Sunday, 13 September 2020

Feeling hot, Hot, HOT!

After several weeks of fairly autumnal weather.... cool mists, grey skies, rain etc.... summer has returned for a last hurrah, and the next three days are set to be sizzling.

Which is why I'm now berating myself for choosing today to do a full bisque kiln firing.  This is the current temperature it has reached, thankfully the top temperature, which it has to hold for 15 minutes before switching itself off.

Which I time to make sure it does.....then

Inside it's hotter than Hades.... a white heat that would melt your face off if you were ever mad enough to open the lid.

It will gradually cool down over the next 24 hours and around this time tomorrow it will be cool enough for me to open the lid, although the contents will still be uncomfortably hot to handle.

Contained within are around 300 assorted tiny dolls, with their respective arms and legs.... so approximately 1200 limbs.  It's taken many months to cast, soft fire then laboriously soft clean each piece ready to bisque fire, and it will be several months more before all of the faces have been meticulously china painted and fired 2-3 times more.  Then arms and legs will have to be re-united with their bodies and carefully strung to create jointed, movable limbs.

Despite packing the four kiln shelves with military precision, I was unable to fit everything in, and I estimate that there are enough limbs left over to half fill the kiln for a future firing, so I know I will be tempted to cast more in order to fill the remaining space.  Seems such a waste not to.

Opening the kiln after a bisque firing is always a nail-biting, trepidatious time. Hopefully I will discover a perfect fire, no breakages, bubbling or cracks.  The vitrified porcelain should be a velvety matte, not chalky, or more disastrously, bubbled and shiny.  

An underfire, although frustrating can be remedied by re-firing. An overfire is impossible to rectify and the entire kilnload would have to be dumped.  In all my 30+ years of dollmaking, this has only ever happened once, a long time ago, in a previous kiln, where a piece of porcelain fell against the kiln sitter, preventing it from tripping the kiln off when the correct temperature was reached. As a result the temperature climbed and climbed, and we were only alerted by the smell of burning as the floor beneath the kiln melted.

Thankfully we found out before the whole house went up in flames, but since then on I mount the kiln on a piece of old kitchen worktop and ensure that I am always present in the final stages.  Of course it's much easier to monitor what's going on inside with the aid of the computerised panel on my current kiln, which accurately relays the internal temperature, and stage of the firing. 

However, it's impossible to gauge exactly what's gone on until the lid can be opened. Pieces can shift, shelves and shelf supports can collapse, kiln elements can slip out of their grooves.... any of these could cause catastrophic results.

So fingers crossed.  In the meantime we're trying to disperse the heat by leaving all the doors open.  I'll keep you posted on the grand opening tomorrow..... 

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Website woes......

You know that thing, where you're doing really well, focused on the task at hand, making progress slowly but surely, while things generally seem to be ticking along nicely?

Well up until Monday afternoon, that was me.  However, at precisely 4.07 pm, I heard a loud, anguished groan from the office, followed shortly thereafter by a forwarded email pinging into my inbox.

Apparently, the company who hosts our website is planning a major upgrade to their servers including moving to a newer version of PHP.

Now, I hold my hands up to not having a clue what PHP is, but the net effect will be to render our website instantly obsolete.  It's already very elderly and creaking at the seams, having developed a rash of irritating and apparently insoluble back end glitches which only a complete rebuild and overhaul would fix.  We've been putting that off and attempting to keep it limping along, having extended our hosting package for a further 18 months, but this news has sealed its fate.

It doesn't help that the upgrades are due to take effect between 28 Sept and 2 October, so only a few week's time.  There followed much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a chorus of "Oh buggrit.... what are we going to do.....?" 

An emergency meeting was called (Small Dog agreed to attend, but only on suffrance) and we brainstormed potential solutions.

None of the options looked particularly attractive.

  • Rebuild the site from scratch using the same shopping cart software, which was a nightmare
  • Pay someone an eye-watering sum to do it for us
  • Cancel the hosting package and relocate elsewhere, using a simple website builder, such as Weebly or Wix.
  • Stay with our hosting service and use their in-house website builder
All of the options except the last one involved financial cost, which given the parlous trading conditions this year we are keen to avoid.  So we checked that we could create a new website, using our current hosting provider and simply switch over from the old one when we were ready.

So far, so encouraging.  Yes, we could do that.  No, there was no additional cost.  Apparently it was easy to do.

To say we were sceptical is a massive understatement.  All DIY website builder programs have pros and cons, and despite their claims to be easy to use, experience tells us that's true only up to a point.  However, with the clock ticking we decided to give it a go.  At the very least, our hosting package does provide excellent technical support which is available at all hours, 24/7 to address any of the problems which will inevitably arise.

Yesterday was spent deciding on a layout, and trying out the various elements, getting the look we wanted.  Today I'll be attempting to get to grips with how to list an item, with the first major issue looming on the horizon.... setting up shipping charges.  There seems to be only two choices... one flat rate charge per order, which doesn't accommodate shipping to different postal zones internationally, or a charge per item, which also doesn't taken into account varied international shipping rates.  We think we might have a workaround, but it's far from elegant.

I'm also juggling working on The Book, which is coming along nicely after years of languishing and gathering dust.  I have completed about 75% and finally feel as though I'm on the home straight, which probably means that I'm going to hit some insurmountable software issue and have to start again.

That's me.... always looking on the bright side. 😂