In Bagpuss, the final of the 13 classic episodes is about Uncle Feedle and his cloth house which wouldn't stand up without being stuffed full of cotton wool, which meant the house had to be turned inside out so that Uncle Feedle could use his bed etc! Clearly, if I wanted to make a cloth stable for a horse to actually go into I had to find a way to make it stand up.
But I had better explain why I wanted to sew a stable for Christmas.
An earlier blog post I wrote about the Gotz toy horse showed my disappointment in the scale of the horse in relation to the size of the modern Gotz play dolls - it is not really designed for the doll to sit on the horse and does look a bit like a cuddly toy. The American Girl doll horses are much more realistic, but very expensive, however the 20" high Battat Morgan horse (no longer made) is the right scale and is incredibly realistic. Very occasionally the large Battat horse appears on international ebay, and in October I spotted one which had a 'buy it now' or 'best offer' at a sensible price, however the postage from the USA to the UK made me pause. In the end however I decided to make an offer which was accepted and the seller was very quick to ship it, so it arrived in less than a week (which made the high postage more palatable), and the horse is absolutely stunning and although not new, is practically in mint condition.
The horse was a gift for my younger daughter for Christmas. Initially I thought I'd wrap it in a box, but as I drove to work each day I started to think that she would want to transport the horse to my cousin's house straight after Christmas and perhaps at other times and as the horse is so big, this might prove a challenge to do it without damage. So it needed a bag sturdy enough to protect it. But a horse without a stable also seemed a shame - more play value with stable. I looked online at various toy stables to get ideas. The American Girl horse fold-out stable is made of cardboard and is not designed to carry the horse, and most other toy stables are made of hard plastic or wood. Cloth stables with toy cloth horses were small and cute, mostly with padded walls, but on a larger scale this wouldn't work. So my journeys to work involved some pleasurable problem solving in my head (though I promise I kept my eye on the road and other traffic too). My plan involved making a horse transporting bag which was also a stable, with the added twist of folding out to access the interior.
I measured the horse, drew my plans out on paper, discussed them with my husband (who has a handy workshop in our back garden) and decided that I could make the walls stand up by using a double layer of fabric with slots sewn to take supporting boards of some kind. My husband had some pieces of foamex, a slightly flexible board made for posters (about 3mm thick) and all he had to do was cut the pieces to length, because the existing widths were about right. So he cut 4 pieces for each long wall and 2 pieces for the back wall and 2 for the stable door. The floor had a single piece of hardboard cut to size slotted into the pocket of cloth (secured in place by press studs so I can remove it for hand washing the stable, the foamex is waterproof, but the hardboard is not). I had a large piece of brown corduroy fabric which proved to be exactly the right size for the job.
I had inherited my great aunt Gwen's button box which contained a lot of large buttons and the entire stable is fastened with 4 different sets of buttons (25 altogether). Thank goodness for the button hole stitch option on my sewing machine, it saved a lot of time. The roof sections hold their shape with hollow rods sewn into slots in the fabric (the rods were actually the expandable net curtain rods which we had taken down in our new home, as we didn't like the net curtains). The ridge pole rods make the stable easy to lift and carry. I had a left over piece of material which has a straw like pattern, so edged this to make a straw floor for the folded out stable.
The stable took a week to make (in evenings after work), and I finished it 2 days before Christmas, which meant some last minute knitting for Ron Weasley doll as I hadn't finished his sweater before I started the stable.
A week before Christmas our local 'antique' shop revealed a treasure at a reasonable price - a sleigh with a teddy in it. The sleigh was the right size for a 19.5" Gotz or 16" Sasha doll to sit in (we don't think the Aussie girls will fit). I brought it home and replaced the cloth seat with some Christmas material. My husband cut some towing reins out of clothing leather he has in his workshop and I tied these around the horse and to the sleigh. I managed to pack the sleigh into the stable with the horse, and bought a couple of small buckets for water and food. I had found a second hand book for children all about horses in our local Oxfam shop and put this in the stable too.
My elder daughter was let in on the secret of the horse and stable, though not the sleigh (she saw me make the stable). On Christmas Day afternoon, just after the dolls received their clothes, my younger girl finally unwrapped her horse and stable and was thrilled with it. She is able to manage the buttons and can carry it, so it did come with us to my cousin's house. She hasn't yet named the horse.
|first reveal on Christmas Day - one amazed little girl|
|Samantha being towed in the sleigh|
|Samantha in the sleigh|
|The stable, all buttoned up|
|Jakob feeds the horse over the stable door|
|stable on its side, showing the buttons along the base|
|The stable opened out, with its 'straw' floor mat, it is not being propped up|
|Jakob feeds the horse, while Samantha looks on|
|Jakob's bendable knees make it possible for his feet to fit in the stirrups|
|20" Battat horse with the Gotz horse, showing size and style comparison|