Sunday, 2 January 2022

Happy New Year..... (hopefully!)

My mood in a picture......

Happy New Year to all my blog-reading friends.

Despite being a Scot, I've never been much into New Year, or, as we call it, Hogmanay.  With the progression of the years I've stopped doing very much in the way of celebrations, resolutions or any of that stuff.  

The past few years have been difficult for everyone, but 2021 ranks as one of the worst years ever for me personally and I'm not sorry to see the back of it.  I already know that 2022 will hold its own challenges in all areas of my life, many of which I will have no control over.  That has always be the case, but this year more so than ever and I've got to get used to a new 'normal'.

Anyway.... I'm back at work tomorrow and looking forward to getting into my workroom and cracking on with preparation for the upcoming KDF online showcase next month.  Lots to do and I probably won't get it all completed, but I'll give it a go.

Today I'm doing lists.  

Lists of work stuff to do.al

Lists of house stuff to do.

Lists of stuff I want to do.

Lists of various projects I want to start in the next few months.

Lots of lists.  I do love a list.

I've also been doing a bit of long-overdue organisation and planning.  Going forward I think my keyword for this year is going to have to be 'flexibility'.  I already know that plans are likely to be thwarted by stuff going on, so I need to be mindful of that and not get thrown.  So I'm not going to beat myself up when I don't get things done on time.... or not done at all.  

In the meantime, I'm getting set up for the year ahead with the perfect stationery.....







Monday, 27 December 2021

Twixmas.....

Ahhh.... my favourite time of the year.  Those halcyon days between Christmas and New Year before the harsh reality of January rears its ugly head and there is still just enough festive cheer to temporarily head off the inevitable winter blues.

Lockdown Lite notwhithstanding, this festive season was always going to be more difficult.  Our first Christmas without our beloved Small Dog, who always loved every moment and threw herself wholeheartedly into everything the season has to offer.

It's also our first Christmas with cancer, and all the fear and uncertainty that brings.  PP's first treatment starts next week so we've been staying safe and minimising social contact.  The weather has been relentlessly wet and windy so we've been cosied up by the fire, eating our own bodyweight in turkey, ham and cheese.

Normally, in the Twixmas period I immerse myself in a miniature project, but as I'm working towards the Kensington Dollshouse Festival online showcase in February I'm doing something different this year.

Behold my Christmas present......


Now I know what you're thinking.  And to be fair, you're probably right.  But hear me out.

Cognitive decline.

There.  I've said it.   Taking up a new hobby is a good way of helping to halt cognitive decline. Ideally it should present a challenge, but it should also be fun.  

You will note the strategically placed headphones, which were also a Christmas gift.  These are to prevent my painfully slow, halting progress sending PP up the wall as only I can hear my repeated attempts to master the simplified version of Ode to Joy.  Beethoven is almost certainly spinning in his grave.  Although, as he was deaf, he would at least be spared my rendition of one of his most loved preludes.

I should come clean here and confess that, as a child, I endured took piano lessons for several years.  Once a week, an elderly gentleman, with a permanent drip on the end of his nose, came to our house and spent an hour teaching me to torture play our upright piano.  All of my mother's family were musical and in most of my aunt's and uncle's houses, there was a piano, so wherever the party ended up, there was always an instrument and someone who could play it.

I liked to sing, and could hold a tune, so it was assumed that like all the other Moores, I would be able to play piano.  It started off well enough.  Although it was a full sized piano and I was a pint-sized child.  I had to sit on a stack of books on the piano stool to reach the keys.  
My hands were (and still are) tiny, and couldn't span an octave.  It also didn't help that I'm left-handed, which made the twiddly bits melody more difficult to master.

I learnt scales, and the names of all the notes.  I could slowly and tortuously (with many tears and copious amounts of snot) translate the little black dots on the page into sounds, but with no fluidity, feeling or flair.   The tutor specialised in polkas and mazurkas (I think he was of Polish extraction) which are naturally light and happy pieces, with a bright and cheerful disposition.

My plodding playing reduced them to turgid dirges, peppered with bum notes and frequent false starts.  Also much muffled sobbing.  At the end of each lesson the keyboard had to be wiped down and I was released from my purgatory until the following week.  I did have to practice between lessons, but as our piano had no earphones, the whole family plus our unfortunate neighbours, were subjected to the cacophony and eventually I was judged to have no talent for the instrument and the lessons mercifully stopped.

Of course, over the years I have mourned the loss of that opportunity and wished that I had powered through the pain barrier.  I know that I can master challenging tasks requiring manual dexterity.  For example, I am a proficient touch typist, which requires the use of all my fingers, working independently, on 88 different keys.  Without looking.

I can create teeny, weeny, wee porcelain dolls from scratch which require a wide range of very delicate, precise, controlled movements.  In this instance my small hands are a definite advantage.

So I am returning to the fray.  Unlike my childhood self, I now have the determination and commitment to learn to play, at least to a reasonable standard, and produce recognisable tunes.  I've decided that I don't need to be able to sight read.  No point making it any harder than it needs to be.  So I've signed up to an online tuition course which uses patterns and chords..... apparently an unbelievable number of popular musicians use a similar method and can't actually read a note.

Who knew?! 

What is strange is that although I use my fingers every day, for typing, painting and sewing, after just a short practice session on the piano my hands end up like cramped claws.  It's obviously completely different types of movement and there's a definite time limit to the length of time I can play before I have to stop and allow my hands to slowly uncurl.

And the cognitive decline thing..... well there's a lot of memory stuff involved, plus doing several things at once.  So far it's going ok and I'm feeling the blossoming of a small sense of achievement.  The bite-sized chunks of practice are enjoyable and I feel I'm making progress. 

Sooooo......








Sunday, 28 November 2021

Thinking outside the (music) box.....

During this past summer, between eye surgeries, I spent some of the downtime working on a challenging kit.  I do like a challenge.  Coming up with an idea and running with it, then working out how to get over (or around) the various obstacles which inevitably crop up along the way.

I get a LOT of ideas.  ALL the time.  They just pop unbidden into my head and take root.  Admittedly, the majority never get off the ground.... either due to their complete impracticality, or being too expensive, or too time consuming.  Or a combination of all of those things.  Or the fact that, with the best will in the world, they would NEVER work.

Over the years I've filled many notebooks with ideas for miniature projects and I'd estimate that maybe 45% have seen fruition.  For the remaining 55%, some of those I worked on for ages, before admitting defeat.  It's dispiriting and frustrating, but I've learned something new from every one.  Very occasionally, I've been able to revisit an abandoned project, when a suitable component has come to light, or an interesting workaround has presented itself. 

My most ambitious project kit to date is based on a French automaton doll and I've been working on the prototype for a while, in fits and starts.  I have to admit I'm waaaaayyyyy out of my comfort zone on this one, as I'm working with unfamiliar materials and techniques, but if I wanted a challenge I've most definitely got one!

That said, I am making progress, albeit slowly. 

This was the inspiration.... the piano-playing automaton in Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. 

Despite the whole "I relish a challenge" thing, I sensibly decided that making a doll which could actually PLAY a piano was not within my capabilities. However, making a piano that would actually play was certainly, probably, possibly achievable.

Initially I looked around for a small hand-cranked musical movement.  There were loads available but the choice of 'music' was limited and I didn't think that the tinny, plinkety plonk of a musical movement was quite what I should be aiming for.  I wanted real piano music, certainly, but music which sounded as though it might be played by a doll.

After several weeks of entertaining, but initially fruitless research, I finally found a solution, which would enable me to fill the air in a doll's house with proper music.

In addition, during my wanderings I came across a wonderful facsimile of an original catalogue by Roullet & Decamps, famous French automata makers, who almost certainly created the Lanhydrock doll.....


The whole thing is coming along nicely, although it definitely won't be finished in time to release before Christmas, which was my original intended deadline.

Regular readers will know that I'm hopeless without a deadline, plus, at the moment we have the added complication of dovetailing lengthy hospital appointments at destinations diverse and various.   So any deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, run the risk of being derailed by circumstances outside my control.

So it was serendipity when I recently received an invitation to participate in the Kensington Dollshouse Festival Spring Showcase, which will be held online (yayyyy!) and will take place on February 4-10 2022.   Admittedly a tad early for spring but eminently doable from the point of view of my automaton kit and all the other 'works in progress' which have been languishing since early summer this year. 

I've booked my spot and have unearthed my box of notes and components for the automaton and this week I shall be cracking on.  My #3 prototype is tantalisingly close to completion.... I just need to work out a few niggly, naggly problems challenges, which have so far eluded my problem-solving skills, but I know there's a solution if I just keep at it.

Also, that wonderful facsimile catalogue I mentioned earlier.... I'm painstakingly miniaturising it to accompany the kit.  Along with a copy of an original automaton receipt, for a frankly eye-watering sum, which will also be included in a little envelope.  

See.... this is what happens.  I somehow always have to further complicate an already complicated  project.  

It's definitely one of my less useful, special skills.  
 















Saturday, 27 November 2021

Pot Luck Fabric Boxes......

This week I've been tidying and sorting my workroom (whenever am I not?!) and came across the box of fabric packs remaining from my Super Sale.  Too many to combine into one mega pack, but not enough to go to the trouble of listing them all on the website.

So, I spent a few hours dividing all the packs between 10 boxes, counting them out so that each box had some of each pack, including plain and shot silks in pastel and jewel colours, shadow stripe silks, special patterned silks, cotton/lawn fabrics in stripes and checks, suiting fabrics and much more.  Plus assorted trimmings, including lace, braids, trimmings and ribbons, soft leather pieces.

There are a minimum of 30 pieces of fabric in each box.... mostly large squares, but also some offcuts.  Minimum value £45.

Cost per box £15, plus shipping.

Contents of one box... all are slightly different.

Several have already gone so if you fancy adding to your fabric stash just let me know and I'll put one aside for you. 😊

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Nailed it.....?

One of our major preoccupations at the moment, is making sure that PP gets enough calories every day to avoid weight loss.  

Six months ago we had the opposite problem, and were waging a constant battle against weight gain, although, to be fair, PP was doing much better than I was.

Now though, she is struggling to maintain her  current weight, and each quarter pound loss is met with dismay.  So she is in the possibly unique position of her dietician advising her to eat as much  of calorie dense foods as she can manage.

In the spirit of helping her achieve her daily calorie target, I've decided to take up home baking again.  I say 'again' as I used to bake regularly.  My grandfather was an enthusiastic baker and as a child I was often propped on the end of his enamel-topped table in the kitchen to help.  It's there where I learned how to make all kinds of pastry, feather-light sponges, wonderful fruit cakes and delicious biscuits.  I baked through my teens and into my 20s and early 30s... but around 30 years ago my baking gradually tailed off until it became non-existent.

When I decided to take it up again recently, I imagined that it would be like learning to ride a bike and I'd soon find my forte again.

Not so.

My first attempt at scones a few weeks ago was disappointing as they had weight and texture of rock cakes.  I put it down to the self-raising flour being out of date, and to be fair, they did taste fine.  Not classic scones perhaps, but perfectly edible when served with clotted cream and jam.

Since then I've bought a baking recipe book and today decided to try these.....


They're bloody not!  They took almost 3 hours!!!

It all started off fine and dandy....


I'd bought new flour (won't be making THAT mistake again) and assembled all the ingredients.  I don't have a posh baking mixer thingy so it had to all be done by hand, but I've made no end of cupcakes (or as they used to be known back in the day.... fairy cakes) before and there's no crumbling or kneading so I thought it would take no time at all.

2 hours later (yes, TWO. WHOLE. HOURS) I ended up with these.....


I know what you're thinking..... what's my problem?  Well, for a start the recipe, which I followed religiously, maintained that it would make 12 cupcakes.  I ended up with 22.  Perhaps my cake cases were too small. 

Also, and I'll accept that this is no fault of the recipe, the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it.  I used every container, bowl and spatula, all of which were covered in the chocolate mixture. When pouring it into the paper cases the mixture inevitably dripped all over the place, requiring me to wash all the worktops and mop the floor.  I honestly don't remember baking being quite so tiring or labour intensive.

While they were in the oven, I made a start on the chocolate buttercream, which I intended to pipe onto the cupcakes, in a Great British Bake Off styley.

This is sort of what I was aiming for...



I'd watched a video on how to do it, and it didn't look too tricky.  My chocolate buttercream seemed to be the right consistency.... not too stiff, not too runny.  I even managed to get most of it into the piping bag.  However my piping skills were sadly lacking and they looked way too much like a cowpat, with no definition. 

More of a splat than a swirl.

So I scraped the buttercream off and spread it on instead, aiming for an artlessly 'rustic' look, which, if I say so myself, was much more successful.  Although it took another hour to ice them all.

The final pièce de résistance was to be a scattering of assorted chocolate balls and sprinkles, which I fondly imagined would elevate them to a thing of beauty.  However, they wouldn't stick to the buttercream and rolled off the cupcakes, off the table and all over the floor.

By that time I'd definitely had enough and decided that further embellishment was unnecessary so after I'd crawled around to pick up all the renegade balls and sprinkles then tackled the veritable mountain of chocolate encrusted washing up I felt no sense of achievement or satisfaction.  Just sheer exhaustion.

Back in the day I used to have a designated 'baking day' and in the same time as I managed to turn out 22 decidedly lacklustre cupcakes I'd have created several batches of bakes, including biscuits, flapjacks, muffins and at least one larger cake.  Possibly also some bread, or focaccia. 

Either I was some sort of super-baker, or, as is more likely, in the intervening years my multi-taking skills have taken a serious downturn.

I'm not completely disenchanted though.  I just need to appreciate that my baking skills need a thorough re-training, and to set myself more achievable expectations.

In the meantime, we're going to have a cupcake each after dinner this evening.  At the very least, at probably eleventy hundred calories per cake, they should fulfil the brief of providing a calorie dense sweet treat for my ailing PP. 

EDIT:  We each had two (well... they were quite small) and they were delishus. 



Monday, 15 November 2021

Fairy Tale Phantasmagoria.......

Those of us, of a certain age, will have grown up with fairy tales, in all their wonderfully amazing, often scary, sometimes gory, always magical splendour.  As a child, I vividly remember having a favourite book of fairy tales with the most incredible illustrations. 

Published in 1967, when I was 9 years old and already a voracious reader, I spent many hours immersed in the book, spellbound by both the tales and the sumptuous illustrations.

Last summer, I inadvertently stumbled across a vintage copy on the internet, and as well as bringing memories flooding back, it rekindled my enthusiasm and seeded the idea for a kit to celebrate all things Fairy Tale-ish.

As is my wont, one thing led to another, and over the past four months I've developed not just one, not two, not even three, but a frankly astonishing nine fairy tale themed kits!


The centrepiece is a wood-framed toy theatre with a colourful proscenium featuring opulent private boxes and an orchestra pit.  It includes nine different interchangeable pieces of scenery and backdrops, as well as sixteen precision cut, double sided fairy tale characters, which are cleverly magnetised so that they stand unsupported on the stage and don't fall over!  

Miniature toy theatre

A cast of characters perform different fairy tales

Scenery and backdrops can be changed

All the characters stand unsupported and can be moved around the stage


Included is a box to store the characters


Next comes a set of two different vintage boxed fairy tale games, each featuring 40 colourful game cards which store in boxes with illustrated lids. These can be used as is, or made into a nursery frieze, or framed in sets of 4 as nursery prints.  In all, 20 different fairy tales are featured.


Each set contains 40 cards depicting scenes from 10 different fairy tales


A set of 4 game cards showing scenes from Little Red Riding Hood

Then a fairy tale board game* with box and illustrated lid. The magnetised game board uses characters from the theatre and includes game cards and dice.




*Please note that as this game uses characters from the toy theatre, it is only available as part of the complete kit

Continuing the theme....a kit to make a boxed set of 6 wooden puzzle blocks, featuring six fairy tale scenes, including cards to show the completed puzzles.



Next, the inspiration for the whole kit, a set of eight wonderful fairy tale books, each beautifully illustrated in colour throughout.  The set includes Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, Babes in the Woods, Hansel & Gretel,  Puss in Boots, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.








Not finished yet though, as I couldn't leave out my favourite fairy tale (not to mention Small Dog's) Little Red Riding Hood and a set of boxed, precision cut, story cards.



Last but not least, a set of fairy tale themed paper dolls, and a set of dressing up masks.

Paper doll with a set of 5 precision cut costumes (costumes will vary) 

Set of 8 assorted precision cut dressing up masks, scaled for doll's house children
 (designs will vary)

Although most are available individually, for the duration of the online show they will ALL be available as one mega kit at a significant discount on the prices of individual kits.

You can find it on my website.... HERE! 



 

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Best laid plans......

 

The past 5 months have been a bit of a write-off workwise, due to my two eye surgeries.  I finally pick up my ‘forever’ glasses later this week so at last I’ll be able to resume micro dollmaking, which I’ve really missed.

However, just as our lives were getting back on track, we’ve been completely derailed by PP being diagnosed with a serious health condition, which will require months of debilitating treatment. 

As we wait to move into her treatment phase, all positive thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

This will have a major impact on everything, including Tower House Dolls.  I am currently up to date with orders, but going forward there will be inevitable disruption, for which I apologise.

That said, in the relative lull before treatment commences, I’ve been able to put the finishing touches to a new kit, which I started over the summer and will be unveiled at the November Mini Miniature Show which begins on Wednesday 17th.

Well, I say unveiled…. I’ll be posting a sneaky, sneak preview here tomorrow, when I’ve finished all the photos.