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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