Saturday, 30 August 2014

5 things I can't work without......

One of the most useful blogs I subscribe to is called Work From Home Wisdom.  As its title suggests, it's aimed at those of us who run a business from home and is always chock full of helpful hints and tips, such as "Oy.  You.  Yes you!  Get out of bed and get some work done!"
Or "Step away from the Facebook page... how many times do I have to tell you?"

Recently there's been a series of posts submitted by readers, entitled '5 things I can't work without' which set me thinking.

What 5 things could I not work without......?

There's the obvious things, like the kiln, or my power tools.  On a different tack I could even include Radio 4, which forms the soundtrack to my working day.

But when really thought about it, the answer came down to these.....

Not very exciting or glamourous I'll agree, but absolutely indispensable nonetheless.

Going from left to right:

1.  Bowmaker.  I have several of these in different sizes.  I use it make tiny silk ribbon bows (well d'uh) as well as ribbon rosettes and pom-poms.  It makes a tedious job almost enjoyable and ensures perfect results every time.  What's not to like?

2.  I'm not sure what to call the next thing, but if I ever lost it I would have to give up porcelain dollmaking completely.  It's what's left of a longer thing, which broke several years ago.  I've been using it for over 25 years so it has stood the test of time.  I use it to make the stringing holes in porcelain greenware...... the soft, malleable castings which are removed from the plaster moulds.  It is just the absolutely 100% perfect size.  As I live in constant terror of misplacing it, or losing it entirely, I have searched constantly over the past quarter of a decade to find another thing EXACTLY the same thickness.  I've tried no end of almost exactly the same size needles and bodkins, but none of them are exactly right.  Even a nanomicromillimetre too big or too small and it's useless.  I might request that it is buried with me.

3.  The humble cocktail stick.  I get through dozens of these a week.  They're great for transferring teeny tiny dots of glue. For picking up teeny tiny beads and crystals.  For mixing two part glues. For stirring small pots of enamel paint. For impaling tiny items to be painted.  For making small holes. For poking things into other things.  Stuck into polystyrene to support glued joints and painted pieces.  The list is endless.

4.  Sewing needle.  But not just any old sewing needle.  This is another of my 25 year love affairs.  This needle is the Shangri La of sewing needles.  It is the thickness of a human hair, and much shorter than most needles.  If you can manage to see it, pick it up and thread it, it practically guarantees that your stitches will be tiny and perfectly spaced.  Unlike ordinary needles it doesn't make big holes in delicate silk ribbon.  I bought several packs of 6 years and years ago and I'm  now down to my last two.  Over time, as they are so very small and fine, they inevitably get lost.  I've lost count of the hours I've spent on my hands and knees carefully doing a fingertip search for ones I've dropped on the floor.  They also bend very easily.  And don't even get me started on threading them.  However, I use one almost every day and I couldn't work without them.

5.  Tweezers.  I'm a bit of a tweezer geek.  Over the years I've tried hundreds, but I always come back to these.  I got them from a dental tools supplier 20 years ago.  The angled tips are set at precisely the right angle for picking and placing tiny things.  There are ridges on the inside of the tips to hold even the smallest items securely.  They are perfectly aligned and squeezing them doesn't make my hands tingle, like many others do.

So there you have it.  Five things I can't work without.

What are yours?

Friday, 29 August 2014

Forward planning......

This post is aimed primarily at my customers (trade or retail) who regularly purchase undressed toy dolls.  

As we slowly slide into September, then hasten on to Halloween, before we know it we'll be in Christmas crisis, crying in bewilderment "What!  Is it that time ALREADY?!"

Admit it. We've all been there.  Some of us *cough* are repeat offenders.

Our pre-Christmas sales period begins at the end of September which is only 4 weeks away *eeek!* so here at the international headquarters of Tower House Dolls (Amalgamated, Consolidated, Incorporated) we're already hard at work stocking up on kits and toy dolls.  In fact this week I've started on a batch of casting which has to include enough of everything to see us through the next 4 months.

First on my casting list are the outstanding special orders for porcelain dolls or toys which are currently out of stock.  Then comes the low stock items which are likely to run out in the next few weeks.  Then (and this is the exciting bit) during a recent reorganisation of my mould cupboard, I discovered some moulds for dolls which I didn't even know I had.  So I'm casting some of those too.

The porcelain dollmaking process (from first pouring to final stringing) takes on average 6-8 weeks.  So the batch I've started this week won't be completed till mid October, assuming all goes well.  But more to the point, once I start firing in two weeks time, I won't be adding any more to the list.


If anyone out there is planning to purchase a specific doll(s), or porcelain toy(s) in time for Christmas could you PLEASE let me know as soon as possible.  This won't commit you to anything.  If you change your mind that's absolutely fine.  I just want  to avoid the annual problem of being contacted mid November asking if I can supply two of this, or four of that and having to say "sorry, I can't."  I'd much rather have too much than not enough.

Incidentally, the newly re-discovered doll moulds include the following:

  • Tiny Googlie doll
  • Kewpie doll
  • Pouty doll
  • Sulky doll
  • Smiler doll
  • 2 new tiny crawling babies.
I can't post photos until they're completed but if you think you might be interested in any of those in particular, do contact me.

In the meantime, here's the view of my desk today, in the midst of casting chaos.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The grapes of wrath......

We seem to have a creature living in one of the spare bedrooms upstairs.  

First you smell it. As soon as you open the door you notice that there is a definite twang in the air.  It's not unpleasant but it's quite strong.

Then you see it.

Crouched on the floor like a little homonculus, wearing a jacket and sporting a jaunty flannel cravat.

Then you hear it.... bubbling and gurgling.  Occasionally spitting and spluttering.

We keep going in to observe it, marvelling at the activity of this new arrival and checking that it isn't getting up to anything shady.  

It's PP's baby really, and she's tending to it lovingly.  Checking its temperature and adjusting its clothing. Mopping up any leakage and whispering encouragement.  

Apparently, in a week's time, it will give birth to 30 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc.  
I have to admit I'm a tad sceptical, but so long as it's quaffable I'll reserve judgement. 

Best case scenario is we'll get our sight back after two days.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Everything Alice.......

I've been completely submerged in a miniature world of Alice in Wonderland for most of the past month.  What with preparing the Alice toy doll workshop kits for the online show and working on a new Alice-themed toy theatre, I've been feeling slightly batty....  a bit like the Mad Hatter.

It all started when I made a miniature Alice in Wonderland theatre back in July.......

At the time I was really pleased with it, although the more I thought about it, the less pleased I became.  I started wondering about how I could make it more 'animated' by being able to move the characters around, as opposed to their being fixed in place.

And so began several weeks of research and development (also known as wailing and gnashing of teeth) while I worked my way through several prototypes, gradually refining and adding extra features till I ended up with this......

Rather like Alice's adventures in Wonderland, this toy theatre cabinet has several surprises!

Such as the concealed drawer in the base to store the cast of characters.....


There are 20 different characters included with the theatre, and each one is double-sided so that they can stand with their back to the audience if required.

But the best, the VERY BEST thing, is that each tiny character is mounted on a magnetic base, which allows them to be easily swapped and moved around, and they stand perfectly upright and never, EVER fall over.

How GOOD is that?  I mean..... it's practically MAGIC!

I'll gloss over my many attempts which ended in the bin, most of which were crushed in frustration first.  It's taken weeks to get everything just so...... and I can still think of ways to make it even better.

Over the past week I've been further refining the design and there are now two of these theatres listed on the website HERE!

Don't you just love it when a plan eventually comes together.......?

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UPDATE - Since listing the theatres earlier today, both have now sold.  I will be making just a few more and in the meantime I will operate a waiting list.  If you wish to order one, please contact me and I'll add you to my list.  

Friday, 18 July 2014

Alice in Wonderland Workshop....Curiouser and Curiouser!

The August online Mini Miniature Show will take place on 14-17 August and our workshop offering this time will be a half scale Alice toy doll, complete with tiny 'Drink Me' labelled bottle......

Alice is just under 1  3/4" tall!

The doll is porcelain and has china-painted features. She measures just under 1 3/4” tall and has jointed, moveable arms and legs.

Her costume comprises:

  • Silk underwear and petticoat 
  • Silk dress and apron. 
  • Pretty blonde ringlet curls wig, finished with a silk ribbon bow. 
  • Tiny labelled ‘Drink Me’ bottle

Kits also come complete with fully illustrated, step-by-step instruction booklet.
Students will also be invited to attend a tutorial session in my online classroom which is fully interactive, with audio/video links. During the session I will demonstrate elements of the costume and take any questions you might have.

To reserve a workshop pack, please contact me at 
Payment by PayPal only.
Class limited to 10 students

Cost $34 US Dollars ( €25 Euros, £20 GBP) plus shipping

Please let me know your country of residence so that I can calculate shipping, which will be charged at cost.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Where Bloggers Create - July 2014

I can hardly believe it's a whole year since I gave my workroom a much needed complete makeover.  Those hard-working three weeks last last summer are seared into my memory, but if you'd like to take a trip down memory lane HERE is what it looked like before and during the process.

It was finally finished and ready to be unveiled on 17 July last year, and I posted the results just a few days late for the Where Bloggers Create party..... you can see the completed makeover HERE!

I can still remember the mixed feelings of exhaustion and elation and since then, there hasn't been a single working day when my spirits haven't lifted when I walked into our lovely new workroom.

Over the past year there haven't been any major changes, but I've gradually added to and re-organised the storage, and have been able to display more of my little treasures.

So here's a quick guided tour.....

Wall and base unit, IKEA boxes and two bookcases combine to make one wall of  storage

Inside the wall unit, plastic boxes all neatly labelled.

Plain box files decorated with shabby chic papers

An open-fronted unit contains labelled boxes to store all of my ribbons, trimmings, fabrics, toy components etc.

A place for everything and everything in its place...... mostly!

More base units and worktop space, plus a collection of IKEA storage boxes decorated with pretty papers.

Power tool area - mini drill, circular saw and jigsaw

My miniature day nursery room setting, filled with my tiny doll's dolls and toys!

A display of tiny working toys

In the centre of the room a huge worktable and yet more storage cabinets....

Between the two windows, above the worktable, 
a display shelf for newly completed miniature toys

My current project, a work in progress.
La Mignonette - a French-style shop of dolls

Upstairs houses Madememoiselle Emilie's dollmaking workroom, 
along with her 'helpers' Small Dog and Archimedes

On the ground floor is the shop, filled with all manner of doll-related delights.
You can read about the making of La Mignonette HERE.

There isn't much free wall space, but where there is I've used it to display more of my treasured miniature toys and favourite prints.....

The front cover of The Doll's House Magazine, which featured my day nursery

My work space, complete with comfy chair and essential magnifying lamp!

I hope you've enjoyed this whistle stop tour of my creative workspace.  I just LOVE it!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Be careful what you wish for.......

We have just returned from a combined visit/holiday with my daughter in East Anglia.  I was so looking forward to spending time with her and enjoying a relaxing break.

Well, it WAS relaxing, but not quite in the way I'd envisaged.

On day two, in the morning, I had a 'funny turn' and collapsed in the bathroom.  One minute I was fine, the next I was coming to on the floor, in a pool of blood.  I have no idea what happened, but somehow I lost consciousness and fell, hitting my head on the way down resulting in a 3" gash on my head.

So, after I'd recovered somewhat, we set off to the A&E department at Ipswich Hospital, anticipating I'd probably need to have the head wound stitched.  Initially, all went well.  I was rapidly processed through triage but I was feeling increasingly woozy and nauseous.  At that point the doctor abandoned cleaning the head wound and I was moved from Minors to Resus so they could better monitor what was happening as my blood pressure was very low. I was vaguely aware of canullas being inserted, blood being taken, drugs administered etc but to be honest, I couldn't have cared less.

When I re-surfaced I was having IV fluids and was wired up to an ECG and BP machine.  As my BP was remaining resolutely low I was told that I would be admitted for observation.

To be honest, I was feeling so strange that the news didn't really register.   I vaguely remember having the head wound cleaned and glued shut, and being moved to the Emergency Assessment Unit, where I stayed for the rest of the day, gradually improving as the day wore on.

Both PP and my daughter were completely brilliant, as was Small Dog who had come to the hospital with us in the car as we'd thought I'd be patched up and home within a few hours at the most.  In the end it was early evening by the time I was discharged and set off for home complete with large comedy dressing on my head.

Over the following days after we set off for our stay on Mersea Island, I had no option but to relax and take things easy.  The combined effects of the head injury, a mild concussion and whiplash from the fall,  slowed me down considerably, but the weather was perfect and we all thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

I'm feeling much better now, and apart from a lingering headache and still feeling a bit spacey, I'm pretty much back to what passes for normal.

Here are some of the highlights.....

Regular visitor in my daughter's garden.....

 Receiving the healing paw from Small Dog after my accident

Releasing our catch of crabs, much to Small Dog's delight!

Relaxing on the beach at West Mersea

Outside our holiday home at Mersea Island