Sunday 21 December 2014

Season's Greetings from Small Worlds...

This post follows so hard upon the last, which featured the opening of Gosthwaites Emporium, because I wanted to wish everyone a joyous Christmas and peaceful New Year from Small Worlds....

Preparations have been going on apace to get ready for the seasonal celebrations.   The carol singers who are about to perform in front of the Walmer Victorian are having a lie-down first to gather their strength.

But those with their carol books in their hands are of course having a final practice at the same time....

In the kitchen, Cook is just clearing the decks before making fresh batches of mince pies and boiling up the puddings. 

Mrs Davies the housekeeper is choosing a tablecloth for the servants' Christmas repast.....

Miss Tilbury, the governess, is practising her accompaniments whilst Charlotte is about to clear the schoolroom desks out of the way.... 

....and in the dining room the maid is rearranging the chairs so that everyone will fit around the festive board.

Meanwhile, the carol singers are jostling at the front door, giggling and trying to decide who should ring the bell. 

Finally, one is brave enough and Kitty the maid scurries to open the door; unfortunately young Tom, in charge of the collecting bucket, is so excited at his responsible role that he nearly falls into the hall!

Kitty has laid the table, complete with crackers, all the time fending off Cook, who is demanding her help in the kitchen.

In the end, she joins Cook in assembling trays of mince pies and puddings ready for the feast - note the plethora of puddings, one for the adult members of the family, one for the nursery, and one of course for the staff. 

The schoolroom has been cleared; the family have assembled for the "Bescherung".......

Cue short digression: this useful German word means "handing out of presents, usually at Christmas".   We have nothing as snappy in English.....

Charlotte and Robin are hastening downstairs with the last of the wrapped presents 


Grandmama has come prepared to read the traditional Christmas story to the gathered family.....

Miss Tilbury and Harriet are performing the duet they have been practising for weeks (the whole family knows it by heart!) and Oliver is hiding behind the tree and occasionally tapping his drum when Miss Tilbury glances in his direction.

Kitty has laid out her dress upstairs in the hope that she will be allowed a little time off to visit her family and see her young man.

Meanwhile, outside the carolling is getting louder.

The hot chestnut man is doing a brisk trade..... 

And one of the singers is truanting to post a last minute card.

Maybe it's this one?
A Joyous Christmas 
and a Peaceful New Year to Everyone

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Gosthwaites Grand Opening Event (or Cestina's Revenge Part Two)

Opening a department store is no easy matter - anyone who watched the recent television series about the founding of one of London's iconic stores, Selfridges, will know that!

You could read all about the store's beginnings in my previous post - now for the fun part!

Much internal debate has gone on as to what departments we should have in the trickily named Gosthwaites of Aberystwyth.   The store is set in a Welsh town, probably not somewhere that aspires to high fashion or up to date trends, which has allowed me to be fairly flexible over contents.   And the date is helpfully vague "just before the First World War".   Ladies' fashions were dramatically changing at that point in time so that too allowed for flexibility.

But before one can put goods on display one needs counters, shelves, display cabinets and dressmakers' mannequins.....

Last year someone came into Small Worlds and announced that they had quantities of "dýha" they had found in a loft, and did I want it?   I had no clue what it was but fortunately a Czech friend was present and immediately said yes I did.   It turned out to be sheets and sheets of wood veneer of various colours and wood patterns - highly desirable in the dolls house world.

I decided to cheat comprehensively on the counters and shelving, using the wood veneer and a secret ingredient, instant soup cartons.  

Teabag boxes also turned out to be just the right size for the counters that staff would stand behind to serve customers.

The attempts at drawers using matchboxes and veneer were not so successful and these will have to be redone in due course. 

The glass display cabinets were easy peasy - over many years I have collected little metal-bound boxes of all shapes and sizes to make miniature presents in.... 

 ........these now came into their own.  

They were carefully cleaned by Anna Šlesinger and scattered around Gosthwaites, ready to be filled with luxury goods.

The mannequins were not quite so easy - I had it in mind to use hair curlers for the lower body on top of some sort of base -
I was aiming at something like this. I did quite a lot of experimenting with cheap versions of Barbie-type dolls, removing the lower body parts and arms and just using the upper torso.   

It didn't work and it wasn't until friend Lynda visited and pointed out that she could model the torsos in air-drying clay that we - or rather she - were successful in producing something approximating to what I was after.   And since they will mostly be covered in fine apparel the bases made of wooden kitchen knobs seemed to suffice!

Although the downstairs of Gosthwaites clearly needs to be devoted to Ladies' Fashions, the fine apparel is causing some problems; sewing is not, as I have mentioned before, one of my talents.  In fact I hid under the desk at school when we were offered extra needlework in a free hour.   

Nothing has changed since then in my feelings towards it. However, a Czech visitor who is a dressmaker offered to have a go at some dresses.   She is still experimenting with size, proportions and appropriate fabrics but so far what she has made is more suitable for other houses in Small Worlds.  So Gosthwaites has only benefited marginally from her labours.    

My friend Jill, however, laboured mightily during her visit this September and her creation takes pride of place at the moment.  

I have had an offer from another dressmaker who is used to working with tiny items but unfortunately I couldn't get the pattern books to her in time before I left for the UK in October.   However, Gosthwaites is, like any store, a work in progress and one couldn't put next season's fashions on display this year anyway!

I have spent many hours browsing books on Edwardian and pre-war department stores.   One of the most useful, apart from the three in the photo, has been the little Shire Library publication by Clare Masset, which is packed with relevant information.

From the books I gleaned more ideas than I had space for - should we have a photographer's studio upstairs, complete with Edwardian backgrounds?  Or perhaps a team of seamstresses with treadle sewing machines ready to do on-the-spot alterations?   A corset department seemed a necessity, given  some of the fashions of the period.  Hats of course, and maybe other fashion accessories.   And how about a children's department complete with all that the modern baby would need in the way of equipment and clothing, not to mention playthings?

In the end, of course, it came down to what I already had available - and to what family and friends were offering or could be cajoled into producing.   

The hats were a given; from the time last year when my friend Milena began crocheting tiny hats - her full-size creations can be seen here - I knew that a millinery department was a must. Her previous mini-creations are scattered round Small Worlds - in the Art Deco house for example, and outside the Walmer Victorian...

She and another friend, Jana, came to stay for a few days this summer and Milena (what a name for a milliner!) had already been busy at home.  She unpacked a stunning array of hats - the black ones make me think that I really ought to have a specialist mourning department in the store at some point.   

She and Jana then spent their time in Small Worlds creating even more hats and, on finding some tiny shells in my stash, hat pins.

A startling success has been the jewellery department.   When daughter-in-law Laura, of Laurart, said she would like to make some jewellery I envisioned necklaces and maybe bracelets.
  It never occurred to me that she might also be able to produce rings that are almost too small to see without a magnifying glass!  
While son and I took the children out to various local attractions, Laura remained at her workbench (aka as my dining table) and when we came home we were greeted with a magnificent array of wares.
I have not been allowed to display the earrings in the store since they do not yet come up to Laura's demanding standards .....(but if you look carefully you will find some pairs on various dressing tables around Small Worlds).

Because the wares are so tiny, the jewellery department dictated some of the layout of the store.   

It had to be at the front on the first floor, so that everything could be seen properly.   

It's a relatively small department so the haberdashers department, which is anything but complete, has slotted in behind.  

You can read the full story of how Laura created these wonders in this post on her blog - and see better photos too!

Also for ease of viewing, the hats are right upstairs although it might make more sense to have them next door to the accessories since customers are likely to want all such items close together.  

The heads, like the inhabitants of the ballet school, are once again courtesy of Anna Šlesinger though I rather think she expected me to put bodies on them!


At present, however, a toy department is on the middle floor.  

I quailed at the number of sewn and knitted items that would be needed in a proper children's department and because I was anxious to finally fill the rooms, toys seemed an obvious, though possibly only temporary, solution.  

The ever-useful Czech curtain hooks came to the rescue of this wheel-less engine.....

The lift,  created by Butterfly and inspired by the golden lifts of Selfridges' glory days, rises majestically through all the floors, with a woven rope across the dangerous opening on each floor.  (Well it would rise majestically had I already installed some sort of mechanism. As I said, a work in progress). 

Full details of the lift's creation can be seen at the end of this post on her blog, Words and Pictures.

The rope is a necessity since we do not want to lose any customers. And for their further safety and comfort  I plan to introduce one of the most famous liftboys in literature shortly - my Dutch readers will know of whom I speak.

Discreetly tucked behind the lift on the top floor we have, of course, the facilities. 

Ladies Fashions are on what is, at the moment, the somewhat empty ground floor of the establishment.   Their time will come - and having seen something that Laura had on her blog recently, corsets have made a reappearance as a possible department.   I put them on my Christmas list.....

If some should appear on Christmas Day, then I think I shall put the Corsetry and Lingerie Department downstairs as well.  Gentlemen customers will have to avert their eyes as they pass through the store.   There is much inspiration to be found in this fascinating article.

And the last department to "make the cut" into Gosthwaites is the one housing china, porcelain,glass and silver.  

The large glass display cases come into their own here - and I was surprised to find quite how many sets of china I could find in my stash.    They, along with the jewellery and hats, evoke a lot of oohs and aahs from visitors.

So that completes the store's inventory and I will leave you with a view of  the whole store both inside and out - but remember, in the retail trade nothing ever stands still so who knows what Gosthwaites may be selling next season?

Thank you for following the story so far - apologies for the slowing down of blog posts but there will definitely be one more before Christmas, I promise.