Poured 60 got 41. You have to remember that the largest is only three inches tall. The wastage rate is caused by numerous factors. Bad pouring, when I get tired and either pour them so thick there’s no hole in the middle, or so thin they crumble when I demould them or impatience when I get them out before the plaster has pulled enough water out of the clay, or the man from Porlock comes to the door to sell me double glazing at length and they dry out and blow away with a gusty sigh.
Bad rubbing. Sometimes I’m a really bad rubber. You wouldn’t think it to look at me but I am. There is a way of wet cleaning poured porcelain where you partially fire it and then clean the lumps and seams off by hacking with a knife and scrubbing with industrial sanders. This is fine for huge dolls and violent makers. I dry rub my dolls which means that after they have been decanted from the moulds they are left to dry for three days until they look like small chalk shapes. I then sit with a twin filter respirator, an apron and a shower cap on a sheet of plastic in a closed room and placing a section of old tights on a finger I rub very gently until fine dust curls like smoke into the air where it is zapped by an ioniser and dragged earthwards. I was fortunate early in my career to read of a doll maker who thought the dolls couldn’t hurt her because they were small, so she dry rubbed them in the living room with no safety equipment and died of silicosis.
So I dry rub. I try to place all the poured parts for the same doll in one tray, which is harder than it sounds when I am pouring eight dolls at once. I may have several pours, so that the parts for one doll are scattered over a few different trays, poured on different days. First I collect the parts for the same doll into the same place. This is not easy, they are small white chalky blobby lumps the size of garden peas. It’s art, you know. I rub all the bodies first, then the heads, then I trial fit the heads on the bodies and rub the adjustments so that they do. I put the heads aside. I dry rub the upper arms and fit them to the shoulders, making adjustments and making sure the shoulder holes align. I rub the lower arms and hands. There is always a high wastage rate here because of the fingers and because each lower arm has a wire stringing hook, which I have made, embedded in it and hopefully not sticking through it, though this can happen in the kiln as the porcelain shrinks. I fit the elbow into the hole in the arm and adjust. I do the same with the legs and the feet. If I get impatient or think of things that annoy me, I break the tiny fragile porcelain pieces like nobody’s business. After five breakages or an hour and a half, which is, apparently the pathetic length of my concentration, I stop, remove all the safety equipment and have a walk, a rest, a cup of tea.
The cleaning of six hundred pieces of porcelain takes several days. Then they get fired to bisque, glazed on the nails and eyeballs and refired.
When everyone has cooled down they get washed and scrubbed with grit scrubbers, wet, to make the porcelain smooth and beautiful. I do not like this bit at all. Two days of scrubbing with the water running off your elbows is not much fun but better in summer than in winter.
So at last I sit for days and days trying to find the parts that matched when they went into the kiln and discarding all the parts that have warped in the heat. I try to match the parts for each doll, though an odd arm appears from nowhere always. I discover that I have ended up with seven left feet for a doll and only one right. Or all the left thighs are solid all the way through.
After more discards I have dolls to china paint and I try to make pairs of feet to paint shoes upon, knowing that when I get to stringing, my carefully paired painted shoes will be reduced to a selection of odd ones when the stringing hook pulls out of the left leg.
When they are out of the kiln again I match doll parts in little heaps. There will be more discards as I string and find the insides that I poured lumps in and the heads that have bigger neck holes than crown holes which cannot be strung without the beads pulling through the neck.
dolls. Here are a couple of ladies for whom I am planning a steam punk future. The doll in the middle is my mother. She is proving very popular at Miniatura in the fur coat and terrible velvet turban hat as worn in the Fifties, a sweet Victorian granny in a mob cap and the Two Soups? waitress. I am planning on quite a few men and boys in breeches, which is why they have white socks.
That is how you pour sixty but get forty one, though this time forty because the best Mr Darcy has already been sacrificed. His joints were so well engineered I will take moulds and shrink him with a new head. He can be his teenage self ( yummy) or someone else. He is either on the end or fourth from the right in this picture. We shall see, for now, I am sculpting.
When I began making dolls 25 years ago I thought I was saving the dolls, now it seems they are saving me as positive thoughts fill my head and four and a half years of pent-up creativity pours out of my finger ends.
Half a week less to wait.