27 August 2013
I spent a very enjoyable Bank Holiday Monday with my daughter and her partner at the Herstmonceux Medieval Festival. They had gone to there to pick up a very large tent, something that I now know is called a Burgundian! They are both participants in live action role play - and their current 'game' has many similarities to the Medieval period. So this was a good opportunity to pick up supplies.
The festival was a very busy event - and popular given that the sun was shining! There were stalls a plenty (all housed in tents of course) selling a wide selection of goods including medieval style clothing, various swords, bottles of mead, jewellery, hats and flower garlands. Strolling players entertained the crowds with musical renditions and theatrical antics. While in the main arena there was jousting and demonstrations of falcon flying.
I enjoyed talking to those in costume in their 'village' areas. Whole families were often involved, all authentically dressed, frequently in hand made clothes. It was interesting to see pots cooking above open fires - pottage being on the menu for one family. The father explained to me how his young children were already well aware of the dangers of open fires (and swords) and learned to treat both with respect. This would have been how children in the past grew up.
The knights in armour looked splendid (and frequently ruggedly handsome) but must have been hot under the August sun, although I'm sure it was welcomed over the previous day's rain. In fact it was the modern-dressed vistor who looked out of place!
So this was indeed a most unlikely place to find a doll's house. But in fact, there was a whole miniature street. It was all hidden away in a small tent (of course), once inside you could see the street with its shops full of goods and a pub. There were excavations going on in the middle of the road, and a couple of smaller buildings with wheels. The wheels going round, driven by mice. Yes, the whole scene (luckily enclosed in a glass case) was full of mice. They ran hither and thither in and out of the houses, popping their heads out of the windows, and peering around the doors. A couple bobbed up and down amongst the road works, pausing to sit in a tiny wheelbarrow.
It was mesmerising watching the creatures, and I had a bit of a 'Beatrix Potter Two Bad Mice' moment! The tent was too dark for me to take a photograph to include in my blog, although I have lots of others from the event as you might imagine. The Medieval period isn't one that we often see in miniature, but the tents I think would be a great alternative to a room box for a miniaturist (or dolls' house club) in search of a new challenge. Peeking inside were items of basic furniture, chests, sheep skins, needleworkboxes, and weapons! With the cooking vessels outside there's an opportunity to create a Medieval kitchen too.
20 August 2013
When interviewing hobbyists about their collections I'm always intrigued by their childhood toys. Did they hanker over a dolls' house but never have one until now, or do they have fond memories of their toys? For our September issue (on sale now) I reported on Mercedes Spencer's Shabby Cottage. This is what she told me about her childhood:
"When I was about nine years old I built my own dolls' house from wooden fruit cases. I made all the furniture and fittings in it from anything I could find, mostly matchboxes. Plastic dolls' house furniture was very expensive back then. I got a little plastic coffee table for Christmas and it was my prize possession!
"I remember finding a beautiful shiny silver lid from a shampoo bottle and making it into a wash basin. I also used pretty bottle lids for lights. And I would always borrow the same three books from the library - 'Five Dolls in a House' by Helen Clare, 'Little Plum' by Rumer Godden and another book that had plans for a dolls' house with working lights. It was always my dream to have a dolls' house with real lights!"
Mercedes is still making miniatures from odds and ends. You can read the full story of her Shabby Cottage in DH 184.
Click here to find out about a few of her favourite things.
After the White Queen
19 August 2013
If like me you watched the final episode of The White Queen last night (BBC2's historical drama based on Phiiippa Gregory's novels), you may be wondering what happened next. Thankfully the BBC has the information at hand on its website, details listed at the end of this blog.
I've found this really helpful in filling in my patchy knowledge of that earlier period of history. I knew a lot about Henry VIII (like we all do I suspect), but this series had been revealing about the time leading up to his succession. Of course, being based on a novel there were aspects that may or may not be true (did one of the princes in the tower get smuggled out?) but I don't think that lessens the enjoyment. The strength of the leading women was one of the most interesting apsects, in favour one minute, out the next!
But I have to admit that after watching the first couple of episodes I wasn't immediately enamoured of what I'd seen. And I wasn't alone, and some varied reviews were posted. But ultimately it did become a regular Sunday night fixture for me and I'm glad that I stuck with watching the series to its conclusion.
As well as explaining what happened next, the BBCs website also carries interesting information on the periferal subjects of witchcraft, and of giving birth in Tudor times. Information that anyone with a dolls' house of the early Tudor period may find helpful in visualising who lives in their miniature property.
So what next? Are we going to return to the frocks and bonnets of the Victorian era, or waft around in Regency garb? Come on BBC, we need our next fix of Sunday night period drama while we take a break from our dolls' house dilemmas. Don't keep us in suspense for too long!
Buzzing with excitement about the next TV Sewing Bee
12 August 2013
Oooh, I have insider information! I went to a tango 'milonga' on saturday night (that's an evening of Argentine tango, a dance that I have been doing for the last four years or so), to be greeted by a TV film crew!
Sadly I was not the subject for their footage, but merely background material. They were there to take some film footage of one of the other dancers, a lovely chap, who is going to be one of the new contestants in the next series of The Great British Sewing Bee! The film crew had been with him all day (he said it was exhausting - and he'd been in five different outfits already - for the milonga he was sporting a beautiful floral shirt, made by himself of course).
The crew wanted to capture him at a tango workshop - which we (the six or so couples who'd arrived early) had to mock up the class. The focus was on our talented chappie while we had to ignore the camera, specifcally being asked not to look directly into the lense! But merely follow Frank and Alison's (the milonga's hosts) instructions. Once the TV crew had left we could get on and dance our beautiful tango without worrying where to look! But it was quietly exciting I must admit.
Of course in reality the hour's filming will only result in a snippet of tango come the actual episode. Will I catch a glimpse of myself? I can't wait to see when The Great British Sewing Bee returns for a six part series on BBC 2 in 2014.
I'm a fan of the archers
5 August 2013
With the start of the school summer holidays an intruguing notice appeared in the jewellers shop on the other side of the road to The Dolls' House magazine office. This lunchtime - armed with four green milk carton lids and £1.50 as instructed - I decided to investigate.
I was ushered into the basement of the jewellers, here there were various workbenches spread with tools and materials. And here it was that I met Peter, the Toymaker. Here he is with my green bottle lids. What next?
The bottle lids can be turned into one of a number of toy soldiers. There were a number to chose from, and I selected the archer (because I'm a fan of the long running Radio 4 series, The Archers). Here is one side of the mould for the archer....
The plastic bottle lids are trimmed and another ingredient is added (as the plastic alone is too brittle). The mould in clamped into a device, while the plastic material is heated up and squeezed into the mould, with the crank of the handle.
When the mould released from the machine, and is opened up you can see the plastic figure. Here's my archer...
My archer needed a quick bath to cool him down before he was ready to come back to the office with me. And here is is all ready to go..
Peter told me that parts of the basement walls down here pre-date the Norman castle (of which the jewellers have a splendid view as they are right at its base). Our main office is just a few doors down as it happens, so I knew about the castle view.
I later read on their website that the jewellers original building dates from 800 - 900 AD (Alfred the Great came to the throne in 856 AD, before written English history). They dug out a well, the pottery inside was 12th century (so that's when it fell out of use). The small alley dividing the workshop from the next door building was originally the main road in to Lewes. After that it housed the original medieval shop doors, which were not on the High Street as now. The jewellers took the building over in 1981, it was in disrepair, having been the London and Provincial Butchers; and then as it slid downhill, a plumber's store and an Oxfam shop. They put in the elm boards at the back because there had been an ice ring (not a fridge) which had melted away and rotted the floor.
Back to my vist, Peter also showed me some of his other model soldiers. The master for these had been handmade, formed over a metal armature, before being duplicated. A whole battalian was lining up on the table. And I noticed that Peter's shirt had some fascinating little fellows climbing up it!
I so enjoyed my ten minutes in the workshop and came back to the office, clutching my little archer and grinning from ear to ear. Re-cycling always gets my vote and although not dolls' house scale, places like this serve to remind that you just can't beat a hand-made item. Something that we all must remember when at our next dolls' house fair...craftsman quality - you meet the maker, you fall in love with the product, happy customer, happy crafter!
Jonathan Swan Workshops
164 The High Street
Tel & Fax +44 1273 474207