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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Sewing a stable for Christmas

I know - it is a rather bizarre idea - how do you sew a stable?

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
I hope you have a wonderful 2012 (I'm writing this while waiting for New Year GMT to arrive).

Sasha Secret Santa swap gifts I sent

Lorraine has started blogging about the results of the Sasha Secret Santa swap, revealing names of who sent things to each other, so I can now show the photos I took before I posted gifts to Ginger in the USA for her blond Gregor called Finn.  In these photos my Gregor Nicholas James models the sweater, boggin hat and underpants which I made for Finn, and holds the Christmas tree decoration I made for Ginger.  We were asked to select 3 items from a choice of 5, with an optional gift for the doll's owner.  From the photos on Lorraine's blog it looks like some people were very generous and sent more than the 3 items.
My Gregor models the clothes for Finn

close up of the underpants

close up of the pattern on the sweater

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas gifts for the dolls

My Sasha secret Santa parcel arrived at the beginning of December and I saved it for Christmas day.  No peeping, apart from noting the postcode (UK) and wondering who had sent it.

Our tree and gifts, the secret Santa is a turquoise blue parcel just under the branches
During November and December I was busy knitting sweaters and a cardigan for some of the 19.5" Gotz girls and boys, I had grand plans of making sure that each and every play doll in the house would have a small package under the tree on Christmas day, but this was not to be (my own dolls didn't receive anything apart from two of my three Sashas who benefited from the swap).  Making clothes and labelling the gifts for the dolls was another way of giving my daughters Christmas presents.  In the event I managed gifts for the following dolls:

Samantha (pink welly boots)
Harriet (blue ugg boots and blue tights)
Matilda (bolero top and black shoes)
Belle (bolero top and white shoes)
Peter (converse high top tartan shoes)
Matroshka (AG doll dark pink ballerina shoes)
Harry Potter (green sweater)
Ron Weasley (maroon sweater)
Hermoine Granger (sky blue cardigan and white shoes)
Jayne (silver shoes)

In addition, my elder daughter knitted a striped scarf for her younger sister's doll Samantha. I was pleased with how well she did with making it and sewing in all those ends - the scarf even has a fringe at either end.  Just such a shame that her Christmas holidays have to be spoiled by the looming GCSE examinations (our next 6 months will be dominated by them) and therefore she has little time for craft work.

Many of the shoes I had bought over a period of time and stored away to match up with outfits I will make, I had hoped to sew a few dresses to match shoes in time for Christmas, but a bigger sewing project for my younger daughter (read about it in the next post) meant I ran out of time before Christmas day.

The girls decided to bring all the dolls downstairs even though they knew that not every doll would get a gift.
The dolls wait to find out which one will receive gifts

The Harry Potter knitwear was inspired directly by the description in 'Philospher's Stone' of Harry's first Christmas at Hogwarts - so in theory I was 'Mrs Weasley' when I knitted these items (though there is no record in the books of Molly Weasley knitting for Hermoine, I have no doubt that she must have done, especially as Hermoine eventually became her daughter-in-law).  In a way, the idea of labelling each package with the name of the doll rather than my daughter's names came from this scene in the book as well.  On Christmas eve morning I realised that I didn't have enough of the maroon sock wool to complete Ron's sweater.  It was two old balls of 4 ply which I was knitting together to form 'double knit' thickness (actually more like Aran weight), and I knew I wouldn't find an exact match.  Unlike Mrs Weasley, I couldn't conjure up more wool with a flick of a wand! A quick walk to my local wool shop resulted in a lucky find of flecked double knit maroon wool which blended in perfectly with the existing work knitted, so I completed the sweater in the early hours of Christmas morning. Whew!
Christmas packages for Ron, Harry and Hermoine

Christmas packages for Matroshka, Harriet, Peter, Jayne, Matilda and Belle
The girls didn't open the doll parcels until mid afternoon (church, lunch and other gifts first), however they were delighted with all the doll gifts and were particularly thrilled by Ron's sweater and loved the Secret Santa outfits for Florence and Nicholas James.  I had requested a Christmas dress for Florence and a Christmas jumper with jeans for Nicholas James.  Florence received matching tights and a flower for her hair to go with her lovely white dress - the dress has a velvet purple ribbon around the waist and the tiniest seed buttons on the bodice.  NJ's red jumper has NOEL knitted into the front and I'm really pleased he has jeans now because all he had before was his football shorts, and I dislike making trousers.

Samantha's new scarf and wellies
Harry is dressed in his Mrs Weasley sweater

L-R: Hermoine, Florence, Nicholas James, Harry and Ron

Hermoine and Florence

Nicholas James, Harry and Ron
Matilda and Belle show off their new bolero tops and shoes

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sasha Santa secret swap

I'm participating in my first online organised swap - the wish upon a star' Sasha Santa Secret Swap being organised by Lorraine who has a blog at 'Sewing & Knitting for Sasha'.  I cannot of course reveal who I'm sending 3 Sasha related Christmas gifts to, but I have been knitting busily in the evenings during the last week or so ever since I received the email asking Santa for some gifts.
Wish upon a star swap

Some of my inspiration has come from the glorious colour combinations and patterning on Sasha Doll Style as well as from the wool in my collection.  Nicolas James has been modelling the results so far (and is very envious of the doll for whom the items are intended).  I've got one more item to make (we were asked to choose 3 from a wish list of 5 items).  But as the third item is likely to be sewn rather than knitted, and I can't start sewing until the weekend at the earliest, I've started knitting a sweater for Matilda the Aussie girl who sadly doesn't have many winter clothes of her own since she came to these colder shores almost 2 years ago!  Belle will get a sweater too for Christmas, in fact I'm planning that my daughters dolls will each get a little parcel from the Christmas tree which will contain new clothing made by me.  So whenever I can spare the time(!) in the evenings until Christmas I shall be busy with the pleasurable fun of making doll things.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Sasha family

I'm sure I'm not the first doll collector to think that ebay is dangerous.  I've been looking at Sasha dolls on various sites including ebay for a while.  But had always resisted buying one, though I'm not sure why.  I suppose one of the reasons is that our girls have a large Gotz family now, and adding Sasha dolls to the collection seemed crazy, especially as Sasha dolls are so sought after and often sell for a lot of cash. I saw a Sasha doll a long time ago in a museum but haven't seen one 'face to face' since then.

I love the naturalism of the modern Gotz play doll faces so they seemed good compensation for not having a Sasha doll (of the Trendon or Gotz vintages).  But it didn't stop me being intrigued and eventually in early September I saw a Sasha baby (early 1970s, girl with dark hair) which no one else had bid on and which appealed to me.  I was the only bidder (at the last minute) and won her.

Mabel's ebay photo

A few days later she arrived.  I knew the Sasha babies were small, but was struck by her smallness and slimness, especially compared to modern baby dolls which always seem so chunky and over proportioned. She nestles very nicely in a child's arms and I can see why Sasha Morgenthaler designed her that way.

Baby Mabel came with no clothes (or box) and she was a little grubby, though didn't smell bad.  Her elastic is very slightly loose but she still poses well.  Someone had taken a small chunk out of her fringe once but fortunately not right down to the roots.  I carefully washed her, taking care to not allow any water into her body (using a cotton wipe damped with warm water and the mildest shower gel - Simple range) and carefully washed her hair.  One or two hairs did drop (I was expecting this as some dark haired Sasha dolls have this tendency). Her face paint is fine.

One small yellow knitted jumper we had for another doll fitted Mabel and I knitted her a pair of knickers (she still has no nappy).  I sent off for a pattern which I knitted in 4 ply rather than DK and with smaller needles (it was meant for a 12" baby doll which was a little chunkier than the Sasha baby) and have knitted her an all in one sleep-suit with hood.

A couple of weeks later I saw a dark haired Sasha girl on ebay which appealed to me.  It is funny how many of them I could happily look at and continue the search, but on seeing this particular girl I knew I had to try and purchase her.  It was a long week of watching.  At the last minute another bidder made a bid, but I held my nerve, kept my budget firmly in mind and won her.

Florence's ebay photo

Florence arrived in record time and in beautiful condition.  She had only ever been displayed, so although lacked her box, did come with her leaflet and with her clothes still perfect.  Her hair is glorious - glossy and with the factory curl.  She was the first full sized Sasha girl I had ever held and is a 1980 Sasha Marina.  I bought a pattern for a bolero cardigan (grandmas_patterns) and knitted this for her in fuchsia pink with the picot edges worked in hand spun wool I've had for a long time (from a small collection I'd brought from a South African farm about 25 years ago).
Mabel and Florence join Amelia (Chiltern), Susie (Petalskin Palitoy), Anna (Gotz),
Jakob (Kids N Katz) and Doreen (Petalskin Palitoy) in my doll display

A brown haired boy was next on the wanted list.  Although I like the blond Gregor boys, a dark haired boy was preferred by all the doll collectors in this household, so I kept watching.  A few weeks later a 'buy it now' I'd had my eye on lowered the buy it now price and also gave an option to make an offer, so I offered and it was accepted.  My Gregor came with his box, leaflet and even his football - he is the footballer from the mid 1970s.  I don't think he had even been displayed and is in super condition.  Although all three Sasha dolls are mine, the girls had a hand in their naming (referring to our baby names book!) and we settled for Nicholas James (which was the name my sister would have had if she had been a boy).  He is James for short though.

Nicholas James's ebay photo

A pattern book for baby dolls from 12" - 22" yielded a simple sweater pattern which I adapted (it had shoulder buttons, so I made a back opening instead).  I used two different colours from my collection of hand spun wool.  I'm quite pleased with the results.

Florence's bolero cardigan

Nicholas James in his sweater

Mabel wears her sleep-suit

No more doll collecting for me this year - my doll budget is used up for the time being and my lovely Sasha family looks great and is providing a lot of entertainment.  Almost every night at bedtime when I read a story to my younger daughter she asks for one or other of the Sasha's to hold and play with while she listens. Florence has even been to the theatre and to a concert cradled in my daughter's arms.
Comparing their eyes - NJ has softer brown eyes than Florence

Nicholas James, Mabel and Florence in our garden in their new knitwear

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Meet Matroshka

I've taken photos of doll happenings this year and haven't had the time until now to write about them.  So this story starts on Easter Day.

Once again my girls did an Easter Egg hunt around the garden, this year I planted clues in the eggs and they had to match up questions and answers about Easter.

The completed Easter Quiz
Their prize were Real Easter Eggs (the only commercially produced egg in the UK with the Easter message printed on the box) and a joint gift of a Gotz Matroshka doll.
A Real Easter Egg

It seemed appropriate to give them this particular girl because Russian nested dolls, which always remind me of Easter Eggs, are called Matryoshka dolls. I did suggest they could call her Marie or Maria or Mary, but they decided to keep her exotic name.
 My elder daughter examines the new doll
 Matroshka from the side

She has the same face as my younger daughter's first Gotz doll (Ice Skating) whom she called Samantha.  I like this face better than the more popular 'Sarah/Hannah' Gotz dolls (who are lovely).  Matroshka has long blond hair and an outfit of tartan, faux fur and white jersey fabric which includes a Russian nested doll printed on her white top.  Both my girls were delighted with her.  I'd bought her in TK Maxx earlier last year at a much lower price than RRP, but was served by a rude young male cashier who commented that dolls were creepy.  I refrained from telling him that it was the height of bad manners to pass derogatory comments on customer choice and taste to a customer's face, though it was tempting to suggest that he keep his thoughts to himself (I think he was too young to ever have watched 'Are you being served'!)

Matroshka quickly became a favourite in the doll family and when we travelled to Germany for May half term to the Black Forest for a Fair Organ Festival which takes place every 3 years, my girls decided to take Matroshka, Peter, Matilda and Belle.  The Aussie girls hadn't been on a trip to Europe and for Peter it was like going home, as his original outfit is Bavarian.  We have the matching girl outfit (Gotz Dirndl dress) so this was taken for our new blond girl to wear.

We always stay at a small family run Bed & Breakfast in a little valley above the town when we visit the festival. It has the most glorious views down the valley, a stream running endlessly beside it (which you can hear from the bedrooms at night), serves fresh trout as well as home made Black Forest Gateaux (the chef owns the hotel and it is his speciality) and the service is friendly and welcoming (my girls love it).  My elder daughter is learning German for her GCSEs and practised her elementary German with their warm encouragement.
 Matilda tries to share my younger daughter's ice cream in the hotel
Belle enjoys the glorious sunshiny view from our breakfast table on Saturday morning
Belle did visit the Saturday of the organ festival and Matroshka and Peter came out on the Sunday, but carrying the dolls about town all day is tiring for small arms after a while, so they only came to meals at the hotel after that.
A monkey and barrel organ at the festival - these monkeys are very rude
and squirt water at you if you get too close! 
They are operated via a series of levers and have
various hand movements, some of them rather naughty!

A vintage doll for sale in a side street at the festival
Matroshka and Peter in front of an Alfred Bruder fair organ outside an organ workshop
Matroshka, Peter and my younger daughter outside an organ workshop
Matilda and Belle in their new party dresses in the hotel at dinner time

We stayed a couple of extra days after the festival was over and had a relaxing time exploring Waldkirch a bit more than we usually do.  We came across a delightful toy shop where I held a baby Kathe Kruse doll for the first time and saw several others, they were beautiful and very tempting but I resisted.

 Peter and Matroshka outside our hotel on the second last morning
In their Bavarian outfits outside Gasthof Altersbach, Kandel Pass, Black Forest
Matilda and Belle at breakfast the morning we left
(the clouds were low and heavy with rain)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Miniature books from Barbara Brear

When we were in South Africa for Christmas 2010, we enjoyed a special visit to Barbara Brear who makes incredible miniature books.  As a child growing up in Cape Town I thought I was the only miniaturist around, but have discovered long since I moved to the UK that the miniatures scene in SA is thriving.  Several years ago I came across Barbara's website whilst searching for information about miniatures in SA.  I subsequently saw one of her books in a museum display at Stellenbosch 6 years ago, and I've long wanted to own one (or more) of her 1/12th scale books.

Two years ago I finally decided it was time to invest in a couple of books and sent her an order.  However instead of asking her to post it internationally I asked if it would be okay for my sister to collect my order and bring it to me, as she was visiting the UK.  Barbara was very obliging and very kindly welcomed my sister and my nieces to her home to collect the books.  They had the treat of seeing the beautiful dolls house which Barbara had built during a week long workshop in England and shipped out to SA for completion.  I had seen the house on Barbara's website, and my nieces and sister were very impressed with it.

There was another book which I had my eye on, and having received the 2 beautiful finely crafted books (one 'open book' and one fully printed book), I knew I wanted a third, so I sent Barbara my order for the Victorian Children's poetry book and asked if I could collect it.  She was very welcoming when we arrived and my husband, daughters and I were enthralled by the dolls house and Barbara's description of how she had made many of its contents and of course the amazing books.  It was an enormous privilege to have met Barbara and her husband in their home and to have been made so welcome.  Her work is very inspiring and it has made me long to get working on my dolls house again, however that has had to wait as our new home which we moved into only a week after returning to the UK has needed plenty of decorating (and 9 months on there is still work to do).  My Greenleaf Westville reminds me every day that it is the main incentive for getting the human house done so I can concentrate on the mini house again!  I have finally managed to find the time to photograph my three books, but my photos don't do them justice.

My three Barbara Brear miniature books are:

Rip van Winkle (a South African tale) - a fully printed book
Mrs's Beeton's Cookbook - an 'open' book perfect for the kitchen table
Victorian Children's poetry - At home again - also a fully printed book
 Mrs Beeton, Rip van Winkle and Victorian Children's Poetry
(Mrs Beeton came temporarily mounted on a cocktail stick,
this will be removed)

 Opening Rip van Winkle

 These photos don't do the fine text justice - I couldn't get the camera
to focus closely enough, but the printing is clear and readable

Propping open the Victorian Children's poetry book
using Barbara's business cards

Propping open Rip van Winkle
using Barbara's business cards

Mrs Beeton's cookbook by Barbara Brear

And how about a few photos of my unfinished Greenleaf Westville dolls house: