Friday, 30 September 2011

The heart of the matter............

Spent a large chunk of today in a private hospital in Eastbourne, undergoing a CT Coronary Angiogram.

No...I don't have private healthcare, but apparently our local NHS Trust is so far behind with diagnostic testing that they're shunting work out to the private sector, hence my elevation to the exalted rank of the private patient for a few hours.

I've visited friends in private hospitals before but have never experienced one from the sharp end, so I was intrigued to find out what it was like.  Once past the sumptuous reception area, with deep pile carpeting and comfy sofas, there actually wasn't much difference.  Yes there were fewer people in the waiting room, and yes there did seem to be a higher staff-to-patient ratio, but other than that, the actual scanning suites looked much the same. 

I can't say I was looking forward to it, but I must admit I was mightily relieved to be having a non-invasive CT scan rather than the traditional method which involves inserting a catheter into the groin which is then threaded through the largest artery in your body (the aorta) until it reaches the coronary arteries of the heart. A special contrast dye is injected and x-rays are taken of the blood vessels as the dye moves through them.

PP had a traditional angiogram a few years back and had the most dreadful complications afterwards, so when I found I had to have one too I was dreading it.  However the only minimally uncomfortable part of the procedure was having a cannula inserted into a vein in the arm, through which the contrast dye was injected.  I've never experienced that before and had been warned what it might feel like.


And by Jove it did.


Nanoseconds after the dye goes in, there is an overwhelming whoosh of warmth in the nether regions, which feels for all the world as if you've wet yourself. 

Not an entirely unpleasant sensation if I'm honest.  I could be worse...


At the same time there is a strange metallic taste and smell, which is a little unnerving but soon passes.  Other than that, and having to hold my breath several times inside the scanner while it whirled around, it wasn't at all bad, and after some recovery time in case I reacted to the contrast dye, during which I was given a cup of tea (proper bone china cup and saucer!) and biscuits on a tray I was allowed home.  


Now I have to drink as much water as I can to flush the dye through my kidneys, and aside from a lingering headache I'm none the worse.


The unseasonal heatwave continues unabated with temperatures due to reach the mid 80s in London over the weekend.  This would normally be only of passing interest to me, except I'm going up there to spend the weekend with my daughter and see her new little studio flat.  The London Underground will be hotter than Hades so I'm trying to find a bus route with the minimum number of changes.  


30 years ago I lived and worked in London, learned to drive there, passed my test there,  drove in and out of the city centre on a regular basis and was completely au fait with all modes of public transport.  However, nowadays I so rarely go there I feel completely lost, so what with that and the heat I will be so relieved to see a familiar face when I step off the train.


Meanwhile PP and Small Dog are staying home alone, although they do have a campsite BBQ AND possibly  beach picnic to look forward to, so they will be fanned by seaside breezes.


Right..... off to hydrate myself further. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Summer's last hurrah..........

Another gorgeous day weatherwise, made moreso by coming so late in the season and after a lengthy period of cold, wet and windy weather.

So, we finished work early and headed off down to the seafront with Small Dog, to savour the warm sun and balmy breeze..... it's not often you can wear a sleeveless top, shorts and sandals in late September in the UK without feeling just a tad chilly.

Even the normally quiet beach at West St. Leonards was busy and there were lots of people swimming in the sea and sunbathing on the shingle.  It was lovely just strolling along the promenade, although it wasn't so much of a walk as a 'drag', since Small Dog has to pick up 'wee mails' at every pillar and post, and leave her contribution to the thread.

After our walk, with the sun just beginning to dip down towards Eastbourne in the west, we just sat in the car with all the windows open, shooting the breeze.  Sometimes it's the simplest pleasures in life which mean the most........ 

Driven to distraction by fractions.......

I had an email yesterday informing me that an article on realistic miniatures featuring my illuminated toy theatres is currently in Doll's House and Miniature Scene's Doll's House Projects magazine.


They asked me for the information ages ago, and to be honest, what with one thing and another I'd forgotten all about it.  The theatres take quite a long time to make so I generally prepare them in batches of 10 or so but they do tend to sell out almost as quickly as I put them on the website, so a new batch has been on my current 'to do' list for a few months. 

This delay has been due to running out of the very fine stripwood I use to make the theatre boxes, and the very sad demise of the lovely Alan Borwell of Borcraft Miniatures, whose wood I've been using ever since I started making miniatures over 25 years ago.


As well as being a wizard with wood, his kindness extended to supplying me with wood in the exact lengths I needed, saving me the trouble of cross-cutting them myself.  He has been sorely missed.

Following extensive enquiries, I have hopefully found an alternative supplier, who will (fingers crossed) perform the same service, but first I have to carefully work out how many pieces of each length I can get out each strip.


This is where the division of fractions come in.


The majority of miniature artisans I know, work in imperial measurements in preference to decimal.  I suspect that this is primarily because we are all of a certain age, and were educated in the pre-decimal era.  I still think in feet and inches, rather than metres and centimetres, and no amount of EU regulation to the contrary will persuade me otherwise.

However, when you also consider the fact that we work in scales of 1/12th, 1/24th, 1/48th and even the mind-bogglingly small 1/144th, it becomes apparent why imperial is simply the most sensible unit of measurement to adopt.

Until you start trying to work with fractions.  And having to divide the buggers.  Which is an arithmetical nightmare.  Numbers aren't my forte at the best of times but fractions drive me demented.  This morning I've been trying to work out a variety of sums involving 16ths and 32sths which has only served to highlight my myriad defects in the fraction calculation department.  I was transported straight back to when I was at primary school, struggling with fiendishly complicated sums and hating numerators and denominators with a vengeance.


Nothing has changed........





Yeah..... right.


So if you're on my waiting list for an illuminated toy theatre, please, please bear with me.  Once I've resolved the fractions debacle, and confirmed my order, it won't be long before I'm able to make a start.


Promise......

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Giving it laldy......

Another glorious morning.  

Sun shining from a cloudless blue sky, gentle breeze ruffling through the trees, birds in the garden forming an orderly queue to use the newly refilled bird bath......

All was delightfully peaceful until an unearthly squawking shattered the calm and prompted both Small Dog and I to hurry out into the garden to see what was occurring, fearing that internecine warfare had broken out between rival gangs of magpies and crows.


However, I was astonished to discover that the raucous racket was coming from a lone squirrel, perched on top of the fence, gesticulating wildly and obviously in a right strop.


Small Dog was instantly galvanised into action and threw herself up the steps, barking her head off, in an attempt to give chase, adding her own vocal contribution to the mix.  The squirrel merely threw her a contemptuous glance and disappeared down the other side of the fence, leaving Small Dog to prance around, sniffing furiously and grumbling under her breath.


I've never heard a squirrel make such a horrendous noise before and haven't a clue what all the fuss was about.  

Unless it just wanted to torment Small Dog......



Monday, 26 September 2011

Monday, Monday.......

A gratifyingly grey, dismal Monday morning, after a gloriously sunny weekend during which I didn't get nearly enough of my to do list cleared.  However I did manage to load the kiln with several weeks worth of greenware in order to do a soft-firing, although I haven't yet  mustered either the energy or enthusiasm to unload the soft-fired ware yet.

I really must tidy up my work desk, upon which, as you can see, there is barely enough space to squeeze in a waffer-thin mint.


Yes, I know.....

I am ashamed of it.  And I will tidy it up AGAIN but I can assure you that by the end of today it will be back as bad as ever.  I call it creative chaos in an attempt to justify my complete inability to maintain a clear workspace.

Highlights of my weekend include getting to grips with Google+, which for my money, knocks Facebook into a cocked hat.  I also managed to solve an apparently insoluble problem on Blogger with the aid of a very kind chap from one of the help forums who pointed me in the right direction and used words of one syllable to explain what I had to do.  In the end it was so easy I had to laugh at my own incompetence at being unable to work it out by myself.

This morning we girded our collective loins to tackle the installation of a new wireless router, to replace our ancient one.  In the end, despite all our prognostications of doom, the process was reasonably straightforward and I must admit I already really notice the difference in the speed at which browser pages open.  Only PP's laptop was strangely reluctant to join forces with the new equipment, having apparently forged an enduring relationship with the old one, but we eventually persuaded it of the error of its ways and everything now seems to be tickety-boo.

Still in new gadget mode, we've also replaced our ancient home phones (which can't keep a charge for any longer than 10 minutes), courtesy of a timely money-off voucher and a less-than-half-price offer on a new set.  They're currently on charge so we'll try them out tomorrow.

Phew.  All this grappling with new technology has worn me out.  I just might have to join Small Dog for a restorative nap.......

Sunday, 25 September 2011

How it's made..... soft firing

When I've cast enough tiny dolls and toys to (hopefully) fill the kiln, or lost the will to live, whichever comes sooner, they are set aside to air-dry completely. 

The dry greenware is very fragile and can crumble to dust so must be handled very carefully.  However, the casting process leaves seam lines where the liquid porcelain slip seeps slightly into the gap between the two halves of the plaster mould.  These seam lines must be removed, along with any blemishes on the surface of the casting.

It is possible to do this with a small piece of abrasive fabric (such as nylon net) but dry cleaning produces lots of dust, which contains silica, and is harmful to breathe in over a long period of time.  Also, as the greenware is so very fragile, it is extremely difficult to avoid breakages, especially when cleaning tiny pieces.

Years ago, I used to dry clean my castings, wearing a special mask to avoid breathing in the dust.  However the fine dust gets EVERYWHERE, so inevitably it is impossible to avoid inhaling it as it permeates clothing, fabrics, rugs etc.

Eventually, some bright spark discovered that if the greenware castings were fired to a very low temperature (approx 650 degrees, which is still much hotter than a domestic oven) any moisture remaining in the porcelain would be completely driven out, resulting in a casting which could be immersed in water without dissolving, but still be soft enough to be able to be cleaned.  And so the dust-free soft-cleaning procedure was born.

Soft firing does not vitrify the castings, so they can be loaded into the kiln with less precision than for a bisque firing.  They won't fuse together so the pieces can touch.  The castings will also become lighter and stronger, although they are still easy to break so require careful handling.



Here a selection of castings are placed on the bottom shelf in the kiln, with the shelf supports in place to support the second shelf.

After the soft-firing is complete, and the kiln has cooled down, the castings are removed and stored in boxes.   Soft-fired castings can be stored indefinitely with less possibility of damage than unfired greenware.  


They are now ready for the next stage - soft-cleaning

Favourite tools... electric kiln


I have many favourite tools, but the one which is completely indispensable, and without which I simply couldn't carry on the business, is my electric kiln.  In simple terms, a kiln is a furnace, or oven for burning, baking or drying something, or more commonly for firing pottery.




This is the biggest top-loading kiln I could find which would operate via a 13 amp standard UK electric plug and still reach a top temperature of 1260 degrees Celsius, the temperature required to vitrify porcelain.   




Inside you can see the thick, insulating kiln bricks, which help keep all the heat inside, and running in channels around the inside edge, the spiral, metal kiln elements, which glow white hot at their top temperature.  Within this firing chamber I can place up to four shelves, one on top of the other, separated by shelf props, in order to maximise the firing capacity.


This is only my second kiln in 25 years.   The first, which I had for 15 years, was a Cromartie Hobbytech 40, slightly smaller and a manual kiln.  When I decided that I wanted to upgrade to a computer controlled kiln, I was able to sell my old for the same price as I bought it. 

Cromartie kilns are THAT good.

Sadly, Cromartie, a UK firm based in the heart of the potteries district of Stoke-on-Trent are no longer making kilns, but due to their excellent build quality, existing Cromartie kilns will continue in use for many years to come.

My firing schedules consists of three different stages - soft firing, bisque firing and china paint firing, each of which has different ramp times, temperatures, soak times etc, which I have programmed into the computer controller.  Once it's set to fire, the computer takes over and regulates the whole process, which takes the guesswork out of things.  

However, skill and experience are required in order to get perfect firing results and I have  worked out my own set of firing programmes, gleaned from hundreds of firings over the past quarter of a century.  These programmes have to be adjusted according to the type of porcelain slip I'm using, the size of the castings and age of the kiln elements, among several other factors.

Having only recently replaced the kiln elements, I've been able to knock  several hours off a full bisque firing, as the new elements can reach the required top temperature much more quickly.  However this means that I have to reduce the soak times and adjust the top temperature to suit the tiny pieces I'm firing, otherwise I risk a catastrophic overfire.

Information on the various firing schedules will be found in the 'How It's Made' category on the right.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Working weekend......

Gloriously warm and sunny day today but I've been ensconced in the workroom and office doing useful stuff and trying to psyche myself up to start loading the kiln.

Even my displacement activity has been useful, as I've been tidying up the website, adding some new toys and doing some planning for an upcoming 'event', which is currently under wraps and very hush hush.

However, I can't put off loading the kiln any longer........I may be gone for some time.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Butterfly brain.......

I've spent a lot of time today flitting from one task to another then back again.  This is despite having a comprehensive 'to do' list in front of me, some of which is time sensitive, which would usually help to focus my attention.  However for some reason I'm incapable of concentrating on any one thing for longer than a few minutes.

This is undoubtedly a Bad Thing.

I'm hoping that as I have to work through the weekend (having had two days off this week) this butterfly brain thing will sort itself out quick smart, otherwise I'll start the week on Monday way behind.

In other news it's been a really lovely day today.  Warm and sunny with only a light breeze.  This is in stark contrast to earlier this week when we stoically caravanned in a raging gale accompanied by tempestuous rain.

*sigh*

In other, other news we're having friends round this evening so I've been concocting a (hopefully) delishus boeuf bourguignon with horseradish dumplings, while PP is busily creating equally delishus Boulangere potatoes with rosemary.  

Meanwhile, Small Dog is wandering round with a hopeful expression in response to the tempting aromas tantalising her taste buds and insists on getting under my feet while I try to wash up after having used EVERY pot, pan and dish and bowl in the kitchen.

Hopefully order will soon be restored and we'll have time to slip into something fetching before dinner.

As if.......

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Disgruntled in St. Leonards.......

It's always the same when I get back from a short break away (this time it was to celebrate PP's birthday).  It takes me ages to settle back into a routine and first off there's all the 'stuff' to deal with which has built up over just a few days.  Unpacking caravan, post, emails, laundry, phone messages etc etc etc.

I actually took some time out yesterday afternoon to escape to the workroom and finish off a little toy doll which had been languishing since last week so that I didn't have to tackle the mountain of emails awaiting my attention.

Also, what in blue blazes has happened to Facebook?  I can't do a thing with it.  Mind you, I don't have much time for it anyway, so it's recent reincarnation into something I like even less than the original has prompted me to try out Google+.

Thus far just one person has 'found me' and I've added that intrepid soul to one of my 'circles'.
The rationale behind Google+ is that you have different circles - family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues etc and can add individual people to one or more circles.  Anything you want to say, you post just like Facebook, but you can choose who you want to share your post with.


So far, so simple, so NOT like FB.  I find the constant barrage of posts on FB unmanageable, and as a result I read hardly any.  I like the prospect of being able to easily filter incoming information into separate circles.  Things I want to share with 'friends' might be different to that which I want to share with 'family' or fellow miniaturists.  Google+ makes it easy to do that.


So, if you want to be added to one of my 'circles' (Friends or Miniatures, or both) just let me know.  I'll need your email address to send you an invite.  




 Edit: Apparently if you click HERE you'll be able to find me on Google+

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Time off for good behaviour.............

It may have escaped your attention that I've been away for a few days.  

Well I'm back now so whatever passes for normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Or more likely tomorrow.......

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Snakes and ladders............


When I was a child I had a lovely games compendium in a wooden box, which contained a beautifully illustrated selection of traditional board games, including Snakes & Ladders.

I must have been very impressionable, because I never really liked the game.  The snakes were  a tad too realistic for my liking, with sneering expressions and gaping mouths filled with venom-dripping fangs.  There also seemed to be far more snakes than ladders, and the higher up the board you got, the more they proliferated.  Games often lasted for what seemed like several increasingly frustrating hours as player after player almost reached 100 only to land on a snake and plummet back down to the mid-30s.

Most of this week I've felt as if I've been in a real-life version of Snakes & Ladders.  Trudging along, step by step, with an occasional spirit-lifting 'ladder' to give the illusion of making progress, only to be confronted by an unexpected 'snake' and slipping right back to the start.

I hate it when that happens.

I don't mind making slow progress, as long as it's steady.  However, unexpected setbacks, which render much of the previous progress null and void, really get my goat.

*sigh*



Friday, 9 September 2011

Keeping it wonky......

A new force is at work in St. Leonards, spreading like a wonky wave through the town.

Women everywhere are dusting off their pinnies, capping their jam jars and slamming the oven door on their victoria sponges in their haste to to join a new branch of the venerable Women's Institute.

The WWI.

No, that's not a typo, the group's official title is the Wonky WI and they held their inaugural meeting on Tuesday, with almost 70 keen acolytes turning out to see what it was all about.

Sadly I only got to hear about it yesterday, too late to attend, but I've registered my interest and will definitely be at the next meeting.

Incidentally, the 'Wonky' bit has apparently been sanctioned by the WI.



Brilliant stuff.......

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Are we nearly there yet.....?

This week has felt interminable.

Some weeks just whizz by.  One minute it's Monday, next minute it's next Monday.  The days in between pass in a blur.

This week the days have moved at a glacial speed.  It's only Thursday but it already feels like an age since Monday.

I'm not quite sure why this is.  I've been very, VERY busy this week, which usually means that time passes very quickly.  Certainly individual minutes seem to have gone in a flash but the days themselves have appeared to be twice as long as usual.

Strange.

However, I'm comforting myself with the fact that tomorrow is Friday and notionally the end of the week/beginning of the weekend.  Of course in practice, the concept of 'weekend' is rather tenuous when you're self-employed and it's really only when we're away in the caravan that weekends are completely work-free.

Despite my business this week, my to do list is growing.  It's my own fault.  I keep having Ideas.

I've started 3 (that's THREE) new projects this week, in amongst all the casting.  Two involve new kits in development, which as I explained just the other day, is a l-o-n-g  ongoing process.  The third is an idea which has been on the back burner for some time but which I've decided to take out of mothballs to see if it's viable.  I did actually spend quite a bit of time on it at the beginning of this year and was going great guns but I hit up against a problem so I put it aside hoping that a solution would suddenly materialise while I wasn't looking.


It hasn't, but I might be able to solve it by thinking outside the box.  Which is rather apposite as the problem is inside the box.


If you see what I mean.


However, I really need to focus and avoid getting sidetracked (yeah right!) so I put one of those 'helpful' countdown timers on my desktop this morning, which is cheerfully informing me that I have 53 days till my next 'event'.


Can you guess what it is yet?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Time off for good behaviour......

I've worked really hard today.

Honestly.

Really, really hard.

I did several batches of casting which took absolutely ages, and finished off a little vintage toy bridal doll which I then listed on the website, then I did some more casting and inbetweentimes started preparations for a new kit.

If only I'd stopped right there and allowed myself time to bask in the warm glow of several jobs well done.


But no.


I just had to do one more thing. 


I don't know WHAT I was thinking.....


It's all eBay's fault.  I haven't actually sold anything on eBay for ages so I thought I'd pop on a 'quick listing' just as an experiment.


*holds head in hands*


Quite how so many people manage to put up listings day in day out I have no idea. After almost 40 minutes of preparing my 'quick listing' I was near demented.  Every few steps I had to update my personal information, or payment method, or contact details or I couldn't proceed.  For each update I was assured that I could simply complete the relevant information and return to my listing.  However EACH AND EVERY TIME I returned to my painstakingly detailed listing it had defaulted back to the start.


As a result I had to start again from scratch FOUR TIMES.  By the end of the experiment I was ready to declare my own personal jihad on whoever designs the listing process, which is as close to the seven circles of hell as is possible to imagine.


In the end I did manage to complete a listing, although it is nowhere near as detailed as it would have been if I hadn't been driven to the edge of madness.


So, in order to calm myself, I've been indulging in a bit of  eBay-related displacement activity.


HERE

You have to read all of the listing then click on the link to the website, mentioned at the bottom of the page.    "The Answers" tab is worth a look....


Also, I know I've posted this before, years ago, but I think it bears repeating for the sentiments expressed therein.

Multi tasking like a good 'un............

In between casting batches this morning, I took some time out to complete a little toy doll which I started last week, having come across a piece of gorgeous Victorian lace in one of my vintage lace boxes.

There is only enough to costume two dolls and I'm keeping the other piece to make a  bride doll for myself (yes I still do that thing) to go into my lovely Edwardian nursery room setting. 
However here is the one I finished earlier on my work mat, surrounded by silk ribbons and the fine silk tulle I used for her veil.



In common with all my micro dolls, she is very detailed, with silk underwear, minute silk shoes with leather soles and a full silk net petticoat.  Her dress comprises layers of cream silk under the lovely vintage lace, which in turn is decorated around the hem with tiny silk ribbon rosette bows.  She has full length silk sleeves, trimmed at the cuffs with fine vintage lace trim.  The silk and lace theme continues on the bodice, which is finished at the neck with a silk bow.  There is another larger silk bow at the back of the gown.

Her wig is a glossy chestnut brown, with tiny tendril curls accentuating her pretty face. Finishing touches include a flowing, full-length silk net veil and a crystal-decorated gold tiara.  Round her neck she wears a silk choker necklace with a single crystal.


She is now listed on the website, alongside a selection of other bridal dolls from different periods.



A blustery day.........

If anything, the weather today is even worse than yesterday.  It's blowing a gale, lashing sheets of rain against the windows and any hopes of an Indian summer are evaporating fast.

Small Dog declined to venture outside this morning.  I don't blame her.  I wasn't too keen on vacating my lovely, warm snuggly nest to brave the relative chill of the shower room either.  

Nevertheless, before I had my shower I shook out the duvet, smoothed it all out and plumped up the pillows. Less than 15 minutes later, when I re-entered the bedroom, I wondered why my nicely made bed looked as if it had been smoothed over with a rake.

It didn't take a Miss Marple to discover the reason.....



Monday, 5 September 2011

A compendium of kits, and a special offer......

If you're anything like me, you will have a selection of assorted doll's house related kits, in various stages of construction at any one time.

I LOVE KITS.

There's always a thrilling frisson of anticipation when I buy one, and I have a definite ritual which I undergo with each one.

Firstly the packaging must be caressed and explored and examined from all angles.  I often deny myself the delight of opening the kit straight away, prolonging the pleasure for as long as possible.


When I can stand the suspense no longer, I carefully unwrap the kit, laying the contents on a workmat where they can be closely scrutinised. 


However, the most important part of any kit, the Holy Grail of kitdom, is the instruction manual, and it's here that my intense ardour often cools to near frigidity.  A single sheet of densely printed text is akin to a cold shower.  My passion shrivels and I turn away from the recent object of my affection with a desolate sigh, knowing that our union will be unfulfilled.


It's all very well being able to produce a fantastic kit to make the best miniature in the universe, but if the instructions are dreadful then no-one other than the creator of the kit will be able to do it justice.  I've made up hundreds of kits in my 25 years as a miniatures enthusiast.  Some were wonderful, some were downright diabolical.


So when I first starting producing kits of my own miniatures, 20 or so years ago, I spent many weeks writing, editing, honing, polishing my written instructions.  Sometimes several times over.  Then I'd give the kit to someone who had no experience of miniatures and ask them to make it up, then give me honest feedback on what they thought of it.


This is often a soul-destroying process.  Criticism is to self confidence, what a large hammer is to a much-hated vase, given as a wedding present by an ex-husband's former girlfriend.


However, what writers of kit instructions often forget, is that although THEY know what they're talking about, the reader might have absolutely no idea.  Hence the line "turn the sleeve, tuck in raw edges and stitch in place" might as well be written in Swahili for all the sense it makes to the uninitiated novice.


After this crushing dissection feedback process, and the inevitable rewrite, when the instructions can be relied upon to be comprehensible, comes the illustrative stage, when photographs, diagrams and drawings must be added to the text, to further clarify each step in the kit assembly.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and they are an absolute necessity when it comes to kits.  Any ambiguity in the text should be made clear by the accompanying illustration, which should be as distinct as possible, with the minimum of distracting detail.


So, what makes a good miniatures kit?


  • An original idea, perfectly executed and transformed into its component parts to make an easy to assemble kit, which will almost exactly replicate the original item.
  • High quality components, cut to size or shape, or otherwise in 'ready to use' condition which require the minimum of alteration.
  • Clearly labelled contents
  • Comprehensive illustrated step-by-step instructions which explain each stage of construction clearly and concisely.
  • Good quality photo of what the finished item should look like.

Which brings me to the subject of our own Tower House Dolls kits.  I'd like to think that we apply all of the above criteria to our range of kits.  


All of them undergo many weeks of preparation and thorough testing.  We offer full email support for any questions which may arise during their assembly, and will also replace  components/materials if required. 


We currently have kits to make the following miniature toys and dolls, many of which are available in a choice of colours:
  • Vintage Bridal Doll Kit
  • Toy Doll in Fur-Trimmed Caped Jacket and Dress 
  • Toy Doll in Pleated Silk Dress & Bonnet 
  • Jumeau Style Toy Doll Kits  
  • Tiny Toy Baby Doll Kit
  • Vintage Menagerie Pullalong Toy Kit
  • Miniature Wicker Kits
  • Marotte Toy Kits
All of our kits can be seen HERE

 I'm also working on a new kit, which will only be available in the run-up to Christmas and which will be accompanied by an interactive workshop session in a fully-featured virtual classroom.  Places will be limited and registration for the class will open at the beginning of next month.
Exciting stuff!

Even more exciting is the fact that from today (5 Sept) through till 9 September, you can get 15% OFF any of our range of kits subject to a minimum order value of £10 or more.  Just enter the following code during the checkout process and the discount will be applied automatically.

KITDISCOUNT

As ever, if you need any further information or advice on any of our miniatures, please do contact me.










Busy, busy, busy......

Normal working week this week.... none of that Bank Holiday Monday malarkey, so this morning I've been catching up on general stuff in advance of yet more casting.  I'm planning doing some tricky stuff today.... casting for glass-eyed dolls which is in a realm of difficulty all of its own.

But more of that anon.

It's been blowing a gale this morning and the weather has gone completely insane.  Lashing rain one minute, brilliant sunshine the next, then both at the same time.....and all accompanied by winds which are whipping the trees into a frenzy.  Small Dog doesn't like the wind, so she dashed outside to complete her morning ablutions, then sprinted back inside as if she were pursued by all the slavering hounds of hell rather than just suffering from a breezy bum.

In other news, I had yet another exciting delivery this morning....



I don't know how much more excitement I can take.  

However I cannot reveal the contents as they're to do with a rather special project I'm about to embark upon, which will be unveiled in the fullness of time.  Probably quite a long time as it's a rather ambitious project, but I'm itching to get started so I'm off to secrete myself in the workroom for the rest of the day.

Mwahahahaha........




 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

A scuttling thing.......

I make no secret of the fact that I can't abide spiders.  I can just about tolerate the teensy weensy tiny ones but I wouldn't want one a pet.  So when late last night in bed, idly flicking through the television channels, out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of one scuttling across the floor then disappearing under the door into the shower room, I was immediately wide awake, my spidey senses tingling.

It was quite large, about the size of a jam jar lid and had to duck its head to squeeze under the door, which was only slightly ajar.

I mentioned its presence in the hope that either PP or Small Dog would spring into action and deal with the offending arachnid but they were either asleep or chose to ignore me.  If it had been either a snake or a squirrel they'd have leapt out of bed like a shot.

Having switched the TV off I lay quietly, listening for any signs of life from the shower room, while the realisation gradually dawned on me that my bladder was sending very definite signals I couldn't ignore.

Now, I could have chosen to use the main bathroom toilet, or even the downstairs loo, but some misplaced sense of fear-induced bravado led me to give my inner arachnophobe a good talking to and the decision was made to use the one in the shower room.

Sitting on the very edge of the bed nearest the shower room, I used my foot to push the door open then peered into the gloom.

No sign of it.

I reasoned that a spider the size of a saucer would be easy to spot, even in the half light but the increasingly urgent signals from my bladder meant that I didn't have time to conduct a thorough visual search before entering the shower room.  Pushing the door as far open as possible I sidled in, eyes swivelling in all directions like a chameleon, hoping to maintain the element of surprise.

Nothing.

You would think that a spider the size of a dinner plate would be quite conspicuous but they're cunning buggers.

Rather than switch on the ceiling light, which would activate the extractor fan, thus masking any noise which a spider the size of a hubcap might make as it thundered across the floor, I used the shaving light over the sink, which bathed the room in an eerie glow, accentuating the shadows thrown by the toothbrushes and served only to heighten my growing hysteria.

All this time, I'd still had the option to use an alternative toilet, but the combination of a bladder full to overflowing and the adrenalin pumping through my veins meant that I'd reached the point of no return.  

I'd no sooner sat down than I realised just how vulnerable I was, with my pj bottoms round my ankles, in full flow.  I remembered, too late, from my time in Australia, the warning always to check under toilet seats for spiders and an icy finger of fear stroked down my back, until I reminded myself that a spider the size of a manhole cover could never fit under the toilet seat.

No.

It would be hiding behind the door, which I'd pushed wide open.

Despite having been incredibly lax over the years with my pelvic floor exercises I immediately stopped mid-stream and held my breath, watching and listening for a large, hairy spider leg to appear from behind the door, to be followed by poison-dripping fangs and a head so hideous as to be unimaginable to anyone other than someone with an over-active imagination.

By now I was in a cold sweat, heart thumping, desperately trying to finish so that I could flee to the relative safety of the bedroom.  As I bent over to pull up my pj bottoms I anticipated the soft thud of 8 spider legs on my back as it abseiled over the top of the door in a graceful arc, and of having to stumble out of the shower room like Sarah Jane in that episode of Dr. Who in the early 1970s where giant spiders from Metebelis 3 are trying to take over the earth and she has one attached to her back.

I'll never forget that.

Having whipped myself up into a escalating frenzy of fear, I finally fled the shower room, pulling the door firmly closed behind me and leaping onto the bed in one mighty bound.  I lay shivering for ages, trying to calm my breathing and racing heart.  Small Dog, finally roused from her slumbers by my near-death experience came and sat on my chest, staring at me intently till I tipped her off.


It took me ages to get to sleep.  Every tiny creak, scratch and scrabble was magnified in my head and only served to heighten my hysteria.  However I reasoned that a spider the size of a dustbin lid would have to kick the door down to get out.  Either that or lift it off its hinges.


This morning there is still no sign of it.  I recounted my nocturnal imaginings experience this morning to an unenthusiastic audience.  Admittedly PP did conduct a half-hearted search of the shower room which concluded with the remark "well it could be anywhere."


And so it could.


Lying in wait, plotting and scheming.  It's probably making a nest under my pillow as I write.


*sigh*


Also, for reasons best known to herself, Small Dog finds the following picture absolutely hilarious....




She'll be laughing on the other side of her furry little face if the one lurking upstairs fancies a midnight snack.
 

Friday, 2 September 2011

Slippery when wet........

I've had such an exciting afternoon I can't tell you. *insert overtones of heavy irony here*

As usual, it started out well enough, with the assemblage of several large bowls, mixing slip for the use of.

My plan, if you can call it that, was to thoroughly mix the new NYDP casting slip which arrived this morning, and amalgamate it with a quantity of old slip, which had started out as white but had a rosy pink flesh tint added to it.  As it was just a tad too rosy for my liking, I determined to mix it with the paler French Bisque coloured slip to achieve a perfect vintage doll flesh colour.

Damn fine plan I'm sure you'll admit.

The one imponderable, which I did consider before commencing the exercise, was that although the new slip was advertised as being as close as possible to the original Seeley's formulation, it couldn't be guaranteed to be be absolutely exactly the sameHowever, having cast and fired both slips individually, I was reasonably confident that mixing them shouldn't present any insurmountable problems.

Hmmmm.

Mixing slip is an inherently messy business.  It lives up to its name by being more slippery than a very slippery thing and spreading itself far and wide with no intervention from anyone.  I inevitably end up with slip up to my elbows and tiny splashes all down my front which subsequently dry flake off all over the house.

The new slip had to be poured then squeezed out of it's polybag packaging through a sieve, in order to remove any resistant lumps 



None of my collection of mixing bowls was large enough to contain the entire 3 litres at one go, which didn't really matter as I wanted to mix in the other slip in small amounts as I went along.

After I'd filled FOUR large mixing bowls, there was still a sizeable amount of slip remaining in the bag and the jar so I had to resort to desperate measures and bring the kitchen sink basin into play, after first giving it a thorough scrub to remove any oil/soap residue.  Thankfully, it was big enough to take all of the slip in one go, so I could be confident that with just one amount it would all be thoroughly mixed.







Initially, no amount of stirring would bring the two different coloured slips together.  A few times I thought I was just about there, but marbled streaks floated slowly to the surface.

After almost 45 minutes of stirring, and close to the point where I wished I could just pitch it outside in the garden and be done with it, I did eventually prevail, and the resulting creamy slip was finally one uniform colour with nary a lump or air bubble to be seen.

Of course, until I have completed enough castings to fill my kiln (so far I've filled just one shelf) I won't be able to do a bisque firing, so I will have no idea exactly what colour I've created, and will also have to keep my fingers crossed that the bisque fired pieces won't have a marbled appearance.

If that turns out to be the case I will have to run away to Azerbaijan and live as a hermit in a cave, eating seeds and nuts, with only the occasional Anatolian leopard, bezoar goat, or little bustard for company.

I will be THAT upset.
 
However, I'm quietly confident that so long as I stir the slip thoroughly before each casting session all will be well.  I've now got 1  3/4 gallons of a totally unique porcelain slip, which at my current rate of casting, I estimate will make approximately 7,594,812 tiny microdolls.

Or to put it another way, that amount of slip will last approximately 12 years, 7 months, 19 days, 4 hours and 37 seconds.

*sigh*

I soooooo hope it's all right.......

Product Placement.....

I've just had a very exciting delivery.





The polystyrene box looks uncannily similar to those seen in medical documentaries, urgently transporting donor organs via police escorted couriers.

Fleetingly I considered that it might contain a new brain, to replace my dysfunctional, sclerosis raddled one, but no.

The contents were much more exciting than that.....


Can you guess what it is yet?   

After carefully opening the lid, the vaguely medical theme continued with layers of air-filled plastic bubbles laid over two boxes as if to keep the contents temperature controlled and hermetically sealed.

Ta dah...!!!!


I can probably guess what you're thinking.

How can I get so excited about a bag of mud?

Well you're probably right.  I don't get out much.  However, regular readers will remember the sturm and drang earlier this year when I couldn't find a source of porcelain casting slip the same as the one I'd been using for over two decades, and which has been discontinued.  At the time there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth as I tried an alternative slip which was absolutely dreadful for very tiny castings.

Then my supplier sent me a sample box of a brand new slip, apparently made to the original formulation which I had so loved.

The rest, as they say, is fairly recent history.  For the past few days I've been using slip from the sample box, which is practically perfect in every way.  I used the last few spoonfuls yesterday so the timely arrival of two 3 litre boxes this morning is very welcome.

I have only one minor gripe.  Presumably in order to facilitate shipping, the company (New York Doll Products) have abandoned the use of plastic tubs and now package the slip in a heavy duty plastic bag, packed within a cardboard box.  Obviously, once opened the slip must be decanted into an airtight container so it's just as well that I still have two old Seeley's tubs, otherwise I would be, to use a technical term, buggered.

There is one advantage to the polybag packaging though.  During storage, slip gradually settles, resulting in a very thick sludge at the bottom and very watery sludge at the top.  Before use the slip must be thoroughly mixed.  If it's in a plastic tub, this necessitates the use of a long handled slotted spoon, and lots of elbow grease.  However in the bag it's possible to pummel the slip, breaking up any lumps and facilitating the mixing process, so that when it's subsequently poured into a tub the mixing is soooooo much easier.

Well that's the theory anyway.  I'll let you know later how it works in practice.....

Thursday, 1 September 2011

How it's made.....casting

I've decided that I might as well make a virtue of necessity and give you an inside look at how our microdolls are made.

The process is long and takes several weeks but it starts off with casting.  I'm currently casting tiny ballerina dolls and new marionettes, but a complete casting batch, completed over several weeks, will also contain toy porcelain animals, marotte heads, Punch & Judy puppets, nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters.... all the toys we create in porcelain.

All of our tiny porcelain dolls start out as a puddle of slip.  Porcelain slip for miniature dollmaking is specially formulated and available in a range of flesh tones as well as white and other colours, which we use for different toys.

It needs have just the right texture and the consistency of single cream.  It has to be stirred and sieved to remove any lumps before casting, whilst taking care not to introduce air bubbles which can leave tiny pin holes on the surface of faces and bodies.

Before I start, I prepare the work area, spreading newspaper to soak up any spills.  Because tiny doll moulds 'set up' so quickly, it is only possible to cast a few at a time.  From pouring the slip to releasing the mould takes around 10-15 minutes, depending on the air temperature, humidity, how dry the moulds are etc, so if I try to do too many at once, I will run out of time to get them all open in time.  For this reason I usually cast up to 5 at a time.

First, I always check inside each mould and remove any dust or dried porcelain slip with a soft brush.  The inside of the moulds are easily damaged and any marks will transfer to the casting.  The mould below is for one of our most popular toy dolls and it's possible to see the head/torso, arms and legs outlined in the plaster.



Once checked, the moulds are tightly re-banded to avoid any seepage of the liquid slip between the seams.

The pour holes are tiny, so the only way to ensure that the porcelain slip gets all the the way inside the mould without drying out halfway down, is to use a syringe.  I insert the tip of the syringe inside the mould and carefully fill each cavity

Just before I begin filling the first mould, I set a timer for the amount of time I judge will be required for the casting to set up.  This varies according to several factors and is where 20 years of experience comes into its own!  When all the moulds are poured they are left undisturbed until the timer goes off.  During this time, water is absorbed from the slip by the porous plaster and the slip changes from liquid to solid becoming leather-hard greenware.


Now I have to move quickly.  If I leave the greenware in the moulds for even a few minutes too long they will dry out and crumble when they're handled.  The castings must be just dry enough to easily release from the mould, but not too dry that they're unworkable.






Again, years of experience will tell me whether the mould will release and open easily.  Trying to open the mould too early will result in the casting ripping apart.  Perfect greenware will release smoothly with every piece intact.


Once open, I gently remove the castings, one at a time, starting with the smallest, most delicate pieces first, usually the arms. Using a scalpel blade, I trim off the excess formed by the pour holes, and make stringing holes with another of my favourite tools.  As soon as the greenware leaves the damp mould, both the air and the heat of my hands accelerate the drying process so I have to work quickly, while still handling the soft, malleable pieces very carefully.  If the greenware is compressed, distorted or otherwise damaged at this stage it will be ruined.  Porcelain has a 'memory' and will revert to its damaged state even when attempts are made to restore the original shape. 





 If I have misjudged the time, or there is any delay in opening the mould, this is the point at which the tops of tiny arms will break off, or cracks appear in bodies so this part of the proceedings is always a little tense.  If the phone or doorbell rings I can't abandon my task, which is why I always give an all-points warning to everyone in the house that I'm doing a casting session and can't be disturbed UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, short of a life and death situation.

Today's session involved making stringing holes in the limbs and the bodies but other dolls might require the excision of tiny eye sockets, provision for articulated heads or other modifications to the basic structure.  The prepared pieces are then placed on a board to air dry thoroughly.  



Each small batch of casting, comprising 5 dolls, takes at least 45 minutes to complete, from pouring to setting on the board to dry. Needless to say, it takes quite a lot of such tiny pieces to fill all three shelves of my kiln, so the casting process will be repeated two or three times a day, over several weeks, before the greenware can progress to the next stage...... soft firing.








Times winged chariot.....

I just heard on the radio that yesterday marked the last day of summer.  Therefore it logically follows that today must be the first day of autumn.

No surprise there.  There's been a very definite autumnal tinge to the air lately and lots of trees are now starting to turn.

That said, this morning the sun is shining and going towards the weekend temperatures are set to rise again so we may experience an Indian summer after all.

I forgot to mention that two weeks ago, in our local Tesco, I spotted the first Christmas promotion for tins of sweets.  

IN MID AUGUST!!!!

Who in their right mind would be out shopping, in shorts and sandals, for BBQ fare, and think "Good grief.... is that the time already?  I must start buying in Christmas stuff NOW!"

There's still the Halloween madness to come so quite how Tesco squares their seasonal promotions defies logic.

Although I'm a fine one to talk, having been in full Christmas mode workwise since late June.  However this is from necessity, as if I didn't start that early, the long lead time involved in creating tiny toys would mean that my Christmas miniatures wouldn't be ready till next summer.

In any case, I'll be trailing some new projects shortly, for release in the run-up to the festive period, which for me will start at a much more seasonally adjusted point in early November.

Ho Ho Ho.....only 113 days to go!