finding a new one, which we thought would be a doddle.

Ha!

Have you tried to buy a printer recently?  They're like hen's teeth!!

Presumably, due to the pandemic, and record numbers of people working from home, the demand for printers has gone through the roof.  Plus, due to the lockdown, stores which sell them are currently closed, so we couldn't just pop along the road to PC World to pick one up.

I have a few criteria which are essential.... separate ink cartridges so that I can replace individual  colours as needed.                                                                                                                      It must be multifunction as I often have to scan/copy.                                                                          It must have an automatic duplex function for double sided printing, which is a nightmare to do manually.                                                                                                                                                    It must have WiFi connectivity as I often have to print from the workroom and the printer resides in the office.

Not a big ask really, but every one I found which was suitable was out of stock... everywhere.

The shelves have been stripped of printers and there is nary one to be found.

Eventually, after spending 6 frustrating hours going round in circles, I found a retailer who had a printer which had all my asks.  It wasn't first on my list.  It's wasn't even in the first ten, but it was in stock and ready to despatch so I had no option but to order it.  To add insult to injury it cost almost twice what I was intending to spend, but, as the saying goes, beggars can't be choosers.  Who would have thought that printers would prove as elusive to source as PPE? 

Anyway, due to the all the stress, the new printer and I are already getting off on the wrong foot.  It should hopefully arrive tomorrow and if it's not quick and easy to set up the air will be blue as I have A LOT of printing to do... all of it double sided. 

I have only one nerve left and it had better not get on it. 















Saturday, 7 November 2020

It's here......!!!!!!!

You're reading it here first! 

*drum roll please* The final perfect bound sample copy has arrived...!

Here's a quick sneak preview









I expect to take delivery of the first copies by 23rd November and my new book will be launched at the London Dollshouse Showcase which will run from 27th November - 4th December!

As a bonus, all purchasers of the book will be invited to join my new Mignonette Doll Club, which will be a fun place to share ideas.  

Plus.....

* Access to a private FB group

* Discounts and exclusive special offers on micro doll supplies

* Updates on the story of La Mignonette  

* Monthly newsletter

* Competitions & Giveaways

*  Each month I will be making a new Mignonette doll, instructions for which will be available as a digital download….. free of charge for club members.

Members will be encouraged to show their mini doll makes and share hints, tips and suggestions.  They can also send photos of their dressed dolls to be featured in the Miniature Mignonette ‘Hall of Fame’ on the new Tower House Dolls website! 

So... 27th November is my deadline for having the new website fully up and running.  It will be a close run thing and all my efforts for the next few weeks will be focussed on setting up our new online shop and testing it thoroughly. 

During lockdown I've also been gradually building up a stock of new mignonette toy dolls, which will be making their way onto the website....




To celebrate both the launch of my book AND the new website, we're planning to have a bit of a virtual do with some special giveaways, so keep checking back, or, if you haven't already, sign up for our newsletter.

Small Dog will be making a rare guest appearance so it's not to be missed!

Exciting times.....!

Sunday, 1 November 2020

My adventures in print... Part 2

Recently I've been thinking a lot about my adventures in print over the years.  When I was a child, I remember making little books from a sheet of paper, folded in 4, then cut to produce small 4 page booklets. I wrote little stories, some invented, some about my pets, or things I'd been doing.  They were often illustrated with crude colour pencil drawings...... art was never my forte.

At some point I was given an old Remington typewriter, which had belonged to an uncle or aunt. It was ancient and clunky, but I spent hours hunched over it, laboriously clacking out pages of closely typed print.... stories, poems, lists.  I loved it, although I can see now that the incessant noise of me bashing away at the keys must have made everyone in the house long to through it out the window.

In my early 20s I graduated to an electric typewriter. After school and before college I had taken a shorthand and typing class... apart from learning to drive, learning to touch type has been the life skill I use most.  After the initial slog of fjfjfjfj ghghghgh etc and feeling I'd never master it, something clicked and I was able to type without looking at the keys.  It's like a kind of magic and it never ceases to please me.  I can't remember a solitary thing about the shorthand but the typing has stayed with me and I use it every day. 

My electric typewriter was a revelation. No more bruised fingertips or having to jooosh the carriage across at the end of every line.  One button press and the carriage purred smoothly across the machine.  

It had a back space button! AND, joy of joys, an autocorrect function!  This comprised a little strip of Tippex along the bottom of the ink ribbon, which could be used to overtype errors.  I was in heaven.  It was on that machine that I produced my first newsletters, which I duly sent off to the photocopy shop.

A few years later, I was a founder member of Kent Miniaturists, and responsible for all the printed material... newsletters, programmes, workshop instructions etc. Although I still used my trusty typewriter, having original documents photocopied was expensive, so I bought an ancient Gestetner duplicating machine from the Parish Council and installed it in an old outbuilding.



It was a behemoth.... about the size of a washing machine. It was also temperamental, and I often emerged from a duplicating session spattered with ink and covered in cobwebs.

The process was arcane and messy.  First I had to 'cut the stencil'.... text with my electric typewriter and any drawings/diagrams using a ballpoint stylus tool.  I still have that tool and use it every day in my doll making..... I'd be lost without it!

If I made a mistake I'd have to use a gloopy pink liquid to seal the holes in the stencil.  Actually creating a copy involved loading the stencil onto a drum, having first ensured that the ink reservoir was full.  The ink was like tar, and in the chill of the outbuilding it was always too thick and viscous.  Then I'd turn the handle and the first sheet of paper would feed though the slot coming into contact with the stencil over the inked drum.  The results were often patchy and I'd have to manually spread the ink over the drum and keep trying until an acceptable result was achieved.  I wasted a LOT of paper.

For a multi-page newsletter I had to change the stencils for each page, inevitably a messy procedure.  Also the ink had to dry on the page, otherwise it would smudge, which took time, so double sided printing was an exercise in patience.

My machine was very similar to this one.....



But.... I LOVED IT!  

Fast forward to 1985 and the advent of the first Word Processor.  I bought an Amstrad PCW 8256 and suddenly felt that I was at the cutting edge of printing technology.  



It had a green screen monitor, separate keyboard,  a dot matrix printer and used floppy discs.  It had four different fonts.

FOUR!!!

It was basically a glorified typewriter, but I was once again smitten.  OK so it only produced text, and the printed result was quite clunky, with the individual dots which made up each character often clearly visible, but it made producing repeat pages of text much simpler, cleaner and cheaper. I used my trusty word processor for years, until in the 1990s I finally made the leap to a PC with an inkjet printer.  

Looking back, it's amazing how far technology has come in the past 50 years.  I've gone from pencil and paper to desktop publishing.... it's difficult to imagine a similar leap in the next half century, although perhaps in the future words and images will transfer directly into the brain via an organic implant.  Or maybe there will be holographic printers, which will create 3D animated images from text.  Or maybe the written/spoken word will be obsolete and people will communicate via mind merge telepathy. Who knows?





My adventures in print.....Part 1

There is something strangely satisfying about holding a book that you've created yourself.  In my case I've done absolutely everything, from the design and layout, to the final formatting and editing.  

Granted it's not perfect.  Neither is it a first novel.  

But it is all my own work and the result of more than three decades of experience in making tiny, wee porcelain dolls and even if I never sell a single copy I am almost inordinately pleased and proud.

Self-publishing is no longer the trial it used to be and these days anyone can do it.  Of course, publishing a print book which contains only words is a whole different proposition from one which contains colour images.  I've had to learn the difference between RGB and CMYK, pixels and dots, TIFF and JPEG, file size versus image quality and much more that I've already forgotten.

I've spent hours experimenting with different fonts, seeing which ones work together.  That said, my choice of font for the fictional sections will likely give designers a fit of the vapours, but it works for my specific purposes and as I'm in charge, nobody can give me a telling off. On the reverse side of that coin if it looks a mess it's all down to me.

Mea culpa.

When I was choosing a printer, I got quotes from lots of different companies. The very cheapest ones, though initially tempting, rapidly revealed their limitations.  I had specific questions and the lack of detailed responses or no responses at all, quickly eliminated them from my list.

A few were only really interested in how many copies and when I would be ready to go to print, dismissive of my queries about image formats or embedded fonts.

One which initially came high on my list was crossed off when I read some online reviews and found that their books were often badly produced, misaligned covers, missing pages, damaged, or sometimes didn't arrive at all! 

I was beginning to despair when I came across an A5 booklet that I had printed about 30 years ago when I was first starting out.  Back in the day, they were a basic copy shop and I often used them for printing copies of my catalogues, patterns, mini booklets etc.  That was before the days of digital colour photocopying and everything was black and white. For colour, the only choice was offset litho printing which was prohibitively expensive.

Anyway, a quick google revealed that the company I used all those years ago were still in business and were now producing a wide range of print products, including perfect bound books!

They have been incredibly helpful, offering a range of free online tools and lots of useful information. My email enquiries were met with prompt, friendly responses, and suggestions to help me get the best results.

So, here we are..... 30 years after first using them, they are now printing my book.  There is a satisfying resolution of coming full circle about this which pleases me.

Who are they....? 

Catford Print Centre.  

I can thoroughly recommend them for quality and value for money.  I don't expect that any of the people I originally dealt with all those years ago are still working there, but it's gratifying to know that excellent customer service and high quality products are still the foundation of their business model. 

Anyway, now that I've reviewed the wire bound sample copy and made the necessary tweaks, I'm ready to submit the revised files and await delivery of the sample perfect bound copy... after which *fingers crossed* it will be full steam ahead the presses can roll.




Thursday, 29 October 2020

Eeeeeeek!!!!!!!!

Yes... that was me squealing with excitement!  

Last week I finally submitted my book to the printer and have been waiting on tenterhooks for the wire bound sample copy to arrive, which it did this afternoon.

I am beyond delighted with it, although I now have to go through it with a fine-toothed comb, searching for tiny errors which have eluded me on my laptop screen.  An initial cursory flick through has already revealed an unnecessary comma and a superfluous full stop, as well as an extra space in a sentence which looked fine on the screen, so I need to take my time and work slowly and methodically, even though my tummy is turning cartwheels at actually holding in my trembling hands the result of over a decade of false starts and self-recrimination.

I was worried about the photos, but they're mostly absolutely fine, although I will replace a few. All the images were taken in normal day-to-day working conditions in my workroom, not in a proper photographic studio setting, so I was concerned that they wouldn't pass muster but overall they are pretty good. 

I might tweak the front cover slightly too. 

Despite my desire to push ahead and get it signed off I'm going to take my time and actually enjoy the process, now that all the blood, sweat and tears of the actual creation have mercifully faded from memory.  

In the final fraught days before submitting it, I swore blind that I would never, ever, EVER do anything like it,  NEVER again.   However, while looking through the proof copy, I suddenly got the glimmer of an idea for a follow-up, going down a different and rather more scenic route.

I may have to give myself a stern talking-to...