Monday, 25 September 2017

“To be silent does not mean to be inactive..."

Or at least so said Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

So although things may have been quiet on the blog this summer, there has been quite a lot of varied activity in Small Worlds itself.   Visitor numbers are a bit down, probably because I arrived back here much later than usual and had little chance of doing as much advertising as I would have liked.   A pity, because an excellent new assistant joined the team which has so far consisted of me and Veronika, the granddaughter of a good friend here in Bavorov.  Veronika has been with Small Worlds since we opened way back in 2013 and I could not manage without her, but she is now at university and has a part-time job as well, so sadly has less time to commit to being in the museum. 

To our joint relief, Tomaš joined us at the beginning of the summer and has carried the main load of showing visitors round the houses.   I was listening to him one day and thinking to myself that he does the tour better than I do it myself....

This has left me free to fully enjoy the advantages of having The Stables to work in. I can spread out projects, work on several things at once, leave boxes open as I search for things, and generally create chaos all around me which is clearly my preferred way of tackling tasks. I always plan to be neater and more organised; somehow it never happens. 

And having The Stables also means that when friends come to stay and find themselves creating things for Small Worlds, we have space to work together without cluttering up the museum, which is only just large enough anyway.  So far only Butterfly has flatly refused to create in a bright orange room!  (Of the three wall colours in The Stables I find the orange the least offensive - bright deep pink and lime green are even less conducive to creative work!)

Milena the Milliner was here a little while ago - here you can see some of her previous work.

This time she focused on producing a rather wonderful costume-clad mannequin for Gosthwaites Department Store.
I have to find a way of incorporating her into the showroom as she is slightly too large at the moment but I shall doubtless think of something.

She and friend Jana from Prague were closely followed by Lynda who last year gave sterling service in dealing with much of the stuff that had to be resorted into The Stables.   

This year there was time for her to produce something, and not content with just one item, she worked on three different projects at once.

I had found a pattern for a patchwork quilt in the June 2017 Dolls House World

and thought it was the very thing to cover the iron bedstead in the miner's cottage that is being furnished at this moment.  I have mentioned it before I think.   It is based on one of a row of cottages in the Beamish Open Air Museum and was given to me, in the form of many pieces of cut out wood, by a friend in England who in turn received it from a friend of hers. It had been commissioned by this friend's mother, but never built and Pat offered it to me.   It has now been beautifully made up by Colin Rose, who designed and built the Czech village house and there will be a post all about it when it is finished. 

The sweep arrived on the roof of the Czech house after two chimney sweeps came into Small Worlds and asked if we had any on view.  The answer at that point was no but I remembered that somewhere was a tiny sweep and, miraculously, he emerged from his hiding place.   He keeps falling off the roof though....

In order to make the quilt, Lynda had to burrow in the large suitcase filled to bursting with every kind of material.  

She was also keeping an eye out for some curtain material for a little puppet theatre I had picked up in a charity shop, as well as for suitable patchwork bits.  

As she burrowed, an old skirt 
emerged which I had long thought ought to be used as a patchwork blanket, and so that was the first thing she made.   

As she sat patiently doing very neat and tiny blanket stitch, I was reminded of how I had struggled to learn the same stitch back in primary school.   Unsuccessfully....

The finished blanket is adorning the bed of the maid in the Walmer Dolls House, and gives her rather bare bedroom a much more cosy look.  

I forgot to take a photo of the little puppet theatre before we transformed it, but it is so well-made that I figured I would be able to find it on-line.   

Sure enough, it is the theatre from the Early Learning Centre - I reeled back in horror at the prices on ebay!  I think I paid under £3 which is my usual charity shop limit for items for Small Worlds unless they are something very special.

Lynda sewed some elegant green curtains to replace the clumsy red velvet ones......

.....we used velvet ribbon for the pelmet, and we are both rather pleased with the final result.  If all goes as planned, you will see more of the theatre before the end of the year.

The patchwork quilt required much skill and a degree of trial and error.   I have a little tiny sewing machine, not at all the size that Lynda is used to, and wields very competently, so there was much under-the-breath muttering on the other side of the table as she learned to use it.
But the end result, as you can see from the photos, is a triumph.
Getting the squares into the right positions was a challenge!

Lynda's method - not quite as suggested

But it worked!

At the moment, the quilt is resting on one of the beds in the Cape Cod house as the miner's wife has not yet managed to set up the brass bed she inherited from her parents.

Whilst Lynda was sewing away, I was making a stage for the theatre which was stageless since it was intended for finger or glove puppets and I need it for string marionettes, and also digging out some scenery I was sure I had somewhere.  

At the same time, I was engaged in producing railway tracks for a number of small engines - the next window display will feature assorted trains and a rather special station.  
You can see my granddaughter here, cleaning said station in preparation for the display.   More of that in the next blog.

I have also been making up a Chrysnbon kit of the parlour organ for the miner's cottage.  

It's work that I can do on a board, so that I can take it up to the museum itself if I need to be on duty there.   

It's not a difficult kit to build, apart from the organ stops which are a complete nightmare. 

You can see the size of the stops from the photo with an Ibuprofen tablet plus some saccharin perched on top of it.  
There is no way to hold them whilst gluing them into the holes and mine finally ended up looking as if some drunken mice had inserted them.  I note that very wisely Bagpuss's mice built their organ without any stops!

However the final result is not unpleasing ...

Whilst all of this activity was going on, I was informed, with half a day's notice, that new windows were going to be put into the building.   This entailed much shifting of things, including the window display, and covering up of houses etc.   Fortunately one of the council's staff helped me enormously, and not only tirelessly shifted stuff but also, together with a colleague, insisted on cleaning the whole museum (although the workmen were remarkably clean and efficient in their work).   Both the museum and The Stables are now much cleaner and brighter than before the upheaval.   And the new windows are lovely....

And one final event that was completely delightful - a group of young people from six different countries - Jordan, Iran, Mexico, Georgia, Thailand and Turkey - have been spending a week at the local school and came into Small Worlds at the end of last week.  

They were enchanted by the houses,  and the stories attached to them, took many photos, and wrote lovely things in the guest book - the one that pleased me most came from Victor from Mexico "I can feel magic in this room" he said.

So as you can see, much has been happening, and at this very moment I am awaiting the arrival of two friends from England who will doubtless also grasp their needles and some thread and help me with creating this year's Christmas scene - I hope.   They don't know yet what is in store for them, but I hear them at the gate so will sign off and thank you for reading this far.   See you again very soon....

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

"But there's never a rose like you...."

Another year, another tribute....

Some of you will recognise that the post title is a quotation from the song Roses of Picardy. All the time I have been mulling over a suitable 100th birthday present for my indefatigable and much-loved neighbour, Rose, this song has been running through my head.  In the end I decided that I really had to check when it first appeared and I was delighted to find that it was written in 1916, and first recorded by the tenor, Lambert Murphy, in 1917
Exactly one hundred years ago and the year that Rose herself appeared upon the scene! 

It is hard to believe that twelve months have passed since I was recreating her life in miniature for her 99th birthday. Someone commented on that post "....but how are you going to follow that for her centenary next year?"   I wasn't really worried - I had known almost from the start that for a 100th birthday the theme just had to be roses, roses, all the way.

Cue digression:  I can see that tracking down rose quotations and songs is going to lead me down some strange by-ways. For instance I discovered that "Roses, roses, all the way", words that most of us know,  is the first line of a truly depressing poem by Robert Browning.   How much nicer is this video clip from 1923, also called Roses all the Way - who knows, maybe six year old Rose was at the front of the crowds as Queen Alexandra drove among them?   I shall ask her... 

Alexandra Rose Day, instituted by the Queen in 1912 to raise money for the poor, still exists today.

Those of you who know Rose's life-story, even if only through the miniature version, will remember that she came to the then rural Hertfordshire as a land army recruit, to work on one of the many nurseries that filled the Lea Valley at that time.   "Just like going on holiday" commented her mother.   Little did she know!   

Rose was busy helping to grow tomatoes and cucumbers for the war effort but the nursery she worked for was, in peacetime, renowned for its roses. Indeed, some of the streets round my grandson's primary school, which is sited on the very ground that held the Stevens greenhouses that Rose worked in, carry rose names.  

Rose continued to work for Eric Stevens after the war, and the roses still blooming in her garden came from the Rosedale Nursery.  The sports club he started,where she spent many a happy hour both working and socialising, still exists.  And delightfully, close contact continues between Rose and the Stevens family today.

I have noticed, in the four years that I have known Rose, that anyone with this name is inundated with rose-related items when receiving cards and presents.  
I suppose it is inevitable - there are countless opportunities to find rose-linked gifts, from boxes of Cadbury's Roses chocolates, mugs and vases, cards and paintings, fine porcelain, upholstery and dresses, to bouquets of the actual flowers themselves.  

And there is even vintage corsetry, though maybe not as a gift (except in certain circumstances of course).  Rose tells the tale of being forced by a great-aunt into a not dissimilar garment at the age of about 12, until the school nurse rebuked her mother and she was allowed to shed it again. 

I just couldn't resist this one!

The rose is inextricably linked with all things beautiful, and, of course, with being English.  
And our Rose is very English indeed, from Bethnal Green, right at the heart of London's East End. 

Even the Welsh composer, Ivor Novello, was moved to write a song about the Englishness of the rose. And who better to render it than another centenarian, the incomparable Vera Lynn (her birthday was in March, just pipping Rose to the post).

Maybe I should make my apologies for adding yet another rose item to Rose's already plentiful store, but my excuse is that, to the best of my knowledge, no one has yet presented her with a whole arbour full of roses!  So although it may not be a rose garden, it nevertheless comes with my love.....

This is where Rose can stop reading if she likes because at long last we come to the bit that relates to the making of it! I may have got rather carried away by the rose theme....

I really thought this one was going to be very quick and easy.  Take one lantern, steal from (with permission) Butterfly's stash of lovely roses...

....find some trellises in my own stash, combine the three, not forgetting a table, chairs and cup of coffee for relaxing with and there you go.   Well, maybe...

Actually much of it was easy.  I had thought I would need to spend time looking for a suitable lantern once I was in the Czech Republic. But a last minute visit to our local cheapie shop in Hoddesdon for teabags produced the perfect lantern for the princely sum of £2.79.   Not only that, it didn't have a silly candle holder inside which I would have had to remove. (Of course I forgot to take a photo of the completely empty lantern....) 

When I got to Bavorov and searched through Small Worlds, the perfect trellis emerged as well.   

Unbelievably, it didn't even 
need cutting to size, just gluing together. 

Purist dolls house collectors will probably cringe when they recognise it for what it is - some spare railings from the now rather valuable (but I think hugely ugly) Jennie's Home series. 

Cue digression: Jennie's Home was a joint effort in the 1960s by Triang and the Homes and Gardens magazine to show the best of British design.   I feel they were singularly misguided.  I was fortunate enough to acquire mine when it was still on sale in toy shops - in fact I bought it all from a village tobacconist, who carried a small stock of toys, who was selling it off cheaply to clear his shelves. 

As far as the table, chairs and coffee set went, I had already ordered a set of Sylvanian garden furniture and a rose patterned (of course) china service from ebay. 

The garden table was perfect, the chairs a bit of a disaster....  
They are cumbersome and out of scale, presumably because they are sized to take the rather substantial bottoms of Sylvanian animals. But they don't really even fit the table properly.  

So the hunt was on for a replacement chair.  I found one, actually I found four, little brass chairs in the stash, but then I struggled to match the paint colour to the table. There are no modellers' shops around here.  

After several hours of trial and error, which included trying to find a stockist of modellers' enamel paints and experimenting with every green I had in the Stables, I finally ended up mixing some black into Stock Green and it worked.  The chair was not quite tall enough so the top of a champagne bottle's fastening was called into service to raise it a little.

It was the roses that caused the real problems. They were all identical, except for the colours, though the white ones are a little smaller, and I really did not like that. The only way I could think of to differentiate was to make some buds, and to ensure that the buds of the three differently coloured rose species all differed from each other in shape, size and way of growing.

Not really difficult, but immensely fiddly and time-consuming.   For nearly forty years I have had three little containers full of things to make centres of flowers.   

Stamens and such-like.   And also pearls at each end of a bit of wire.  I don't really know what half of them are intended for but covered in paint of the correct colour, they become rosebuds.  (I have just looked up the Czech word for bud since I have been totally unable to commit it to memory this week - poupě. Quite hard to pronounce which is why I wasn't able to retain it when people told me.) 

I ended up making 54 white buds, 22 pink ones and 20 apricot.   

But before you can put roses and buds onto the trellis to grow, they need leaves behind them.   I sat with a rose catalogue and a painting extracted from a calendar (thank you Noreen's mother-in-law, Dora Marshall) in front of me whilst I tried to work out which of the large stock of plastic greenery in Small Worlds would work best as rose foliage.  I finally settled on two different types, again trying to create some distinction between the roses.

So then it was really just a matter of cutting to size, and gluing the greenery. This is great fun when you have no idea which bit of green is going to meet which bit of trellis. Fortunately I suddenly remembered that there was a aerosol of spray adhesive in another room of the Stables and that worked beautifully.  Much testing and worrying because the trellis fit was so perfect that I thought it wouldn't go in easily once covered with roses.  (I was right by the way.) 

I wasted a lot of time on some planters to insert the greenery in.  

 Wasted, because in the end I decided that space was at such a premium I would have to ditch the planters and people would just have to imagine that the roots of the roses go down into the ground the arbour is standing on.

I laid out each pair of trellises and placed the roses in position, then did the same with the buds.  Then came the bit I was dreading, lifting them all off again to glue them all into place. (Nearly 150 items to glue, and I couldn't decide on the best glue to use.)  In the end it turned out that each colour required a different method.   

In the case of the pink roses  the buds had to be glued on first. 

But before that they were individually glued to cut leaves, which then had to be incorporated into the main greenery. Once these were stuck down, the roses were placed on top.    

The white rosebuds were formed into clusters and were glued more or less together with the trios of roses.  

With the apricot ones, the rose heads themselves went down first, with the large and small buds being slotted in afterwards.  

All in all, I got incredibly sticky!

Once each panel of coloured roses was ready and had had its photo taken.....  

.....came the even more fun part of getting it all into the lantern, sorry arbour.   Pink went in first, followed with a squeeze and a shove by the white and then, holding my breath, the apricot slid into place.  Only three roses fell off in the process, one of each colour. I decided that actually there are too many roses but I'm blowed if I am starting again!  

And can one ever really have too many roses?

Chair, table and coffee service went into position - the coffee pot went on and off the table several times and I still haven't decided whether it should be there or not.   But since I shall be travelling that separately through customs and security I can consult Butterfly when I get to England on Friday.

This post is being published on Rose's actual birthday, Wednesday 2nd August.   Our lovely postman is hugely excited by a different sort of post that is due to arrive that day - the message from Her Majesty the Queen.   "Even if it's my day off, I am coming to deliver it" he said "I've never done one of those!"

My post comes to you, Rose, with very much love and admiration on this, 
your 100th birthday.  

May you continue to enjoy smelling the roses, and drinking your coffee (with sugar!)

And I end with that famous quote from Romeo and Juliet - how could I not?

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;"

Well, that may be true - but had you been called by any other name I could not have presented you with a rose arbour!