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Dry cleaning

Not the one where you wait five weeks to find out that a shop that wasn't sure if it could remove a tiny spot on the lapel has, in fact, lost the entire jacket but rather a description of the dangerous way I clean porcelain. After drying for three days, the de-moulded porcelain body part will be dry, brittle and white. It looks like a doll part carved from chalk. Porcelain in this state is called greenware. It will have rough parts, seam lines where mould halves met, quickly cut arm holes and so on. The part must be worked on to ensure that it is beautiful. Joints must be cleaned and shaped so that they fit together and slide smoothly, eye sockets need to be internally bevelled, ear piercings smoothed and made large enough, fingers separated and so on. The porcelain that comes out of the kiln is only as good as the porcelain that goes in, so that between the rough casting and the kiln is a lot of work. There is a method called soft firing in which doll parts are partially fired, then worked on when wet but I don't find this works well with tiny dolls, which need to be coaxed into life. However, working on the dry, unfired porcelain produces clouds of very fine dust which settles on everything and, if inhaled repeatedly, would cause silicosis, a lung ailment from which many ceramic industry workers have died. Therefore, when cleaning dry porcelain, I sit on a plastic sheet, wear overalls, an apron, a shower cap and a half-face twin filter respirator. As the porcelain is very drying to the hands and hand cream would mark it, I used to find that after a few hours my fingers cracked and bled. So I now wear latex finger stalls. Fortunately, as it's difficult to wear magnifying equipment on top of the face mask, I find my natural myopia helps me to see the fine detail in all the white castings and inside the pea-sized doll heads. So I take out my contact lenses and walk into the walls if someone gets insistent on the doorbell. Dry cleaning requires immense concentration, after the fourth or fifth breakage in a row, which takes about an hour and a half, I stop, remove all the special equipment, get washed and have a cup of tea. At the end of a week's worth of dry cleaning I stop, wash everything in sight, vacuum the little room I've been shut in, wash my hair, wash my clothes and vow never to dry clean again. And I don't, for a few weeks or until a leg comes out of the kiln with a perfectly articulated hip, knee and ankle joint. Then I forget how ghastly the process is and just enjoy the doll.

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