Monday, 31 May 2010

Terrier racing........

Gorgeous Daughter went to a County Show recently, excited at the prospect of Terrier Racing.... a sport of which I was blissfully unaware.

As the owner of a terrier, I am fully cognicsant of the terrier credo - 'If It Moves....Chase It. So when friends let us know that they were entering their dog into a terrier race at their local County Show over the weekend, I was understandably curious about what would ensue.

They seemed to be quite confident of young Frederick Albert Chang's prospects, as before the event they ordered a cabinet to house his trophy. Sadly, the confidence turned out to be misplaced as he failed to finish, finding the spectators rather more interesting than the lure.

No matter.

I've been finding out more about the ancient sport of terrier racing, and its more recent modern incarnation.

It has been my experience that terriers like two things.

Chasing things and scrapping. Not necessarily in that order. So to my mind, the prospect of putting a random bunch of assorted terriers in traps, waving a small furry creature (lure) in front of them to wind them up to frenzy pitch, then releasing them to chase the lure, can only result in mayhem and carnage.

This was borne out by the very first terrier racing clip I chanced upon via You Tube. In the first part, some random hound who isn't even supposed to be in the race, dashes out from the spectator's area and grabs the lure, which race officials then struggle and fail to prise from its jaws.

Then one of the dogs manages to catch the lure and mayhem ensues. Dogs running in all directions, owners trying to separate scrapping terriers...... BRILLIANT!

Apparently it is traditional to keep a bucket of water at each of the track to cool the competitive spirits of the dogs (or owners)

I'm all for letting Small Dog have a go, but PP is more circumspect and will only allow it if SD can wear full body armour.


Bitter experience teaches miniaturists the wisdom of the acronym 'K.I.S.S.

Which, as we all know, stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid.

I should have subscribed to that principle, as for a large part of today I have been involved in creating THIS...

Can you guess what it is yet?

Top marks if you guessed it is the unholy guddle that represent the wiring for my nursery room box.


Despite the fact that is is most certainly NOT a thing of beauty, the end result is this....


And only mild second degree burns from a recalcitrant and unstable soldering iron.


Saturday, 29 May 2010

Quit while your're ahead......

Doesn't time fly when you're enjoying yourself. I just looked up at the clock to see the time and it's gone 6pm! I thought it was about 3-ish, but such has been my level of concentration and engrossment (is that a word?) the time has just rushed by.

I'm really quite chuffed with my achievements today, although inevitably there were lots of unforeseen difficulties along the way, which I overcame with a combination of rank stupidity, derring-do and absolutely no forethought at all.

However, much progress has been made, as I shall demonstrate. Bear in mind that nothing is fixed permanently in situ yet, as I still have to shorten electric wires etc and finalise tape runs.

Not bad eh? The floor has come up beautifully, thanks to a mixture of burnt sienna and dark brown acrylic paint, mixed together and thinned down with water, then brushed on, left to dry for a few minutes, then wiped off with a dry cloth. It's taken the sheen off too, so that the floor just looks waxed rather than varnished.

I'm also really pleased with the cabinets set into the false wall. I managed to find a sample paint pot in a really lovely period colour, which matched the blue in the wallpaper perfectly. I've set light bulbs into each of the top sections of both cabinets which should give a cosy glow.

The fireplace wiring, as predicted, did give me a major problem, as I have to run the wires from two wall lights, a flickering fire unit and another light bulb, along the floor on the left hand side, to behind the left cabinet. You can see the bundle of wires in the photograph.
I had calculated the measurements of the false wall and inset cabinets to the last nano-millimetre, so if I ran the wires by the side of the left hand cabinet, the whole back wall assembly wouldn't fit. So I had to drill a hole at the bottom left hand corner of the cabinet, just big enough to let the wires run through, while allowing the cabinet to fit flush against the wall.

Not easy, and I'm not 100% satisfied with the result but I'll tidy it up tomorrow. The wall paper is all fixed in place, but I haven't yet been able to check any of the lighting to see if it works. I learnt the hard way years ago, that being impatient to check lighting runs just after wallpapering was a Bad Idea. The wallpaper paste conducted the electricity across the copper tapes and caused a catastrophic short circuit which blew all the light bulbs and frightened the life out of me. So nowadays I always leave 24 hours to let everything dry thoroughly before doing a lighting test.

That aside though, I'm quite pleased with my day's work. There's still an awful lot to do - curtains, soft furnishings, view through the window, trompe l'oeil panel behind the door, fire hearth to make.....the list goes on and on. And that's before I even think about furnishing it and adding all the little finishing touches.

But for now my work here is done, and a large glass of something chilled is calling me from the kitchen.


Nursery roombox update 1........


So far so good.

Have made a decision on the wall lights and will have two equally spaced on the chimney breast.

No problemo.

Except I have made the chimney breast construction from foamboard, so that it can be hollow to take the wiring from the wall lights and the light which will be installed in the fireplace. Foamboard is lovely to work with. It is light and easy to cut with a craft knife. It has a smooth surface which can be painted or papered over, with the proviso that it has a tendency to warp when it comes into contact with anything even remotely liquid.

Like paint or wallpaper paste.

The back false wall which I'd papered a few weeks back had dried into a definite curve, which is annoying but fortunately not irrevocable. I simply 'hot glued' a strip of wood along the back which has straightened it out beautifully, and also given some strength and support to the lightweight construction.

I was determined that this warping wouldn't affect the chimney breast, so before wallpapering it, I glued some right-angled quadrant moulding to the inside corners using hot glue, which sets immediately and doesn't cause any warping at all.

At this point, after I'd measured and cut the wallpaper, but thankfully BEFORE I'd pasted it on, I remembered about the wall lights, so carefully measured and marked their positions. Making holes to thread the wires through would be a 2 second job using a large embroidery needle.

Or so I thought.


Naturally, the wood quadrant I'd used to stabilise the interior corners, covered the back of the area I where I wanted to install the lighting.


Moving the position of the lights wasn't really an option or they'd be too close together and look odd. So there was nothing else for it. I had to root around for just the right size of drill bit to drill the holes through the wood, rather than simply poking a needle through.

These things are sent to try us, as I'm sure any miniaturist will agree. If there's one thing we can always rely on, it is that something unforeseen will crop up at the the most inopportune time.

However, the correct size of drill bit was eventually located and the holes have been drilled. The chimney breast has been papered and is currently drying in the airing cupboard.

Hopefully warp-free.

I'm not holding my breath.......

While it is drying, I am trying to get on with some other things, but am being thwarted at every turn.

Somewhere in the house, I have a little gripseal bag with assorted brass door knobs. I need two for the door but can't find them anywhere. Of course as soon as I've bought some more, I will come across the bag.

I also need some 1/16" thick stripwood, exactly 1 1/2" wide, to make the window casement shutters and the fielded panels for the front of the window seat.

Predictably, I have dozens and dozens of lengths of 1/16" thick stripwood, in every conceivable width.

Except 1 1/2".


So, in the meantime I am going to paint the skirting boards.

Progress so far..........

Ok. So yes.

I know it looks even further behind than the last photos, but that's because I've had to strip everything out to install the lighting. The photo also highlights the floor, which I intend to 'age and distress' by painting on a slightly darker acrylic wash and rubbing it off before it dries so that the grain of the wood shows up better. Hopefully that will also take the sheen off the resin, avoiding the necessity for a further coat of matte sealer.

Note to self - experiment with some of the floor offcuts FIRST before committing to this course of action.

Right, back to it then.

Straight after a cup of tea and chocolate HobNob.....


As predicted, it is raining today.

Rather wishy-washy, showery stuff, as though its heart really isn't in it, but rain nonetheless.

Instead of lovely, clear blue skies, we have shades of grey. It's like living inside Tupperware.

The weather has informed my mood, which is a bit meh.

Not to mention bleagh.

With a bit of ho-hum thrown in for good measure.

I'm girding my loins for doing battle with the electrical installation in the room box. As a veteran of 25 years, this shouldn't faze me in the slightest. I've wired everything from a massive 20 room baronial mansion down to a little shop window display, so I'm not going to come across anything I can't deal with.


The main problem is I don't have enough copper tape to do all the runs I need. So it will be a 50:50 installation - half copper tape with lights directly to plugs which connect directly into the tape, and half wired lighting which will run to a socket strip concealed behind the false wall.

I'm not entirely happy about that, but I'm loath to buy another reel of copper tape just because I'm a foot or so short. I'm also still swithering about the wall lights. Because I need the ceiling to be removable to aid better photography inside the box, I won't be using ceiling lights. I have some pretty wall lights with tulip glass shades which will do the trick but wall lights take up precious wall space, which is at a premium. I've more or less decided, therefore, to put wall lights on the chimney breast. This has the added attraction that I can run the wires down inside the chimney breast construction, and along the floor to behind the false wall, where they can simply plug in to the socket strip.

However, do I use just one wall light centrally on the chimney breast over the fireplace, perhaps illuminating a nursery sampler or similar, or use two, equally spaced to give more light? I could try out both styles on my foamboard construction to see how they look. I haven't wallpapered the chimney breast yet, so any holes will be covered over. However I'd rather just make a decision and be done with it.

Carpe diem and all that.

I think I need a cup of tea and Kit Kat to mull this over before I start. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, I think it's a four finger problem.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Marathon week............

I seem to have crammed more work into this past week than all of the last four put together.

Which is good, because I had really fallen behind on lots of things.

Over the Bank Holiday weekend I'm planning on getting the lighting installed in my little day nursery, which I just know will take longer than I anticipate. So lots of hole drilling, soldering and electrical jerrymandering will be taking place. I've been putting it off as I'm still meithering about where to put wall lights etc.

However, I can't get any further at all with the roombox until all the electrics are in place, then I can decorate (wallpaper) and install the false wall with the built-in window seat. I might even get as far as doing the curtains and window seat base cushion if all goes well, but it's probably best not to tempt fate.

In other news.... there is no other news.

Nothing to see here really.

You might as well move along

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Busy, busy, busy.........

So much to do, so little time. I've been multitasking like a crazy woman since Monday, packaging orders, working on the new website, casting (yes again!), and refining a brand new toy doll kit which is finished at last.

Not to mention completing three little toy dolls which will be listed for sale by the end of the week.


The one in the middle is the template for the new kit. I've also made kits for the other two Jumeau-style dolls in dresses and jackets.

Predictably, the weather is on the slide on the way towards the Bank Holiday weekend. It's been raining off and on all day today and the temperature has dropped markedly. So much for planning a BBQ weekend in the garden.

I might as well just work through the weekend to try to catch up with everything.....

Monday, 24 May 2010


After several weeks of working feverishly on the new website, we are pleased to announce that it is now LIVE!!

You can visit it HERE

It is still a work in progress and we're finding lots of things to if you find any 'glitches' then do please let us know.

As a 'Thank You' to all our customers, we're offering a discount voucher (£3.00 off any order of £20 or more) to the first 100 people to create an account on the site.

We have lots of plans in preparation for the coming months and we're adding more miniatures every day, so please visit regularly to see new items.

In the meantime I'm off for a lie down. All this excitement is proving too much!

Good grief............

Doesn't time fly!

I can't believe it's almost a week since my last blog post.

We have just returned from three days camping, fortuitously over the best three days weatherwise this year so far.

The sun shone from morning till night from a cloudless blue sky. We found a perfect pitch with no children nearby, but excellent views of a lovely section of the campsite. Each day a gentle, cooling breeze filtered through our awning sunshade and all was well with the world.

The three days were given over to relaxing, reading, chatting, cooking/eating outdoors and generally letting all the work-related stress of the last few weeks evaporate.

Small Dog voted the weekend one of her best camping trips ever. She had long sleeps in the shade in her own special chair, souvlaki and sausages on consecutive nights, BBQ'd just as the sun was setting over the trees. From her vantage point in the awning she could keep an eye on all the other dogs, not to mention the legions of rabbits who appeared late afternoon to graze on the lush green grass.

And walks.

Lots and lots of walks.

Including one to Catsfield, about which she was both sceptical and fascinated in equal measure. As we strolled along in the sunshine on Saturday afternoon, on the mile and half walk to Catsfield village, she expressed her opinion that a field full of cats would indeed be a sight to behold. However she suspected that keeping cats in a field, with no method of containment, would prove futile, as cats are so good at jumping over fences. She further mused over the advisability of keeping cats in a field in any case, as surely they would come to resent this restriction of their liberties.

Small Dog has a remarkable capacity for philosophical thought.

And sausages.

Anyways, she declared herself thoroughly vindicated when we got all the way to Catsfield without spying a single feline, in a field or otherwise...... merely lots of horses.

Nevertheless, once in Catsfield we availed ourselves of some fresh local grocery supplies at the village store then made a slight detour to the nearby hostelry for some cold liquid refreshment to sustain us before tackling the walk back to the campsite. Unfortunately the walk back was ALL uphill with the consequence that the distance felt twice as long in the mid-afternoon heat. Even Small Dog was dragging her paws by the time we reached the shady sanctuary of our little campervan awning.

All in all a thoroughly lovely break, far from the madding crowd. The weather is due to go downhill from tomorrow, and the looming Bank Holiday Weekend is forecast to be cool and showery.

Just as well then that we have been unable to book anything for next weekend as every campsite within a 2 hour travelling distance is full. Our decision to treat this weekend as our Bank Holiday instead is therefore fully vindicated.

Don't you just love it when a plan works out.....

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

I need a slo-time envelope......

Somewhere in the science fiction canon I vaguely remember reading a short story about a 'slo-time envelope' into which you could slip if you wanted to exist outside of time.

Inside the envelope you could spend a few hours, or months, or even years, doing pretty much what you wanted, then when you stepped back outside, mere nanoseconds had passed.

I wants one.

I can't remember what was inside the envelope, but mine would contain a small room, light and bright, with a window overlooking a stunning view, either of the sea, or mountains, or both. In that room I would be able to catch up with all the myriad tasks which are currently clamouring for my attention. It wouldn't matter if I spent all day/week/month/year in there, because in the real world no time will have passed.


However, in the absence of a fully functional slo-time envelope, I am drowning in an ocean of 'stuff to do', most of which is really important and/or extremely urgent. The net effect is that I feel completely immobilised and incapable of carrying out even the most simple of tasks.

If I sit down to do 'A', I immediately remember that 'B' should have been done yesterday.

So I leave off doing 'A' and take up 'B'.

But then it occurs to me that 'C' will only take 5 minutes, so it would be stupid not to get it out of the way first.

Then the phone rings and by the time I get back I've forgotten what I was doing and resume 'A'

And so it goes.......

Time management was never my forte, but my current downward spiral of ineptitude is both frustrating and depressing in equal measure.


I'm off into the workroom to do some mindless, repetitive, menial tasks which require absolutely NO decision making or creative input whatsoever.

I may be gone for some time..........

Saturday, 15 May 2010

KDF chronicle........

And so it came to pass that yesterday I travelled up to that there London to experience the first day of the internationally renowned Kensington Dollshouse Festival 2010.

I rarely visit London these days. The journey from St Leonards on Sea takes around 90 minutes, which is not, in itself, disagreeable.

I used to live and work in London. Bought my first house in London. My daughter was born in London. I learned to drive and passed my test in London. But that was almost 30 years ago and everything is very different now.

I particularly noticed how insulated people are. Almost everyone is plugged into an electronic device of some description....... netbooks, phones, iPods and the like and actual human interaction is kept to an absolute minimum. People stay in their own little bubble.

On the tube from Embankment to High Street Kensington, a journey of about 20 minutes, the carriages were busy but not jam-packed. I got a seat in a carriage mostly full of men with a few women dotted around. At the second station, two elderly ladies got on and there were no available seats. I stood up and offered my seat to one of the ladies who took it gratefully. No one else moved. A few stops further on, a young woman who had been engrossed in her iPhone, noticed the other old lady clinging onto the handrail and also offered her seat. Not a single man moved. Except to exit the train. Chivalry and plain good manners were nowhere to be seen. I glared at the chap sitting below a sign which requested that people occupying the seat give it up for elderly or disabled passengers. The two ladies in question were probably in their late 70s so obviously elderly, yet not a single man thought to give up his seat for either of them.


Anyway. Reached Kensington Town Hall without getting involved in an unseemly fracas over bad-mannered tube travellers and joined the queue at the foot of the steps. By midday the queue had snaked its way all around the little square and right down Hornton Street into the High Street.

Once inside, I quickly made my way to the various exhibitors highlighted on my floor plans and began my peregrinations. As ever, the standards of artisanship were extremely high and just browsing was a delight. However I had a Little List so I had to remain focused and try not to get distracted.

Variable success on that one.

Nevertheless, within an hour I had managed to find several items on my list.

So, in no particular order...........

Can you guess what it is yet?

Yes, too easy, it's a nursery fender designed to stop children falling into the fire. This one is painted brass and will go perfectly with the small working fireplace bought at KDF last year.

I will probably hang some children's clothes over the fender to air.

Next I was seduced by this......

This knitted Peter Rabbit stands just 1 1/2" tall and was made by IGMA artisan, Helen Palenski all the way from New Zealand.

Did I mention that he's KNITTED! And the attention to detail is amazing. The insides of his ears are a delicate pink. He has little yellow buttons on his jacket, and even carries a knitted carrot.


I was on the lookout for a carpet or rug for the day nursery, but couldn't find anything I really liked. So I decided to look for a rug kit instead.


Yes I know what you're thinking.

What WAS I thinking? And you're right. Not only a rug kit, but two cushion kits for the window seat too.

Counted cross stitch.

On 22ct canvas.

But before you get carried away with your sniggering, I plan to take them with me on camping trips over the summer. If I work on them a little bit every day they'll be finished in no time.


Moving swiftly on.........

Rather more prosaic and utilitarian but essential for the day nursery. I intend to have two children having a nursery tea, while their two little dolls also enjoy a 'pretend' tea party. So I needed a rather basic 1/12 scale table and two chairs, plus a 1/24 scale set for the dolls. You won't recognise them by the time I'm finished with them as I will be painting and decorating the chairs and making a pretty tablecloth for the children's set, as well as prettying up the doll's set too.

Next up.........

These were by Federico Tores of Reina Mab Miniatures, from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The book is simply amazing, with fantastically detailed 3-D pop up pages throughout.

I already have a few miniature Victorian puzzle boxes, including one I made myself, but this one is just outstanding, so I just had to have it for my toy collection. The attention to detail is unsurpassed. The box is perfectly made and the lid fits snugly. No mean feat in something so very small. Inside are 6 gorgeous, vintage colour illustrations of the various pictures which can be made using the blocks.

But the best bit is the 12 individual wooden puzzle blocks, each measuring exactly 3mm on each edge. Each of the 6 faces on each block has 1/12 of the puzzle picture, so it is possible, with the help of tweezers, a magnifying glass, a steady hand and infinite patience, to assemble any of the 6 different pictures. Needless to say I will not be removing the puzzle from the box any time soon.

There were a few other small DIY purchases..... glue, grain of wheat light bulbs etc, but my most favourite piece, which I collected from the artist after having commissioned it last month, was this dummy board, featuring none other than Small Dog, alongside the 19th Century Lydiard Girl.

Sue Newstead, of Past Mastery is a world expert on dummy boards and their history, and makes full size as well as miniature versions. She has been blogging the making of this piece over the past few weeks, and a fascinating process it is too. She slightly adapted the Lydiard Girl to hold a little toy doll, and the addition of Small Dog is a piece of whimsy, although she has captured the essence of Small Dog perfectly, right down to the enquiring twinkle in her eye.

There is also an interesting back story about the making of this dummy board, which I will reveal shortly, with kind permission of Small Dog and her Good Friend, Delphi Dog.

However, for the time being I'm all blogged out. Hope everyone who is attending the festival over the three days has a wonderful time. I look forward to catching up with many of you on your blogs over the coming few days......

More anon.

But first............


Had a full 10 hours sleep last night but still feeling worn out this morning. I do pity the exhibitors at KDF who have to do it all again today AND tomorrow, before packing up and heading home.

Before I chronicle my KDF experience though, I must tell you about a purchase I made a few days ago and which arrived yesterday while I was up in London.

This young chap was created by the talented Jane Laverick, whose blog posts are among my favourite reads each week. Earlier this week Jane mentioned dolls for sale at remarkable prices in her online shop. If you've got a minute, have a browse through her listings and read the descriptions which are wonderful. I particularly like the Devil.

Anyhoo, the young fellow above was in bargain corner at a frankly unbelievable price (£8.00 - no I didn't believe it either!) so I quickly snapped him up for my fancy dress children project.


The overgrown garden folly? Stone pavilion? Amazing bargain on Ebay...


Never mind.

He looks even better in real life than in the photograph and revels in the name of Undersized D'Arcy. That's what Jane called him as at just over 4" tall he was too small for a 1/12th man and too big for a 1/16th man. However, he is just perfect as a 1/12th child.

Serendipity or what?!

I don't want him to get a complex about his slight stature though, so I've renamed him young D'Arcy, and he is currently getting acclimatised to his new surroundings, sitting on a cotton reel in the workroom.


Friday, 14 May 2010


Home safely.

Fair wonderful.

Purchases exciting.

Completely exhausted.

Delishus dinner.

Chilled wine.

Blog tomorrow.

Bed now...........

Thursday, 13 May 2010


A visit to one of the major international miniature fairs, such as Miniatura or the Kensington Dollshouse Festival requires logistical planning consistent with a military operation. Time is at a premium and with over 175 top quality artisans exhibiting, the collector who is visiting for just one day has to be well prepared for the task in hand.

Today I shall be planning my campaign with military precision, from calculating the amount of time it will take me to travel from the south coast up to central London by rail, then westwards to High Street Kensington by tube. I estimate that door to door will take approximately 2 hours, give or take.

Last week I printed off the three pages of floor plans, and each day have put aside time to use these, in conjunction with the comprehensive online exhibitor's list, which has helpful links to many individual's websites.

My floor plans now feature colourful 'highlighting' on stands of particular interest, along with copious notes for things to look out for. I intend to visit favourite exhibitors first, using my highlighted pages as a route map.

As part of the rationale for pre-booking a Friday ticket is because of the limited numbers who can attend, I'm hopeful that the three halls will not be too packed out, although of course there are always bottlenecks around the most popular exhibitors in each genre.

As the afternoon progresses, I will gauge the time to leave by:

a) How tired I am
b) I've run out of cash

Hopefully these two variables will coincide, and in order to pre-empt the Friday afternoon rush hour I will be ready to set off for home by 4.30-ish. The fair doesn't close till 6pm, but I shall be exhausted and/or penniless long before then.

I'm really looking forward to it..........

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Hive of activity..........

I have been a very busy bee today and have accomplished, in no particular order:

  • Second china painting and firing of all the tiny toy dolls fired last week
  • All current invoices have been processed
  • Tidied my office desk (this might not sound like much but you should have seen the mess it was in beforehand)
  • Cleared out and rationalised ALL the tool boxes in the workroom.
  • Made a start on the end of year accounts by beginning to "organise the paperwork"
This is all of course A Good Thing and gives me a feeling of achievement and a sense of pleasure in jobs well done.


All of the above most definitely qualify, in some sense, as displacement activity, as I should have been engaged in a thorough appraisal of where I am with The Book. I'm due to have a publishing consultation next week and I need to be thoroughly prepared, otherwise it will be a complete waste of time.

To be thoroughly prepared I have to go through all my notes relating to The Book, scrutinise the layout structure, review the chapters in various stages of completion and try to work out where it all goes from here.

It's not rocket science, and it's not going to take long, but for some reason I keep putting it off, which is making me annoyed with myself. It comes to something when even doing the accounts is the more attractive task.


In other news, some progress has been made with the room box in advance of my trip up to KDF on Friday. I'll be picking up a very special item which I've commissioned, and am compiling a shopping list of bits and pieces I need to complete the nursery. I'm really looking forward to the fair itself, but not the journey, which is always a bit of a pain.

In other, other news, I received my invitation to the Spring 2011 Miniatura yesterday. We exhibited at the 50th Miniatura in Spring 2008 but haven't attended since then. I'm inclined to book it, especially if everything goes according to plan with The Book but if so we wouldn't do it by campervan with Small Dog in attendance.

Hm, lots to think about. But for now, I'm going to spend some time immersed in what I should have been doing all along.

Displacement activity permitting of course.....

Monday, 10 May 2010

Another grey Monday.........

I'm fairly sure it shouldn't be THIS cold in May. After a very dull, grey start to the day, the sun is now struggling to break though the clouds and good luck to it I say.

However, even if it suddenly turns tropical outside, I will be confined to barracks today, trying to navigate my way through the maze of tasks clamouring for my attention.

As this will be yet another 'short week' due to my visit to KDF on Friday, I really, REALLY have to concentrate and stay focused. There is just SO MUCH stuff to do though and I will have to prioritise.

Top of the "URGENT" list has to be the THD website.

We've been beavering away on it behind the scenes for the past week, and it has come on in leaps and bounds. However the temptation to keep fiddling and tinkering with it is overwhelming, and I'm beginning to think that it might be weeks before it's up and running again, which is clearly A Bad Thing.

Next on the list is the day nursery room box. I need to have the basic interior structure done and dusted, hopefully by Friday, so that I can see exactly what I need to be looking for.

After that, there is the small matter of china painting all the tiny toys and dolls which were bisque fired last week. With at least 3 paint firings to complete, the whole process will take around a week.

Some way down the list (although it should be much nearer the top) is the end of year accounts which have to be done so that I can submit the business tax return. In a perfect world this could be postponed indefinitely, and even in this imperfect world I usually do manage to postpone it to as near indefinitely as dammit, but eventually even I have to buckle down and enter my own personal accounting hell.

Also on the list, although it should be right at the very top of the 'A1 URGENT - DO RIGHT NOW WITHOUT FAIL!!!' list, is working on The Book. The countdown timer on my desktop perkily informs me that I have 143 days till my publishing deadline which is worrying and reassuring in roughly equal measure.


Enough of this. I have to go and get on.

I may be gone for some time.......

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Progress report...........

I've been tinkering with the day nursery room box. I found some wonderful resin flooring, which looks just like old floorboards, complete with nail holes, cracks etc and it has been temporarily laid on the floor. I don't want to fix it permanently in situ yet until I have all the structural components of the room worked out. I'll be 'matting' it then too as it's a bit too shiny in its original state.

I'm a great fan of those plain wood shelving units either side of the recessed window. I have used them on all three floors of my toy shop, and they will also feature in my Art Deco doll shop.
In the day nursery I will paint, then distress them. I won't use the perspex shelves supplied though, so I will have to cut wooden shelves to fit.

I had another epiphany when I was playing around with the layout. As the wall they're standing in front of is a false wall, (in order to create the recessed window and compulsory cosy window seat) I can also recess the shelving units by setting them into the wall. This will have a number of advantages.

  • It removes the necessity to paint/distress the top/sides of the units.
  • I can do something creative with lighting behind the false wall to illuminate the shelves
  • It creates lots of display space without sacrificing valuable floor space.

I'm a great believer in serendipity. One of the scenes I want to create in the day nursery is two children having a doll's tea party, and I came across this wonderful illustration earlier today which really captures the sort of look I'm aiming for.

Result squared.

My day nursery will be set in a later period 1899/1900 so the girl's costumes will be slightly different, but I just love the opulence and variety of their wonderful toy dolls.

I've started the shopping list for my visit to KDF next Friday, where I hope I will serendipitously come across the perfect accoutrements for my room box. I'll be taking a little pack of samples of the wallpaper and soft furnishings fabrics I'm thinking of using, so that I can ensure nothing clashes.

I'm hoping to no particular order....

  • Large-ish rug. Yes I could stitch one myself but it wouldn't be ready till sometime in 2035.
  • Circular table and two chairs for the children.
  • Ditto for their dolls.
  • Tiny tea party food for the toy dolls. This would probably have to be 1:48 scale.
  • Nursery fireguard/fender.
  • Tiled hearth
I'll also be on the lookout for interesting and unusual accessories which leap out and proclaim "BUY ME!!!"

If anyone knows of any artisans exhibiting at KDF that I should specifically look out for, do please let me know. I have a limited amount of time so I have to remain focused and avoid distractions.

As if.........

Fruits of my labours.......

Following my marathon casting/soft-cleaning/kiln-loading exercise over recent weeks, here is a sight to gladden the eye of anyone who works with porcelain.

What you are looking at is the top shelf of three, following a bisque firing. All those tiny limbs, perfectly fired, represent the culmination of a month's work, and it doesn't stop there.

No by no nonny no.

On the bottom two shelves underneath are all the little bodies/heads, which will each require up to 4 subsequent china paint firings.

However, at this point, I am simply relieved that the bisque firing went well. I know of no ceramicist who doesn't experience a frisson of trepidation just before opening their kiln. There are many things which can go wrong, most of which I have experienced during the 25 years I've been working with porcelain.

  • Minor glitches might involve pieces having shifted around during the firing process. This is fairly unusual because the porcelain shrinks and pieces move further apart. However if pieces end up touching, they can fuse together. I implement an exclusion zone around the kiln after it's been loaded, to avoid anyone inadvertently knocking it slightly, and possibly jolting the carefully placed pieces inside. This, of course, is a hanging offence.
  • Underfire - this is very annoying, but fortunately rectifiable. If the temperature within the kiln doesn't reach the highest programmed point for whatever reason, the porcelain will not vitrify (mature) properly. This results in pieces which look 'chalky'. The solution is to refire and ensure that the top temperature is achieved.
  • Overfire - disastrous. I have only had this happen once, with a previous kiln which used a kiln sitter device to switch the kiln off when the top temperature was reached. One of the kiln shelves was resting against the kiln sitter (my fault entirely), so the sitter wasn't tripped off when it should have been. The temperature continued to rise to the maximum and stayed there for ages, until I noticed the unusual acrid smell emanating from the kiln. This is a Bad Thing. It doesn't do the kiln elements much good either. However the main victim is always the contents. Overfired porcelain is glassy and shiny. Instead of a lovely, healthy flesh colour, it turns deathly white. The surface is usually pitted, and there may be tiny bubbles, where the porcelain began to 'boil'. The only solution is to bin the lot. Devastating if it's taken weeks to cast enough dolls to fill the kiln.
  • Thermal shock. This can be scary. My previous kiln had various plugs and bungs to vent the kiln at different stages of firing. If the kiln is very hot, a blast of cold air into it can lead to thermal shock, which causes pieces of porcelain to explode, as very hot meets very cold. A bit like the Icelandic volcano's erupting magma meeting glacial ice. Kaboom! Obviously, explosions within a confined area, can cause a lot of damage, usually to the body of the kiln itself. I have only experienced one fairly minor example of this, early on in my firing career when I was still going through the 'let's try this and see what happens' phase, known and loved by all novices. I vented one of the plugs too soon, letting in very cold air, and could hear some alarming pops and cracks inside. Hours later, when the kiln was cool enough to open, and I lifted the lid, I discovered that a few bodies right by the vent had shattered, taking out some of their neighbours in the process. A porcelain version of 'friendly fire'. Luckily, apart from a few dents in the fire bricks lining the kiln wall, there was no damage to the elements.
These are just a few of the mishaps which can greet the anxious eyes of a dollmaker when opening the kiln after a full bisque firing. The lower temperature soft firings, and china paint firings, by comparison, are a piece of cake.

Speaking of which, I could just go a cup of tea and big bit of cake.

Hmmmm.... cake.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Another fine mess........

Stayed up into the early hours of this morning to watch the election results so v. tired today, not to mention extremely disgruntled.

Just how one of the oldest democracies on the planet could make such a hash of the whole thing beggars belief.

Here in Hastings & Rye we have a new MP in the shape of Amber Rudd (sounds a bit fishy to me) about whom I know nothing. She ousted our excellent constituency MP who had held the seat for 13 years and had worked tirelessly for the area. He's extremely popular and will be a hard act to follow. He very nearly held on. Only 1,993 votes separated them.


I'm now girding my loins for the endless media speculation today about how the hung parliament will pan out.

Will they, won't they. Moral imperatives. Jump or be pushed. Constitutional crisis. Electoral reform being used as a bargaining chip. Pacts, deals and shady assignations between the main players.

None of it bodes well and already this morning the markets are in disarray and the £ is on the slide. There'll be rioting in the streets next.

I might just go back to bed for the duration.


Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Tangled angles......

Up bright and early this morning to tackle the last of the dreaded soft-cleaning (removal of seam lines on castings) which inevitably took much longer than I had anticipated, so it was almost lunchtime by the time I had meticulously loaded the kiln with hundreds of tiny little limbs and bodies.

I then decided to make a long overdue start on my day nursery room box and have got as far as this.

Not much to show for a whole afternoon's work I hear you say.

Pshaw and tush.

Ok, I'll grant you that putting together 4 sides of a box isn't ground-breaking stuff. However I have in mind to install a false wall, behind which I can hide all the lighting and electrical gubbins and in the process, create a recess into which I can put a comfy window seat.

Sounds simple doesn't it?

I thought so too, until I'd spent a hour on Version 1, which was complete pants.

Version 2 started off promisingly enough, until I got to the point where I had to do the angled recess.

Geometry was never my forte. As you can see.

Anyway, I think I've just about cracked it, and the angled recesses are now in place, if a teeny bit wonky. However, I am reasonably confident that by the time I add some artfully draped curtains any discrepancies in my angle calculations should be practically undetectable.

Tomorrow I'm going to install the copper tape runs, lighting sockets, LEDs etc. I have a soldering iron and I'm not afraid to use it. Although this time I won't inadvertently burn a hole in the carpet.


Also, at some point during the day I'll be exercising my democratic right to vote.

Woo hoo......

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Having had an unreasonably Good Time over the weekend, I decided to make up for it today by doing full a 6 hour stint of my most hated task.

Soft cleaning.


This was interspersed with some time spent on the new website with PP, who is working wonders with an unfamiliar setup. It's still some way off from being ready to unveil but it is at least getting there.

Tomorrow I am planning to complete the soft cleaning *fingers crossed* then get the kiln loaded for a bisque firing. Which is excellent timing as tomorrow is forecast to be cold, grey and wet so the borrowed heat from the kiln will be doubly welcome.

If all goes well I'm also going to start to assemble my Victorian day nursery room box kit.

You remember?

The one I picked up at the Kensington Dollshouse Fair last May, and which has been languishing in kit form upstairs for the past year.


I might even be able to get the bare bones of it completed before I head up to London on 14th for this year's fair.

I won't be holding my breath though.......

In other news, the woods behind the house are carpeted with tens of thousands of bluebells and wood anemones, which are always cheering.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Zen and the Art of Shopping Cart Maintenance.......

I have always associated Zen with a calm, meditative state.

Zen Cart however, is designed to promote the very opposite.

That is, a state of frustration, interspersed with periods of intense angst and heightened anxiety.

In short, a state as far removed from Zen-like calm as you are ever likely to encounter.

Just why an e-commerce shopping cart programme designer should choose to call it Zen Cart is difficult to fathom. However, ours is not to reason why.


Having completed the installation of the Zen Cart programme, accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we then attempted to change the basic template to something a bit more conducive.

I now know why website managers charge upwards of £30 an hour for 'support'.

We spent most of yesterday repeatedly failing to install the template, admittedly because the instructions were complete rubbish. Eventually by a process of trial and error (mostly error) we did manage to change the template, and although there is still a long way to go, it does feel as if we're making progress, albeit very, very slowly.

The upside is that we're learning lots and lots of stuff about the back end of websites and control panel and FTP and PHP and Apache and MySQL and other assorted acronyms. Of course by a week on Thursday we will have forgotten it all but that's not the point.

So having spent the first two days of the Bank Holiday Weekend submerged in website stuff, we decided to take the day off today and mosey down into town to observe the Hastings Jack-in-the-Green festivities.

And very festive they were too.

If you happen to like green.

The procession of The Jack, Giants, Sweeps, 6 foot tall Ravens, Morris Dancers etc through the Old Town was, as usual, strangely surreal, accompanied as it was by the addition of tens of thousands of leather-clad bikers mingling with the crowds.

Happily the rain (mostly) stayed away, the sun (intermittently) shone, while we wandered through the revellers to a little cafe right at the end of the beach road where we ate the best beer-battered freshly caught fish and chunky chips I have ever had. The cafe was chock-full of burly bikers, two of whom squeezed onto the chairs beside us, still in their full leathers. The one next to me sported an eclectic collection of tattoos, while his mate bristled with piercings.

PP and I, thirsty from our peregrinations, ordered a beer with our fish and chips, while the bikers carefully perused the menu. Finally, the one with the piercings very politely ordered a latte, much to the disgust of his tattooed chum who gruffly intoned "Oh he's always showing us up like that! Can't take him anywhere."

Now that we're home the skies have come over all black, and the rain is just starting to fall. However the first photos are already hitting the web so you can see run up to the fun and games over the course of the weekend HERE, along with today's procession.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Bank Holiday Weekend Blues...........

It's typical Bank Holiday weather here on the south coast..... dull, grey and very, very wet. It rained all night and has rained off and on all day so far. The forecast is for more rain.


To add to my malaise, the new gazebo I spent all day Thursday erecting on the patio, adding lights etc has sprung a leak, or probably several, possibly on the seams. I'm probably going to have to dismantle it, repack it and hoof it back to Eastbourne sometime next week in order to have a ding-dong with the inappropriately named Customer Service dept to get a refund.


In other news, we've been having fantastic fun *not a hint of irony there* trying to get the new website up and running. We made such a hash of it yesterday that we had to grovellingly contact our new hosting company to reset our server space to default and remove all evidence of our incompetence.

Oh how we laughed.

We're now on Plan B.

Which is very similar to Plan A except we hope that this time it might work. We're girding our loins for having a go at it later this afternoon. It's all rather complicated as we have to set up a MySQL database first, (saywhat??!) then do several zillion complicated things with file attributes and templates, not to mention an all-singing, all-dancing shopping cart thingy to be installed and configured.

Piece of cake.