Doll stringing

..does not involve string at all.

As usual with miniature versions of craftsman made items, the smaller you go, the trickier it gets and the first thing you have to make are the tools to do the job.

Full size children’s dolls made of whatever hard material, where the doll is in similar size and proportions to a real human baby, are not too difficult to put together.  Thick round elastic is threaded through the neck of the doll and can be caught by pushing a tool called a stringing hook, which is a metal hook on an arm a few inches long, into the body cavity and pulled out of the arm hole.  The stringer can look through the arm hole to see where the elastic is in the body.  The elastic is then threaded though a metal loop embedded into the top of the arm and back into the hollow body of the doll.  The stringer can then peer through the leg hole, insert the stringing hook and catch the elastic to thread it through the loop on the leg.  In this way, working round the body, the limbs are attached.  When both ends of the elastic are protruding from the neck, they can be knotted through a stringing hook on the doll’s neck and pushed back into the body cavity, or into a neck hole on the head and thence out of a hole on the top of the head.  One elastic will have a bead threaded on to prevent the elastic popping out of the hole, the ends are tied and the top head hole closed with a pate made of cork or card, and the wig is stuck on top.

Miniaturise all of that and nothing is simple.  If very few people in the world are making fourteen part dolls under three inches, it’s because the main ingredient required is endless patience.

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Here are all the parts poured, fired, grit scrubbed and ready to make fourteen part dolls, two and three quarter inches tall.  It is the first time I have had a go.  I made the moulds some years ago before everything happened.  You can see how they all fit together in theory.  In the top right of the picture are the bodies, top left are the feet and hands.  I make the tiny loops to embed into the hands and feet from thin wire that will not melt in the high temperatures in the kiln.  The twisted ends of the stringing loops need to be far enough apart to grab the porcelain molecules as they shrink in the kiln but not so far apart that this happens.

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As you can see the wire has burst out of the wrist and the ankle in the kiln, so this hand and foot are unusable.  You may be wondering why I cannot do better than that.

This is the reason –

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the size of the hands and feet, which, of course, are appropriate for the size of doll.  This, incidentally, is another unusable hand.  I poured nine dolls, which is to say 14X9, or 126 doll parts.  In the end I got two dolls out of it all.

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Another reason is this, a blocked leg.  When you are pouring legs this tiny they can be blocked with clay instead of hollow.

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This is how it should look.

I could not have made dolls this small before the invention of resin elastic.  Previously dolls were strung with round hat elastic, the smallest version of which was Japanese hat elastic.  The elastic to string the lower leg has to go once through the leg hole, round the stringing hole in the foot and back up the same leg hole again.  There was not a round, covered elastic made that could fit two lengths side by side in that hole, but half millimetre thick resin elastic does the job.

The other difficulty is kiln shrinkage.  Doll parts placed nearer to the heating elements in the kiln can shrink more than those in the centre of the shelf so you get a result like this.

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Additionally, the foot on the left has more ankle.  In your hand, the tiny porcelain pieces don’t look much different but in twenty fourth scale, millimetres matter massively and add up to a doll with one long leg, or, possibly, a doll with one short leg.  Additionally, ankles millimetres thicker will not fit into the hole on the bottom of the leg (this is true for every one of thirteen joints.)  Also when making the holes in the poured porcelain, they have to be evenly spaced.  A hole near the top of the shoulder on one side of the torso and a hole millimetres lower on the other side will make the doll look as if it is shrugging at least.  Holes in the top of the arms must come out of the side for the arm to lower to the body, or the doll will always have a raised arm.  Much of this is not, sadly, apparent until the porcelain is fired.

Hours are spent sorting through all the parts to find exactly matching pairs with perfect holes, flat ends, no wires showing and all the rest of it.

Actual stringing is a matter of extreme patience and tools made with very small bits of wire.  Very occasionally elastic will go into the depths of a body and curve, on its own, out of the leg hole, or the arm hole or wherever it is destined to go next.  Much more often, after half an hour of trying, I make a temporary stringing hook to achieve this.

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This is the bit that you need three hands for, or, ideally, not to sneeze just when you have got the end coming out of the hole.

So now you think you have got it sorted, that you have gone through all one hundred and twenty six pieces and found the matches that will make a body.

Which is when you find out that someone has made the hole in the top of the head smaller than the neck hole, which means that, supposing you can find a bead small enough to go on to the elastic and through the top of the head, it will immediately fall out of the neck, so that head is another waster.

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We know of the existence of some of the early eighteenth century porcelain factories by their wasters.  Items that went wrong in the kiln, in any of the processes, were dumped and gradually buried in accumulated rubbish, only being found when a new underground rail line was being excavated, for example.  It’s comforting to know that I am not the only one struggling with an unforgiving medium.

Sometimes, however, the stars align and the patience pays off.

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And you get two dolls out of one hundred and twenty six bits.  The leftovers go into a little plastic drawer.

You should just see how many drawers I have.  (In a cabinet up the wall, taller than I am.)

If, in a hundred years, people find the dolls and ask how anybody managed to do this, you’ll be able to tell them it was done with patience to make collectors happy.  Which is exactly the same as it was in the eighteenth century.

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A brush with art.

I had forgotten what a joy china painting can be.

First, however, after seven years and major building work, you have to find all that is necessary for the task.  I certainly had everything I needed seven years ago, now where can it all have gone?

I bought a kiln from another artist, many years ago.  It came with the bits and pieces all just piled into an assorted conglomeration of boxes, grocery packaging and disintegrating plastic tubs.  I thought: oh how careless, ill conceived etc. and so forth.  I have now stopped thinking this, because, once I found my stuff, I discovered I had done exactly the same.

China paint never dries.  You mix the powdered colour with a medium, on a glazed surface.  I use old wall tiles that I found on a shelf in the garage when we bought the house. Once on the glazed surface you can leave the mixed paint until next time, provided it is in a sealed container.  I had the most perfect kitchen box with one of those sealed lids.  At least it was perfect seven years ago.  What emerged into the light of day was a stack of tiles surrounded by shards of plastic.

You would not believe how hard it is to find the right size box in a supermarket, even when you take the tile with you.  In the end I bought the wrong size because I had to have something.  China paint will smear itself all over the world unless protected from it.  At home I discovered exactly the right size box, which I had acquired when I sent off for some coloured liquorice (on a desert island I could be happy, as long as it had central heating, paper, a pen, coloured liquorice and, currently, since the surgery, dry cornflakes.  I know, I don’t know why either.)  There was still some liquorice in the box, a problem which I just had to solve.

Then I found my horrible rusty tin of powdered paint and medium.  Except that the medium was now so small it had dried up completely.  And I had a mere mote of brown and dozens of eyebrows to paint.  Fortunately, in another elderly plastic tub I had two paints that would mix to brown and a large medium.  I also found my brushes as they exploded out of a crumbling cardboard box and, unreasonable joy, a packet of new very tiny hair brushes that I had bought somewhere.

There could be no more prevaricating (wondering whether I could still do it.)  I seized a head and began.

head1

You can see why I was nervous about my ability.  I am painting a face on a head the size of a garden pea.  Here I am painting the whites of the eyes over the previously glazed eyeballs.

head2

There’s a lot of painting in a head.  Eyelids, irises, pupils, eyelashes, eyebrows, nostrils, cheeks, lips and smile line.

head3

Some heads are smaller than others, part of the problem being how to hold the head to avoid smudging the paint, which is wet until it has been fired.  These heads are the heads of the twenty-fourth scale articulated children.

Finally finished and fired, here they all are.

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Disembodied heads as far as they eye can see, crikey, it’s the French revolution!

En masse, un peu horrifique.

Singly, however

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A tiny thing of joy in the sunshine. With permanent colour you can wash, good for hundreds of years.  Such happiness.

All that remains is several days matching all the body parts to the heads

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that were all matched up when they came out of the kiln, before I put them all in trays.  Well, they must have been, here I am taking the photographic proof.

Such a joy making weeny dolls and probably good for the memory, too.

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Back to being me.

It is possible to forget a lot in seven years, especially if, during those years, you have been a carer, lost a fortune, broken both arms, had cancer, surgery, builders, hospital stays and more surgery.

My life is one long round of wild excitement.  It has been up and down, and also down and further down but throughout all the changes there has been one constant.

Making miniature porcelain dolls of my own design and devising.

It has been seven years since I fired the kiln.  Thanks to the building work everything necessary was moved several times.  I found, as you read last time, that I could remember how to pour porcelain.  After that all I needed was the stuff for rubbing down and the kiln book to find out how long I cooked things for and how exactly I did that.

I have four kiln books. These are exercise books in which, from the start, I have recorded every firing, to keep track of the degradation of the kiln elements, which only last so many firings before they have to be replaced.  I am now on to the third book for the first kiln.  In the second book, and on the cover, was the information necessary to remedy the ministrations of the last kiln refurbisher, who put the temperature dial on upside down.  In the first kiln book was the recording of the very first firing, prior to the first show I ever did.  The first firing was March 28th 1993.  Which means that I will have been making dolls for thirty years by Spring Miniatura.  I have not been exhibiting at Miniatura for thirty years because I tried a few lesser shows first to see if I was up to spec.  The standard for Miniatura is very high, artisans from all over the world exhibit and, no matter who they are, their work has to undergo examination by committee to see if they reach the standard.

When I recall the dolls I was making thirty years ago, I am amazed I passed the test.  There is no doubt about it, if you want to be good at something, thirty years practising is helpful. I have learned more than I have forgotten, which amazes me.  Once you get into it you can remember what it takes.

It takes a week to rub down four days’ worth of pouring, I rediscovered.  Though I had forgotten how cold you get sitting very still for hours on end rubbing gently to make items the size of garden peas, or smaller, perfectly smooth and beautiful.  I had forgotten how it feels to wear a mask with proper filters so you don’t give yourself silicosis.  I was surprised to find finger stalls in the rubdown box and couldn’t remember why I had tiny twist drills.

The finger stalls are to stop a finger on each hand disintegrating dryly and putting blood all over your work.  The twist drills are to rub down the inside of the holes in the hollow limbs so the stringing material doesn’t snag.  I had also forgotten the feeling of achievement at seeing this.

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and this

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and also this

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Three shelves very full of numerous doll parts.  They have been fired to bisque and are now ready for a glaze firing.  In the third picture you can see that the doll heads appear to have pink eyes and you may be able to see pink toe nails and finger nails.

What I had forgotten about glazing is that if you leave your bottle of glaze for seven years, when you come back to it there will be a solid pink rock in the bottle that will take you an hour and a half to grind down to a powder and mix back to a liquid glaze.

So the kiln is on for the second firing, which may be about five hours, and tomorrow I will be ready to find out what I have forgotten about china painting.

The most important feature of those three shelves, is that I am back.  I am back to being me.  Life has thrown a lot at me but I am still myself.  Myself with bits missing and scars added but still me.

There is a lot to be said for finding something that interests you and sticking at it until you can do it well.  It never gave me financial reward because I never charged enough (I now realise.)  I charged what I thought the dolls were worth (at the beginning when they were really not very good) and left the prices the same up until now, when I am arguably the only person in the world who can make these dolls from my own moulds from my own sculptures and I do think now, they are good.

And I love them because they gave me myself.

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Raining and pouring.

Here’s a sight you haven’t seen, I think, for about seven years.

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Yes it’s my dining room table.

Or, more specifically, my dining room table where it looks as if it has been raining doll parts.

I meant to be pouring over my work much sooner than last week, after Miniatura but I had Covid, which delayed the action.  I meant to be continuing making dolls seven years ago but was circumvented by caring for my mother, which increasingly ate up all available time as she worsened.  Then I had a broken arm, then I had cancer, then I had surgery, then I had ten hospital readmissions, then I had major surgery.  Time just flies by when you are busy, doesn’t it?  But finally I thought I was well enough to stand for hours at a time, pouring porcelain.

I wasn’t.  So, as I was the one who designed the kitchen  over ten years ago, with a space under the bench not filled with a cupboard, so that someone could sit down and work, I obtained the padded step stool that had disappeared into the OH’s workshop and sat intermittently.

The truth is that you need to stand over the mould to pour porcelain, because you need to see if it is going in right.  For the moulds for twenty-fourth and below you don’t actually pour, you inject with a syringe, which needs not be nearly empty, because that way you inject air.  This turns into bubbles, which you find in the body of the porcelain as you rub down, as holes.  Unfortunately I was not as fit as I thought I was and sat down more than I meant to, and I am discovering the holes to prove it, right now as I am rubbing down.

I did three and a half days pouring, which will take at least a week to rub down.  The dolls parts are small.

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Here on my three inch ruler you can see an upper arm, which is quarter of an inch long.  It needs to be uniformly hollow, sufficiently to accommodate the lower arm inside the cavity.  The lower arm also has to be rubbed to a point to go in, but without exposing the wire stringing hook.  Everything is rubbed to about a millimetre or two in thickness.  It is a lengthy process, happily performed seated, and I can only concentrate for about an hour and a half before I begin breaking parts, then I stop for a while.

As it is seven years since I did this, I marvel at my own ability.  I am not charging enough for these dolls, that’s for sure.

I do, however, enjoy doing it.  Perhaps I’m just a masochist. It does make me terribly cold.  Stillness when rubbing parts to a millimetre tolerance, is necessary.  You can’t do it jiggling about.  You have to get into a meditative state; if your mind wanders to things that make you annoyed, you break the castings faster.

I’ll let you know when I get on to the next bit, meanwhile I’ll make sure I don’t rub anyone up the wrong way.

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A step back.

A brief posting all about me, me, me, for which I apologise.  I’ve had a bit of a setback health wise, which needs recovering from.

I have started putting the library out on the drive again on fine days.  Our drive slopes downwards to the garage, which is upwards to the corner where I put the cart with the library on it.  I haven’t counted but there might be about a hundred books on the cart, which together is a heavy load.  In the middle of last week, pushing the load upwards I felt something go ‘ping’.

At a similar time I ate a foolish meal of sweetcorn and edamame beans, not many, just microwaved, no fancy sauces or anything.  This is all fibre and hard to digest.

I don’t know which occurrence got to me but by Thursday I was in pain with a massive stomach and back ache which I never have.

So, one way and another, I’m just on a bit of a go slow until I recover.  Today as I write I’m dressed to work out but it will only be until I think I have to stop.

It is 16 weeks since surgery, which you might think is enough to be running up mountains in an apron singing that the hills are alive but apparently not.  Round here the hills are still steep, as is the drive.

Yesterday at my request the OH inflated the tyres of my cart with the heavy compressor inherited from my father.  It is a wonderful thing, which I don’t think he had ever used.  He probably just wanted a compressor, which is quite understandable.  I think this will make a difference to the ease of heft, meanwhile I am clearing the decks for doll pouring, which requires hours of standing and is always very enjoyable.

It is an amazement to be able to make in a durable form an artefact which you have designed from an idea in your head and, as soon as I stop going ‘ooh’ when I stand up or eat, I’ll be on it.

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The perlitikal situashun.

This column never has been and never will be anything to do with politics.  It’s about artists like you and me and what we do when life in general and relatives in particular, go a bit manky.

However, the current situation of Polly ticks, which still makes as much sense as a parrot that has swallowed a watch, is causing the UK to be a laughing stock around the world.  This, therefore, qualifies for an entry under the Parrot has Landed and other absurdities.

The OH watches the news on the BBC with great regularity, mainly because, otherwise, he would run out of things to despair of, be indignant at and generally tut over.  As we are both home at lunchtime and knocking on, we aim to be sitting at one o’ clock with soup at the ready and the TV on loudness 30, until he starts searching for his finger napkin, when it goes down as surreptitiously as possible to 25, or less if the napkin is on the floor behind his chair.  It may go back up to 30 or louder if he catches me altering it, because sitting in a pub on ‘your’ chair next to the juke box for 34 years can cause unexplained deafness in later life.

So it was that we were both in place for the extended broadcast which covered the surprise resignation of Liz Truss, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for a good five minutes, as appointed by the late Queen, Queen of the same realm for seventy years and two hundred and fourteen days.  Am I alone in thinking no one has any sticking power these days?  The OH, as you might expect, had a great deal to say about it, and was torn between watching all the opinions late into the afternoon and rushing to the pub to spread his considered and lengthy views, starting with ‘WELL!’ and working up.

We are now searching for our fifth PM in six years, causing you to think, oh I don’t know, that no one has any sticking power these days.

However, the great thing that makes Britain great, is, of course, the seventeenth century.  After the Civil war in the middle of that century we settled for a system whereby we have elected politicians and an unelected monarch and they both keep a beady eye on each other.  In politics, permanence is power.  Margaret Thatcher was PM for nearly twelve years, a length of time which meant that she had been in post for longer than many of the Civil servants, who really run the country, round her.  She knew who to speak to and how to get things done.  Only one official in recent times has been in Downing Street for a similar time.

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Here he is.  It’s Larry, the Downing Street cat.  He came from Battersea Dogs and Cats home in 2011 and is a civil servant.  His title is Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office and he has met plenty of politicians and had time to form a considered opinion of them.  He really liked Barak Obama, apparently.  Wise cat.  Mr. Obama had some very good ideas for helping people but never had time to put them into practice in the four year revolving door that is American politics.

Larry knows all the ins and outs and we have plenty of time to watch him.  Out comes the podium and sooner or later Larry will be waiting by the door to be let in.  He has seen off a fox, assorted dogs and a variety of rodents.  He has been seen marching up and down the cabinet table and probably makes more sense than anyone sitting at it.

It has already been suggested elsewhere that Larry would make a great PM, the only problem being that he would have to resign as a civil servant before seeking election, and who then would sort out the mice and rats which are a real problem in central London?  Now the corgis have left Buckingham Palace, perhaps they could get a cat, or two (it’s a large building).  The Queen Mother used to use the rats as target practice, with a handgun, during the blitz.  When the OH went to the palace, at the end of the evening the royal family disappeared into the furniture (behind a bookcase that was really a door), in a building riddled with hidden passageways, inefficient plumbing and massive catering.  Pretty much a holiday home for rats.

Talking of rats, who will be the next Prime Minister?  Any ideas?

The only things worse than a leader on the repeat election button is a dictator.  There have been quite a few of them in history, sooner or later they go bananas and end up hanging, hiding or thoroughly disappeared, having managed in the interim to make vast swathes of humanity either deeply unhappy or seriously dead.

It just makes you glad not to be a politician.  Being an artist will not make you rich in your lifetime (though you are likely to enrich dealers the minute you are dead.)  It won’t give you any sort of power and only the freedom to starve in the traditional garret, or the freedom to block the sink with plaster of Paris.  It won’t give you those hand-out-the-sunglasses teeth or the carefully managed hairstyle, or the need to go jogging in public to prove you haven’t got any health concerns.

All it will give you is the time to care for your relatives, the time to stand at the sink scrubbing the paint from under your fingernails and absolute gratitude for the knowledge that you are not a politician and therefore, most of the people who know you, like you.

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The Min

Miniatura was absolutely wonderful.  I would have written about it sooner but the unexpected aftermath, nothing at all to do with the show, has floored me.

The OH, unpredictable and difficult, took himself off to Italy for a week, the week before the show.  I had refused to go with him, precisely because of the unpredictable and difficult, so he booked the week months before and flounced off.  He was met at the airport with valet parking, which he assumed would be available 24/7 upon his return.

On his first full day there he disturbed my considerable peace and quiet with a tale of the awful thing that occurred.

Arriving after a lengthy flight, upon being handed his room card key, he charged a couple of drinks or several to the room and then made his way upstairs to the room he had read off the card as 108, only to find the card would not work.  Several passes failed to turn the light green and click the lock open.  However an experimental push on the door opened it, revealing an elderly couple getting ready for dinner and wearing nothing.

The OH instantly slammed the door shut.

He then knocked gingerly upon it.

After a pause for pants the door was opened a crack –‘yes?’

‘What,’ demanded the OH, ‘are you doing in my room?’  (You do see now, don’t you, why I won’t go on holiday with him?)

An argument ensued, lengthy in nature, due to the OH never being wrong.  He was, however, eventually persuaded by a semi-naked pensioner that the room card read ‘105’ and a flourish, though he did not believe this until he retrieved his spectacles, and, having done so used them to read the card himself.  After speculation as to the nature of writing and hefty condemnation by himself of the writing skills of foreign hotel staff and – belatedly – an apology, he made his way to his room, number 105.

A mere week later, after the first day of the Min, Saturday night, when I had already gone to bed, I received another phone call.  The parking people were not around and he had no way of getting his car, what was I going to do about it?

I fired up the computer to discover that all the help lines for the parking company shut for the weekend at four on Saturday.

We then enjoyed a spirited discussion and, as I am getting the wisdom that goes with the long ears, was adamant that I, halfway up the country, in my pyjamas, having survived a hard day of post-major-surgical working with the public, was not going to solve a problem for someone in London who had just had a ‘stuff you’ holiday, inadequately researched.  (And when I look at the broken handled soup bowl that was my ‘gift from Puglia’, inadequately packed, too.)

I then went to bed.

So I did not see the OH until Sunday evening, when he emerged from the house in a plague mask, having tested positive for Covid, which I duly contracted three days later.

My throat is as sore as if I have been snacking on saw blades and I sit up all night coughing.  Covid is quite a trial and you can see how easily it killed off the unvaccinated.  Vaccinated it does not hold a candle to having half your intestines chopped off, no contest.  And blessedly I did not have the opportunity to infect anyone at Miniatura, as the house redesign (by me) gave me and the OH separate bathrooms and bedrooms.  If I were doing it again I’d have separate kitchens too and never have to start my morning with a pile of dirty dishes which I did not leave in the sink, and, obviously, without Covid smeared on the taps.

None of which spoiled Miniatura.

Miniatura makes its own weather, is its own place, is a place out of time and a state of mind and getting better for practise.

At the height of the hobby it was up to three hundred stands, there were fairs everywhere and true hobbyists were getting pushed out  by band-wagon jumpers and general traders.  I see the same thing happening now with TV craft channels, some of the people are there because they see a licence to print money, rather than a desire to help crafters.

Miniatura has now shrunken to a hundred stands, which is a great number.  You really can see everything and absolutely everything is of riveting interest.

I was exhibiting for the first time at the National Agricultural Exhibition Centre.

What a lovely venue!  It is all on one level.  The free car park is a two minute walk from the car to the door.  The staff were so nice!  On Sunday I had packed up my wheeled cases and was struggling to heave all six into the car.  ‘I’ll help, you look tired,’ said a member of staff and he lifted all the cases into the car for me!

I never had to queue once for the toilets!

Lovely Dave, from Teeny Weeny Teddies, discovering I’d been poorly, kindly kept asking if I was OK and amazingly I was only one of three post surgical Janes at the show, and we all made it through the weekend.

There were some wonderful new exhibitors and some wonderful old ones and I did a bit of shopping.

And I met and chatted to some miniaturists.

And that is what I live for, really.  I just love to hear how miniaturists are getting on with their lovely houses, their awkward relatives and their problematic lives.  It is good to know you are not alone.  To have it reconfirmed that life is not as advertised but that that does not matter as much if you learn how to put your love and effort into the positivity that is miniatures.  Life is tricky but it begets art.  It especially  begets miniatures which cut life down to size, in the process taking the edges off and beautifying all that is, with skill, which can be learned and eventually makes heirlooms, even  out of the recycling.

A lovely location, lovely people, lovely miniatures, a lovely weekend.  Best of all it will all happen again at Stoneleigh on the 18th and 19th of March 2023.

Wherever you are in the country, if you can access the railway, you can be there.  The nearest stations are Warwick or Leamington, either only ten minutes by taxi from the NAEC.

Once I’ve got rid of Covid I will visit a taxi rank and find out how much.  Ticket information as always at www.miniatura.co.uk

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Autumn Min.

I am delighted to say that this time next week, I’ll be at Miniatura.  After all the sadness of the last few weeks we all could do with something as uplifting as Autumn Miniatura.  I have never failed, whether as exhibitor or visitor, to return from the Min cheered, enthused, with a head full of positivity and a bag full of little purchases.

I have new news (which is always the best kind) which you will already know if you receive Miniatura updates prior to the show. 

I have decided to bring back my 12th scale glass-eyed dolls.  I stopped doing them for numerous reasons, not least because there was so much competition from many makers producing craft products from commercially available moulds, in a vast range of materials.  There is nothing wrong with this at all but I felt at one point when enough visitors had asked me which moulds I used or what brand of polymer clay, that it was time for a break.

My porcelain dolls in all scales are produced by me from my original sculptures which I turn into my own plaster of Paris moulds by a lengthy process. I then refine the castings, fire them in  my kiln, scrub them, china paint them, re-fire them, assemble them and dress them.  I pour and fire many parts of dolls at once but there is kiln wastage attached; the finer the porcelain, the more subtle the joints, the more there is to go wrong in the kiln.

When I first found miniatures I was desperate for a lovely porcelain doll to dress.  I actually wanted a glass-eyed porcelain doll, but there were none, which is why I started making them.  At first these had an attached turning head, for which I worked out a new way of jointing, but half arms and legs that were wired during assembly and covered in chammy leather.  I was offering these for sale with a cork pate covering the hole in the top of the head through which I inserted and plastered the glass eyes.  It took a while to find the excellent eye maker who could make hollow blown glass eyes for me, which the light enters and comes out of, so the doll appears to be looking at you.  He was beyond the old Iron curtain but we formed a friendship.  Sadly he is no more.  All I can get now are solid glass eyes which are not the same, and cost £9 a pair, which will make £45 glass-eyed miniature dolls a thing of the past.  I have a stockpile of the hollow eyes, which will not last forever.  If a doll looks at you and you fall in love, you should get it; that handmade doll with those handmade eyes is a one-off.

As I was charging ludicrously small amounts for finished dolls, which could take up to a week each to make, I quickly found doll collectors eager to join in.  There were, however, two sticking points.  If you are dressing a doll it is much easier to dress the doll before you make the wig.  Keen doll dressers are not naturally wig experts, I discovered.  The other problem was the time one.  Visitors started turning up at the Min to apologise that they hadn’t got round to doing anything with the doll they had bought at the last show, which was living, bald, in a paper bag.

The next couple of decades, I learned and evolved until I could make this:

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she is an internally jointed, glass-eyed doll with brushable hair, whose hair can be brushed, just like yours, after you have dressed her, but because of the all-porcelain jointing, looks just as good sitting on a bed, if you never get round to the dressing.

Yes, just like any miniaturist, the dolls are sitting on the bed, half undressed at three in the morning, wondering whether to go back downstairs and finish gluing the architraves now, or to turn in and get an early start in the morning.  (When we will find that we left the top off the glue pot again and it has gone rock solid overnight, so we’re going to have to do glue shopping first anyway.)

Authentic, see?  Here are some more people who will be going with me.

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All era underwear, as you can see.  Some with eyelashes, as you can also see.

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And some dressed people, like this Tudor toddler.

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Or this 1950s spiv.

And, of course, all the smaller scales, as always.

But mostly plenty of dolls to dress, or leave, depending.  Just what I wanted myself when I first started miniaturising, nearly forty years ago.

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Drop dead gorgeous, I wish I still was, on the other hand, despite all recent happenings, I have not dropped dead (though it was a close call) and I will be at the Min and that is gorgeous.

See you there.

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www.miniatura.co.uk

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The new normal.

When something as momentous as the death of a woman known all over the planet, just as ‘The Queen’, happens we can be shocked and disoriented for quite some time.

Like most of the rest of the nation, I was glued to the television yesterday, watching the state funeral of the Queen.  Like any watcher I was in awe of the arrangements made, the precision with which they were carried out, the solemnity of the occasion, the strength of the coffin bearers, the dignity of the royal family and the distance and pace at which elderly people were required to walk publicly.

Every moment had been planned for years.  The OH was in on Operation London Bridge when he was County Emergency Planning officer, well over twenty years ago.  Nobody knew, when the event was first planned, how old the participants would be.  Numerous naval ratings must have undergone training to pull the gun carriage, moved up through the ranks and retired, since they were first aware of their allotted task.

It is only a fortnight ago today that the Queen appointed the new Prime Minister and her appearance of fragility gave concern; in two days she will only have been gone a fortnight, no wonder we are shocked.

People who had met the Queen have been vociferous in their admiration of her humanity, compassion, and all-round ability to put people at their ease and bring out the best in everyone.

It is far too soon to be able to assess what her reign achieved, but we can look at the Commonwealth to know for certain what she valued.

The Commonwealth of Nations, started in 1949 with just eight countries, has grown to 52 members with the shared goals of prosperity, democracy and peace.  The Queen’s known attitude of setting great store by the Commonwealth has been instrumental in growing the institution, initially by her Christmas broadcast of 1953 in which she referred to a new concept built on the highest qualities in the spirit of mankind: friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace.

The countries involved had been those who, in Victoria’s reign, had been the vast swathes of pink on the map.  These were definitely subjects of the British Empire.  When this was dismantled, because the Queen’s father had such ill health and died so young, it was up to the new young Queen to ignore the new arrangements or to lead the way.  She chose to pick up the ball and run with it.  New countries are joining all the time, as equal member states, a great force for peace and progress on the planet.

Only someone who personally made it her business to meet so many ordinary people and so many politicians round the world could recognise our commonality in such a way as to elevate it and celebrate the positivity and good in everyone.  In post war 1949, this was forward looking, radical and different.  History is stiff with ruled and rulers, nobs above and serfs below.  It took a woman to promote publicly that we, individuals, are all the same, no matter what our colour, creed, or class and to recognise that this is a strength, not a weakness.

Part of the equality is that the head of the organisation is not automatically the monarch of the UK.  King Charles is the next head because he has been agreed upon.  Neither are all states guaranteed membership for all time.  Membership can be revoked or suspended for human rights abuses, racial abuse, loss of democracy and various other arrangements that go against the general aims of the organisation.

Of course the Commonwealth would exist without the involvement of the Queen.  Winston Churchill was instrumental in the formation and headed the first meeting in 1944.  But there is no organisation which does not benefit from a photogenic and charismatic young woman, who is prepared to travel anywhere to shake the hand of anyone with an aim of peace and progress.  She started as she continued, was seen anywhere and talked to anyone.

A person who uses seventy years in the job to make and cement friendships with millions of like-minded ordinary people and their democratically elected leaders, has used history to the advantage of the nations of the world.  I think this will be a significant part of her great legacy.

But what of us?  The world is strange and new, no one knows yet what the new normal will be.  We face a very cold winter, with scarcity of fuel, a new, untried government, war in various areas, flooding brought about by rising sea levels and climate change.  What can we do?

In the Queen’s first televised Christmas broadcast in 1957, she tells us not to be afraid of the future and speaks of upright honesty.  It is worth watching to see how she nailed her colours to the mast from the beginning.  Perhaps we can look forward, unafraid but full of hope and the conviction of positivity.

Whatever happens there is no doubt that the future will unfold one day at a time, in the usual way, as we ease into the new normal.  All you can ever do, is to do your best and live each day with humour and grace and kindness to all, in the spirit of the seventy year example we have been set.

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More thoughts about the Queen.

Like me, perhaps you cannot stop thinking about our late Queen, Elizabeth the Second.

It may be only now that we have lost her that we can see, in retrospect, just how singular she was.

The First Queen Elizabeth was a singular monarch too, but she survived by keeping people at their distance and by referring to herself as a man.  In her speech at Tilbury she said she had the body of a weak and feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king.  Here in Warwick, in our great collegiate church we have the tomb of her would-be swain, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was not only rejected by her, she wouldn’t even let him be entombed in any of the great London churches.  She survived by chopping heads off her enemies, staying one step ahead of everyone and generally being as fearsomely impressive as possible.

Queen Anne spent most of her decade on the throne having children, who all died, poor soul.  She had seventeen children and terrible health, perhaps the two facts are not unconnected.  Her reign saw the Act of Union of Scotland and England, previously separate kingdoms.

Queen Victoria, great grandmother to our Queen Elizabeth, also spent a lot of time pregnant.  She had nine children, who all survived, which was unusual for the time.  She was interested in Statecraft by private means and attempted to influence Parliament, which did not always go down well.  She was only eighteen when she came to the throne and, reigning sixty-three years, also had a Golden Jubilee and a Diamond Jubilee.  When her spouse, her cousin, Albert, died very young she went into prolonged mourning in Scotland, refusing to return to London to do a bit of reigning.  She went into seclusion for five years, subsequently forming a very iffy relationship with John Brown, a highlander, who was often squiffy and referred to her as ‘woman’.  She did, however, reform the army, in which higher positions had previously been for sale.

Our Queen Elizabeth also came to the throne very young, she was only twenty-five.  When I think of myself at twenty-five, I was an idiot.  The Queen referring to the vow she had made at twenty-one to serve us all her days, said it had been made ‘in her salad days, when she was green in judgement,’  which is a quote from Cleopatra’s Shakespearian speech from Antony and Cleopatra.

Unlike the first Queen Elizabeth, from the very start our Queen made,  she was visible, relatable and present, all round the world.  Like all the previous queens of these sceptered isles, she was a woman and a small one at that, in an age when large men ruled the world in general.  She did not attempt to rule by fear, by seeming larger than she was, or by being anything other than herself.  On the contrary, she did not rule, she was of service, as promised.

She was famously ordinary.  We all know she kept her breakfast cereals in Tupperware.  We know she fed her dogs herself and we know they got budget supermarket dog food.  We know that at grand dinners she had learned to eat very slowly, because you can’t start eating before the monarch and you can’t keep on troughing once the monarch has laid down their knife and fork.  She was always served first, of course, and must have enjoyed a lifetime of tepid posh dinners.

We have never heard her complain about Buckingham Palace, even though we know it is draughty, leaking, has dodgy plumbing and is full of rats, which her mother, in the war years, used as target practice in case we got invaded.

As you know from my last posting she had good manners.  If you sent her a letter, you got a reply.  Countless stories are surfacing now of people who met her and said she made them feel important, she knew all about them.

Unless it was a sad occasion, we saw the Queen smiling.  She had a radiant smile, which was kept switched on.  She must sometimes have been bored.  You have to ask yourself how many native dances you could endure and still look interested.  How many troops could you review, who are, after all, identical lines of soldiers.  How many ships could you launch, centres you could open, sporting events you could attend and visiting dignitaries you could greet without thinking : Good grief!  Another one!

Yet the Queen was always interested and I don’t think I ever once saw her yawning.  How do you do that?

Unlike Queen Anne, if the Queen ever had a poorly day, we never knew it.  She must have had toothache at some time.  Everyone does.  We know she avoided sea food at banquets in case, but she must have had gippy tummy at some point, everyone does.

We also know, like every other person on the planet, she had some questionable family members.  Her grandmother, Queen Mary of the dolls’ house was famously difficult; there are no photographs of her smiling.  Collectors know Queen Mary was prone to admiring items at doll shows, so that you had to give her the item she had admired.  Our queen only ever encouraged flowers of which there must have been thousands, if not millions throughout her reign, but she looked delighted at every squashed bunch of daises from every child giving a wobbly curtsey as if they were the first flowers she had ever seen.

Her husband, who was known to be flighty in his earlier years, was famous for making off-colour remarks, but she never joined in, never publicly reprimanded him.  Her mother was known for having ordered picnics with a full set table and champagne at a moment’s notice, whereas the Queen was known for a DIY barbeque, bring your own sandwiches.

Her sister, who struggled with not being the monarch, took refuge in all sorts on her own private island, and a glass or several.  We only ever heard the Queen support her sister, no matter how difficult the sister was being.

The same courtesy was extended to her own children who are as variable as children can be.  They did all the all the things that make you wince such as divorces and attendant publicity but, if she had an opinion, we never heard what it was.

Stories are now surfacing of her contact with politicians.  Everyone says how understanding and kind she has been.  All the Prime Ministers laud her wisdom and her help in the weekly audiences.  She has undoubtedly been our greatest diplomat, and the apolitical, experienced oil we, as a nation, could always pour on troubled waters.

The Queen did it famously when she shook hands with Martin McGuinness, who had been a commander of the IRA who murdered her second cousin, Louis Mountbatten, Prince Philp’s uncle, who had been a much loved uncle and mentor to the then Prince Charles.

Her example of forgiveness, humility, putting others first, humanity, and loving kindness is both a reason to mourn her passing and to rejoice in her life and all she gave us.

This interim between her death and the State funeral is a time for reflection and immense gratitude that the girl who gave the promise when she was only twenty-one, lived up to it her whole life.

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