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.

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*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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Cramming.

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.

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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

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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

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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.

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There’s a lot of information at www.miniatura.co.uk  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 www.miniatura.co.uk 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.

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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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The 99th Miniatura.

I have been exhibiting at Miniatura for over thirty years and, as I started writing for magazines very soon after I began exhibiting, I’ve been reporting Miniatura for nearly thirty years.

I have interviewed artisans, I have reported on what it’s like to be an exhibitor, I’ve told you about the hall, the set-up, what I am taking, I’ve done adverts here for what other exhibitors were taking, when it was something new and they didn’t want you to miss it.  I’ve liaised with the management, with magazine editors, with photographers and, on several occasions, been a photographer.  I encouraged an exhibitor to make the smallest teddy bear in the world and then found a reporter to get it into the London Times newspaper (who had to buy a special lens to photograph it.)  I have had drivers, helpers and done the show on my own.

I’ve seen the show when it was at Birmingham cricket ground, exhibited at the National Exhibition Centre, the cricket ground in Edinburgh, the Scottish National Exhibition Centre and a theatre on Sauchiehall Street, Edinburgh.

And this last show was the 99th show at which I did something at the show which I have never done before.

No, it was not have a quick kip under the table, (though I did know a family of exhibitors, where the dad, who was the driver, from a long way away after a busy working week, did just that.)  Most of us just keep bags under the table.

If you look at the title of this column, you might guess.  This was the 99th Miniatura which means that the next one will be the 100th Miniatura.  I am doing something very special for the 100th Miniatura, so, to tell people what that will be, I designed leaflets to give away at the show.

The thing that I did this time that I have never done before, a lot, was to talk to the visitors about the show.  Numbers have gone up and down, especially round the aftermath of the pandemic, but the show now seems to be attracting a steady round about two thousand visitors over the weekend.  I think I printed off four lots of 50 leaflets and gave away over three quarters of them, which means that I talked to nearly one sixth of the visitors to the show.

And I listened to those visitors to the show, who all had plenty to say, and questions to ask.  Here, following, are some of the Miniatura facts which visitors did not know or were unsure about.

The first fact is that it was the 99th show, run by the same family, since the beginning.  This is highly unusual.  Shows of all sorts are businesses. Successful businesses (in which class we would include any show getting to 99) are sold on to the next owner, who runs them for profit.  As I said to over 300 people, Miniatura was not founded to make money, it was founded to make an affordable place in the Midlands for makers in miniature to meet their collectors, or, as the motto of the show has it, for miniaturists, by miniaturists.  Not for money, for us.

The second really important fact is that you cannot just pay for an exhibition table and show up.  Exhibitors, who are selected, have to be of a certain standard to have a chance of getting in.  As you learned a couple of blogs ago, the organisers do not make the exhibitors pay through the nose.  The outcome of this policy is a preponderance of original artisans and a fair number of exclusive artisans who you cannot find anywhere else.  Artisans here meaning people who can get an original idea out of their head and on to the table, in miniature, using whatever medium they are choosing to work in.  And because they are not forking out for very expensive hotels or paying exorbitant table fees they can afford to charge modest sums for their work, which means you have a chance of being able to collect it. Artists, as I’m sure you know, simply will not be told.  They do one, then they have a better idea and do a different one, then a better idea and do an even better one.  They do not work like machines, it’s mind to fingertips, every time, reasonably priced.

This makes the show a collector’s paradise, and neatly explains what happens when  the doors open. Miniaturists run wild and free to the exhibitor they love, to see what has been produced and buy it before anyone else gets a look-in.

This, of course, is one of the great benefits of the hobby.  The end result is a dolls’ house, or collection of miniatures, unlike any other in the world, yours alone and about as heirloomy as you can get.  When  you get a show that doesn’t just favour that, but encourages it, that, as really hundreds of people told me ‘is what makes Miniatura different.’  ‘You never,’ a lady told me,  ‘get tables the same next to each other, and they’re all different from stuff you see anywhere else.’

One of the problems a few visitors still seemed to have was getting to the show by public transport.  If you go to the Miniatura website here www.miniatura.co.uk  click on ‘next show’ and scroll down to ‘getting to the show’ there is lots of information and even a video about the shuttle bus from Coventry rail station.  The chap at the end who says ‘Welcome to Miniatura’ is Andy Hopwood, who runs the show.  His mother started Miniatura after exhibiting (she is a potter) at expensive venues and the reverse, in tents.  She realised we needed to be somewhere that didn’t cost the earth, was easy to get to, easy to visit and a wonderful place to exhibit (if you were good enough).  The first few shows covered their costs and left enough for a takeaway meal and that was it.  There are rumours that Muriel Hopwood, who invented Miniatura, will be there at the 100th, though she has retired now.

While you are on the Miniatura website, scroll down from the ‘contact Miniatura’ section and add your name to the email updates.  The next show will be the 100th, many exhibitors will be doing special things, not just because we all love Miniatura but because I don’t think there has ever been a one hundredth miniatures show run by the same family from the beginning.  As the special things are announced they will appear as news in the email updates. I think they will be good because the show itself just gets better and better.  You can tell this by the number of previous exhibitors, long retired, who still come to the show as visitors. I am not surprised, on the occasion that I was unable to exhibit, just after I had broken the first arm, I was a visitor who staggered round the show saying ‘Crikey this is good!’ every five minutes.

At the 99th show it was very interesting talking to visitors, I was surprised that some people didn’t know who was running the show (Andy, he’s in a video on the website), or how long it had been going, or that getting in to exhibit was satisfyingly difficult. If you are a Miniatura exhibitor, that says something about you.  As a visitor you know your time will never be wasted, as one visitor remarked, after being told of entrance requirements for exhibitors – ‘Well that explains it, I thought it was good!’

And it is. It is so good that some exhibitors will be doing special things for the 100th show in the autumn.

What I will be doing is

oh dear, I’ve run out of room.  Next time…

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Nearly…

It is normal, no matter how soon I start working for a show, for some people to get left on the table.

This time it’s going to be the dolls’ dolls.  I want to make dolls’ dolls through the ages, so, rather than rushing the dolls you saw through the dressing, I’m going to save them for the next show, when I hope to have some other, older type dolls’ dolls to join them.

Versailles took up a lot of time.  It was a place where they were very good at wasting time.  Here they all are, having a bit of a dance.

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That was yesterday, today they are packed in slightly Versailles ready to go. 

I am finishing off some requests.  I have worked this way for a number of years.  At the show, if you are a visitor and don’t see, on my stand, the doll you want, but like my style (which has always been innocent and dolly, for me the dolls’ house has always been the place where the dolls live), you can make a request which I will write down.  I will then turn up at the next show with a selection to choose from.  There is no obligation but this circumvents the difficulty of getting exactly what you want out of your head into my head.

Now I am finishing some men to work in a garage, which was a request.  Interesting, if my garage is anything to go by, there’s less working and more taking a video to see what else they can get me to change or update.  Nevertheless men for a garage are being dressed.  And they are quite nice men, not oily or anything.  I do see that other miniaturists do gritty realism really well but it’s never been my thing, I think there’s enough gritty realism in life in One scale.  In twelfth, twenty-fourth and forty eighth, I like pretty.  I like everyone happy, ideally dancing.

This is the dolls’ house, where, unlike life, you call the shots, decide on the décor and arrange every last little thing to your liking.

Incidentally, I have (maybe) joined the twenty-first century and invested in a card reader, so you can pay me at the show with a bank card, for the first time, (providing I can make it work.) I also accept money and cheques drawn on a British bank.

If you have not yet got your ticket but are planning to go on Saturday please visit the Miniatura website now to get one.  Visitor numbers are limited by the venue for safety reasons and the numbers already ticketed for Saturday are getting perilously close to the total.  Sunday is usually more relaxed and you can appear at the door and pay.  All the details are at www.miniatura.co.uk

I am at the back of the hall this time, on a corner. Tomorrow I’ll set up and on Saturday I, the aristos, all the twelfth scale glass eyed dolls, the articulated ten piece, twenty-fourth scale, the bendy forty-eighth and the jointed forty-eighth to dress and dressed, and the pictures and the ornaments and the dragons and anything else I can shoe horn on to the table up to nearly a thousand porcelain, original artist miniatures

will see you there!

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How to be the most important person in a hall.

Three days to go to the 99th Miniatura.  It is quite something for a dolls’ house show to be run by the same family for 99 shows.  What usually happens with a show as successful as Miniatura is that it gets sold on because it has been good at making money.  You will notice that some dolls’ house shows are very expensive to get to and can be quite costly to get into as well.  In some places the parking would cost you dearly for a whole day and no one can ‘do’ a whole dolls’ house show in an hour.  There are over 100 stands at the 99th Miniatura, which, if you expanded all the exhibits to full size would be like visiting all the shops in a big town centre in an hour, absolutely impossible.

Additionally there are plenty of shows where all you have to do if you wish to be an exhibitor is to pay the table fee and show up.  In the early days of the current flowering of the hobby, I visited a few of those, they were full of tables with identical stock, all mass-produced factory imports.  There is nothing wrong with factory made miniatures but by the fifth table of exactly the same thing you begin to hate them and the way they are wasting your time.

Miniatura was founded by miniaturists for miniaturists, in fact, that’s the motto of the show, which it has stuck to unfailingly.  If you want to be an exhibitor you have to submit your goods and be assessed and be good enough; if you’re not you won’t get in.  This also extends to a very few, different stands of mass-produced miniatures at very reasonable prices because the show has always welcomed the next generation of miniaturists at pocket money prices.  (And the last generation; in the early days, as a visitor, I went without dinners for weeks to save up enough to spend at the show. And quickly learned to avoid the shows where all I could afford was a look.  The whole point of a show is going home with a  glorious handful of little bags.)

So every table at the show has been hand-picked to be the best of its kind, which means that you never waste a second of your time, every table has something different and there has always been a preponderance of original artisans working in miniature making their own collectables from their own designs and inspirations.  Yet there are many items that anyone can afford.  I haven’t yet met the miniaturist who is rich enough to buy something from every table, I certainly couldn’t even though I might want to.  I rarely escape from my table these days because I’m doing the show on my own, but in the days when I abandoned my table to a helper, in order to see the show and report it for magazines, I don’t think I ever  found a table which was not interesting.  There is never anything boring or samey because it’s Miniatura, every exhibit has been chosen to be by miniaturists for miniaturists.  If you are a visitor this weekend has been designed and put together for you.  In fact, I would say, if you are a visitor, you are the most important person  in the hall, because, without you, no show.

Yet it is very reasonable to get in to the show and compared with family outings at the weekend to fairs, castles, stately houses and the like, a positive bargain.  And the parking is my favourite price – it’s free!  And it’s right next to the hall, no steps, no trek.

So why, if it is so fabulous (and it is) hasn’t the family who run it sold it to the highest bidder?  Because it hasn’t been made to make loads-a-money.  Some years ago when the hobby was burgeoning, would-be exhibitors used to beg the organisers to let them have a table at any price.  They were turned down; the show is not about making huge amounts of money by cramming in  dozens of dealers. The cost of a table is reasonable compared to other International fairs because the show is not about the organisers skinning the exhibitors so their costs are covered and they’re making money before the show opens (and some shows are, or have been, I can tell you) it’s about miniaturists.  In fact it’s by miniaturists for miniaturists.

It’s for you, it’s for me, it’s for us and always has been.  Something wonderful, something we could have a go at, something touching, something funny, something you could learn to do, something fantastic, for the 99th time.  I exhibit there and nowhere else – this is the show that has absolutely got it.  What we want and need. It is very classy, top class tiny stuff.

Among other things, I am taking this:

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It’s just a little box of Versailles, (prior to the unpleasantness.)

Another picture tomorrow, if I get a minute.

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All you need to know about the show can be found at www.miniatura.co.uk

It’s a very nice show and a lovely day or weekend out – for miniaturists, you know. (By miniaturists.  It’s for us. For the 99th incredible time.)

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Breeches.

Deep in the middle of doll dressing, I ponder, not just for the first time, how very difficult breeches are to make for a small doll.  All my clothing patterns are my own, worked out from numerous trips to costume museums all around the country.  There used to be both a costume museum and a doll museum here, but they have closed for various reasons.  Fortunately I paid attention while they were open.

There’s a great costume museum in Bath, where visitors in years past, going to sample the health-giving properties of the waters, found themselves in difficulties (anti-biotics not having been invented) and died;  water not being much of a cure for anything except dirt.  Their grieving relatives who had accompanied the invalids, promptly recouped some of the cost of the expensive and futile trip by selling their fashionable clothes.  There’s some great stuff including quite a few leather corsets, famous for not wearing out, therefore worn for many, many years, decades, certainly, and probably able to walk between the show cabinets on their own.

Breeches as a male garment (though females did wear them for sporting occasions at different times) are really tricky to make a pattern for, even if you have seen a lot of them.  They first began at the end of the seventeenth century when they were so massive they had to be gathered round the waist.  They continued to go in and out and up and down at the waist right through the eighteenth century and even into the nineteenth when they were still the only acceptable court dress.  They were supplanted by what we would recognise as a modern trouser by the Victorians, which was worn very un-ironed, possibly as a reaction to the extremely tight breeches of the late eighteenth century.  There is a photograph of Charles Dickens on one of his lecture tours, wearing a pair of trousers that look as if he has had a battle with them, probably through a hedge, backwards.

The late eighteenth century breeches were so tight that the fall front was a popular fashion for a long time.  These enabled the wearer to attend to the sudden call of nature, whether down the stairs at Versailles, into a receptacle kept in the side board, (so he didn’t have to stop dining for long) (maybe still with a fork in one hand) or in the alley behind the coaching inn, without having to struggle out of a skin-tight garment.  How convenient.

But the fall front, so easy for the eighteenth century wearer, is an absolute so and so to make in miniature.  And, even though I sew them up, they are still made to fall.

I set hoops for myself to jump through, I really do.

Breeches, of course are still around in numerous locations as court dress for assorted servants, lower orders and butlers.

In the history of costume we find that fashion begins with the it crowd, whoever they are at the time, and then moves down through the ranks until, many years after the garment was first fashionable, the servant classes have adopted (or been forced into) the item as uniform.  This does make one wonder if, could we jump forward two hundred years, we would be welcomed into palaces by people in torn jeans and ripped tee-shirts.  Slightly horrific but quite a gift to doll dressers.

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The dolls will be going with me next weekend to the 99th Miniatura details:  www.miniatura.co.uk

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Realistic.

I have been working some very late night shifts, dressing the ladies of Versailles.  They are the ladies of the court prior to the French Revolution, when all was grace and elegance and nobody knew what was going to happen next.

In the course of the run-up to Miniatura my work table gets a bit dreadful.

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I used to work on the dining table, which was quite large before the OH destroyed it and cut the end off.  There was plenty of room for all the boxes of material.  There are thirty-one years worth of saved boxes of doll dressing material, which can stretch as far as the eye can see, or, as far as the end of the dining table, which, when I used to take my contact lenses out to work, was exactly the same thing.

Now, in my craft room, designed by me with floor to ceiling windows, like the windows of eighteenth century weaver’s cottages, for the light, I can see beautifully, but the room is not big enough for the dining table.  We are still dining on the dining table, downstairs.  I was going to buy a wipeable table for the craft room but had just inherited an eighteenth century folding card table.  This stood, folded, in my parents’ dining room, by the window, with a very small television on it.  As everyone knows, it is very rude, verging on common, to watch television at the dining table, which is the correct place for polite exchange of news and views, though not with your mouth full and your elbows on the table.  So, if you are going to have a television in there it had better be a small one and not on a proper television table, that would acknowledge its presence.  This is why they used an eighteenth century folding card table, I suspect bought to sell in the antique shop.  However it would not sell well because the unfolded table, which may well have stood, folded, in the sunshine since the eighteenth century, is a completely different colour on the inside.

However, in my craft room it can be unfolded and fit a small space to craft in and be folded so the room can be an overflow bedroom with a bed in it when the entire family arrive to stay.  And, anyway, it’s me, I’d far rather have a wonky faded ancient card table to work on as a modern work table, no matter how purpose-built.  People have been doing thinking at this table for about two hundred and fifty years, the table knows when you sit down, you mean business.

Very appropriately I have been dressing eighteenth century for weeks, in twenty-fourth scale.  I do love dressing the twenty-fourth articulated porcelain dolls, and currently, in the manner of Versailles, before it all went horribly wrong.  Therefore I have been up till very late having my kind of fun.  But. just like the aristocracy, it is possible to have too much fun.  Last night at half past eleven I was trying to jam a diamond necklace over the head of an aristocrat, in the normal way, and

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her head came off!

Shocktrick shocks!  I had not intended the revolution to start yet!

The ladies of the court, needless to say, were utterly horrified.

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Fainting occurred (on those without doll stands.  Those with doll stands didn’t have the opportunity, their feet are fastened to the floor.) They calmed down once I stood them all up again. That’s because they don’t know yet that they are up for the tumbril to Miniatura, where they will be sold, not even to the highest bidder but for a fixed price (£25) for aristocrats!  Each!  What is the world coming to (Miniatura, in a fortnight www.miniatura.co.uk ) Zut alors!  Mon Dieu! Blimey!

Back to the eighteenth century for me, see you there.

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Reprieve.

I am happy to say that the brain scan for the OH concluded that he was having a migraine and nothing worse showed up.  I think he has got off lightly and I think it was a warning and have said so.

And now I can turn my attention to where it should have been exclusively for the last two days and get on with dressing twenty-fourth scale dolls, which is a thing I really enjoy.  Well, I do but still have to take a run up to it.  I find that, as with most creative undertakings, you need to be doing it for a while until you get into the zone and the ideas start arriving.  Warming up is not just for sports people.

Did Michelangelo do a few ceilings in anaglypta and a couple of coats of magnolia first?  Did Barbara Hepworth round off a few rocks before she thought of putting a hole in them?  Did Franz Hals do a few grumpy cavaliers in a greyish vest before he told the model a joke and got him to pop a frilly coat on?

We may never know but I’ll tell you for posterity (if it has any interest at all, which I doubt) that I take a couple of OK dolls to rev up to much better and a few uninterrupted days sewing before I get really creative and start dreaming of outfits and fabrics.

It’s just the way my brain works.  I still wake up with entire poems in my head, fifty eight years after that first started happening.  Brains are amazing.  You are your brain.  You need to keep it hydrated, give it the good food building blocks, and get plenty of sleep and exercise to get the blood and nutrients rushing through it.

You should love your brain and be kind to it, which does not include sitting in a chair gawping at TV while shovelling in sugar or alcohol by the hour, the day, the year or the life.  There was a children’s TV programme called Why Don’t You (just switch off your television and go and do something less boring instead?) which started in the seventies. This was as good an idea as the programme in the fifties called All Your Own, in which children demonstrated what they had learned to do with the TV off.  I always envied the violinists.  An old violin came into the house but I only had a little go before it was whisked away, traded up for a better antique.  It had some writing on it: Stradi something or other?

I still have a big block of stone in the garden awaiting a chisel.  Fortunately now I am ambidextrous, so if hitting the chisel in my right hand hurts the metal in the shoulder I can swap it to my left.  After the Min, with a following wind and some sunshine I will get busy.

Though I have had ideas for new dolls for the autumn and kits, all in twenty-fourth.

I could have been telling you that I was about to become a carer again; I think I’ve done enough of that. I think I’ve had a reprieve.

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A distraction.

If I say I am working flat out getting ready for Miniatura, for some reason there will be a distraction.  Merely the act of mentioning how busy I am seems to invoke Loki the joker, who will toss his card in the mix ensuring you get a tricky hand.

Yesterday it was the OH, complaining for the umpteenth time about his skin.  The excessive dryness and itchiness of his skin he has ascribed to the humidity level in the lounge and the new carpet.  He found a site on his phone that suggested humidity levels in the house should be at fifty percent.  It didn’t say at which percent you would have to develop webbed feet.

There was a list of other symptoms, he complained of loudly, and then I shouted at him if he was worried, to do something, instead of endlessly telling me how stupid I am when I ascribe his classic symptoms to alcohol ingestion.  I went upstairs and started working but shortly he appeared at the door saying he had rung the NHS advice line, whose advice had been to get me to take him to the hospital at once.  So I did.  After a battery of tests he returned home very pleased that nothing abnormal had been detected. See!  See! What am I worrying about!

There has just been a phone call offering him a brain scan this afternoon.  I will not be able to take him, he’ll have to walk up the hill or find a space in the car park himself, because I have an appointment to pick up my driving spectacles.  I am not being cruel, I have had a few scans, including brain.  It is not difficult.  You take off metal, you lie on the bed, they inject you, the machine goes backward and forward, you get up, you get dressed, you go home or back to the ward.  By the third go you arrive in stretchy leggings and underwear with no metal anywhere, which speeds things up considerably.

I know many readers (hello) are drawn here in fellow feeling, who are carers of one sort or another.  Living with someone with a difficult condition, whether it is acknowledged or not and however slight or otherwise the caring role, is not easy and never convenient.  No one is ever overtaken by disease at a time when there is little else to do.  The trip to the hospital has never arrived as a sudden distraction from boredom.

Sudden distraction from work, yes, all the time.  Inconvenient for everyone else, always.  Something that could have been prevented from becoming a drama by action thirteen years ago when tendencies were first noted, absolutely.

I’ll keep you posted.  All things being equal I have a lovely twenty-fourth scale assembly of residents of Versailles to show you.  Yes they were living the high life, yes there was glamour and cocktails and all-night games of cards.  Yes the end of the eighteenth century in France was as OTT as OTT can get.  They didn’t even have to go to the pub, there were butlers with bottles absolutely everywhere and a massive marble staircase that people used to wee down while waiting for an audience.  (I know, visited as a teenager with the French family I stayed with, in the sixties.  They had definitely mopped it up by then, the staircase is huge, as waterfalls go it must have been impressive.)  (And damp.)

But we all know what happened next.

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