Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The clock is ticking.....

Every year, at about this time, I solemnly swear that next year, about this time, I will NOT be doing all my work in a deadline-induced panic.


November is like Groundhog Day.

To be fair, the deadline I'm referring to is the last posting dates for Christmas delivery, which, in theory, are immutable.  In practice of course, they are ever so slightly flexible, especially on international routes which are well served.  For example, the last recommended posting date for airmail delivery to the USA is 12 December.  For Australia it's 4 December.

I am currently working on commission orders for both of those destinations and my self-imposed deadline for completion is 30 November so that they can be packaged and ready for delivery on Monday 1 December.

Just 5 days away.

But I also have commission orders to complete for delivery to three European destinations, as well as several for here in the UK.

In total, 15 dressed toy dolls, plus assorted toys and pullalong animals.

5 days.

*contemplative silence*

As always, it will go right down to the wire......

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Angel: 1 - Devil: 0

I posted recently about my dilemma over whether to start a major new project and since then I have given it a great deal of thought.

Weighed up all the pros and cons.....
The advantages and disadvantages....
Thoroughly examined all the supporting and opposing arguments.....
Debated the potential positive and negative consequences.....

And I've come up with a cunning plan.
A plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a fox.

I am NOT going to succumb to a new shop.  Instead I am going to upcycle an existing one.
Or rather part of one.

To wit....

This is the illuminated display window which I made in order to take to fairs to showcase a selection of my little dolls and toys.  It's travelled hundreds of miles over recent years and been packed and unpacked many times, so it's a bit 'in need of'.

I've decided to give it a complete makeover and use it for my winter project, which is to be an Alice in Wonderland themed shop window.  I've been collecting and making things for it for some time already and have loads of ideas for decorating the window and display.  

As it already sits neatly on a wall shelf above my desk in the workroom, it won't take up any more space, and its size means that it shouldn't take months to complete, unlike the daunting prospect of a whole shop.

So, here's a little competition for my blog readers and Facebook followers.

I need a name for the shop window.  I'm thinking something quirky, unusual and Alice in Wonderland-ish.

Post your suggestions either as a comment on this post, or as a comment on the Tower House Dolls Facebook page.

I'll choose the one I like best and if more than one person has suggested it, I'll enlist Small Dog's help to draw the winning name from a hat.

And the prize.....?

As I said, I've been making things for the shop already, including this set of miniature masks, which even have eye holes!  They come in a box with illustrated lid.  As I've made two of these, one of them will be going in my shop window and the other will be presented to the winner.

You have until the end of this month to submit your suggestion(s).

Good luck!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Curtain UP.......!

I've been busy the past few days, working on a new range of illuminated toy theatres.
After weeks of handling porcelain it makes a pleasant change to be working with wood, which also means I get to run amok work carefully with my miniature power tools, creating no end of sawdust in the process.


As the deadline looms for sending out Christmas orders (my last posting date for UK orders is 15 December, for international orders it is 30th November) I've been making Victorian Christmas theatres and Nativity theatres as well as some new fairy tale theatres, including Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel.

To light the theatres, I use tiny 12V grain of rice bulbs, which can be plugged directly into any doll's house lighting circuit creating a lovely warm glow.

An illuminated Little Red Riding Hood toy theatre in my day nursery!

Perfectly scaled for 1/12th doll's house children

These theatres are available to purchase now, from the Tower House Dolls website.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Where the magic happens......


The kiln was set to start firing at 5.30 this morning, and gradually begin to work though the firing schedule which I'd programmed into the computer.

Here it is in its spot in the dining room.  I always clear away all furniture etc and put it up on a heatproof board when firing.  It is extremely well insulated, but even so, it does get hot.

It's currently 11.30 am, and the controller is showing an internal temperature of 1162 degrees Celsius.

Which is very, VERY hot.

When you consider that the maximum temperature of a normal domestic oven is around 300 degrees, which will burn just about anything to a crisp in next to no time, try to imagine it almost 4 times hotter and you will have some idea of what it's like inside my kiln right now.

I had to get very close to the kiln to take this photo and I can attest to the fact that it was definitely HOT.  There is a tiny, hairline gap between the lid and the base.  The white stuff you can see is the edge of the insulating fire-proof lining, and just below you can see a glowing yellow line.  That's the heat inside...... it goes from red hot, to yellow hot, to white hot.  Every tiny piece of greenware inside, carefully placed on the shelves, will also be glowing and incandescent, as the heat works to turn the soft, porous, fragile, powdery porcelain into hard, vitrified, impervious porcelain. Each already tiny piece will shrink by up to 1/3 and attain its final colour.

The controller also tells me that it's in the end phase of the second temperature ramp.  In order to properly mature and vitrify the porcelain there has to be a carefully controlled combination of time and temperature.  Both work closely together.  Too much time and not enough heat won't work.  Neither will too much heat and not enough time.  It's a delicate balancing act.

It still has over 50 degrees to climb before it reaches optimum temperature.  And it must stay at that top temperature for a specific period of time.  This is called the soak.

It takes a lot of power to maintain that very high temperature for a sustained period, which is why I time my bisque firings to end early in the day.  In the late afternoon or early evening, when a large number of households are drawing power from the local grid, there is a small but noticeable drop in everyone's electricity supply.  You probably wouldn't notice it at home, but it does affect my kiln, and even a drop of half a degree will disrupt and extend the soak time, with potentially catastrophic effects.

The firing should end at about 2pm or thereabouts, and I always make sure that I'm around to monitor the final stages.

So although it's all very technical and scientific... a combination of chemistry and physics, I can't help feeling that it's also rather magical.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Ready... steady... FIRE!

Yesterday I finally completed the final few boxes of soft-cleaning from a major casting session I started off way back in September.

I always like to have the kiln full for bisque firings, which takes an awful lot of teeny tiny castings.

I don't much mind the casting stage, but I detest the soft-cleaning stage..... sitting for hour after hour with my hands in lukewarm water, meticulously fettling seam lines on pieces of fragile greenware, some of them less than 1/4" long.

However, the exultation I feel when I finish the last piece is indescribable, even allowing for the fact that one more tedious task remains before I can fire.... the loading of the kiln.

I've just spent the past 4 hours, crouched over the kiln, meticulously placing each and every carefully soft-cleaned piece onto 4 shelves.

There were a LOT of pieces.......

 These are the flesh coloured dolls and toys.  Told you there was a lot, didn't I?  But it doesn't end there.

Oh by no nonny no.

 These are the white coloured dolls and toys.  Including the infernal Humpty Dumptys which I blogged about HERE.  Out of 10 castings I managed to soft clean 8 without the legs breaking off.  I'll fire the other two to use in my own projects in the hope that I can do an 'invisible mend.'

But it doesn't end there either.


 Each one of these boxes contains the limbs of all those dolls and toys.... from arms and legs for tiny 1" long crawling babies (and 20 other assorted little toy dolls) to limbs for the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, and March Hare.

There are over 250 dolls and toys, which means that there are in excess of 1000 limb parts in them there boxes.  No wonder it took me over two months!

So, all of the above are now neatly loaded into the kiln......

Not quite full, as there is still some space on the top shelf, but near enough.

I'll set the kiln to switch on early tomorrow morning, so it should reach the optimum temperature of 1215 degrees Celsius over about 7 hours and will be done by the time people in Hastings and St. Leonards get home from work and start to drain power from the grid.   Then it will a full 24 hours before it's cooled down enough to open the lid and check the contents....... hopefully it will be a perfect fire otherwise there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But it doesn't even end there!

Each of the dolls will require 3 separate china paint firings, and the toys will be hand painted using enamel and/or acrylic paints.

Even then, each doll and toy will be strung to give them jointed, moveable limbs. 
Then dolls destined to be costumed will move onto the next stage, dressing and wigging, which require a completely different creative skill set.

As well as time and patience, all of this requires skill and experience, garnered over the past 30 years.  So next time you look at a little dressed porcelain toy doll, please remember all that goes into creating her. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Never say never......

In April 2012, I stoutly declared that I was about to embark on my last ever doll's house build.

I even blogged about it....... HERE.

But now, 2  1/2 years on, I have a niggly naggly feeling that I am teetering on the brink of yet another project.

So I am now on the horns of a miniature dilemma, best illustrated by the following exchange.

Picture the scene.  It is a wet and windy Sunday afternoon, and Sandra is sitting by the fire, watching an old film on TV, idly browsing through her Facebook groups.  Eventually she comes across a photo of a new doll's house shop kit, which leads her to a website, where she discovers another..... and an idea which had been forming in her head for several weeks began to crystallise.


Out of the ether materialises two little creatures.  On Sandra's right shoulder sits a little angel, elegant and graceful with a serene, angelic smile.  On her left, a little impish devil, edgy and dishevelled, with a petulant, mischievous expression.

After a few moments, the angel floats serenely down and sits, perfectly balanced on top of Sandra's laptop screen.  She is closely  followed by the devil, swooping and whooping and doing loop-de-loops before slamming into then scrabbling onto the laptop screen at the opposite side.

Sandra:  "Oh.  Hello you two.  I think I can guess why you're here."

Angel  : "I expect you do.  We're anthropomorphic representations to illustrate your inner turmoil and conflict"

Devil: (pulling a face) "Ooohhh.... listen to Miss La Dee Dah.  No sh*t Sherlock?!   (sniffs) Wotcha Sandra..... how's it hangin'?"

Angel: (raises one perfect eyebrow and shakes her pretty head)

Devil: (taking no notice and swinging her legs over the screen, drumming her heels and swinging her forked tail)  "So..... which one are you going to have?  Go on.... you know you want to".

Sandra: " Well..... I really don't think I should.  I said I wouldn't......"

Angel: " You don't really have the room for one do you?  Or the time to work on it...?"

Sandra: " Well.... no.  Not really."

Devil: (picking her nose and flicking it at Angel)  "Oh push off nifty knickers.  We ALL know she's going to have one.  It's purely a question of which one."

Angel: (showing just a hint of exasperation) "For goodness sake.  We wouldn't be here if she'd already decided what to do.  We're here to help.  Or at least I am."

Devil: (sulkily) " Hmmm.  Alright.  Go on then.  Produce your arguments."

Sandra:  (hesitantly) "Well... you know.  I don't NEED a doll's house kit.  I said I wouldn't do another.  And I don't really have the space.  Or the time, when I should be working..... and....." (falters to a halt)

Angel: (dusting off her wings and preparing to leave) "Good.  That's decided then.  Well done Sandra.  Temptation denied".

Devil: " Hold on Sparky.  It's not over till the wassname sings.  So, you don't NEED a doll's house kit.  Nobody NEEDS a doll's house kit do they?  So you said you wouldn't do another.... well promises are made to be broken, and anyway, who did you promise?  Only yourself so that doesn't count".
 (warming to her theme and striding up and down along the top of the screen, thumbs tucked in her cape collar)
 "So you don't have the space.  You could MAKE the space.  It's not that big.  Move those storage boxes around and hey presto.  So you  should be working.  Work shmurk.  All work and no play makes no sense.  Plus......you-know-who makes work for idle hands.
I rest my case m'lud......"

Sandra:  "Well..... I suppose I could.  I mean it's not a big kit and I could probably squeeze it in somewhere.  And it would be fun.  I've got so many ideas for it.  And life's too short for what ifs and could've, should've, would've.....  we should all seize the day, take the bull by the horns, take pleasure in small things....."

But nobody is listening.  The little devil has taken run at the angel and they're wrestling and tussling around, the air ringing with the most un-angelic language till they both disappear in puffs of red and white smoke.

Wonders in Miniature Online Show!

The second Wonders in Miniature online show is now live over this weekend and you can view our dealer page HERE.

For the past few days I've been busy making miniature Victorian Christmas illuminated toy theatres. 

The theatre is made from wood with high quality printed proscenium arch and 5 separate layers of scenery and characters inside to give a 3-dimensional effect.

A Victorian family is making preparations on Christmas Eve, decorating the tree while their children play and even their pet dog and cat join in the celebrations.

Internally the theatre is lit with a 'grain of rice' 12V bulb, which can be connected via a plug into a doll's house lighting system. When lit the theatre emits a lovely festive glow and looks lovely in any Christmas-themed setting.

Priced at £25 I can take commission orders for a few more in advance of my Christmas order cut-off date of 15th November. Please contact me  if you wish to order one.