Back to round the bend.

We are all here to learn, some days I think I inadvertently picked the advanced course.  Of course, if you pick the easy course, the one with a perfect partner, two point five perfect children, a mortgage-free cottage with roses round the door and a fulfilling, well-paid, extremely pleasant job, surrendered in the fullness of time for the happy hobbies that can be enjoyed by the strong and healthy elderly, well, you’re not going to learn anything.  Sure you’ll be happy but who wants to be happy when you can instead learn about life the hard way?

There’s been a lot of pain in my life, which reached a crescendo mid week when I realised I couldn’t actually do anything.  Paralysed with pain with my mind going in circles, I just called a halt to everything to assess exactly what was going on.

Several things at once.  Simultaneously two things that would have been wonderful had the plug pulled at the last minute.  I should have been on holiday in Florence, right now I should have been coming back.  The DIL had arranged it for us, her mother, them and the children some months ago.  However when we met in late March, her mother, who had been in and out of hospital could not get travel insurance.  She is very poorly, waiting for a kidney transplant from her daughter who was very light-blue-touchpaper-and-retire about it.  To get the money back on the accommodation the decision had to be made.  I was very conscious that the S&H had thought of the holiday for his mother who has not had a holiday since 2008 and will not go away with her husband who is inclined to drink problems away.  Twenty five years ago on the silver wedding holiday he left me in the middle of the road with the suitcases because he suddenly needed a strong coffee.  Matters have not improved, he has twice been on holiday alone with a singles group, each has featured embarrassment or just avoided litigation, in a way that made me glad I was not there.

It’s just as well we weren’t away, the OH has started having diarrhoea very regularly.  It is my personal opinion that his liver has finally started breaking down.

But the real problems were when I realised that worry about all of this was making me ill. Another setback or two to plans added to it until I couldn’t sleep, work or do anything but watch my mind run in circles and my intestines seize up.

Even an hour on the exercise bike or a day in the garden was not helping.  Even the flipping horoscopes were eager to tell me that Jupiter the great benefic had left my sign and moved on to bestow blessings elsewhere.

So I stopped running and went to get help.

It’s a hard thing to do for the generation that thinks the snowflake generation ought to get over themselves and all the talk about looking after your mental health is just enough hot air to dry the dirty washing.

I went back to Al-Anon family groups.  This organisation is a help centre for anyone with a family member affected by mind-altering substances, whether alcohol or anything else.  There will be a meeting near you that you can find with a search engine.  The ethos in a nutshell is to detach from the alcoholic with love and look after yourself.

I realised that through the years of caring for my demented mother, who was so difficult probably because she was the daughter of an alcoholic, my mind was so completely taken over by her disease that I had been able to shelve problems generated by the other people in my life.  Then I was so ill myself that I had to focus on myself.

In one way the fact that I am able to take a long look at sick people in my life who are not me, might be proof that I am getting physically better.

There is always someone worse off than you, if you are a miniaturist you probably know several of them.  Wheel chair users are always given a head start at the opening of the show, miniaturists with windmills in their mind just have to hobble in when it’s their turn.

You can, of course, always miniaturise when reality, otherwise known as one-scale, gets a bit much.

But sometimes even a bit much gets to be so much you can’t remember what to do about it.

One of the good things about the Internet, is that there will be an online group for whatever ails you.  A trouble shared is a trouble halved and all that.

If you actually find a group to attend in person, you will find people much better off with less to complain about than you and people very much worse off not complaining very much at all.

And some will, additionally, have worse fashion sense than you and, if you are lucky, awful hairstyles too.  These will get you through the door into the room no matter how low your self-esteem. Some may have a face like the back of a bus, or even really bad shoes.  On the evening in question the one with the bad shoes was me, still wearing sandals and socks.  I’m a sculptor, I can do that if I want.

At the very least you can remind yourself that you have classmates.  You are not alone in having picked the life with three A star difficulty. The real and most important trick is to do the course work without losing yourself.  The aim is to go through the course, learning as you go and emerge at the other end not twisted and embittered but wiser.

Which is better: thick as two short planks with roses round the door, or the wiser, advanced version of yourself?

You 2.0 with upgrades, more plug-ins, faster operating speed, extra added value.  In a word Improved.

We are here to learn.


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A different show.

Yesterday I went to a show that wasn’t a dolls’ house show.

Have I been sitting in the sun too long without a hat on?

I haven’t been sitting in the sun at all, I was indoors all day.  In the summer!  My mother would have lost no time at all in telling me off as she headed for a shady corner of the concrete with a cup of tea.

I went to a craft show.  I do all sorts of crafts. Most miniaturists do, we are a talented lot.  Caroline Hamilton was well-known for flitting round her own shows asking if people had had a go at glass blowing.  Yes, I have.  Not blowing as such, what I had a go at was called frigging and is what glassblowers did with the left over glass at the end of the day, which you cannot pour back in the pot as you can clay slip.

I also paint, make cards, do rubber stamping, am heavily into die cutting, which has been a great hobby but also very useful for making en masse all the little containers you get purchases from me in at Miniatura.  I have made clothes, quilts, embroidered, done leatherwork, decorating and everything to do with a dolls’ house which I can make and fill from scratch and everything in one, in numerous scales, so that the only problem now is where to put them all, though I have given quite a few away.

As the regular reader knows (hello, how are you?) I also garden, bake and even wash the kitchen floor so occasionally it comes under the heading of a hobby too.

And it is so nice to be a visitor at a show instead of an exhibitor.  It is instructive to see the show from the other side of the table.  It is helpful in assessing how much information to give to visitors, to notice what people walking past notice and what they miss completely.  (Like the sign about show discounts that was hidden behind the till, I might have bought that other item had I seen the sign.)  And it is lovely to save up and be able to go home with a case on wheels with little bags in, and a huge packet of paper that would have cost a packet to post or mighty arm ache to get home from a shopping centre.

It is of major importance to be contiguously parked for free next to the hall.  You can go mad and buy something massive.  I might go mad and have massive things on my stand in the autumn, now I know how easy it is not to have to get on a shuttle bus with a thing the size of a flattened elephant.

And it was a lovely day out and I realised the importance of chairs to sit on without having to buy a cup of something, which were missing from the show I went to yesterday.

The stand holders were not many, there were only 20 stands, though big stands and the stand holders were lovely, I do like show people but overall I  realised what an absolutely cracking show Miniatura is, how many fantastic original artists there are.  It’s like being able to time travel and buy stuff from Barbara Hepworth, Picasso, Vivienne Westwood, Turner and anyone else all in the same hall, all in miniature all at once.  The absolute glory of the weekend is not to be underestimated.

And I think I may have found two new exhibitors you might enjoy.  Maybe, stay tuned as usual.

Most of all I had a great day out.  There is nothing as nice as a day out, indoors, shopping for your hobby.

I had a lovely day, walked miles, slept like  a log last night and today I am going to ignore the sunshine and play with my purchases.

Hobbies aren’t just good for you, they’re essential for your mental health because there is nothing like being in a hall full of similar loonies to make you feel better about yourself.


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Karma lite.

If my health had always or even, mostly, been good I could probably have been the leader of the free world, apart from the slight difficulty of not wanting to be the leader of the free world.  Who would?  You’d never be free of other people’s troubles.

Currently, for a change, the worry is about someone else.  It looks as if extensive tests for the OH today may have extensive results.

If the health of those around me had not been such a trouble in the last decade or so, I could happily have been not the leader of the free world but been free of responsibility for other people’s wellbeing.

It is hard work caring for the wellbeing of someone close who will not do it themselves.

There are many interesting ways you can be a trouble to your nearest and most annoyed.  You can, for example, do what my mother did, you can get up and sit down expecting others to do all the work and consider sitting all day to be a luxury rather than a danger.

Many years ago when the jade princess was discovered, some investigation of the corpse, beautifully preserved in the wonderful jade burial suit, revealed that being given a lot of the best food and not having to walk but instead be carried in a palanquin was not the benefit it appeared to be.  The corpse of the pampered lady had high cholesterol, diabetes and heart trouble and she was only fifty.

Another way you can be a trouble to your relatives is never to be there in the evenings, having rushed through dinner to get to the pub.

When I had the broken arms and later the abdominal surgery, coming to, in my bed, with a thirst, I crawled out on to the landing to shout for a glass of water.  Having inched downstairs I reflected that I could have saved the energy needed for the shouting and put it into the crawling.

There are many things you can avoid in life.  Work, responsibility and caring being three of them.  What you cannot avoid is karma, the consequence of your repeated actions.  Did you ever play Consequences, the parlour game where you wrote assorted sentences on a piece of paper, folded it and passed it on?

In case you didn’t, if you can find one other person to play it with, it goes like this:

Each write: one or two names, fold and pass on, write actions, fold and pass on, write a location, fold and pass on and as many qualifiers as you wish and the final sentence which starts ‘and the consequence was…’

Not only a metaphor for life, an easy introduction to karma.

Karma lite, if you like, and when practised in reality, even if you don’t.


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Summer is…

icumen in, time to change your wardrobe over.

Is a line Shakespeare only wrote a bit of, the rest is mine.

Or how about:  For lo! The winter is past, time to change your wardrobe over.

It’s that there global warming, I expect.  Unexpectedly causing rain and more rain with rain to follow and cold.  Cold wet rain is what there has been in plentiful amounts.  So I was huddling around in a nice warm jumper over a long vest under a nice thick cardigan  and the sort of hefty trousers that make rushing tricky without causing friction sparks.

Then, suddenly, summer.

If I ever won the pools (unlikely because not only do I not do them, I’m not sure if they even exist anymore)  I’d have the sort of bigger house that has two walk-in wardrobes to every bedroom.  A winter one and a summer one.  As I do not have this I have to do what many others do, which is to pack away the winter stuff and get out the summer stuff.  The OH says this means I have too many clothes.

Yes, I probably have.  For more years than I can remember I did not.  Back in the Fifties my grandmother gave my mother £5 to buy a dress for me for my birthday present.  I had that, and school uniform, which I hated, and a pair of trews and a skirt.  Amazingly, this was the era of the washing machine that had to be wheeled out from under the worktop and connected to the tap in the sink via a hose.  Filled with water, which the machine heated, the agitator paddle was inserted and the clothes and the washing powder.  The agitator paddle agitated, the soapy water was syphoned off, clean water was added and agitated,  and the miraculously fairly clean clothes were fed through the mangle, sometimes twice until thoroughly squished.  Then the machine was emptied, dried off and returned to its place under the worktop for another week.  If your one dress got dirty midweek, tough luck.  My mother was expert at scraping muck off woollies with a fingernail and believed that if you rubbed a clean piece of clothing against a dirty one it would clean the dirty bit but not dirty the clean bit.  And we only had a bath once a week and the advert for powder toothpaste in a tin sang :You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you clean your teeth with Pepsodent.

Yet it was sufficient.

Now I chuck stuff in the washing machine every day and, in general, people don’t smell.  This is definitely progress.  I had an automatic washing machine when we got married and quite a lot of clothes, until along came the S&H and I only needed clothes for him.  The OH needed to be smart in suits for work and had clean everything else except the suit every day and we had a shower over the bath to enjoy every day, which was a bifurcated hose jammed on to the taps. At this time I was back to a dress and a couple of pairs of jeans and some tops.  A mere twenty-odd years later and the OH has left home for the five year holiday that is Uni and a slight four or five years after that he finally has a job.

So now I not only have clothes, I have a choice of clothes.  Then along came shopping channels and I have a lot of clothes, and a proper shower.  I’m so clean I wonder if new me would speak to old me, if I met me.

It may be sad that the only time most of us have plenty of clothes to swan around in is not when we are young and gorgeous but when the mortgage is paid off, the children are self-supporting and there’s a bit spare to decorate the expanding middle aged soul we have inexplicably become with a leg at each corner and a gut in the middle.  Or you could have gone the other way, and rather than being the promise of scrumptiously rounded, you could surprisingly be mistaken for string, with wrinkles.

Nature is quite cruel sometimes and having a laugh the rest of the time.

Whether too fat, too thin, too short or too tall, your best chance of having more clothes is the point three quarters through your life when your responsibilities to others are shed.  Having said that, in the years when I was carer to my mother there was no time to shop for clothes but every need of them.  Gardening in high heels and pearls might make your mother complain less at having you about the place, but it doesn’t do much for your heels or your pearls.  By the time I’d finished the job my ankles had turned to cankles and the heels were right out.

So here I am with more clothes than space (though still, naturally, with nothing to wear.)  I take a day for each type of clothing and take as much as possible to the charity shop, having tried much of it on in order to wonder what possessed me to buy it in the first place.  I imagined that having clothes at home to try on with everything else would circumvent mistakes purchased in cramped fitting rooms with grey mirrors carefully placed to afford an unflattering view of your own backside.  This just goes to show that I have a wonderful imagination.

I’m not buying anything currently.  Not until I have finished the ‘this is not a diet, diet.’  I think it’s possible that I’ve spent more time in my life dieting than eating.  Like Winnie the Pooh I am the short portly type designed to survive on an ice flow.  Every now and then the probability of getting stuck in a rabbit hole looms and I miserably restrict food until it wanes.

Meanwhile over the course of a fortnight, with days to rest between, the wardrobe has been changed and I can at last shiver in thin tops and let the wind whistle through my light summer trousers, raising goose bumps on my legs.  Glamorous, summer, characterised by the hum of wasps and the chattering of teeth.

Only got to change all the bedding and the duvet now.


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Boxes have figured so largely in my life, had I known at the outset how important they were, I’d have worked for a box manufacturer or been a box manufacturer.  I need boxes.

Historically boxes are ancient and important.  Mediaeval chests had lugs or channels on the sides so they could be carried from place to place by the insertion of poles.  They were by no means the earliest chests.  Ancient Romans had wonderful chests, fabulously decorated, whether they were the chests under their armorial breastplates or the cassone at the bottom of the bed.  When on the tour of the Vatican apartments I saw numerous beautiful chests.  Roman chests were copied originally from the people who were there before them, the Etruscans.  They had carved marble or stone chests which have survived well.  The tombs of Etruscan nobility took the form of a chest in the shape of a bed with the body in the chest and an effigy, reclining on the top.

The first chests of which we have many good examples are those of the ancient Egyptians, who used their chests to store possessions, body parts and, of course their sarcophagi to store their mummies.

Whether in them, terribly dead, or using them, very alive, chests are important.  When I designed my craft room I promptly filled it with metal chests of drawers, cupboards, stacking boxes, bookcases filled with chests and boxes and boxes that stack on the boxes, the boxes under the table are stacked on other boxes and the trolleys (on wheels) have boxes in them too.  If work on an item is suspended due to intrusion of reality, I put all the bits in a box and put the lid on.  The fact that most of these boxes are transparent does not prevent a trawl of the boxes being a time travel visit to Ali Baba’s cave.  I have an A5 two-stack in my bedroom which will be the Seaside Miniatures quarter scale French café which I was going to show you how to build, when I have finished building it.  I didn’t finish building it, reality intruded and I boxed it.  If you ever read about it here you’ll know I was sufficiently bored to open the boxes.  Boredom is rare round here.  I treasure boredom.  If you suffer from boredom, I’d recommend getting some boxes and putting half finished projects in them.  A lot of the boxes are paper crafting stuff.  If had had just done dolls I might be the best in the world by now, or I’d have given up completely and actually finished any of the novels I’m writing.  Thanks to boxes I can do lots of different things without feeling the need to finish any of them.

Boxes are essential for anyone with what rude people call a butterfly mentality and those in the know refer to as a miniaturist.  Getting a dolls’ house is good early training for being at least halfway competent in most things and genuinely interested in everything.  My first house was the start of my interest in social history, which has continued apace through television programmes, books and some more books, empirical research at various locations, a lifetime’s antiques’ knowledge and visits to anywhere of historical interest.  I didn’t set out to be a history buff, it just happened courtesy of a dolls’ house, to the point where I am beginning to pick up errors in works published by professors who have written stuff based on book learning and didn’t bother to go and check it out.

However, the boxes currently of interest are the show boxes.  At one of the earliest shows I did PTM (prior to Miniatura), the OH was ‘helping’.  I had a wooden stage which he had built and I had covered in velvet, which took up most of the car and elevated the dolls which could be propped up on the velvet without slipping.  At the time I had not invented my doll stands and couldn’t afford metal doll stands, so the dolls, some undressed and just in breakable porcelain, travelled in a small plastic tool chest.  The helpful OH, having inserted the wooden stand in the car, was in ‘mighty man’ mode.  He took the plastic toolbox out to the drive and balanced it on the edge of the car boot.  I do not know why.  I have never known why,  I have thought of it often and not come up with an answer.

Left, balanced on the edge of a car boot, filled with unstable, breakable porcelain dolls, not packed with any kind of packing, just laid one upon the other, gravity intervened.

No survivors.

Thirty one years later, with up to a thousand items, mostly dolls, to put on a table, I have learned of the importance of boxes.  A box that will transport dolls safely and display them in recesses in the box so that they look attractive, are supported, can be easily reached for examination and put back in the same box, safely and easily by any miniaturist, is the box for me.  The perfect one is either the holy grail of boxes or the holey box of dolls.


Some of the boxes are display in themselves, like slight Versailles on the left.  The dolls travel each on a stand in the box, which has a lid.  They are cushioned by their massive eighteenth century clothing.  Come to think of it, it must have been practically impossible for a lady in full sacque gown, or extensive panniers, to fall over.  Even if liberally overserved with champagne to the point of being comatose, with a wooden board up the front of you and ever-spreading whalebone hoops from your waist to the ground, the most that could happen is that you could nod off to the point where the ship in full sail on your wig, suddenly beached on the parquet.

The middle box contains the 2 inch collectable dolls.  Once the dolls are removed to their travelling box, which has layers of foam, the top half turns to tesselate with the bottom half and the lot fits into the shoebox which the top half is standing upon.  The bas relief paper pictures on the end, which I developed for cereal box miniaturists, whose walls will not support a canvas wood framed picture, all go in a biscuit tin with layers of fine foam.

It’s when you get to the long end with the dolls in three scales, that boxes get tricky.


It takes a long time to make, eye, china paint, assemble, wig and dress the articulated dolls.  I could never appear at a show with 20 new dolls, because the process is so lengthy.  Therefore the dolls travel in smaller boxes, so that I can move them around and never have an empty box.  These are the twelfth scale on the left.  In the middle are the articulated twenty-fourth, my favourite scale and type, which is why there are so many in a divided box that was, originally, a shirt box, which happened fortuitously to divide perfectly by the height of the dolls.  Divided and strengthened the box is just the right size to travel in the padded craft trolleys where they live, to the show.  As I age the wisdom of investing in these, originally very expensive, trolleys, has become apparent.  I even invested in the three main trolleys before I broke both arms, otherwise the break from exhibiting would have had to wait until the breaks in the bones had regained sufficient strength to heft huge bags, which is what I previously used.

Then we come to the villains of the piece.  Starting with the wooden box on the right.  This is a printer’s tray.

There was a while in miniatures, round about the mid eighties, when you could pay such large sums of money for printer’s trays that fake ones began to appear in antique shops.  The fake ones were inferior.  They were of unseasoned wood, bedecked with splinters and the dividers were often not glued to the back.  Real printer’s trays have the patina of age and many ink stains. 

I first met printer’s trays in the seventies.  Working in the language college it was part of my job to take students on a trip round the offices of the local paper, the Nottingham Evening Post, at exactly the point where they were changing from printer’s trays to electronic.  Half the pages were printed one way and half another.  To elucidate, in case your knowledge of print is not extensive, since Caxton, pages have been printed by assembling all the letters that make the words, backwards into a frame.  The frame is inked and pressed onto the paper which makes an impression the right way round.  By the late twentieth century printers were skilled at picking individual letters out of divided trays.  These are the printer’s trays, which became available to collectors at the point at which type could be sent from a computer to a press, bypassing the type-picking phase altogether.  The empty wooden trays, with a gloss of antiquity, have small divisions, making fabulous wall-hung cases for miniature display, especially if you can devise a way of stopping the miniatures falling out.

I began using printer’s trays for show display when I first started making twenty-fourth scale dolls. Propped up at the top end, they nicely filled the table and were as accessible for picking dolls as they had been for picking print. As my stock grew I no longer had a huge flat table to fill, so a half tray has come back, as you see in the photo, for the forty-eighth scale dolls.

It is only helping out the other boxes.  The other boxes for the forty eighth, are Marks and Spencer macaron trays.  These boxes which have windows and are easy to strengthen, have the massive advantage that it necessary to empty them of macarons, following purchase.  I have a cupboard and a box full of macaron trays, having discovered that my granddaughter is keen to do her bit in tray emptying.

But I need more space.  The higgeldy-piggeldy collection of boxes must go.  In their place one new custom built box, very strong but also not wooden or hard in any way and two different colours, for easy identification of forty-eighth, jointed from bendy, at a whole £2 difference, is now made, and all the glue has dried.


Behold the box and the lid.  If you are a forty-eighth collector this is what to look out for next time.

It’s amazing how much you learn, selling at fairs.  It isn’t just the items for sale you have to design and make, it is the stand to display them, and the means to pack it away for travel safely.

Bob Hopwood was well-known for telling new exhibitors ‘You know what you are selling, don’t you?  With everything you put on the table, you are selling yourself.’

In which case I am my boxes.

Zen as all get out.


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Faffing around.

Je faff.  Faffez vous?

Faffing around goes hand in hand with any artistic endeavour like rain goes with football, or snacks go with TV.

I have had every intention of settling down to the next show since the last show, which was five weeks ago.  I have a long list of dolls to model and things to make and a stand upgrade to get it all on to the table.

So far I’ve been shopping.

Pre-action shopping these days means hours surfing the net.  I was actually shopping for something I needed.  For many years I have been propping the doll boxes up on collapsible painting stands, inherited from my father.  These tubular metal triangular stands, with an unfolding ledge at the bottom were not only perfect for standing paintings on for display in the shop he had for a few retirement years, they were designed for the purpose.  They were not designed for a precarious tower of  doll boxes held on dangerously, with blu-tack.  I used to wince when I was setting them up and cross my fingers when I left them at the end of the first day, in a hall which would get cold enough overnight to stop the sticky being tacky.  You can only push your luck so far, I believe.

Therefore, after a bit of Internet shopping, I have invested in two solid wooden table easels, which work in exactly the same way but have actual flat wood behind the boxes instead of fresh air, fresh air as a medium of support leaving plenty to be desired.

It’s amazing how Internet shopping A) always ends at tea time and B) is sufficiently exhausting to make you only want to surf the net after tea for recreational shopping, not that I had any money left, but it’s always nice to cast aspersions on the clothing you would scorn to wear if you lost a couple of stones in weight and it was in a clear-out sale.

That took care of the first week.

The second week was faffing around to see how the easels fitted on the boxes I made for last time, that left a space all along the table top for a line of small boxes in book stands.


All the bottom row here are boxes held in metal book stands.

Week six and I’ve got round to wondering what to do about the wooden printer’s tray.

So what happened to weeks three, four and five?

Well may you ask.  Faffing is the answer.  First, I reasoned that, as I was going to be very busy I needed to make a lot of cards for the spate of birthdays upcoming.

Long ago Terry Curran asked me, now I had turned my hobby, dollshousering, into my job, what I was going to do for a hobby.  Card making, as it turns out.  It’s quite a relief to make stuff to give away, and it’s another relief to make stuff out of bits of card.  If it goes wrong, or you don’t like it you just put it in the carboard recycling.  I’m actually getting quite good at it and don’t need to recycle very often these days.  I have kept some of my early efforts to remind myself, being my own worst critic, that I am improving.  I would recommend this ploy to anyone having a go at anything at all arty.  It is completely normal to love the first one of anything you make for a good five seconds.  Five glorious seconds during which you wonder what the phone number of Tate Modern might be and when is the best time to put them on alert to clear a gallery for you.  Then reality sets in and the dustbin beckons.  If you can avoid hurling your piece of art in, in disgust and instead put it in a drawer, under a heap of bills, if you must, you will be glad in a few years when you have reached the level of progress known as stuck.  Retrieving the awful art you will see that, against your own perception, you are actually learning something, and not as stupid as you thought you were.

I have followed this plan on numerous occasions.  I kept the books I wrote as a child, which are now, obviously, unintentionally hilarious.  I kept the first miniature doll I made from someone else’s kit and dressed, very badly, using sewing thread the size of barge rope and giant offcuts of old dressmaking material.

I have been attending portraiture sporadically for a few years interrupted by my own ill health and freely available Covid for all.  I soon began drawing on paper that would fit in a 12 inch scrapbook.  I am on to my second scrapbook now and, compared to the first book, learning all the time.  As soon as I think I might be getting proficient in a medium, I change medium. I am water colouring for a few weeks, currently.

However, as you know, sculpting for mould making is my real art.  I love it.  Because I love it I always fear that I will not be good enough.  You might think after 31 years of doing it that I would be confident.  Confidence, I find, needs to be summoned.  In a way I am glad it is so.  There are real world, full size artists who believe their arrangements of bricks, unmade beds, geometric shapes on canvas and the like, are so very good that they seem, to me at least, to be brimming with confidence.

Does anyone know where the confidence shop is located?

I have never found it.

Perhaps because I am married to someone who thinks making dolls is easy, stupid or childish.  As do many others.  A dolls’ house, is really just a box.  Wooden furniture is not all that difficult.  I have made many houses and everything in them and believe original porcelain dolls to be the most difficult items to achieve well.

At the start of what I didn’t know at the time was going to be a sort of career in doll making, potential customers were quick to tell me if I’d got something wrong.  I don’t hear that type of criticism often nowadays, which makes me think that learning may have taken place.

Nevertheless, in an unregarded field of art I find it takes time to pluck up the courage to get started.  Whilst summoning the urge and stiffening of the sinews is underway, I faff.

Sometimes I even sit down and write a blog instead of getting on with it.


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Chuck it.

Being a creative type who constantly makes new things appear in the world has its disadvantages.  One is the amount of stuff required to make the other stuff appear.  Some of it is inescapable.  If you are going to make porcelain items you need a kiln, for example, so I have a kiln and a back-up kiln.  Fair enough.  I also have many gallons of porcelain slip.  I have invested in them whenever they have appeared in my vicinity because the types relevant to doll making were never made in this country.  Since the 1960s when various companies in America made kilns for the domestic market and doll making took off like a rocket, the same companies, hot for business, supplied the moulds to make the dolls and the porcelain clay slip in doll colours to pour into the moulds.  The problem was that the clay used as the base for the slip was English China clay.  This was shipped across the pond, a couple of chemicals native to areas of America were added and then water, lots of heavy American water, were additionally added to make up the gallon jars, which were then shipped at great cost back across the pond.  These heavy jars full of gallons of water and some clay were warehoused here in the UK and shipped to doll makers at a cost you can easily deduce for yourself, remembering the basic item is actually coloured mud, with applied profits, plus shipping and stroking all over, rather than merely handling.  Therefore, if ever anyone was strong enough to take gallons of doll slip to a doll show and I was there, I bought it and stockpiled it.

As keen and long-term readers know, I make all my own doll moulds from my own sculptures.  So I also stockpile plaster of Paris to make the moulds, Milliput to make the masters to make the moulds and, needless to say, the moulds I have made.  I have been making moulds for over thirty one years.  Each doll requires at least five moulds to make it, the current two and and a half inch articulated dolls have six moulds each, or more.  I make a few new dolls every show.

Then there were all the years I had a shop attached to this blog.  To carry on a postal business you need postal boxes.  Many, many postal boxes.

And that’s just the business stuff in the garage.

My grandchildren live at a distance and I was sending them things long before lockdown, in boxes that arrived bearing other stuff in the post.  Hoarded boxes.

Cans of paint with an inch in the bottom for touch-ups.  I own many of these.  An entire set of shelves full.  Necessary druggets to put on the carpets while touching up the walls with the saved inches of paint (actually old nylon duvet covers from the 1960s.  Do you remember when turning over in bed caused blue flashes?)

I haven’t even started on the garden stuff.  Half a garage full of garden stuff.  When passers-by enquire how I keep the garden so nice, the quick answer is half a garage full of stuff.  Pots, compost, tools, remedies, a lawnmower, strimmers, propagators, canes, ties, seeds, bulbs and so on, and on. (This is only the half of it, the real pot store is behind my shed on plastic shelves.)

And then some idiot, who shall remain nameless (it was me) started taking in all the unwanted books from the entire neighbourhood within walking distance – and they do walk miles around here – and calling it a library, added an industrial cart, metal bookshelves and, of course, the plastic bags to put the books in.  Then, upon request, jigsaws, a cart for the jigsaws, wrapping for the jigsaws, crafting stuff, a container for the crafting stuff and a wire basket for the sweets (which are kept very clean, in a box cluttering up the kitchen.)

I have a self-filling garage.

On Sunday I decided to do a bit of emptying.

The lady who returned a huge bag full of books, eyeing up the garage kindly told me she tidied up a drawer at a time.  Mr next door, currently a chap with a skip on the drive, foolishly offered use of skip.  On to the skip skipped three enormous boxes full of doll moulds.  Big doll moulds from the years when Miniatura did Bears and Dolls and I made angels and devils and fashion dolls, many of which still live in a wardrobe waiting for someone to do a doll show nearby.

To cut a long story short I chucked everything I could chuck from half of the garage.  Half way through Mr Next door pointedly put a tarpaulin on his skip, so I filled the car instead.

But I did it all in a novel broken toe straightener.  It looked innocent, but by teatime I was limping with both eyes and all of my ears and my leg had gone funny up to here.  (Or a bit past, if I’m honest.)

I have lived a long time, thanks to the NHS. From my experience,  I estimate the time between the hurl of the item to the urgent need for it to be the square of the interval elapsing plus or minus three days.  Therefore, this being Monday, I should be collecting junk by Friday, toe permitting.  Though before then I will deliberately be sculpting for mould making.

If I can avoid buying large amounts of plaster prior to actually using the stockpile I shall count it a win.


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Rainy days.

I am usually a very cheerful person.

Not today.

I shuffled round the supermarket like the third wet weekend in a row, which, to be fair, we have had.  I didn’t look up at the sky wondering how much more rain there could be because that’s a good way of getting an eyeful of rain.

When I made the bendy twenty-fourth scale people I used to do cheerful old ladies and miserable old men, which made everyone laugh, but today I’m a miserable excessively mature person myself.

I think it’s mainly the pain getting me down.

Yesterday, as there was a break in the rain, I got off my exercise bike and dashed outside into the garden to get the lawns mown before the rain began again.  The front lawn is down a slight incline, or up a small step, depending on which way you’re going.  Going up I stubbed my toe, failed to correct in time and found myself falling, so I did a slight hop along the concrete, still having a substantial scar on my face from the last time I fell on the drive.

I plunged headlong into the flower bed, currently covered with fallen camellias.  Flat, thanks to gravity, I took stock and the camellia out of my eye, was briefly very grateful that nothing seemed to be broken, cautiously raised myself and hobbled indoors where the OH was sitting in the warm and dry watching the television.  Not rushing to help but happily remarking that I had grass on my chin, he watched while I inched into the lift and went to wash the soil off my forehead.  I discovered I had a graze on one knee, which is the knee that has never worked properly since I fell on it twenty years ago.  Thank goodness I garden in jeans, which are quite substantial.  I also had a huge bruise which didn’t become evident until later.

Downstairs, I sat for a while, while the OH sniffed and huffed in disapproval.  I think he thought I was doing old lady falling over.  I was not.  What I had done was rigid toe falling.

During the pandemic (remember that?), desperate to prolong the summer and in the middle of building and decorating, I had foolishly worn sandals with bare feet in November and had thus managed effortlessly to break the second toe on my right foot by walking into a wooden drawer with a hard corner.  I knew I had broken it, there was a definite clue when it turned black, but no power on earth was going to persuade me to go to A&E to catch Covid when you could get it with much less waiting around by visiting a supermarket.  I was far too busy with builders and decorators to waste half an hour of my life listening to the dire warnings on the surgery number, prior to not being given an appointment.

So I left it.  The black toe eventually went a normal colour and began to rest on the big toe next to it.  It continued to do so until it was a very strange shape and decorated with a blister on one side and a callous on the other.  Four days ago I went to the chemist, who had a splint for very nearly every body part that could require splinting except a toe.  Therefore it was two days ago that the postman brought  the online-purchased toe splint, which I was wearing fresh and inexperienced whilst negotiating the step up (or down, depending) in my wellies.  This is why I could not compensate for the trip  by a swiftly planted, flexed toe welly on the other foot.  I was more useless than a Dalek at the bottom of a flight of stairs.  (I have been told they fly now, but I watched them in the sixties when they looked like several strips of hardboard, a colander and a sink plunger, marginally disguising an actor in an electric wheelchair*.)

Today my thumb is demonstrating the painful swelling that occurs when the glucosamine runs out.  My knee is huge and throbbing, the graze is rubbing on my trousers and my toes are rigid and pulsating.  My intestines have joined in, they tend to go on strike post surgically faster than railway workers.

I have tried really hard to be very grateful that nothing is broken, but have discovered that in the face of persistent pain, and a slight pain in the face, thumbthing up with a hand, a rubbish toe and a badly mown lawn**, it is difficult to be cheerful.

So, just for today, I am a miserable old git.

The only good bit is that when I broke my right arm I became ambidextrous, so I will make some cards with my left hand, later, until I feel better.


*There could be a good reason for this resemblance.

**This is not a euphemism, the lawn looks as if it has been cut with an ice cream scoop.

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I’m having a few days off from miniatures and the next Miniatura, which will be the 100th.

At the end of the five years of caring for my mother, after I had had the cancer surgery, I promised myself that, with time for me, I would be endlessly creative.  Mostly I have done so but I have found that a creative brain works best with a bit of variation.  As you may have deduced, I write, I also paint, sculpt, do porcelain, garden and make cards.  I used to cook but, after all the bother that five years in and out of hospital with blockage of the bowel caused by the adhesions the surgery occasioned, I’ve gone off cooking.  There’s not much point when you can’t eat it.

Making cards is a great hobby.  You only have to give them away, there are a lot of kits and bits easily available currently and if they are unsuccessful, they are only recyclable bits of cardboard.  I find if I fill up the boxes, I will use them all up by the end of a Miniatura, because people go on having birthdays whether there’s a show imminently, or not.

While I am having time off miniatures, making cards, I think about the show display.  I usually have a corner site and plan how to fill it long in advance.  At the last show I took photographs of my stand to plan the next show to see just how much stuff I can cram on the table.  I then printed the photos off and deleted them from my camera.  Then it occurred to me (belatedly) that if you never got to the show, you might want to see the photos.  Also, if you are a miniaturist and contemplating exhibiting your miniatures, you might want a look too.  So I photographed my deleted but printed photographs.

Therefore these will not be the best photos ever but they do give you a clue.


This is the short end of the corner.  On the left is Slight Versailles, in the middle the collectable dolls we had as children, on the right the bas relief paper pictures.  All of these items were requests, originally.  The paper pictures were for miniaturists making cereal box houses, where a wooden framed picture can make your wall go all bendy (the papier mâché pictures weigh next to nothing.)  The dolls we had as children were for people like me, whose mothers gave away their childhood friends, or who lost dolls, or, awfully, who even gave away their dolls themselves before realising what they had done.

Round the corner


are all the porcelain ornaments.  These have waxed and waned over the years but are mainly 24th scale, again as a result of requests from 24th scalers who couldn’t find anything to fit.  Some larger people have ended up here too, there be dragons and cottages with removable lids and so on.  If you can zoom in on the price list on the back you can see that anyone who asked for anything also requested a price they could afford.

Round the front


are all the dolls.  They start at 12th scale glass-eyed on the left, work their way through 24th scale articulated in the middle and proceed to 48th scale jointed or bendy on the right.  Lying flat at the extreme right are the two boxes of  48th scale original artist (me), china painted porcelain dolls at just £10 for jointed or £12 for bendy.

As you can see I have never been in the ‘display two things artistically and charge a lot’ camp, mainly because I was an impoverished collector with more ambition than cash, before I was a maker.

It’s all crammed on and at the next show I also want to cram on the fairies in domes and some houses, which I why I took the photos.

Some exhibitors do go up stratospherically, some have glass cases, but I am always conscious of wheelchair hobbyists and the need to keep the dolls where they can get their hands on them.  Children do too and I don’t mind, usually well-supervised children are very polite, plenty of pointing goes on first, which is the right way to do it.  A lady once said to me when I told her it was OK to pick the dolls up and play with them ‘You just want me to fall in love with the doll and buy it!’ Yes, I do.  You bet I do, that’s why I’m there.

And, of course my dolls being mine from the first thought in my head to their appearance on the table are mine alone.  They do not look like anyone else’s dolls and never have.  All they were ever modelled on was my brain waves, which is why you need to take a good look.  People are used to the appearance of porcelain dolls made from commercially available moulds. many doll makers got started that way and then continued.  If you start with a ready-made mould you can skip many steps and use dressing patterns from books too.  Mine do not look like any of those, so you really do need to get them in your hand and have a look and let the doll with its little glass eyes look at you and see if you fall in love or not.  This, of course is part of the absolute joy of the show; when I visited I was always ecstatic to be invited to pick things up and play with them.  I was never of the very precious ‘this is art’ school of thought.  It is art and some of it is better than full-size art available anywhere, and there is more original art at Miniatura than anywhere else I know of, and much of it is the original ideas of the artists, and you should always ask before you pick things up, but mostly, you can.  When could you ever go to a full-sized gallery and grab one of the pictures and have a good look? 

How to get more of my brain waves on the table?  I have several requests, a new diorama box, some horses and a worried father, with swept-back hair, of teenage girls (he’s probably been running his fingers through it, or pulling it out) to get on the table next time.  One of the reasons for wanting to get so much stuff on the table at the 100th show is that there is the possibility of winning your choice of anything at all on the table.

Oh yes!  Details next time.


There’s a lot of information at  To be on the mailing list go to ‘next show’ ‘getting to the show’ scroll down and add your name to the emailing list.

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For the 100th.

Preparations are underway for the 100th Miniatura.  If you have not already done so, take yourself to go to the next show, how to get there and scroll down until you find a place to enter your email address, if you do so you will receive regular email updates about the plans of the exhibitors for the show, as they tell the organiser what the plans are.  I already know of three special exhibits and the amazing thing I’m doing which I’ll tell you at the end of this column.  The amazing thing has been planned since the last autumn show and ready since January. 

However, until the end of the column, here is news of other plans I have.  If you have seen me at the show, you know I always have a book for visitors to write in on my table.  Visitors who like my style and have wishes they think I can fulfil, in porcelain, in miniature, write in the book and I will make a few at the next show and put them on the table to see how well the ideas collectors have put into my head, correspond with the ideas in their head.  This, of course is one of the great virtues of the hobby in general and the collector’s paradise that is Miniatura in particular.  Collectors can commission the items they wish to collect.  I still have the 12 inkwells Terry Curran made for me to put in the desks in my school room.  I never finished the desks or the school.  I got more than half way and, as it was one of my first miniature buildings, gave up in disgust at my own incompetence.  I learned from my mistakes and donated the school to a charity shop, but kept the inkwells, which were utterly perfect.

My wish list for the last show, you know about.  It was Slight Versailles which everyone liked.  The posh end of the eighteenth century is loved as much by miniaturists as it was by my father, who only inhabited the twentieth century out of force of habit, in his head he was always a couple of hundred years adrift; having cabriole legs and a bow fronted chest myself, I understand.

I do have quite a list wished upon me for the next show, including a horse.  I did a unicorn many years ago.  The wished-for horse exists in reality, I saw a photo on a phone in the middle of talking to hundreds of people.  The horse had a friend, a special small horse with short legs (you and me both, Dobbin) but I’m not going to attempt that. Neither am I going to attempt the patches of colour on the normal sized horse, what I will be aiming for is a paint-it-yourself horse.  Porcelain is porous and readily accepts many types of unfired colouring medium.

But before that, and the other items on the list, what I am thinking of is dolls.

Yes, I know I do dolls, the dolls I am thinking of are dolls for the dolls.  Yes, dolls’ dolls.  And, of course I could do dolls’ dolls’ dolls.  Doll mad people did so in history.  I did, for a while, 144th scale dolls, who would quite nicely be dolls’ dolls’ dolls’ dolls, they were fairly small.

I was helped, as I began what turned out to be a career of sorts making porcelain dolls, by a local museum.  In a late fifteenth century building, which was, and is, suitably quaint, the county council displayed the collection of dolls of one main collector, who had had rampant doll mania.  The collection featured some rare survivors.  There were wooden dolls from the seventeenth century onwards, pedlar dolls, automata, fortune telling dolls, Jumeaux and everything you could possibly wish to see.  I saw them all a lot.  The building, however, became infested with beetles and was not even slightly airtight, so it closed as a museum in 2004 and the dolls were moved to another museum which is also closed.  However, in the early days of living here I visited a lot and actually saw the dolls, which gives a much better idea of scale and the condition and manner of manufacture of the costumes than an illustration in a book.

Books are not too difficult to find about the history of dolls but good, well-researched books are thin on the ground.  I recall reading soon after buying my kiln, a fanciful description in a standard work on the subject, about Victorian child labourers snatching red hot dolls from a kiln and throwing them along a line of children to a table.  The evocation of child labour hell was not authentic; if you snatched any doll even slightly warm from a kiln and threw it through the air, it would suffer thermal shock and crack.  Child labour was used in Victorian times for the production of many items.  One of my first collections, in the late Fifties and early Sixties was Victorian china dogs that decorated mantelpieces of the time. Knowing how much china shrinks in the firing and seeing the size of some of my dogs, I think adult helpers must have been needed because the dogs, prior to firing, would have been up to two feet tall and very heavy.  The work was probably piecework because the finish on some of the dogs is not good, the seams where parts are joined to make the whole shape are very obvious.  Some of the china painting is definitely by children, most of my dogs have startling eyebrows and nice smiles.  Adults may have done some finishing because those dogs with chains are decorated with gold paint, which is made with real gold dust and costs a lot, too much to let children get their hands on.  If you find a book with illustrations of Victorian china-headed dolls you can spot those painted by a childish hand, even when the modelling allows for lines to paint inside.

Books about dolls will tell you that there were no dolls before the eighteenth century.  There were but they were not called dolls until then. Prior to the eighteenth century, during Tudor times, dolls were known in England as Bartholomew Babies, being purchased at a famous fair, Bartholomew Fair, which was held at Smithfield, then outside London, in August, principally as a cloth fair but eventually having traders in everything.  The Bartholomew babies were turned wooden shapes.  Turning was a totally Tudor task.  Every wood and forest of woody and forested England had numerous turners using pole lathes.  Building on knowledge available since the iron age, woodworkers knew that a springy sapling could be used to power a turning frame, with a big branch fastened into it and rotating every time the sapling pulled back..  Apply your sharp iron tool to the wood and achieve a fancy corner for a building, a table leg, a bowl, a plate, a massive turned corner for a court cupboard and, at the end of the day, with the little branches left over, or a fair looming, the shape of a doll.  Some Tudor dolls had leather arms but none that have been depicted or found so far, had feet other than a mono foot, like the foot of a table leg.  Depictions of girls carrying their Bartholomew babies are in various Elizabethan paintings, if you were posh they were very nicely dressed.

Of course there were dolls before Bartholomew babies.  There are Roman cloth dolls in museums, which survived by being buried with their deceased child owners.  I remember, during a visit to a stately home with a collection of early nineteenth century costumes, being told by the  curator, that of course, women of that era wore no underwear, because none had been found. My mother used to use my father’s string vests to polish the silver, though not when he was wearing them.  Any that developed holes (tricky to spot in a string vest, but maybe obvious on a mangle roller) were seized upon with glee.  Of course women throughout history wore underwear.  In Tudor times and earlier, Spring weddings ensured that the right time of year had been reached to plant flax to harvest later in the year to make linen for swaddling cloths, nine months on.  Swaddling cloths are the easiest item to weave, as anyone who was given a ‘My first loom’ set can attest to.  If you can weave a strip you can weave a swaddling cloth and necessary underwear for yourself.  If you have grown your own underwear, you are not going to throw it away.  Every Victorian home with a scullery had a bowl in it, in which rags were soaking for feminine hygiene purposes.  The rags which were not used for this, were mopping up cloths, or my father’s vests, polishing the silver.

Similarly, if someone turned you a doll, it would not be thrown away, it would be passed down until it was kissed to death.  This is the case for dolls through history, we do know that mediaeval boys had hobby horses and toy knights, the depictions of them are in the margins of psalters and hand illustrated books.  Girls are not depicted much because they were girls but any girl capable of sewing a sampler to prove herself marriage-worthy and able to sew clothes from her woven strips, could also sew a doll.

I am not going to make all the dolls’ dolls throughout history, just those that fit with the preferred miniaturising eras.  I have previously produced old-type dolls as house residents.  I did Lord and Lady Clapham, famous seventeenth century dolls with new, new every house-must-have-some fork hands. Prior to this we ate with a spoon and your own knife but suddenly forks arrived from the continent and everyone, even the dolls, knew about forks, in fact forkfluencers were everywhere.  Dolls do tend to be followers of fashion, and trendsetters, ask Barbie.

I already have eighteenth century dolls’ dolls, who got left on the table before the show.


I have started miniaturising my seventeenth century fork-hands dolls.  I will model a Bartholomew baby, because there was a request for a Tudor doll in my request book.

I need your input, what else would you like?  Do you have a dolls’ house of an era with no doll?  Do you have a model museum with a missing doll?  Do you have a doll shop with a big blank where a doll should be?  If you do have an opinion or a wish for the list, please let me know by clicking on the link below.

And now to the amazing plan for the show.  I am going to have on my

oh bother!  I’ve run out of room again.  Next time, stay tuned.


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