Monday, 28 October 2013

It WAS a dark and stormy night.....

Here on the south coast we're recovering from the brief but brutal visit of Storm St Jude.  Appropriately, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and depression, and today is St Jude's day.

We seem to have escaped lightly..... we have a tree down in the garden, some hanging baskets are no longer hanging and a bit of the back end of the caravan blew off.  Fortunately we found the missing piece halfway down the road.  It's a bit cracked but PP is sure she can mend it.

Some of our neighbours weren't so lucky, as there are loads of fence panels down all around us.  Thankfully, all of ours are still vertical.

So far there are three reports of loss of life.... a teenage boy was swept off Newhaven beach, a girl was killed by a tree falling on her mobile home, and a motorist was killed, also by a falling tree.

Tens of thousands of homes are without electricity, including my daughter's in East Anglia.

It's still squally outside, but the worst of the storm is now heading east out into the North Sea, towards Denmark and Germany.

So what's next I wonder.......

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The silk route.....

When I'm working, Radio 4 forms the soundtrack to my day.  It entertains, amuses and informs, so I was both delighted and intrigued this week when I found myself listening to a programme all about my favourite fabric..... silk.

I have to say, that if the house was burning down, and I had the opportunity to save something from the workroom, it would have to be my boxes of irreplaceable silk, collected over the past 30 odd years.

The little dolls I make are impossible to costume in anything other than silk.  And not just any old silk.  It has to be exceedingly fine silk.  On days when I feel a bit 'meh' I can always be cheered by sorting through my stash of wonderful silks, savouring the colours, patterns and the luxuriously soft feel of them.

Many of my silks are no longer available which makes them all the more precious.  For decades I've kept an eagle-eye out for even the smallest snippets of silk.... at markets, boot fairs, antique shops, fabric shops....

A piece of silk just 10cm square will yield enough to create a bustled jacket and bonnet, so even the most inconsequential amount is to be treasured.  I have some tiny pieces of gorgeous silks which I can barely bring myself to use, as I know that once they're gone, they are gone forever, never to be replaced.

This week I've been working on some special commissions, including one for a little toy doll in a closely fitted Princess line jacket over a pleated skirt, with a neat little gathered bonnet, taken from this book, one of my 'go to' resources for Jumeau-style costumes and accessories.

Given that the doll to be dressed measured under 1  3/4" tall, creating a 6-piece jacket, tailored exactly to the doll was challenging to say the least.  However, perseverance paid off, and having cracked the pattern I couldn't resist making a few more, including one for my little French doll shop.

 I've just listed two of these on the website HERE

I'd also like to point out that those impossibly tiny buttons, which measure less than 1mm in diameter, are SEWN onto the jackets, using a superfine needle which only just fits through the practically microscopic holes in the buttons.  I'll gloss over the colourful language I employed while searching on the floor for them after they repeatedly pinged off the end of the needle.  Trying to find such small buttons, lost in the pile of a carpet definitely taxes the patience.

However, I hope you'll agree that the end result is worth it!

Awaiting a dark and stormy night....

Apparently, we are expecting a storm to rival The Great Storm of October 1987.  It's already fairly blustery outside so we've been battening down the hatches, removing lighter objects from the garden, and loading the caravan with as much heavy stuff as we can.  As I write, PP is tacking a tarpaulin over the log store.

It's always tempting to venture down to the seafront when it's windy, as the high seas are incredibly dramatic.  Thankfully common sense usually prevails.  It's not unknown for people to be swept off the promenade or the beach by huge waves so we'll give that a miss.  In any case, we live at the top of a hill, which is quite exposed, so there will probably be quite enough drama going on just outside our windows without risking life and limb on the seafront.  

Small Dog HATES windy weather.  Her default position is to lie down completely flat on the ground and refuse to budge until she's picked up and carried.  So I expect she will view the storm from the comfort of her basket, especially as she's the proud owner of a new blanky, so soft it barely registers to the touch.



Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Sew far, sew good......

I've spent most of today in the workroom, putting the finishing touches to a new little toy doll......

Her bodice and bonnet are studded with tiny, iridescent Swarovski crystals which catch the light and reflect it back in rainbow colours.

I'm really rather pleased with her and will be keeping her for La Mignonette (my little French doll shop) but I have a further three on my desk in different colours, which will be listed on the website as soon as they're finished.

For such a little doll (she measures a smidgen under 1 3/4" tall) there's quite a lot of sewing in her costume, so I've been wielding an impossibly small needle, threaded with superfine thread.  There's something very calming about sewing tiny stitches, and transforming a few inches of silk and lace into a perfectly fitted costume for one of my little dolls.

Granted, when I occasionally drop the needle, I have to scrabble around on the floor with a magnifying glass in order to find it.  And just picking it up from the desk can take several minutes as it always takes several attempts to catch it. Similarly, threading it is a challenge, usually accomplished with the help of my powerful magnifying lamp.

So why do I persist in using such a small needle?

Primarily because using a normal size sewing needle would make disproportionately big holes in the tissue-thin silk, ruining it completely.  But also because it is impossible to do anything other than sew tiny stitches with such a tiny needle.

As any crafts person will tell you, having the right tools for the job is half the battle.....


Friday, 11 October 2013

October offers..........

Blimey, two blog posts in a row that aren't all about DIY, Small Dog, or what goes on in what passes for my brain.

But the title of this blog is 'Tales from a Toymaker' not 'Tales from DIY Hell', or 'Tales from the World of Small Dog', or 'Tales from Someone Who Should Really Keep Her Weird Thoughts To Herself'.  


I thought I should mention that we have only a few of our October Kit of the Month packs left, to make a little Halloween Toy Witch, complete with teeny broomstick.

One of my talented customers has sent me a photo of her finished witch, along with a lovely Jumeau style doll which is also made using one of my kits.

In the run up to Christmas I'm going to be listing various miniature toys and dolls for auction on Ebay, the first of which ends this Sunday.....

So do keep checking back to see new Ebay listings, and if you decide to bid, Good Luck!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Colour me happy......!

This month's issue of The Doll's House Magazine landed on the doormat this morning and I was delighted to turn to page 20 and see my first article as 'Guest Columnist' in glorious technicolour.

Or, to be more precise, glorious shades of blue, since the theme this month is 'Colour' and the focus of the article was the quest for the perfect shade of blue for my workroom.....

Predictably, Small Dog had managed to shoehorn herself into one of the pictures and but is being remarkably blasé about her stratospheric media profile.  Perhaps she think that this will contribute towards her ceaseless quest for Employee of the Month.

In other news, I've had a very productive week so far. As a result my lovely workroom has been a hive of activity and is currently cluttered with  a number of boards adorned with 'work in progress". 

There's one with a batch of illuminated toy theatres in various stages of completion.....

 Victorian Christmas Toy Theatre

Nativity Toy Theatre

 And another with some long overdue vintage china dolls awaiting their costumes....

And yet another with some new circus pullalong toys....

All of which, with luck and a following wind, will be up on the website shortly.




Saturday, 5 October 2013

Skelf central.....

As part of our winter preparations, we had a load of kiln-dried logs delivered yesterday, along with a flat-pack log store. Late afternoon, a huge pantechnicon panted to a halt, air brakes screeching, and a very helpful chap proceeded to unload a massive bag of logs onto our front drive.

And when I say massive I do mean MASSIVE.  Much bigger than enormous.

After he'd gone we both stood on the drive, just staring at it, then at each other, wondering how on earth we were going to get them all round to the back of the house.  

We unearthed a small folding metal trolley thing from the shed, and tried to attach a small plastic crate to it but it rapidly became apparent that it would take the entire weekend to transport the logs that way.

Fortunately I had an unaccustomed brainwave, and suggested we use our council wheelie bins, filling them up from the bag on the drive and wheeling them round the back.  Brilliant or what?  And unlike so many apparently inspirational but ultimately useless idea, it did work.  


Luckily we had a spare MASSIVE bag, into which we put the logs from the wheelie bins, conscious all the while that the sky was darkening to an ominous shade of grey.

One and half hours later, we wheeled the final bin load round to the back and a very strange thing happened.  We had already filled the second MASSIVE bag right to the top, but there was still A WHOLE BIN LOAD of logs left over.

How did THAT happen?

Both MASSIVE bags were exactly the same size, and if anything, we loaded the logs into the second one in a more organised manner than the original bag. 

However, with the skies getting darker by the second, we had no time to ponder on this physical impossibility, and decided to crack on and assemble the log store.

This is where the skelfs come in.  Skelf is one of those words that has non-Scots looking at me as if I've suddenly started speaking in tongues.  It's common parlance in Scotland, and means:-

skelf - noun

1. a splinter of wood, especially when embedded accidentally in the skin 
as in " Awww, furr fuxache, ah've goat a skelf in ma erse!"

Interestingly, it has a second meaning, again in common use north of the border....

2. a thin or diminutive person
as in "Aye, see hur, she's like a wee skelf.... totull stranger tae a fish supper"

So anyway, taking the first meaning, the flat pack log store was "pure skelf central so it was" 

Even the skelfs had skelfs.  

Nevertheless, an hour later, as it was beginning to get proper dark we managed to woman-handle the finished log store into position and retired indoors to tackle our skelfs with needles and tweezers.

Today, we have the unenviable task of transferring this.....

 MASSIVE bag of logs....

Plus mysterious extra bin full of logs....

into this.......

 Skelf central log store

It's going to be a l-o-n-g day.....

Friday, 4 October 2013

The long, dark night of the tupperware cupboard.......

I didn't sleep at all well last night.

This is unusual for me, as normally I'm comatose from the minute my head hits the pillow till I'm dragged from the arms of Morpheus by either the alarm clock, or Small Dog sitting on my chest staring at me.


So insomnia is a bit of a novelty for me.

I persevered, tossing and turning till I eventually gave up the fight at stupid o'clock and decided to get up and gain a head start on the day.  Small Dog blearily lifted her head as I passed her basket, as if to say "What time d'you call THIS then?" and almost immediately resumed her slumbers.

Once downstairs I was at pains not to make any noise, creeping around so as not to disturb PP and Small Dog, still fast asleep.

So, what do you do when you're up unfeasibly early to fill the hour or so before it's acceptable to be operating at a normal volume?

Why, you tidy the Tupperware cupboard of course.  Well duh!

I'm fairly certain that everyone has their own version of our Tupperware cupboard.  It will be piled high with mismatched items, none of which stack properly and the contents will invariably spill out all over the floor every time the door is opened.

I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time picking bits of Tupperware off the kitchen floor.  It's got to the point where neither PP or I will volunteer to put stuff back in there when we're unloading the dishwasher because we know that as soon as the door is opened, containers and lids will clatter out and roll all over the place. 

Of course none of it is actual Tupperware.  The real stuff.   I'm not even sure if it still exists.  But I well remember, as a child, the excitement of helping my mum prepare posh nibbles (cubes of cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks, alternated with teeny, tiny sausages, also on sticks.  All stuck into half a melon.... the height of sophistication).  Then to await the arrival of the Tupperware party organiser, and a selection of friends and family who had all been dragooned into attending.

For younger readers, who are probably thinking "What the f**k is Tupperware?" here's a tempting snippet of what you've been missing.....

So entranced were 1960's women (and by extension, their young daughters) by the undeniable practical lure of Tupperware that entire kitchens were full of the stuff.  It's a testament to the fact I'm now in recovery that I only have one small cupboard filled to bursting with its generic offspring.

I've been threatening to tidy it for some weeks now, but just couldn't face what I knew would be a thankless task.  Instead I would quickly jam things in, holding the door open just far enough to stop the entire tottering edifice inside from escaping.

But this morning, to fill my bonus hour in the gloom, I rolled up my sleeves and set about it.

As you can see, it's not a very big cupboard, but it was crammed FULL of plastic jugs, dishes, lids and containers in every conceivable shape and size.

Taking a deep breath I quietly pulled it all out onto the floor and began sorting through....

This is what was left on the floor AFTER I'd filled all the space on the worktop.  However, I'd started and had no alternative but to carry on, so I persevered and soon fell into a gentle, faintly soporific rhythm, reuniting long lost lids with bases, matching up sets in descending order of size, ruthlessly disposing of orphans, containers with broken lids, those morphed out of shape by the dishwasher, random ice cream tubs, and the leaning tower of takeaway containers (yes they ARE useful but any more than 6 is just madness).

The reprieved items were then neatly stacked back in the cupboard, with masses of space to spare.

I think I might be coming down with OCD.  Let's hope I sleep tonight or there's no telling WHERE this might end......

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fit for purpose......?

I have spent a large chunk of this morning attempting to clean my workroom iron.  Even though it's nearly 4 years old, I still think of it as my 'new' iron, and can well remember the frisson of excitement when I first bought it.

Indeed I was so excited I wrote a blog post about it.  If you are even remotely interested in a blog post about a new iron (and why wouldn't you be?) you can read it HERE.

So anyway, my workroom iron has to cope with a lot..... glue, iron-on Vilene, Bondaweb, and a bewildering array of fabrics, from pure silks through to organdie ribbon.  Most materials I use are extremely fine and delicate, and therefore require a very low temperature.  However, occasionally I have to whack up the heat in order to smooth out a particularly obstinate piece of fabric, and it was while I was doing just that, that the non-stick pad which is wrapped around my square ironing board, melted completely onto the non-stick surface of my iron.


I'm no expert on non-stick surfaces.  I don't know what they're made of or what complicated molecular polymer chains are needed to give them the requisite properties.  However, I do know that I expect them to be non-stick. 

Just to definition of 'non-stick' is that it doesn't stick to anything and nothing sticks to it.

I'm tending to give the benefit of the doubt to the iron.  Despite the fact that it was instrumental in causing the initial gooey, sticky mess which the non-stick ironing pad  transformed into, with just one light touch.  It's an iron.  It's meant to get hot.

 My full wrath was reserved for the ironing pad.  It surely should be capable of withstanding the heat of a hot iron.  Nowhere on the original packaging did it say "Only suitable for extremely low temperature ironing".  It's an ironing board cover. It's meant to be ironed on.

Not only did it melt onto the soleplate of my iron, it also stuck thoroughly onto the board, necessitating me going at it with a screwdriver and Stanley knife to get the rock-hard stuff off.

After that I couldn't face tackling the iron, so left it to cool down completely before assessing the damage.  At first, some of the melted pad did peel off quite easily, but my initial delight soon turned to frustration as most of it seemed to have transmogrified into a completely new-to-science material which had apparently melded itself INTO the metal. 

I started off gently, with a non-scratch sponge scourer and a minuscule amount of non-scratch cream cleaner which made not a jot of difference.  I then graduated to a wire scourer and a more generous application of cream cleaner.  Finally I took to hacking at the hardened, blackened gunge with a selection of tools which were most definitely NOT non-scratch.... scalpel blades, pokey needle tool thing, screwdrivers, even coarse sandpaper.

After over an hour I have eventually managed to chip off the worst of it, but the iron will probably never be the same again.


I've accepted that I may have to replace the iron, depending on how it performs with some fine silk ribbon later.  However I most definitely need to replace the ironing pad, preferably one made with a non-melting, properly non-stick, fit for purpose fabric.