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......