Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Slippery when wet......

I had hoped to be able to put off this task until early in the New Year, but having looked through my stock boxes of undressed toy dolls yesterday I was shocked to discover that I didn't have very many left.

So, there's nothing else for it but to roll up my sleeves and gird my loins for an extended period of doll casting.

Last time I did a batch of casting was early summer, and it was hot, which made the job of working with moulds and casting slip marginally more pleasant.  There's not much pleasure to be gleaned from handling cold plaster moulds, and even colder porcelain slip during the winter months.

But first, because the tub of slip has been sitting in my casting cupboard, undisturbed for several months, I had to go through the tedious process of resurrecting it.  Stored slip settles in its container, going thick and gungy at the bottom, with a layer of watery liquid on top.  It is unusable in this state, so it needs to be thoroughly sieved, several times, and stirred to within an inch of its life.

As my slip pot was only about a third full, I also decided to prepare a new batch to add to it, figuring that it was as well to be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

Preparing slip is a messy business.  

Porcelain slip is incredibly slippy and gets absolutely everywhere.  It's cold and slimy and intractable and it takes a long time to make it workable.

The first step is to cover every surface with newspaper, including the floor.  A little slip goes a very l-o-n-g way.

These days, it is supplied in boxes, which hold a heavy duty polythene bag containing 3 litres of slip.

Back in the good old days, slip was always supplied in large, wide-necked plastic tubs, which made the task of pouring and stirring so much easier, but progress has dictated that poly bags are the way forward so this is what you get......

Just as it would do if it were stored in a tub, the slip has settled in the bag, going thick at the bottom and watery towards the top.  However, the bag does have one advantage over a tub as it can be kneaded and pummelled to mix the slip.  This takes some time and is roughly equivalent to a 1 hour upper body workout.  It's much harder work than kneading bread dough but is probably excellent for conditioning bingo wings and flabby bits.

When the bag has been suitably pummelled, its time for the first sieving......

Despite the thorough in-bag pummelling, there are still lots of lumps and gloopy bits that must be removed in order to produce a smooth, creamy slip.

Who would have thought that three and one third litres of porcelain slip would take up so much bowl space?  The old and new slip need to be very thoroughly mixed together as there is likely to be some difference in colour between the two different batches.  So there needs to be about an hour of sieving and mixing, mixing and sieving until every tiny lump is gone and the slip is one homogeneous colour.  It can then be transferred back into the plastic tub and marked with the date. 


Of course, the kitchen then looks like an explosion in a slip factory and it takes another hour to clean all the bowls and tools, taking care not to allow any of the slippy water down the sink as it would settle in the U-bend and completely block the waste pipe.

This is clearly a Bad Thing.

Eventually, after 3 1/2 hours, I have one tub full of super-smooth slip, which will last approximately 18 months or so.  It only takes a few teaspoons of slip cast one tiny doll with its accompanying arms and legs, so a little goes a long way here too.  However, each time I do a new batch of casting, outwith the space of a few weeks, I will have to sieve and stir the slip all over again.

So, tomorrow morning I can made a start on the first of 15 casting sessions, spread over the next week.

I can hardly wait......

Friday, 22 November 2013

Retail therapy - - -

I think I must be missing the female clothes shopping gene.  I don't mind shopping for stuff for the house, or the caravan, or the garden, or Small Dog, but I HATE shopping for clothes.

I mind it marginally less than I did a year or so ago, having dropped several dress sizes, but it is still mired with difficulties.

Today I set out with the intention of buying a pair of black jeans.  Nothing fancy, nothing expensive nothing out of the ordinary..... just plain bootcut black jeans, size 14 (short).

It's tempting to assume that 90% of the female population of Hastings & St. Leonards are a size 14 as there were absolutely none in my size.  Dozens of pairs size 6-8 and dozens of pairs size 20-28 but not much in between and no 14s at all.

Except for jeggings.


As I'm not at the cutting edge of sartorial elegance I had no idea what jeggings are, but I'm guessing some marketing bod came up with the word to describe a cross between jeans and leggings.  There were racks and racks of them in every conceivable size, from 6 (which is probably the only size they look even remotely good on) up to 28.  

Don't get me wrong.  Having been within a waffer-thin snippet of size 20 years back I know that larger, curvaceous women have an uphill struggle to find flattering clothes that fit.

But jeggings in a size 28..... I ask you?

In the spirit of investigation into this new phenomenon I tried on a pair. 
It wasn't easy.  Just getting them over my ankles required contortions of which a circus performer would be proud.  While struggling to pull them up over my thighs and hips I wondered if they shouldn't come pre-greased to ease them on.

I hasten to add that they were my size and they did fit.  

Sort of.

But they made me look like a burst sausage.  Not a good look.... even for a sausage.

Peeling them off was just as traumatic and I had to sit on the bench in the changing room for several minutes to regain both my breath and equilibrium.  Perhaps that's the point of them..... they're the clothing equivalent of a full body workout.

After witnessing the humiliating sight of my lower portions in jeggings I didn't have the heart for any more shopping so my quest for a pair of bog standard black bootcut jeans continues.



Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Retail therapy +++

And so another week bites the dust and once again I've been remiss in blog posts.

I can, however, plead mitigating circumstances, as I've been embroiled in THAT four letter word.


October, November and December are our busiest months of the year and we've been flat out trying to keep up with orders and commissions.  It's a lovely problem to have but it doesn't leave much time for blogging.

It's also been a few weeks of retail therapy, starting off with the purchase of my new laptop which is a work essential.  I'm still some way off being able to relinquish my old laptop, on which I'm writing this post, as I'm methodically working my way through installing work programs on the new one and doing a thorough clear out of files and documents on this one in preparation for the changeover.   Predictably, the old laptop has got wind of the usurper and has been exhibiting a whole new range of symptoms.  It goes to sleep at odd times and no amount of persuasion can rouse it.  Neither can I then switch it off.  So I end up having to remove the battery (the equivalent of switching off its life support) in order to be able to reboot it.
It's also throwing up no end of arcane error messages, each more cryptic than the last, so I strongly suspect its days are numbered.

I'm slowly coming to terms with Windows 8, thanks mainly to the advice of a friend who suggesting I install Classic Shell which gave me back my familiar start button and enabled me to actually find stuff quickly.  It's still a steep learning curve but I'm getting there.

On the domestic front, after months of dithering, we've finally taken the plunge and bought a new TV.  Since we donated our old behemoth to a local furniture charity, we've been using the small TV from the caravan, which has a screen no larger than my laptop.  Finding our way through the modern TV jungle required learning a whole new lexicon..... LCD/LED/HD/3D/HDMI, not to mention backlit, megahertz refresh rate, plasma, smart.... the options have been mind-boggling. 

After extensive online research, and visiting every TV in a 20 mile radius, we finally came to a joint decision and made the purchase.  Of course, very like the new laptop, it's not simply a case of switching it on and settling down to watch Masterchef in glorious HD.


First you have to negotiate setup, then you're presented with an 'interactive interface' which should more accurately be called a 'confusing screen'.  Apparently, in the fullness of time, with the benefit of a PhD in electronics and software engineering, we might each be able to set up our own home screens, with favourite programs just a click away.  PP has already started hers and Small Dog has shown some interest in having one too.

As it's a smart TV we can even go online.  So what was the very first thing I did online with the entire world of the internet at my fingertips?

Why watch dogs doing funny things on You Tube of course..... well d'uh.

But in some ways, the most impressive bit of retail therapy arrived in the post this morning.  It's electronic and it's work-related but what's impressive isn't the item itself.

It arrived at 10.30 this morning, delivered by UPS.  It was ordered at 6.30pm yesterday   Impressive I'm sure you'll agree.

But even more impressive is the route it took to get here.....

From 6.30 yesterday it travelled from the depot south-west of Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport north-east of Paris.  This presumably involved negotiating the infamous Paris Peripherique, on which it is possible to spend entire days.
From there it flew to Koeln in Germany!  
Why? I have no idea.  Perhaps it fancied a jaunt.
From Koeln it flew to Stansted, then by road to Crawley, then finally turned up here at 10.30am.
I tracked the journey on Google Maps and it's a total of around 900 miles.
In just 16 hours!
And that's including time spent in depots during handovers, being scanned on arrival and departure.

That's not just impressive.  That's absobloodylutely AMAZING!


Monday, 11 November 2013

Computer says #!?%@!?

My old laptop, the one I'm using to type this post, has been seriously poorly for some time.  In its declining years it's developed a whole panoply of ailments, all of them apparently chronic and some of them seemingly terminal.
On a bad day, it can take up to an hour to boot up, and if I have any more than two programs open simultaneously it goes into cardiac arrest and I have to defibrillate it.

It's been getting slower and slower to the point where it just hangs endlessly.  I suppose the human equivalent is going upstairs to get something then standing on the landing for 10 minutes trying to remember what it was you've gone up for.

It's definitely knocking on a bit..... in human terms it must be about 125 years old (if you think of 1 computer year as equivalent to 25 human years) and everything about it is slow and outdated.


And this is a BIG BUT, my whole life is in there.  Personal and business.  When it comes to laptops I practice reincarnation, transferring files and photos from each successive ailing machine into the new one.

In essence it contains my whole life from the past 15 years, since I got my first ever laptop.
This makes it hard to cut the ties which bind us.  But needs must and I'm being driven to distraction by the glacial speed, endless error messages and constant crashing.

It's time to bite the bullet and get a new laptop.  For the past few weeks I've been meticulously reading reviews, checking specs and trying to find the best machine at a price I can afford.  It doesn't have to be top spec, or play the latest games.  I just need to be able to do basic business stuff, word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets etc, as well as handle photo and video editing.

Having done my homework, and identified a mid-range, mid-priced workhorse, I took the plunge and bought one over the weekend.

So now I have one burning question.....

Q: WTF is Windows 8?

A: It is a new circle of computer hell designed to turn a moderately computer-literate user into a gibbering wreck.  That's what it is.

I feel as though I'm trying to learn a new foreign language, say Urdu or Chinese, which doesn't use our alphabet.  It's completely counter-intuitive and it's driving me nuts.

After an hour or so of getting nowhere fast, I inadvertently stumbled into what looked tantalisingly like a familiar desktop screen.  My joy was unbounded but short lived, as I inadvertently lost it again.  Having felt as though I'd been wandering in the desert and found a miraculous oasis, it slipped away like a mirage.

Things keep happening out of the blue, like split screens, and ghostly icons down the right hand side.  I suspect I'm hampered by not having a touch screen but it's a laptop with a keyboard so I expect it to work like one.

There isn't even a Start button.  I have no idea how to turn the damn thing off.
And where are the programs?
And how do I put an email shortcut on the familiar desktop (always supposing I can ever find it again)?

It's going to be weeks before I can even think of trying to do anything productive on it.  I have no idea if any of my suite of programs will work so I suspect the process of installing them may be fraught with difficulties.
In the meantime I'm committed to nursing this failing machine, while I try to get to grips with the new one.  I'm going to do a thorough sort through of all my files and documents, and this time I'm only transferring stuff I need, rather than the whole kit and caboodle.

This will take some time.  But that's OK because it will give me a chance to try to get the measure of Windows 8.  Either that or it will be drop-kicked out the window.





Saturday, 9 November 2013

Wonders in Miniature.....

This weekend heralds the arrival of the first Wonders in Miniature online show, showcasing holidays from around the world.  It's on now and you can view our dealer page HERE.

We have a range of Christmas-themed miniature toys, doll's dolls and DIY kits on offer, including these.....

 Jaunty Fox Terrier with handmade wicker cart

 Festive Humpty Dumpty on chair

 Traditional Jack-in-the-Box

 A Victorian Christmas - Illuminated Toy Theatre

 Holly toy doll's doll and husky with wicker sleigh are available as kits

 Deluxe Toy Doll's Doll in Christmas Red

The show runs through till tomorrow evening (Sunday 10 November) so do make a visit to browse the artisan's tables.

Also closing tomorrow on Ebay, we have a little Jumeau-style doll's doll dressed in shades of vintage dusky pink.  

The link to the auction is HERE

We will be listing each week between now and Christmas so do check regularly by my seller name  sandramorris-towerhousedolls 

Good luck if you decide to bid!


SAD times......

The first few weeks after the clocks change in October are always a bit of a struggle for me.  Losing an hour of daylight in the early evening is a big deal for someone who's not a morning person.

It hasn't helped that the small amount of daylight we have had has been of the dull, damp, grey variety.  Or dreich, as we Scots call it.

So, in an attempt to head off a bout of the winter blues I've been assiduously using my SAD lamp in the workroom, every day.  As well as adding a blast of welcome brightness, it's hopefully boosting my serotonin levels and raising my mood.  Even if it's not actively helping, it's certainly doing no harm, and the extra light in the room is extremely helpful work-wise.

It's getting much colder now too, which is an excellent excuse to make full use of our little woodburner.  Straight after we've finished work, we vie over whose turn it is to set the fire.

PP favours a very particular method, involving newspaper twisted into lengths and laid in parallel formation, with a graduated structure of varying sizes of kindling and compressed pellet thingys then a log.

My fire-setting method is much more random.  I scrunch up the newspaper into balls and lay them two abreast.  Then I lay a haphazard grid of twigs, interspersed with compressed pellets then a log.

Both methods result in a roaring fire but there is usually intense discussion over whose is best and why.

Meanwhile, Small Dog can be absolutely anywhere in the whole house (usually napping) but within 10 seconds (we've timed her) of either of us opening the door of the woodburner she's suddenly right there, sitting hopefully on the rug, overseeing proceedings.  She watches very carefully, simultaneously keeping one ear on noises emanating from the kitchen, which herald the preparation of dinner.

If we were to do a poll in our house, on "What is your favourite time of the day?"  this would win hands/paws down.

I've come to the conclusion that a real fire acts like my SAD lamp in raising my spirits, much more so than the previous gas coal effect fire.  There's something mood-lightening and comforting about watching flames dancing around the wood with occasional flaring and sparks, along with the sound of crackling and the faint smell of woodsmoke.

And Small Dog wholeheartedly agrees......

Saturday, 2 November 2013

It's a Dog's life......

Transcript of a conversation between myself and Small Dog this morning.

Me: (emerging from the shower room swathed in towels) What are you doing in there?  I only just made the bed.

SD: (yawn, stretch ) Whott tym doo yue kol this?

Me: (unimpressed) Time you were out of MY bed you lazy little tyke!

SD: (fixing me with a hard stare)  MUURRRMM!  Ai thinc yue wil fynd it is the weakennd and if yue luke in mai termss and kondishuns itt kleerli staits ai am alowd tue hav a lyin.

Me: Bollocks Small Dog. Get out of that bed now!

SD: (sulkily) Ai wil gett upp in a minnitt.  Just as sune as ai hear sumthen delishus goen intew my brekkfast bole.