Saturday, 12 May 2018

Sasha Celebration Weekend 2018 - what a Muppet

The theme for this year's main competition display at the Sasha Celebration Weekend was 'on the red carpet', in other words dress up as if attending the Oscars to hopefully receive an award.  There were the usual Oscar categories for entries, however we dreamed up something a little different - after all, those famous characters arriving in their best bib and tucker needed a fanfare to serenade their important arrivals! So I asked Janet if we could provide a small fanfare band rather than stick to the categories and she was very happy to allow this idea, especially as our Sasha dolls have musical instruments.

I wanted to provide a trumpeter in his best tailcoat.  Mary R decided to join us with her beautiful NP doll playing the flute and wearing a gorgeous elegant dress.  So far so proper and upright for a dignified fanfare.  However you cannot have a fanfare without some drums and it didn't take a giant leap of imagination for my younger daughter and I to brainstorm the outrage of a toddler getting in on the act and subverting the whole piece by being the drummer - in character of course - none other than Animal from The Muppets!

How to make Edmund look like Animal was the next challenge.  We looked at plenty of photos and some hilarious videos (Animal duelling with other famous drummers who had come on as guests of The Muppets).  My younger daughter had just learned how to crochet and I suggested she return to Lorraine's hat pattern from the first SCW (she had not got very far with it during that craft workshop).  She constructed a crochet helmet for Edmund including a chin strap in both the base red colour as well as a strip of black crochet for inside his lower lip. She also crocheted a ridge of black to form a base for his eyebrows.

Edmund wearing the basic crochet helmet with his proud owner who was just fastening off the chin strap
Then she sewed on a large round red wooden bead for his nose (just above his little face peeping through the mouth opening) and glued on some white felt circles into which she had glued some wobbly plastic eyes. She made a row of white teeth of felt and glued that onto the black row of his lower lip. Suddenly the red helmet started to look something like the character she was creating.

Sewing on the nose

Making sure the nose was securely stitched onto the helmet

Finishing the nose sewing

Nose in place and the chin strap with the black band for inside the mouth

Eyes, eyebrows and teeth in place, adding the first of the shaggy hair
Next came the most time consuming part - lots of lengths of coloured wool was hooked into the helmet (rag rug style) all over his head.  This meant cutting hundreds of pieces of wool, folding them in half and using the crochet hook to loop them through the holes in his helmet (the texture of crochet provides natural holes, ideal for this purpose).  She used a few strands of carefully placed black wool to emphasize his wild eyebrows.  She used the same thick red wool as the helmet for some strands but thinner, 4 ply variegated colour wool for the bulk of his mad hair - the colour shades included coppery orange and deep reds.

Hard at work making Animal hairy

Looping through the next piece of wool as Animal starts to look like his wild self
She made his simple top and trousers and we had plenty of large link chain in the workshop to provide Animal's tether.  My elder daughter looked at lots of pictures of the Muppet drum sets, many of them said Dr Teeth (because it was the band name) but I wanted the drum to have 'The Muppets' on it, so she designed a good combination of the two. I printed this out on card (she had designed it on her ipad) and fitted it on the largest drum of the desktop drum kit.  I made a stand to turn this drum into a bass rather than a snare drum out of thick wire and used two flexible camera tripods fitted into lolly sticks to hold the two smaller drums in the right position and height for snare drums (on the original layout they clipped onto the rim of the biggest drum, mounted on a stand which was too high for Edmund).  I made a wire stand to attach to the existing cymbal stand (which normally also clipped onto the biggest drum).  I gave the wire stands feet of orange clay to stop them scratching any table top they were placed on.  I made a couple of drumsticks out of bamboo skewers and beads for Edmund / Animal to hold.
Late night finishing of the back of Animal's head
Next we decided that the band needed its own red carpet and bunting, so I cut longer posts than we had used for the Happy Birthday banner at the 2017 festival and fitted them into the existing banner stand.  My younger daughter made simple bunting out of red cotton sheeting with the letters written on the bunting with felt tip pen.  I made a carpet out of the same red sheeting and carpet covers for the 3 doll stands.

The remodelled desk top drum kit with The Muppets on the bass drum and clay feet on the metal stands

The Fanfare band bunting
I decided that Reuben was honouring a famous jazz trumpeter who was also a movie star in High Society - Louis Armstrong. I designed the tailcoat using adapted pattern pieces I had previously used for the school blazers I made for the Summer School swap Lorraine organised a few years ago. I sewed a simple sleeveless white shirt to go under the tailcoat to provide a white collar, and some black trousers. 

Reuben needed to hold the trumpet, this was my next challenge.  Sasha doll hands are curved but are not designed to hold a heavy metal trumpet at the right angle for a fanfare.  So I used some clay to fill in his hands and pushed the trumpet onto the damp clay to get the best position and shape when his hands were held up (fortunately his stringing is good).  The clay dried, was painted brown and one piece was glued to the trumpet.  The 2 clay pieces were fitted back into his hands using blutak (I did not want to glue them to his hands) and when setting up the display the second piece of clay was glued to the other side of the trumpet to hold the hands closer together than they would normally naturally be (blutak failed after a while in that position in my earlier experiments, so it was better to use evostick glue for trumpet to clay joins).

Reuben holds up his left hand to show the painted blob of clay

Reuben holding the trumpet with his right hand

The right hand clay piece glued on the trumpet, with blutak for sticking it to his hand

Louis Armstrong and Animal warming up for the big Fanfare
Please note, these photos were taken before the SCW at home.  I'll do another blog post after the weekend with photos of the red carpet display and the band including its classy flautist.

Sasha Celebration weekend 2018 - preparing the craft kit

Every year at the Sasha Celebration Weekend (SCW) in Nottingham I have given a craft workshop on the Saturday morning alongside several others teaching a craft of some kind.  Mine have always been wooden toys for Sasha and Gregor dolls - 2015 was a miniature train engine, 2016 was a marionette bird, 2017 was a push-along duck and this year a counting toy - a traditional abacus.

I had thought of making an abacus a couple of years ago, then my younger daughter suggested it specifically for the SCW in 2018.  As always the challenge is to design something which would be relatively straightforward for people to make and appealing without the planning and preparation of 50 kits driving me insane with lots of parts to prepare.  So although some toys would be wonderful (such as the little wooden horse I made as part of my donation to the Children's fund auction at the 2017 Sasha Festival in the USA), it would be tedious to mass produce all the parts when there are lots of elements and processes before the kits can be bagged up with instructions for assembly.

I used as inspiration the abacus my children played with when they were small - a simple wooden frame with coloured beads mounted on 10 thick wires.  On a very small scale my early sketches and experiments with beads proved that a 10 row abacus would be impractical - I found some 5 row examples in pictures online and they are very effective.  At first I considered using wires but then decided that cutting and filing the sharp edges for 250+ wires would be incredibly time consuming, so I decided to use cocktail sticks instead.  This immediately limited the size of the abacus to, as it turned out, pretty much the right scale for the dolls (because of the length of cocktail sticks, trimmed slightly to remove the sharp points). 

I needed beads which would fit 10 in a row on a cocktail stick yet allow movement for counting, so discovered in my measurements that round ball beads would not fit, they needed to be round flat beads (I had some from another craft project, but not nearly enough).  So I purchased packets of mixed coloured flat round wooden beads - I needed 2,500 but had to buy more because some beads had clogged holes or had been misshapen or broken in manufacture, and some colours (especially yellow) I needed more of than others.  The packets had 7 different colours, I used 5 colours in each kit, in different combinations.
The original abacus and the various combinations of bead colours for the miniature versions

Then came the tedious business of filing out the holes of 2,500 beads - many of the beads had partially clogged holes (burrs of wood filled with the paint) so didn't slide easily on the cocktail sticks.  Years ago, as a young apprentice, I had bought a set of metal needle files as part of my toolkit and the fine round needle file was put to good use as I gradually filed and sorted the beads into colours.  This was a good job to do while watching DVDs or TV with the family when sitting at my computer desk (I tend to multi-task), I did them in small batches as gripping the small beads (which have edges unlike perfectly round beads) and the needle file eventually hardened the skin on my fingers and thumbs.

Filing out the holes in the beads using a needle file

My husband was a star - he did the wood cutting for the side pieces for each abacus.  I had designed the sides to be tapered like the full size example, which meant that it wasn't just strips of rectangular wood, but an angle on each piece!  He had lots of old maple floor boards in his wood stock so cut up a piece into strips then cut the strips into the right lengths, then set up an angle piece jig on his saw to cut the strips at an angle into a pair for each abacus.  He makes me nervous as he doesn't use a saw guard (he hasn't cut off any fingers yet as he is extremely careful but that doesn't stop me being anxious about it).  I still have vivid memories of visiting my father's workplace as a child, going into the big shop-fitting workshop with lots of power tools and seeing some workmen who previously had saw accidents, damaging their hands.

Sawing the abacus side pieces - cutting the angle to make pairs
Once all the pairs of wood were ready, I set up a jig for drilling the holes in the right positions.  It would have been very time consuming to measure them out individually, so I drilled one piece with holes all the way through and this was used as a guide piece in a jig (2 pieces of wood screwed to a base at the correct angle to grip the abacus pieces).  I put the piece to be drilled into the jig with the drilled out piece above it, all lined up, then drilled through both, though with the drill set to the right height so that the holes did not go all the way through the abacus side.  The other abacus side piece was drilled as a mirror of the first side.  I like drilling holes, which is just as well because for each side piece there were 6 holes (5 for the bead rows and one for the support bar) which totalled 600 holes for the 50 kits (in practice it was more than 600 because the dog chewed a few of the pieces and my husband had to make more!).

Drilling holes in the abacus side pieces

Abacus side pieces waiting to be drilled

Drilling through the guide piece into an abacus side piece beneath the guide, wedged between the jig pieces

Drilled pieces in pairs

All the pieces were sanded to remove saw marks (he hadn't planed the wood smooth) and the cocktail sticks had their tips removed (I used a chisel on a woodblock) - six cocktail sticks were needed for each abacus (300). 
Trimming the cocktail sticks and the trimmed sticks laid out on a sheet of paper
Then all the beads, cocktail sticks and side pieces were sorted into bags, along with the printed instructions, which I prepared once I had made up the prototype abacus and photographed each stage of assembly.

Kit of parts to make the miniature abacus

A bead layout for 5 rows, mixing up the colours a bit

Gluing the trimmed cocktail sticks into the holes on one side piece

Cocktail sticks ready for threading the beads

Beads threaded onto the cocktail sticks

Blobs of glue on the end of the cocktail sticks, ready for the other side piece to be fitted

The second side piece is glued onto the cocktail sticks

Excess glue wiped off, the completed abacus

Allowing the glue to dry with the beads clear of the sides

As a Sasha friend (also making up kits for SCW) said to me when she guessed what I was making for the SCW craft kits: "as a friend I would like to inform you that you are BONKERS! but maybe you knew that already!"

Baby Nina plays with her new abacus while sitting in the chair from 2017 SCW


Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Dollies visit Devon and Cornwall

Laura and Melanie had a short holiday at the weekend when they visited Laura H and her wonderful Dollies in Devon then spent a day and a half in Cornwall.  The weekend included a model railway, the Dollies in Devon dolls house, lots of Mechanical pipe organs and a trip to the seaside!

Bill shows how to operate the trains in his model railway

Melanie and Laura were looking at the model railway

"Hello, welcome to our miniature railway world" said Sasha

"It is brilliant Sasha" said Laura

Laura was right, the model railway was amazing and quite extensive

My girl had fun rearranging some of the furniture and dolls in Laura's wonderful Dollies in Devon dolls house, then Melanie and Laura Sasha dolls visited their Devon friends in their home.

Doing the laundry

Sewing and ironing

Spraying the fabric before ironing

Dollies in Devon at home

"You have such a cosy living room" said Laura

Relaxing and playing in the living room

Melanie visited the Dollies in Devon band

Bathroom with shower

An unidentified doll along with a Kids 'n Kats doll in the Dollies in Devon house

The Dollies in Devon house garden is good for camping, puppetry and cycling

The Dollies in Devon garden also includes the barbeque which Laura won in the raffle at the 2012 Sasha festival

Walking the dogs and pushing the baby in the pram

The Dollies in Devon bedroom with bunk beds and plenty of toys!

Melanie visited the kitchen to find out what was cooking

I had made Laura H's Studio Doll Sela a dress as a test for the resizing of a pattern from 16" to 20" Sasha doll size so I could make a shweshwe dress for Dorisanne's Studio Sasha called Emmalee Rose.  Melanie was still wearing her version of the dress when she visited Sela. We also enjoyed looking at some of Laura's doll collection on the display she had bought from Dee at the Chat 'n Snap last October.

Laura's mini dolls on their display shelf

Melanie and Sela in their summer dresses and hats which I made for them

Laura, Davy, Melanie and Sela (who looks much bigger than her brother because she was nearer the camera).  In the background are some of Laura H's felted artworks.

Davy, Melanie and Sela
Before we left Laura and Bill, we had a couple of photos in Laura's garden where we'd sat chatting the previous evening before dinner.

In Laura's garden
After saying goodbye we drove on to Cornwall for a mechanical music event at a private collection.  It was a glorious sunny day in furthest Cornwall (we were near St Ives) so there were several visiting organs playing outside the collection.

Melanie enjoyed listening to a small Limonaire fair organ in the sunshine

Melanie relaxed in the sunshine while serenaded by the organ music
Laura and Melanie loved the nautical / pirate themed Dean organ which had once lived in Aberystwyth, Wales where its first owner had created the most entertaining façade and figures for the organ.
Laura and Melanie with the Ralph Jenkins nautical organ

"Have you seen the conductor Laura" said Melanie, "I think his clothes almost match my outfit!" "Yes, have you seen all the bell ringer figures - they're pirates and mermaids" replied Laura

The conductor was a pirate!  He even had a parrot on his shoulder who flapped his wings when the pirate conducted the music with his sword!  

The organ trailer was suitably labelled for the piratical theme!

The dolls had fun riding a rocking horse in the park nearby

"Look no hands as we ride the horse"
Inside the barn were several organs of various sizes. The one which amused Laura and Melanie was the Palm Court Orchestra - it was rather louder than it looked and it had seated figures which were wonderful characters.
The Palm Court Orchestra café organ
Palm Court Orchestra café organ figures enjoying Champagne

Palm Court Orchestra café organ figures enjoying afternoon tea

Organ grinder monkey
A very warm sunny day with the happiest music on earth was followed by a cloudy Sunday morning at the rocky beach opposite Godrevy lighthouse just north of St Ives.  Laura and Melanie were fascinated by the rock formations and asked their geologist friend Laura in Devon to explain what they had seen:
"The rocks are Lower Devonian  slates with quartz intrusions about 400 million years old. The quartz was a later addition when there was a huge mountain building in the Carboniferous period called the Variscan Orogeny about 300 million years ago when the slate was formed. It is used like the North Wales slate but is not as thin nor strong. The holes believe it or not are simply created by erosion primarily wave action and sea creatures."  (Laura H)

Pebbles on the beach showing the quartz in the slate

Layers of Lower Devonian Slate, some of them were loose and friable from erosion

The weird holes in the rock - they looked like air bubbles

Laura and Melanie found someone's pet rock painted with a picture of a glass of prosecco!

Melanie and Laura rested on the rocks as they admired Godrevy lighthouse on its island

"Look Laura, the lighthouse don't seem very far way" said Melanie, "Yes, but you'd need a boat to get there, it isn't safe to swim to the lighthouse island" replied Laura
Thank you to Laura and Bill for their very welcoming hospitality and Laura for all the information about the Godrevy point rock formations.  We had a wonderful time in our quick visit to Devon and Cornwall.  Below is a 'behind the scenes' photo from the doll and organ weekend.

DollMum's daughter setting up Laura's Sasha in the model railway room, which was her bedroom for the night