Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Firsts and lasts.....

2021 is a year of firsts and lasts.... some heartbreakingly sad and emotional, others exciting but still slightly worrisome.

This week I will be completing my last commissions, for some lovely, long-term customers. Over the past 30+ years I've lost count of the many, many miniatures I've made to commission.  It must run into several hundreds.  It pleases me enormously that my tiny creations can be found in doll's houses all around the world.

From now on I will still be making tiny dolls for sale, and possibly the occasional more elaborate project piece, but I am no longer accepting customer commissions.

Over the decades I have also designed and produced many dozens of kits.... some quick and easy, others devilishly difficult and time consuming.  I have in mind to create just a few more kits this year, one in particular to commemorate the contribution made by Small Dog, who was a key member of the THD team for many years.

Similarly, the KDF online showcase, which begins on 14th May, will be my last.  I first exhibited at the Kensington Dollshouse Festival many years ago, and also taught workshops. During the past year their world-famous shows have moved online, and I have participated in all three of them.  Later in the year, Covid permitting, they will return to live shows, which I won't be attending.  

This is also the last year for our current Tower House Dolls website.... I'm currently investigating other avenues for sales which are less costly and onerous.

Hopefully, by the end of this year, the business in its final slimmed-down form will be ready to move forward.

Until then I'll be continuing to clear out and reorganise my workroom.  Having recently removed a large storage cabinet, I still have another cabinet to go in order to liberate one end of the room.  I have amassed a large pile of books which I'll be compiling into a Book Sale List, which should be ready to release by the end of this month.  As with my fabrics and trimmings list (which is currently being updated) it will be available as a PDF file on request, so if you would like to receive a copy just let me know and I'll add you to the mailing list.

Having taken the decision to downsize the business in preparation for my eventual full retirement it feels as though the wheels are now in motion and picking up momentum. 

Onwards and upwards......

Monday, 3 May 2021

Tempus fugit.....

 And so another month passes and here were are in May, although the weather currently is very un-springlike.  We even lit the fire last night.....

.... looks cosy doesn't it?

Except it's missing one very important element.

Just after my birthday recently, we took our little caravan to a nearby campsite to test it out after its extended layup during two successive lockdowns.  It was always going to be a difficult outing.... our first without Lucy, who long-term readers will know, absolutely LOVED camping trips.

This proved to be true.... from packing the van without her constant supervision to sorting out her dinners to pack in the fridge. To finally conceding to her squeaked requests to sit in the car while we hitched up and got ready to leave.

Then arriving on site and not having her keep a watchful eye on us as we erected the awning and set up our pitch.

Walking around the site without her jaunty step ahead of us, alert for rabbits and interestin' sniffins.

Dinner time, with the three of us sitting cosily in the awning, her on her little chair, snuggled in her blanky.

Bedtime.... waiting patiently for her bed to be made up and after lights out, listening to her little snufflings and grufflings while she ensured that her blanky was carefully scruffled up to her liking.  The padding of her little paws in the night then the sounds of her lapping from her water bowl, before returning to her bed and settling down with a contented sigh.

Although it was lovely to be away from home for the first time in months, we both felt so sad that the occasion wasn't shared by all three of us.

I know that it will get easier with time but everything still feels so empty.

The house, the garden, the caravan... our daily lives.

In a year of 'firsts' the caravan trip was certainly going to be one of the saddest... the first in almost 15 years without our little girl.  We were able to bag her favourite pitch, on which she'd spent many days over the years, either relaxing in the sun or retreating to the dappled shade of the trees,  just by the little woodland path which led down to the dog walk.

We're getting through the 'firsts', one at a time... reliving the best memories and sharing the sadness at our loss.

There will never be another like her.....

Monday, 5 April 2021

Where there's a will......

Just over a week ago our side patio looked like this.....

Today it looks like this....

In the intervening days, the clean, top stones were relocated onto our shingle beach garden area.  Then the remaining 2 tons of muddy pebbles have been laboriously shovelled into 2 builder's bulk bags.   It has taken an unconscionable number of 'woman hours', split into short shifts with lengthy breaks for recuperation.  

Clean pebbles are heavy.  

Pebbles covered in thick, sticky, cloying, clayey mud are super heavy. 

They stuck to our shovels.  They stuck to our boots.  They stuck to the insides of the buckets. We had to stop every few minutes to scrape mud off all of the above.

Eventually we managed to clear the area and then had the problem of two full bulk bags of sticky, muddy stones, and no easy way to get rid of them.  We briefly considered hiring a builder's skip and barrowing them through the side passage, up a ramp and into the skip, necessitating handling the stones multiple times.  Plus the cost of skip hire is quite expensive.

I contacted a waste disposal company to come and give us a quote to remove them, but the chap didn't come on Saturday as arranged.

We then hit on the idea of offering the 2 tones of muddy stones for free on a local Facebook group page.  For several hours nothing happened, and we resigned ourselves to having to pay to deal with the problem.  Then PP's phone started dinging with messages from people wanting them.  She explained that they were muddy, that they were in two one ton bags in our back garden and would have to be moved in containers.... nobody was dissuaded.

So this morning, a chap from Bexhill turned up with a small trailer hitched to his car.  He brought a shovel and wheelbarrow and in short order had loaded the contents of one of the bags into his trailer.  He's coming back again tomorrow at the same time to collect the rest.  Apparently they're doing up their front garden and two tons of muddy stones for free was a bargain.  

Who knew?! 

We can't quite believe it. We've hit unexpected problems all the way through the project thus far, but the pebble disposal seemed insurmountable. To be saved by a hero with a wheelbarrow isn't quite how we thought it would pan out.

When the other ton of stones goes tomorrow, we will then be able to level the area as much as we can, then try to work out how much sand we will need to cover it to a depth minus the thickness of the rubber tiles.  We also need to factor in a slight fall away from the house, so that rainwater runs away from the wall.  Much of that will be trial and error.  We will use marker pegs around the edges with string running across from one edge to the other, marking the top of the sand layer.  Thankfully we don't have to deal with mixing cement to fix the tiles in place.  They lock together using special pegs which are fitted into holes in the sides of each tile.  If we make a mistake (which is almost certainly, definitely probable) we can simply pull them apart and start again.  

We haven't tried cutting them yet, but the installation instructions are adamant that they can be cut with a stanley knife, or an electric jigsaw, so we're cautiously optimistic. 

To be continued...... 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Quart Into A Pint Pot.....Sandra's Super Sale!

Changes are afoot at Tower House Dolls.  I've decided that from April 2022, I will be closing the Tower House Dolls website. That gives me a little over 12 months to properly clear out my workroom, a task which I've been attempting to complete for the past few years. 

I won't be hanging up my dollmaking apron completely, but I will no longer be running a full time, full scale (no pun intended) business under the aegis of Tower House Dolls.

To keep my hand in though, I am trying to condense everything I will need to costume my tiny dolls, to fit into my lovely bureau cabinet, which I upcycled back in 2019.

Here's a reminder of what it looked like before....

Over the course of a month, with some blood, much sweat and even more tears, I transformed it into this.....

So now all I have to do is downsize the remaining contents of 8 cupboards, 2 bookshelves and assorted boxes to leave me with the minimum needed to make a few little dolls every now and then when the fancy takes me. 

To this end, I am compiling a huge sale list, which will contain an extensive assortment of items, from my 35 years as a miniature dollmaker, many of which are long discontinued and no longer available.

The list will include:

Tools & Equipment

Fabrics & Trimmings

Books & Costume Patterns

Miscellaneous Items of Interest To The Miniaturist

This sale list, which is still in preparation, will be available as a PDF file,  hopefully in early April, and will be available by email, on request.  If you would like to receive a copy, just contact me with your email address (put 'Sandra's Sale Request' in the subject heading) and I will add you to my mailing list and send it to you as soon as it's ready.

All sale items are offered on a first come, first served basis.  I have a few of some, only one or two of others.  P&P/Shipping will be calculated per order and added to your total.  Payment will be by PayPal.

Keep an eye on this blog too, as over the coming week or so I'll be giving some sneak previews of some of the items which will be available. 😊


Saturday, 27 March 2021

Blind faith......

My passion for spring projects continues unabated.  Our new garden furniture arrived last week via an enormous pantechnicon which pulled up outside and no doubt had curtains twitching up our end of the road.  It was delivered on a wooden pallet, which the delivery chap helpfully wheeled up to the top of the drive on a little forklift machine, and deposited by the door.  Three huge boxes of flat-packed sofa set which we managed to womanhandle into the hall, where we unboxed then stacked the eleventy hundred individual sections in the dining room.

Then yesterday, the exact same pantechnicon, driven by the exact same delivery chap, pulled up outside again.  The hydraulic lift lowered another pallet, piled high with the rubber tiles for our patio, which was again deposited by the front door and we laboriously carried them all, two at a time into the back garden where they're now stacked outside the patio doors. 

All we need to do now is borrow a shovel and a bolster chisel, and wait for the weather to warm up a few degrees in order to begin clearing the area of all the shingle.  It's been bone-chillingly cold the past week or so, which gives working outside limited appeal, but next week things are due to warm up so we'll make a start in a few days time. It will likely take weeks, as due to advancing decrepitude we can only do short stints of about an hour at a time.  But we keep reassuring ourselves that it's a small area and shouldn't be too bad, plus the sense of achievement we'll have when it's finished will be its own reward.  I'm cautiously hoping that it might be finished in time for my birthday next month, but I'm not holding my breath. 

In the meantime, we've been finishing the small jobs in the newly painted kitchen, including fitting the new made-to-measure blind, which was also delivered last week.

PP and I are veteran blind fitters, having hung every blind in the house, and subsequently replacing our original venetian blinds with vertical blinds in three rooms, and new roller blinds in the kitchen and bedrooms.  I say this to emphasise the fact that we are completely competent DIY blind fitters, having hung dozens of the buggers.

Hitherto we'd always bought roller blinds which required cutting to size ourselves, and every single one was fitted perfectly.  However, the exact colour I wanted for the new kitchen blind wasn't available off the shelf and had to be ordered made-to-measure.  We thought that this would be a nice change from having to mess about cutting the roller and the blind fabric.... fiddly and time consuming tasks.  With a made-to-measure one, all we had to do was fix the brackets and slot the blind in place.

Bish. Bash. Bosh. Done.

*insert eye rolling emoji here*

Having checked that it was the exact size we'd ordered.... after measuring the width umpteen times.... we decided to double check the size of the blind against the window to assess where the brackets should go.

*insert wide-eyed surprise emoji here*

The blind was about 6mm too short.

There followed a brief flurry of two-way recriminations, where we each blamed the other, before we pulled ourselves together and rose to the challenge of coming up with a solution.  The obvious one was to fit the brackets against the top of the window recess, but previous bitter experience had taught us that the lintel above the window was akin to tempered titanium and resisted all attempts to drill into it, testified by the trail of broken drill bits whenever we'd attempted it over the years.

So we decided to opt for Plan B and mount the fixing brackets onto two small pieces of wood, each 3mm thick, and screw both bracket and wood into the sides of the recess. 

I have a big box of wood offcuts in the workroom, so set about searching for a piece of wood 3mm thick.  Of course, I had every thickness from 1mm to 15mm but no 3mm.  So I made a composite piece using 1mm and 2mm, which when we drilled into it, split in two.

Back to the drawing board and I found a piece with was just under 3mm which we thought might do.  By this time we'd been at it for almost 4 hours, and were flagging.  Then, stepping backwards off the kitchen worktop onto the chair, my right leg slipped and my knee 'popped' alarmingly.  After a few agonising minutes of manipulation (and swearing) it sort of clicked back into place, but my climbing efforts were ended for the duration.

I was all for throwing in the towel and going back to it the next day, but PP had a glint in her eye which signalled that she was in it for the long haul, so I performed the role of limping tool attendant.  Our full size electric drill was too big so we resorted to using my mini drill, and broke three small drill bits.  Nothing we tried was working..... our mounted brackets were flexing and the although the blind would fit in the holes, the slightest tug on the cord was yanking it out of the housing on the left hand side.

We were tired, we were annoyed, both with the blind and with each other. We were frustrated, it was getting late and I was in pain from my knee and PP was in pain from her back.  We were getting tetchy with each other and were within a whisker of having a full-blown row.  It could go either way.

It was at that point that I suggested knocking in a wedge to stop the bracket from flexing.  As soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew we'd reached tipping point. We hate resorting to bodging jobs, and will do anything to avoid it.  The look on PP's face was the very picture of a mix of disdain and disbelief.

That did it.

I dissolved into a fit of giggles, which quickly morphed into howling hysteria, with tears running down my face.  Fortunately, PP followed suit, then we were hanging onto each other, roaring with laughter.  The kitchen looked like a bombsite.... tools and mess everywhere, detritus from our failed attempts, and the blind was on the windowsill, still resolutely defying all attempts to hang it.

In the end, in desperation, we added another thin piece of wood on the left hand side which seemed to do the trick.  OK, so there is now a slight discrepancy in the centring of the damn thing, but if you have the light in front of you and squint when you look at it you'd hardly notice.  I'm going to make some new bunting to hang over the window, which will hopefully both conceal and distract from any wonkiness.  

I always say you can't go wrong with bunting.

We have also now sworn a solemn oath, never, ever to hang another blind as long as we both shall live, and putting the whole sorry debacle behind us are bracing ourselves looking forward to making a start on the patio project.

After all..... what could possibly go wrong? 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Miniaturitalia 2021

Venturing well out of my comfort zone to participate as a virtual exhibitor at the Italian online miniatures show.... Miniaturitalia, which opens today and runs through till Sunday evening.

Lots of new little Mignonette Toy Dolls listed on my website, including these rainbow-hued lovelies! 

You can find my dealer page HERE.

*Spero di vedervi lì! 
*Google Translate is on speed dial!

Sunday, 14 March 2021

The Foresight Saga.....

After 3 days of painting, the kitchen is finally finished..... yayyyyy! 

There are still some small jobs to finish.... a few metres of skirting board and the radiator to paint, but they can be done as and when.  I'm awaiting colour samples to hopefully find the exact colour I want for the window blind, and fabric has been ordered for the door window curtain, with enough left over for new bunting..... yayyyyyy!

The patio saga continues.  We had another chap round yesterday to look at the area and give us a quote for the paving and a lean-to pergola.  He emailed it to me and for a few minutes I honestly thought that the decimal point was in the wrong place.  Admittedly, it's a while since we last had anyone in to do work for us.... several years..... but in the intervening period, day rates seem to have gone through the roof!  Suffice to say, for the amount quoted I would have expected a Carrera marble floor, gold-plated gazebo with integrated wine fridge and hot and cold running ambrosia on tap.

So... back to the drawing board and with the help of Google, I found an alternative type of outdoor flooring which we could lay ourselves.  No specialised tools, no concrete or cement, no hardcore or aggregate infill.... it seems to good to be true but I've checked and double checked and it's absolutely legit.

Ok... so we have the unenviable task of clearing all the shingle first, but we can do it over the course of a few weeks and PP loves a bit of jet washing so she'll enjoy cleaning them in a bucket, then we're going to use them elsewhere in the garden.... to edge the path by the side of the house, and down the side of the drive to keep the weeds at bay.  Then we have to level the soil beneath and get it as flat as possible, before spreading a layer of sharp sand over the whole surface.  Not difficult, but time consuming.  Then we can lay the new flooring tiles, which neatly and invisibly lock together  Their green credentials are impeccable as they're made from recycled materials.  Also, apparently, you can fall onto them from a height of 1 metre and do yourself no lasting damage,  so any regrettable Black Vodka related incidents shouldn't prove fatal.  


We've completely reconsidered the pergola idea.   Courtesy of Google, I've found several alternatives, which would be much less expensive and more flexible, so we'll sort out the patio area first then see how we feel.

Also, it would appear that there is a UK wide serious shortage of garden furniture.  I can confirm that is is true, as a week or so ago I had bookmarked several sets of outdoor seating, most of which are now either unavailable or have dramatically increased in price.  So I spent a lot of time this morning looking for alternatives, going down a rabbit hole to track the original supplier of a set I'd really liked.  Finally, I found them, and after dallying on their website checking out the options I emailed to check on some details and received an 11% discount voucher!  So I not only found the original set I wanted, at the original price, but I got a good discount and free delivery too!  As stock levels were low, we decided to bite the bullet and place an order, so it should be delivered sometime next week.   Which means that the die is cast and there's no route back from the patio precipice.

All we need now is the weather to improve and warm up a tad so that we can schedule outdoor sessions to clear the area and make a start on moving the stones.

This is what it looks like at the moment.... a sad, sorry and unloved dumping ground for assorted garden detritus.

And this is an approximation of how it's going to look afterwards....  except in my imagination it will be even better!

I know I've said this before, on countless occasions, but what could possibly go wrong?