Friday, 28 October 2011

Clearance Sale.....!

 In preparation for moving Diminutive Dolls to its new home we've been busy having a glorious clear-out to make way for some exciting new miniature toys.

So from now till November 1st there are some wonderful special offers in every category on the website, with toys, dolls, games and playthings reduced by up to 50%!

Orders placed between now and Monday (November 1st) will be despatched from Tuesday 2 November onwards.
There are some unmissable bargains but they're already going quickly so don't delay if there's something you covet. 

More information about the new home of Diminutive Dolls, along with details of an exciting Christmas project will be announced next week.

Exciting times eh?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

End of Days.........

We had some apocalyptic weather here yesterday afternoon.

Namely this.....
Apparently it wandered along the seafront from Hastings to St. Leonards then made off towards Bexhill.  Now that's not something you see every day.

We also had a very sudden, dramatic thunderstorm, which seemed to appear from nowhere.  Sunny blue skies one minute, huge black thunderclouds the next.  Small Dog is not a great lover of thunder so she retreated under the blanket in her basket till the storm abated. 

Startling stuff.

In other news, Christmas catalogues are now forming the bulk of our daily postal delivery and while idly leafing through one of them at breakfast this morning I came across this....
Apparently it's written by a quantum physics expert (go figure) who adopted an extremely bright 'talking dog' who took to quantum theory like a quark to a gluon.  She (the dog) uses quantum tunnelling to get through the neighbour's fence to chase rabbits, and muses on the potential of quantum teleportation to catch squirrels before they climb out of reach.


Small Dog isn't the sharpest knife in the box (although she does have us extremely well trained to do her bidding with the merest tilt of her head or the application of Cold Wet Nose to any exposed skin surface) but she's the only other talking dog I know, so I thought I'd run a few theories past her to gauge her reaction.  

To paraphrase, she was fairly certain about Heisenbergz's Uncertainty Principle.  And by the time we got to  Schrödinger's Cat she was definitely on a roll, and all geared up to apply for a research grant to prove the theory that if you take a cat, and stick it in a box with a thing that will kill it 50% of the time, before you open the box, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.

She is of the opinion that anything to do with putting cats in boxes, with things that might or might not kill them is a genius idea, and completely in line with her thoughts on quantum physics.

And there was me thinking that quantum physics was dull and incomprehensible.  If Small Dog can get a handle on it there may be hope for me yet.


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Website update...........

Work continues apace on the latest incarnation of the Tower House Dolls website.  The site was first registered in January 2000 and over the last 11 years has undergone many, many changes.

The first available archived version is from August 2000 when the site was in its infancy.  Since then it has evolved in an organic although not necessarily methodical way (version from July 2005 ).

Last year PP completely redesigned the site in its current form making it much easier to update and administer.  This also coincided with my decision to stop making  1/12th doll's house characters, which I'd been doing for over 20 years, and concentrate full-time on smaller scale toys and dolls for doll's house children. 

During the transition period we had two websites running simultaneously, one winding down the 1/12th dolls and kits, the other showcasing my miniature toys - Diminutive Dolls.  However now that we no longer need both sites, we will be dispensing with the more costly option and closing the Diminutive Dolls website when the hosting package comes up for renewal in a few months time.  

So, next week (fingers crossed) the new Tower House Dolls site will re-open with our new ranges of miniature toys, games and playthings, along with some exciting new events in the offing.

However in the meantime both PP and I still have LOTS to do to the new site so I'd better go and get on.

No interweb-based displacement activity for me today.

No siree.

No by no nonny no.......

Relative calm.........

Poorly Daughter arrived safely yesterday, looking pale and ghostly but having survived the rigours of what passes for rail travel these days.  She was duly installed on a 'little bed' on the sofa, with Small Dog in close attendance in order to hog the blanket and they both napped on and off throughout the afternoon.  

This morning she is looking much better and even has some colour back in her face which is a Good Thing.  She's planning on doing more nesting today, which is just what she needs after a particularly painful and stressful week.

So, in between nurturing duties I am cracking on with work on the new website, more of which anon.........

Monday, 24 October 2011

Monday, Monday.......

Well, the good news is that my daughter was eventually discharged from hospital yesterday and is currently making her way down here to stay for a few days while she recuperates.

I don't envy her the journey by train from Essex down to Hastings but I'll be at the station to meet her and the Healing Paw Dog is on standby, having fortified herself with some breakfast cereal and milk purloined from my bowl.

I also need to step up a gear or two this week if we have any realistic possibility of the new website being up and running on 1st November, which is only next Tuesday.  We keep discovering things which need to be tweaked, and of course, the temptation to keep tweaking until something breaks is ever present.

Incidentally, over at Diminutive Dolls, I've been having a clear out and over the course of this week, in many of the categories, there will be bargains galore with toys and dolls reduced by up to 30%.  I'm still working my way through the site but there are already some opportunities to snap up a toy doll or animal at unmissable prices.

Right, must get back to work in advance of nursing duties this afternoon.  The Healing Paw dog is already gearing up......


Saturday, 22 October 2011

Bad to worse..........

Just when you start to think that things are looking up and getting back on track, something unexpected will sneak up behind you and whack you over the head.

My lovely daughter, who had an appendectomy last weekend, was supposed to be coming down here today to complete her convalescence over the next few days, giving me the opportunity to do some hands-on nurturing, make dippy egg and soldiers, install the Healing Paw dog and generally do what mums always want to do whenever their children are poorly.

However, she has had to be re-admitted to hospital with post-surgery complications so she's stuck 150 miles away, back in limbo again, in pain, worried and completely stressed out.  She's been on and off 'nil by mouth' twice in the past 12 hours, is still having IV fluids and just waiting, waiting, waiting to be told what's going on.

Worst case scenario is that they may have damaged nerves to the lower bowel.  Blood tests have allegedly ruled out an infection, although apparently there could still be an abcess.  She was due to have a diagnostic scan first thing this morning but they've moved the goalposts and are now saying Monday.  

It seems that if you're going to be ill enough to need hospital treatment, make sure it's on a weekday (and preferably not a Friday) so that all the relevant staff are on hand to sort you out.  She had the same problem last weekend, with her 'emergency' surgery delayed for a day due to lack of staff/theatre slots etc.

Also, being in hospital is a stressful enough business at the best of times, but it's the total  inconsistency which is hard to bear.  Told one thing by one person, then a different thing by another.  Expecting to have one procedure imminently, then not being informed that the plan has changed.
I phoned the hospital myself this morning to try to find out what's happening (or to be more accurate what's NOT happening) and they seem to know about as much about her care plan as Small Dog does about simultaneous equations, which isn't much. 

So I'm just hovering by the phone, waiting for news, unable to concentrate on anything at all. I should be working on the website but that's not going to happen.  I might try and do some light dusting, or rearrange the bookshelves, or tidy up the workroom.  Something, anything just to try to keep the free-floating worry at bay.


Thursday, 20 October 2011


Really cold and frosty this morning..... we even had ice on the car windscreen!  Hard to believe that only a few short weeks ago we were basking in (admittedly unseasonable) temperatures up in the high 80s.

So autumn has now arrived with a vengeance and temperatures have plummeted.  What better time then, to have to have all your windows open due to them being re-painted. Good timing or what?

Small Dog has taken to her bed in disgust at the icy blasts blowing in from all directions and I don't blame her.  We finally cracked last night and put the central heating on for the first time since early April.  Admittedly the sun is shining from a mostly cloudless sky, but it's only 6 degrees outside at the moment so it can reasonably be described as 'cold'.

With all the windows in the workroom wide open, I've retreated to the 'relative' warmth of the office, to put in some work on the new website.  Time is ticking away and we have just 11 days to get it finished before it (hopefully) goes live on November 1st.

To coincide with the relaunch of the site, we will also be inviting miniaturists worldwide to join us in celebration of an old-fashioned miniature Christmas with our online vintage advent calendar.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during November we will have festive features, competitions, stories, giveaways, how-to's and lots more, not to mention a very special online Christmas workshop.

Then from December 1st right through till Christmas Eve there will be a new page every day with wonderful festive surprises, including a selection of new miniature toys and dolls, designed exclusively for the event.

Hopefully you will find much to inform, interest, amuse and entertain you, so look out for your special invitation in just 11 days......

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

How it's made....bisque firing

The next stage in the making of a microdoll is the most critical.... the bisque firing, during which the soft-fired, relatively fragile castings are vitrified into porcelain.

The vitrification process literally melts the molecules in the greenware so that they fuse together, forming a strong, impermeable material with the properties of porcelain.  

During this high-temperature firing, each piece shrinks by up to 10% so careful loading of the kiln is very important.  I  first place a thin layer of firing sand on each shelf.  This serves two purposes.  Firstly the pieces can be slightly embedded in the sand which stops them rolling around, and secondly, as the pieces shrink during firing, they may 'grab' onto the shelf. The sand acts like millions of tiny ball bearings, moving under the pieces to prevent them sticking.
Every single piece must be placed carefully on the sand, not touching its neighbours.

This can take some time!

When the kiln is fully loaded, I set the programmer for a high-temperature porcelain firing. The programme varies according to how full the kiln is, the type of porcelain being fired (different flesh tones require slightly different firing schedules), and the age of the kiln elements.  Over time the elements deteriorate and the firing time gradually lengthens.  Eventually they will struggle to reach the top temperature, taking longer and longer to achieve a full bisque firing.  At that point it's time to replace them.

I replaced the elements on my kiln just a few months ago, and this firing is only the second full bisque firing since then so I have had to adjust the schedule to take into account the speedier firing time.

As it reaches the top temperature (1200-1215 degrees Celsius) the firing chamber glows white hot.  It's possible to see this through the gap between lid and kiln chamber.

I keep a close eye on things as the kiln nears the end of the firing, checking every 15 minutes to see the final few degrees temperature rise then the soak time, where the top temperature is maintained for a set period to fully mature the porcelain.

This last bisque firing took 6 hours.  Before I changed the elements a bisque firing was lasting 10-12 hours.  Once the firing is complete the programmer displays 'END' and switches off.  The temperature falls slowly over many hours.  I usually leave the kiln for at least 12 hours, by which time the internal temperature should be low enough to open the lid and check the firing.  If the lid is opened too soon, cold air rushes in to come in contact with the hot porcelain causing thermal shock.  This has never happened to me (thank goodness) but I understand that it is quite spectacular, as the porcelain pieces shatter, scattering like shrapnel, and possibly causing serious injuries.  One of the main advantages of my kiln is that even when the kiln is off, the internal temperature shows on the controller, so I always know exactly how hot it is.

However that is not always the case.

An underfire happens when the top temperature required to vitrify and mature the porcelain hasn't been reached.  As a result the porcelain has a chalky look and feels rough to the touch.
This is disappointing but not disastrous, as it can be re-fired to maturity.

An overfire however, is irrevocably catastrophic.  The porcelain will look shiny, often with tiny bubbles all over the surface.  Any flesh tones will have fired out to leave a ghostly look.
In the worst cases, the castings will completely collapse.

In order to avoid both of the above scenarios I keep a careful record of each firing, adjusting and fine-tuning subsequent firings as necessary.

And so to the next stage...... china painting


Monday, 17 October 2011

A Mother's Tale.......

I had intended to post the next exciting instalment in the 'How It's Made' series over the weekend but I was rather overtaken by events.

Saturday was a really lovely day, sunny and warm, so we headed off down to the seafront with Small Dog for a walk along the promenade.  That done, we set off for home and en route I had a sudden awful feeling of foreboding as if something bad was about to happen.

No sooner had I shaken it off and tried to dismiss it as nonsense, than my phone rang.  It was my daughter, ringing from hospital, where she had been admitted for emergency surgery for a badly inflamed appendix.  She was in the Emergency Assessment Unit, and having been assessed, was 'nil by mouth' and prepped for surgery, which she was assured would be done early evening.

However, a serious road traffic accident then took priority, so she was put on hold, pumped full of morphine and antibiotics and kept in EAU till midday yesterday, when she was finally taken to theatre to have her appendix removed.

I am well acquainted with the concept of triage, and prioritising limited resources on the basis of clinical need, and the mothers of the RTA victims must have been even more stressed and worried than I was, but when your child is sick and in pain, it's very hard to maintain a balanced, reasonable viewpoint.

Thankfully her surgery went well, the offending organ was removed and she will be discharged from hospital later today to rest and recuperate.

I could do with some rest and recuperation too after a stressful weekend, unable to be with her, and relying on telephone updates from her partner throughout.  Worrying and wishing there were something, anything, I could do to help. You never, ever stop worrying about your children.

So my odd feeling of foreboding was borne out.  I won't be so quick to dismiss them in future...


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Small Dog shops till she drops......

We popped into Pets at Home today to buy a present for our friend's new puppy, and took Small Dog along with us as it's one of the very few shops which welcome dogs in store.

She was absolutely fascinated by the sights and smells and had to peruse every aisle, closely scrutinising the doggy apparel, squeaky toys, collars & leads, canine accouterments etc.

All was going reasonably well until some fool started testing out the squeaky toys.  

It wasn't us.  Honest.  We were three aisles away, trying to persuade Small Dog that a rawhide chew the size of a brontosaurus leg was probably a bit ambitious.  However as soon as she heard the cacophony of squeaks she forgot all about trying to pull the 4 foot chew out of the display and headed off to the dog toy section to give her consumer viewpoint.  She had to be lured away with a pig's ear.

Such was her excitement that she subsequently wee'd in the dog travel accessories aisle, which we shamefacedly soaked up with a pack of tissues before we spied the bucket and mop strategically placed for just such a (presumably frequent) fox's paw.

She was enjoying herself so much that we had to literally drag her outside.  As soon as she realised that we were leaving she planted her paws, locked her legs and refused to budge. Thankfully, she doesn't have the staying power of a rottweiler so to spare us further embarrassment we picked her up and hurried off.

Here are some of her favourite bits......

Small Dog makes a start on her Christmas list

Don't they have anything in Eau de Nil....?

Burberry is sooooo last season dahlink.....

Checking out a cheeky little dog beer.....

No joke!  It really is Dog Beer.

Decisions, decisions..... sausages or pig's ears?

A little after-dinner snack.....?

A chew bigger than Small Dog.  She loves a challenge.....



Tuesday, 11 October 2011

No such thing as a free lunch.........

It's often said that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

I beg to differ.

Today PP and I attended a 'learning lunch' organised by our local 1066 business enterprise centre and it did indeed include a free lunch.  Not to mention a wealth of information on using social media for business which was useful, relevant and engaging.

Something of a win-win situation.

We came home energised, inspired and full of ideas for the new website, which is now just 20 days away from its launch.  PP, wearing her webmistress hat (a rather fetching poke bonnet if you must know) has been hard at work, completely redesigning and restructuring the old site, which will be unveiled on 1 November.  

So earlier this afternoon, when I heard anguished cries from the office, I hurried through from the workroom to discover what was amiss.  Apparently our new website had completely disappeared, along with the back-end, leaving a completely blank screen.  We both made a few abortive attempts to discover its whereabouts, without success.

Reasoning that it couldn't just have vanished into thin air, and suspecting a server outage, we checked our hosting provider's website to see what was going on, again to no avail.  Fortunately they have a 'chat to a real person' facility on their site, so PP quickly established that the problem was indeed with the server, which was down for over an hour undergoing emergency repairs.

After a nerve-wracking wait, the server did eventually get up and running, and thankfully the new website was restored, much to PP's relief, given the many, many hours she's spent on it thus far.

I don't really understand how the interweb works (does anyone?) so it's a constant source of amazement to me that emails go where they're supposed to, and that the entire knowledge of the world is available at the click of a mouse.  So servers, and their arcane workings are a complete mystery.  I usually just press 'Send' and hope for the best.

So I'm keeping everything crossed that we don't experience any further alarms and excursions.

Edit: I tried to find an interesting image of a server but they're all deadly dull and boring so you'll just have to conjure one up for yourself.


Monday, 10 October 2011

Sanity restored.....

I sincerely apologise for the outrageous rant in my last post.  

It was completely unprofessional to give vent to my feelings in such an unnecessarily violent way.  My outburst was a complete overreaction and mostly  completely unwarranted.    I've calmed down and given myself a good talking to and it won't happen again.

The fact that I can plead mitigating circumstances, not to mention provocation above and beyond human endurance is neither here nor there.  I shouldn't let Humpty Dumpty, or any other inanimate porcelain character, to wind me up to such an extent that I lose all sense and reason.


Moving on.... 

Following that Humpty Dumpty debacle, regrettable incident, I tidied away all the soft-cleaning equipment, then decided to do something uplifting and life affirming.  Last week I'd been working on some little shabby chic toy dolls, some of which just needed their final finishing touches.... a curl here, silk ribbon bow there.  So I spent a happy half-hour making some tiny silk ribbon bows and arranging mini coiffures.

Et voila........

Here they are waiting to be photographed individually for their certificates, before settling into their boxes.

I take pains to ensure that they look as good from the back as they do from the front.....

I really enjoy making these little shabby chic toy dolls.  They make a refreshing change from my more structured Jumeau style dolls in their pleated dresses or silk jackets.

They also provide soothing balm for a troubled soul.

Enough is enough.........

And so, after what feels like a lifetime of soft-cleaning, I finally completed the last tiny castings just before lunchtime.

For no good reason I left all the worst bits till last.... tiny limbs of fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters.  These are especially tricky partly because of their small size, but also because some of the characters are holding things in their hands, which makes the soft-cleaning process rather more hazardous. For example, one of the musical mousies holds a bugle.  Another grasps a pair of maracas.

Don't ask

However, they pale into insignificance compared to Humpy Dumpty whose spindly little legs I mentioned before, and which have an unfortunate propensity to ping off just as I'm so carefully cleaning the last nano-millimetre.  

He's a right pain in the hoohah, is Humpty Dumpty.  

Not only do his legs fall off at the drop of a hat, but during the initial casting stage, his egg-shaped body tends to retain liquid slip, which blocks the stringing holes.  In addition, he has spindly little arms , which are also a nightmare to soft-clean, as either the top of the arm, just above the stringing hole will snap off, or his hand will break at the wrist.

I can completely empathise with the frustration which must have been felt by all the king's horses and all the king's men.  Although quite how the horses were expected to help with the re-assembly escapes me. Quite honestly, I'd have pushed him off the wall myself, just for the satisfaction of seeing him shatter into a zillion pieces, knowing full well that putting him back together again was an impossible task.  This is borne out by the fact that at the end of my mammoth soft-cleaning marathon, I now have a small box full of assorted broken Humpty bits.... feet legs and arms, plus one body which cracked while soaking in the water.

As a result, I am suffering from barely suppressed Humpty Dumpty rage.  He makes me sooooooo MAD!  Sometimes I could quite easily punch him in his smug, superior, supercilious, smirking face.......

 * Note to self..... in future, do not attempt to complete a week's worth of soft-cleaning in just three days. Think of your sanity......*


Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sod's Law.......

I have been soft-cleaning FOR EVER.

I have the hands of a drownded corpse, fished from the river after 10 days.  Grey, puckered and wrinkled doesn't even come close to describing them.

Prune-like would be a compliment.  At least prunes have a modicum of juiciness.  A combination of soaking in water and the dehydrating qualities of porcelain clay dust have sucked all the moisture out of my skin, giving me the hands of a 90-year old.

And judging by the state of them she won't be wanting them back any time soon.

I estimate that I have about another 6 hours of soft-cleaning before I've finished the two trays of tiny castings.  Even so, I don't think there's enough to even half fill my kiln, which is a bit of a blow.  A full bisque firing takes a minimum of half a day and adds ££s to our electricity bill, so it makes fiscal sense to ensure it's full.  In order to achieve this, I would have to do another full week's casting and go through the whole soft-fire/soft-clean rigmarole yet again.

I'm not sure I have enough life left in me to do that. Although the upside would be that I'd probably have enough stock to last for the 6 months. 

Except I just know, that whatever I haven't cast, will suddenly become extraordinarily popular, and despite the fact I've got oodles of other toys and dolls, there will be an overwhelming demand for ones I haven't got and I'll have to go through the whole thing again.

Life's like that......


Saturday, 8 October 2011

Small Dog bites back.......

I received this from a friend yesterday, with a request for comments from Small Dog.

From a Dog's Diary

8:00 am - Dog food! My favourite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favourite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favourite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favourite thing!
12:00 pm - Lunch! My favourite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favourite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favourite thing!
5:00 pm - Milk bones! My favourite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favourite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favourite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favourite thing!

From a Cat's Diary

Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a 'good little hunter' I am. Bastards.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of `allergies'. I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now... Will keep you posted.

Small Dog has indeed requested a right to reply, so I have noted her comments verbatim.
"helow.  i hav konsidrd mearly ignoaring this, butt on reflekshun i hav deesidid to resspond.  The mane thing i objeckt two is the implickashun thatt dogs ar wun dimenshonal, shaloh kreetchures.  thatt is a fowl kalumni witsch i refewt uterli.  
olso, catz ar knot all that.  
i wil admitt i hav nevr aktewli mett a cat fais two fais. if i evr sea wun inn mi gardn (thay yoosed to kum inn to wee and poo inn mi mumz beatch gardn of stoanz.  Disgusten) i hav two chais it sew the moast i evr sea is there bum disapieren ovr the fens.  
Howevir, i do knott think thay ar veri intelegent. 
Or highjeanick.  Thai yews there porrs to wosh there faises butt thay yews ther tungs to wosh there bits.  Ewwww.
Olso thai kil small kreetchures jusst for funn, espeshulli mise and burdz.  
Okai, so i mite ockashunali chais a skwirl or pijon, butt i nevr catsch them and eaven if i didd, I doant think i wood kil them.  
eksept for rats.  i am a ratten terrior and that is mi job. i do knott think a cat kood kil a rat eniwai becos rats ar veri danjerus and kuning so reeli onli ratten terriors ar upp to it. 
Allsew, catz smel funi. Funi strainj, knot funi hillarius.  mi mum is alerjick two catz witsh is kwite normall.  Yorkshire Terriors ar highpoalurjenick as eni fule knos.
Thank yoo for this opertewniti two poot the rekord strate.  i am kwite tyred now so i am goen to hav a napp.  wun of mi favurit things.
yores afekshunatli

Small Dog


Friday, 7 October 2011

How it's made.....soft cleaning

The third stage in miniature porcelain dollmaking is the most tedious, boring, monotonous task in the entire process.  


This follows on from soft-firing, and although it is my least favourite task, it is one of the most important, as it ensures a smooth surface, removing seamlines and any other marks and blemishes left over from the casting stage.

Here you can easily see the seamlines on a soft-fired casting.

I always approach soft cleaning sessions with a mixture of resignation and dread.  Although the soft firing strengthens the greenware castings, they are still very delicate and easily broken so must be handled very carefully to avoid damage.  As a result, after half an hour or so, I have to make a conscious effort to relax my shoulders down from my ears.  Then there's having to sit with my hands in water for hours at a stretch.  I start off with it as hot as I can stand it, but it soon cools and I don't notice until my fingers start to turn blue.

The upside of soft-cleaning is......... well to be honest I'm struggling to think of any, except perhaps that I get to put my brain in neutral and give myself over to Radio 4 for the whole day.

Before I start I assemble everything I need - towel, double basin, used scalpel blade, fine cleaning pads, natural sponge, china glaze and extra fine paintbrush.  I also use a magnifying lamp to help with cleaning the tiny faces.

Firstly the soft-fired castings are soaked in water, which must be no warmer than lukewarm. If they are immersed in water which is any hotter, air which may be trapped in cavities inside the bodies will expand, and the piece will explode.  This happens with quite a  startling, loud POP when you least expect it!  I use a double basin so I can have my hands in warm water for the cleaning, while the castings soak in cold water.

Soaking the castings in lukewarm water. 
Most air bubbles escape though pouring or stringing holes.

After soaking for 10 minutes or so, I can begin the cleaning process, as all of the castings will have fully absorbed the maximum amount of water.  Prominent seam lines must be fettled with a scalpel blade.  I prefer to use a blade with has been used to trim castings and which as a consequence will not be too sharp.  New blades have a tendency to cut into the castings.

Carefully removing seam lines with a bluntish blade
Then using a special very fine abrasive pad, the remainder of the seamlines are smoothed off, along with any blemishes on the surface of the greenware.  

 Smoothing lines and blemishes with abrasive pad

The 'dust' from the greenware is held in the water on the surface of the casting in the form of a fine paste, which acts like micro scouring powder to gently remove lines and marks.  I then add my initials to the back of the doll using the point of a scalpel.   

Incising my maker's mark

Each soft-cleaned casting is set aside on a towel to dry slightly, until the sheen of water has evaporated from the surface, making it easier to check the faces.  Any blemishes on the faces are removed by rubbing my thumb over the area. The ridges which make up my fingerprints are  just abrasive enough to smooth the surface without obliterating tiny details such as noses and lips.  Faces will be checked several times to ensure they are as perfect as possible.

I prefer to use a special underglaze for the whites of the eyes, which is added at this stage, when the castings are not too wet and not too dry.  Being left handed, the left eye (as I'm looking at the doll) is easy peasy, but painting in the right eye is not.  So  have to turn the doll at right angles to achieve an almond-shaped eye.  Obviously both eye whites must be the same size and shape, which is where the magnifying light comes in useful.  Even so, it sometimes takes several attempts..... if I make a mistake I wash off the glaze with a natural sponge, let the casting dry out slightly, and try again.

Glazing the eye whites

Bear in mind too, that the biggest doll heads are roughly the size of a pea, while the smallest are only marginally bigger than a peppercorn.

Mad or what?

The soft-cleaning process also applies to the tiny toy animals and nursery rhyme toys which I make in porcelain.  The most difficult of these are the little Humpty Dumpty toys, which have spindly little legs attached to the egg-shaped head/body, which can ping off unexpectedly despite the very gentlest cleaning.  Out of every 10 Humptys, perhaps only 2 will emerge unscathed from the soft-cleaning stage.

But it doesn't end there.

No by no nonny no.

For every little toy doll, there are two arms and two legs, which must also be cleaned to remove seam lines and blemishes.  That's 4 tiny limbs for every one of these.......

There's 92 different dolls, so that's 368 individual limbs to carefully clean.  From dainty ballerina arms and pointed toe legs and tiny 1" babies, to a brand new range of marionettes, with specially modified arms and legs.

It can take up to a week to soft-clean enough castings to fill my kiln by which time I have invariably lost the will to live and make a solemn vow NEVER to soft-clean EVER again.

Groundhog Day........

I know it's a hackneyed phrase, but doesn't time fly?

As I get older, whole days, weeks and months just whizz past.  For example it seems as though no sooner have I put the Christmas decorations away from one year, than it's time to haul them all down from the loft for the next.

As if all that's not bad enough, time goes even faster when deadlines are looming.  I have several self-imposed deadlines all inexorably ticking down at the moment, fuelling a rising sense of panic and claustrophobia.

It's not even as if I'm faffing around (much).  I've been reasonably well focused (for me) and have achieved a fair amount in the past few weeks.  But no sooner have I ticked one thing off my 'to do' list, than another five mysteriously materialise.

No matter.

Stuff will either get done or it won't, and if it doesn't then I've no-one to blame but myself.  I've actually had a very productive week and in a mood of self-congratulation last night, I set to and created this exciting vista......

A clear workspace may not  be very exciting to you perhaps, but to me it opens up a world of tantalising possibilities, most notably the prospect of filling it all up again. 

Also it's not something I get to see very often, so it has undoubted rarity value.

So today I will be mostly tackling a mountain of soft-cleaning, one of my most loathed and detested tasks.

More of which anon.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Favourite tools..... tweezers

Sometimes the simplest tools are the most useful.  There are few tools I use EVERY day, and this pair of  tweezers is one of them....

 So far, so simple.  

But there are features about these precision tweezers which make them indispensable.....

Firstly they have lovely angled points which are very fine.  In addition, the inside edges of the points are finely ridged, which help provide a firm grip to any tiny item.

They are nicely weighted and balanced, and easy to use.  The 'springing' is very light and consequently they aren't tiring to use for prolonged periods.

I've had this particular pair for nigh on 20 years and have only been able to find only one other identical pair languishing in the Hastings Sewing Centre several years ago.  It was from old stock and despite extensive internet searching I have never found another, so I guard my two pairs very closely.

Over the years I've tried many other tweezers, including the dreadfully counter-intuitive 'reverse tweezers' which have a default closed position, and have to be squeezed to open them, but always return to my old favourites. 

They have a multitude of uses, including turning tiny sleeves, placing individual silk bows and roses, and of course creating miniature wigs.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Day the Earth Caught Fire......

At last the madness of the unseasonal weather has abated and temperatures are much neared to the seasonal average.

Of course I had to choose the hottest October days in the history of ever to spend the weekend in London, parts of which were eerily akin to that film about the earth heading towards the sun after it was shifted off its axis by H-bomb explosions.


It was ridiculously hot.  Even the breeze was hot, as if it had come straight off the Saharan sands.  

It felt as through the entire population of London was out on the streets, in the parks and gardens, spilling out of pavement cafes into the roads and everyone had a faintly baffled expression, as through something not quite right was going on.  

This was borne out by the fact that the trees are wearing their autumnal colours, and the leaves are falling in drifts.  It just didn't seem possible that summer had returned with a final, blistering flourish so late in the season.

No matter, the weather has finally got a grip and is behaving in a much more rational manner.

So, back to work today and if I stop to think about what I have to do this week/month then I will probably have a fit of the vapours, so I'm breaking it down into bite-sized chunks in the hope that tackling it a little bit at a time won't seem quite so impossibly daunting.  However I keep catching sight of the hugeness of the task out of the corner of my eye which isn't helping my equilibrium one bit.

Right, must get back to it.  First thing on the list this afternoon?  

Yes, you've guessed it.  Tidy my work desk.