Sunday, 17 February 2008

Spontaneous combustion............

To the casual observer, there may not appear to be much about dollmaking which signals high risk.

How wrong can you be?

Leaving aside the more obvious hazard of potter's lung, from long term exposure to floating particles of silica from porcelain slip and greenware, there are other, equally dangerous perils.

For example
  • Cuts from surgical scalpel blades
  • Lead poisoning from china paints
  • Major burns from the ceramic kiln or super-hot porcelain pieces
Over the course of the many years I've been porcelain dollmaking, I've had my share of injuries in the workplace, mostly self-inflicted I have to admit. However, I had never actually set fire to myself.

Until last week.

Like many craftspeople who do very close work, I use a magnifying lamp. Mine is clamped to my work desk, can swivel through 360 degrees, and is infinitely adjustable every which way.
When I don't need it, I swing it around of my way, without a second thought.

Until last week.

It was a wonderfully sunny day. Cold and crisp. A real harbinger of spring. I have my work desk right next to the window to garner the maximum amount of natural light, especially while I am china painting.

Painting completed, I swung the lamp around and behind me, and carried on with my work.

After a few minutes I felt a sharp nip on my shoulder. I didn't think much of it, and carried on. A few more minutes and another, sharper tingle, which I rubbed for a second and dismissed. So engrossed was I with what I was doing that over the course of the next half hour, while the nipping and tingling continued, I put it down to some of my normal MS symptoms, which often feel like electric shocks.

As the sun moved position, these nips were becoming more insistent, and I suddenly realised that I might have a bee, wasp or spider inside my fleecy jumper...trapped and probably very annoyed. The nips were now feeling like bad stings.

Debating whether or not to remove the fleece and give it a thorough stamping on, I happened to glance over my shoulder, to see a thin plume of smoke rising. I was on fire! Or rather my jumper was.

Sudden panic, flailing around, trying to simultaneously extinguish the smoke and remove the jumper.

Calm was eventually restored, and examination of the whole of the back of the shoulder and sleeve of the jumper revealed a lace-like tracery of burn holes. Some only a few mm, others much, much larger. The material had burned and melted onto my skin, accounting for the stinging, tingling pain, which stopped as soon as I moved.

Of course, the potentially devastating conflagration was caused by the sun shining through the lens of my magnifying lamp, and forming a tiny spot of concentrated sunlight on my back. I dread to think of the consequences if I hadn't been personally involved, and had gone out of the room for an hour or so. Would the whole house have gone up in smoke?

I now make sure that the lamp is firmly tucked away from the window and I've made a little bag cover for the lens 'just in case'.

You know what they say about 'million to one' chances............. they are probably an absolute certainty!

Incidentally, the devastated jumper has been put to good use. We cut off the undamaged sleeve and made a cosy little coat for small dog. If I ask her really nicely, and manage to catch her between naps, she just might pose for a photo tomorrow.

Take care!

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