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Eye Setting

This has taken me a long time to learn. When I am working on the dried, unfired hollow clay head, I cut eyeholes between the eyelids I have modelled into the original, allowing room for the glass eyes inside the head. I then work on the inside of the head through the hole I have made in the crown of the head as the pour hole. In 24th scale dolls with heads the size of a garden pea, the hole is less than 5mm in diameter. The largest dolls' house crown hole I work through, for 12th scale men, is sometimes as huge as 1cm and feels like a holiday. With tools of my own creation, covered in very slightly abrasive thin bits of nylon stocking held in place with my fingers, I gently twist away two exactly matching hemispherical hollows on the inside of the head. With one twist too many I will smash out through the eye socket and the head, which I have already spent up to an hour cleaning, has to be thrown away. One twist too few and the poor doll will have a darkly sunken eye. I am working with 2mm thick unfired, dried clay as fragile as an eggshell while wearing finger stalls, an overall, an apron, a shower cap and a twin filter respirator; when I break five heads in a row I reckon this is nature's way of telling me to take a tea break. Once fired, heads that haven't distorted in the kiln are china painted and then I sit down with all the heads that have come through the processes perfectly and a pile of eyes. In bright sunshine, if possible, I try all the handmade eyes in all the handmade heads to make as many happy marriages as possible with two eyeballs in two eye sockets in each head. If I have some that fit (hurrah!) I then scrape a very thin layer of sticky wax all around the inside of the eye hollows from the outside with the point of a scalpel. Holding the glass stalk of the eyeball in tweezers I manouevre each eyeball into the socket and try to press it firmly in place so that, with both eyeballs in situ, I can rotate them with the point of the tweezers so they are both looking in the same direction. Although I have made dozens, no one has ever requested a cross-eyed doll, I can't think why not, they're often much easier than the ordinary kind. In the unlikely event that I manage several heads with a pair of eyes temporarily waxed in the same direction, the head, balanced on the nose in a tray, is carried cautiously into the kitchen. Here, breathing again, I mix plaster of Paris with water and encourage the whole sloppy mess into the head through the 4mm crown hole, ideally to settle in a level layer on the back of the eyeballs with the glass stalks sticking out so that I can rescue the one in six eye that will rotate, as if by magic, to stare at the nose, or up to heaven, or, thoughtfully, inside its own ear. This is the plan, though usually the plaster of Paris, an entity in its own right, has other ideas. Sometimes it just floods everywhere, sometimes it only leaks out of the sockets, sometimes it jams solid in the neck stringing hole, or, while I'm standing by the kettle peering into a thing the size of a marble I'm holding up against the light, it just rushes up my arm in a friendly way or drips depressingly off the counter top into what used to be a carpet. So, eye setting, not a beginner activity really but when done right either by an expert or me, producing a permanent and beautiful result. If your eyeballs grow dim with dust, dampen a cotton bud with plain water, squeeze it out and twirl them shiny again. You could try it on the dolls, too.

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China painted
Combable hair
Cork pate
Dry cleaning
Eye setting
Fashion Ladies
Glass eyes
Original artist
Wig cap

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