Saturday, October 28, 2006

School tomorrow.....School today

Saturday. 9.45. Pooped. Off to bed now. Just for the record! Damn fine half-term.

Hmm: Sunday. 9.30. This is a ghost blog. Posted it last night. BlogPublish went funny. Entry disappeared. I went off to bed. Found it in directory today, apparently live. Add this. See what happens.

In the intervening 23 hours and 45 minutes: Reset 6 a.m. alarm for 6.15 then ignored it til 6.45. Back to school.
Grade 9s working on melodrama.
Grade 11s starting GCSE assessment.
Scaffolding rep coming in tomorrow re: building Merry Wives stage.
Tired old canvas on flats to be replaced ready for painting after school on Wed and Thurs.
Paint ordered.
Update from props guy.
Students invited to make props, paint set after school Tues/Wed/Thurs
Department meeting with stellar new colleague sharing excellent ideas born of long experience. (Every week I am happier about how the department will continue after I move on.)
First outdoor Merry Wives rehearsal: kids in much better form than at yesterday's lack-lustre rehearsal. All coming together with a fortnight to go.
Lighting plan revised.
Home to Habibi; gin & tonic; delicious light dinner of potatoes, onions, red & green peppers and ham roasted in olive oil with plenty of black pepper; snooze; taxi to panto pirate rehearsal (past Sheikh Z. road accident); Arr! Arr!! ARRRR!!; taxi home past fresh Sheikh Z. road accident.
And NOW it's 9.45. Kiefer Sullivan never has this much fun in 24 hours.
Gonna build some fairy wings.
Random image of beautiful raspberries purloined from ?
Wonder if this will really post this time, or be secret joke at own expense.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Men Who Read Terry Pratchett

Strangely, most of the Men (of my acquaintance) Who Cook also Read Pratchett: father, husband, son, friend, and now several of the Pirates!

It was Friend who started it, arriving to stay in 1997 with his well-thumbed collection of the then twelve or so titles.

Habibi succumbed first, followed rapidly by Habibibaba, then aged about ten. Suddenly, all three were hooked, falling over each other to read and re-read The Colour of Magic, Light Fantastic, Wyrd Sisters, Pyramids, Equal Rites, Small Gods et cetera, et cetera, et cetera! They shared favourite lines, discussed favourite characters, renamed landmarks - I could direct you to the Dwarf Bread Factory in Al Quoz. Wha-wha-wha?!

So I joined the party, or tried to. The trouble was that, while I enjoyed Pyramids and Wyrd Sisters, and was entertained by the idea of some of the characters, like the Librarian, The Luggage, and Death (ok - I loved Death! and Binky!) I was put off by the writing style, and over-exposure to that tedious loser, Rincewind. Rincewind! Gimme a break! So I gave up, wrote it all off as a bloke thing, and left them to it, apart from buying new copies of favourites as they fell apart, worn to pieces by their devoted readers. After the second paperback copy of Colour of Magic disintegrated, I started buying hardbacks, on the basis that it would save money in the long run!

(But the Truckers trilogy, Johnny and the Bomb, and THE NAC MAC FEEGLE! Fabulous! There's no greater enthusiast than the late convert.

As to the research. Dad's due for a Christmas angel this year, and although I made a Scottish (He's a Scot!) Perfect Little Angel for his big sister a couple of years ago, resplendent in scarlet and green tartan, she's too feminine to repeat for a man. Hm. Puzzle. And then I remembered something about The Wee Free Men. Pictsies. Promising. Al-RIGHT! I would read a Pratchett!

The first couple of pages left me cold. I've just finished Philip Pullman's marvellous trilogy, 'His Dark Materials' and I'm still mulling it over, so the jump from Lyra Belacqua to Perspicacia Tick took some adjusting to, especially as other other parallels began to emerge: daemon and familiar; parallel and crashing worlds. A couple of pages later, well, I was cackling!

So Dad's getting a Nac Mac Feegle this year, six inches tall, blue skinned, red-haired, bearded, kilted, and heavily tattooed...... How on earth am I going to do this?!

Here's what these guys look like.

Just brimming with Christmas spirit, aren't they? Calico Gal? Not really. Perfect Li......??? Naaah!

Then I remembered this little book, which I bought in a library sale when we still lived near Bolton, in England. Translated from the German by Christian Albrecht and published in 1969, it is now, I think, out of print. Until quite recently, I think that German craft books and French craft magazines set the standard for everyone else: in the 1970s and early 80s, most of the really imaginative craft books were translated from the German.

These figures are small, only 7 inches tall (17.5 cm) and modelled from papier mache and clay on wire armatures. That would be the next stage after pipe cleaners, methinks. It's a sign!

This is actually the technique for the baby Jesus, who's about three inches long before he's posed.

The adults have wire and papier mache hands with fingers and thumbs. They also have whittled balsa wood torsos, and I'm not even sure I can get balsa wood here. Possibly at Art Stop in Jumeirah Plaza, or Elves and Fairies in Jumeirah Centre. Possibly an offcut of thick MDF from one of the hardware stores in Satwa. Otherwise it's going to be wire.

I'll let you know how I get on.


What shall we do today?

Fun with National Geographic
Kimberley, northwestern Australia, 1991
... no it's not us...sigh....
But it's an idea! =D

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Men Who Cook

MasterChef is a British television cooking competition which has been going for decades. It was also what my youngest sister, who appreciated the important things in life, called Habibi.

I am fortunate - being only an average cook myself - to have been surrounded for most of my life by Men Who Cook. First there was my father. Of course, it was my mother who cooked every day for a family of nine, in between everything else that goes into looking after seven children and a husband who works shifts. And she loved to bake beautiful sultana scones, and vanilla buns - golden yellow scallops that came moist and sweet out of the tray. But on high days and holidays, it was Dad who cooked.

Of course, this may be one of those tricks of memory. It is quite possible that Mother usually did Christmas dinner, but because she usually cooked anyway, I only remember the times my father did it. Kids!

Like the baby who spends umpteen hours a day with Mama, but whose first word is 'Dada!'

But I shall always remember the Christmas that Dad cooked the eight-legged turkey (which must have been 1971, when my youngest brother was old enough to eat Christmas dinner, but my youngest sister wasn't). In the backs of our minds, we understood that our parents had gone for a catering pack of legs because everyone liked leg, no-one was bothered about breast, and - I suspect - the oven simply could not accommodate an entire bird of the requisite magnitude. But who cared? That year, we had an eight-legged turkey!

These days, while Mother really enjoys her meals, she's definitely more of an assembler of good things - cold meats and salad and such, or beautifully presented plain cooking. (I'm much the same, but with a penchant for making single dishes - casseroles and pies - that don't require the management of several pans at once. ) Mother pours her creativity into her garden, her knitting, and her tapestries.

Dad, on the other hand, cooks. He knows his chefs, his cooking programmes, and his cookbooks. In a kitchen smaller than ours, whenever we get over to stay, he pulls out all the stops to present starters, main courses and desserts, always accompanied by the right wine (bonus feature: he was once a wine waiter at a rather swish establishment in London, and knows his wines too - hm... at this rate I could run a raffle: Dinner for two, anyone?). And it's all to die for. In fact by the third day of splendour I think it might be to die from - but what a way to go!

As for the rest of the Men Who Cook: my eldest brother trained as a chef; my youngest brother draws on the flavours of the world for his stews and curries; Habibi is self-taught and loves to experiment with recipes - quite possibly even more than he enjoys eating the results; a friend who stayed with us for several months (and with whom we later stayed for several months!) was just as enthusiastic - to the point where he and Habibi were all but competing for kitchen time.

This was great during the week, when we sat down to a fine evening meal; but at the weekend, one of them would prepare a huge cooked breakfast, and the other would cook a wonderful dinner, and it began to feel like a sustained campaign to fatten me up for slaughter.

Yes indeed, it is possible to have too much of a good thing!

Meanwhile, I was the envy of my girlfriends, who all went home from work and cooked dinner for their families: You mean they both cook? They won't let you in the kitchen? Can we have them after you?!

And now Habibibaba has discovered the culinary arts. The signs are unmistakeable: detailed, happy descriptions over the phone of what he's cooked, how he's cooked it, and who for; the phone call to Habibi to find out how, exactly, you roast a chicken; the deeply satisfying announcements of the acquisition of an excellent knife, a good set of pans; and the walk down from The High Place at Petra, where I was taking in the gob-smacking (er.... I mean awe inspiring...) vista and astonishingly varied rock strata, while Habibibaba quizzed his father on how to make a proper Bolognese sauce, all the way down. It was lovely to see the pair of them so absorbed in a shared passion.

Yes sisters, they've got me surrounded to the third generation. Does it get any better?!

Well actually, yes.

A few months ago, Habibi came across HalfManHalfBeer's blog.... and his recipes. A new adventure begins! Chilli con Carne made with cocoa and smoked pepper. Chicken Tikka Masala. Chicken sort-of-Kiev-but-much-better. Classic Chish 'n' Fips. Oh yes.

Go to this man's recipe collection, people!

One day he mentioned that some of his favourite recipes are from Gordon Ramsay. With Habibi's birthday coming up, I camped out in Magrudy's for an hour or so, with a stack of Gordon Ramsay cookbooks, and picked Secrets, which focuses on techniques as well as recipes: right up Habibi's street.

Yesterday we had - beef fillet with a gratin of wild mushrooms.


Man returns from supermarket with interesting goodies

Man preserves Aura of Mystery

Man substitutes available tame Shitake mushrooms, for unavailable wild mushrooms.

Man chops green things and pokes brown things in pan

Man shows large pieces of cow what a frying pan looks like

Man lets cow pieces get their breath back (definitely still mooing on arrival on dinner plates some time later)

Man prepares prettily coloured heaps to please Woman

Man adds extremely yummy brown stuff and yellow stuff, before putting cow pieces in hot oven in case they're feeling cold

Man presents feast to suitably appreciative Woman, who will love him forever.
(Apologies for poor pic.... It looked so much better in real life.....)

There. Did you enjoy that? I hope so. This is a delicious dish! Oh yeah!

P.S. Woman does her bit:


So worth it =D

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Meanwhile, down in the engine room......

I thought I'd see if there was a comparative time zone table, so I'd know when PDT is, and stay away from the laptop for the duration of Blogger's planned maintenance.

There wasn't one, but they did have this log.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Wow. Ok. So it hasn’t been Blogger’s weekend. Blogger was down for a little over three hours this evening, due to the near-simultaneous failure of a critical component and its backup. This outage also impacted the loading of many Blog*Spot blogs, which rely on Blogger for a CSS file.

We apologize profusely for this outage. Blogger should be working as normal now. The new version of Blogger in beta was not affected.

Posted by Pete at 20:23 PDT

Friday, October 20, 2006

We’ve been having a bit of slowness this morning. Technicians are on the scene. Update, 11:15: Most of the problems are resolved. Thanks for sticking with us through the maintenance. Blogger will be running a bit slower than normal for a short time (possibly for the rest of today) as we have a handful of servers out of commission. If you see any error pages, please just wait a sec and try again. Posted by Pete at 09:11 PDT

Thank you Pete (and Pal, who logged other jobs).

See, guys? They are doing their best, and they tell us what they're doing.
Don't you wish more companies would try this approach to customer service!

Bloody Hell!

Good grief! I don't know how I did it, but I certainly have done it. I thought it was bad in Firefox, but mein gott! Look at it in Internet Explorer - now that's how you kick out a sidebar.

I'd like to call this a learning curve, but all I've learnt is to be veeeeery wary of the font options!

I expect I'll get a nice new page in November, and I'll try not to break it......... :(

Firefox v Internet Explorer

Oooeee! (She's been on the coffee again...) Oi loiks Firefox, oi duz.

Part the First:
While she was working on my blog to make it more beautiful and practical (as per William Morris's dictum that everything in your home should be both.) NZM directed me to Firefox, as Blogger's recommended er... web-thingy....

Isn't it fast and crisp? It's also much more tolerant of my tendency to post stuff that's too wide for the field: where Internet Explorer shows the ghost of where the borders are supposed to be, Firefox does something clever that keeps everything tidily ghost-free. Yay!

What IE does better is hold onto the text. In an earlier entry, I wrote about Christmas and
'the whole carolsingingmassattendingpantomimecheering-roastgoosestuffingtreedecoratngfairylightpopping-stockingfillingcrackerpullingQueenupstanding-JamesBondwatchingDelboychortling- thing.'

IE coped once I put the hyphens in (after the original entry took up the whole screen! LOL!!) but in Firefox the line of text goes streaming across the screen.

So, time for an experiment. Let's see if this the latest entry, which will appear at the top of the page, will fit - or kick my sidebar down to the bottom of the page. I'm rather enjoying this!

Part the Second
And the result is: a draw!
Yes, Ladies and Gentleman, Firefox and Internet Explorer both carry the post, and leave the sidebar where it is. However, while IE is not as sharp, and (next time I break the border again) will show a ghost, it does contain the text. Firefox, on the other hand (crystalline) has the text skedaddling across the sidebar, like a stream of lemmings heading for the nearest cliff. Well, it makes me laugh.

OK. Back to the dollies. I'm having such fun with this, though I've learnt to upload my pics into drafts, for as long as Blogger.Photo's up and running, then come back later and post text. Much less frustrating than trying to do the lot at once, and sitting waiting to see whether it will, work, or do almost everything, or crash and take the lot with it.

BTW I lost a post last night as I was saving it.....Aaaaaarghhh!.....Noooooooo!!!! Not only did the entry disappear, but Blogger crashed completely. After a couple of days of Blogger-wrangling I had learnt NOT to let it get to me (Pain...... Gain..... It works.). When I could get back in again, the entry was not in the directory, so I clicked on Create New Post, and then on Recover Post. The prompt came up, and I clicked to continue since I had nothing to lose, but my temper. And lo! There appearethed on my screen the entire entry, fully formatted, with all pics in glorious colour.
ThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyou....whimper.... (Testing Firefox again....heeheehee...)

So, chums, remember Recover Post. And if you're familiar with Pacific Daylight Time, don't bother blogging at 2pm, because there's a Scheduled outage at 2PM PDT. Blogger's got a headache...

P.S. I do get frustrated with Blogger, but on the other hand (as I've mentioned elsewhere) I suspect that it's become a victim of its own success. How many millions of us use this facility at any given time? I don't know how many staff or computers they've got, but I don't see how it could ever be enough. Me, I'm a fan of Blogger, warts and all (No - not me! Blogger!) So I have no problems with a scheduled outage if it's going to improve the service that keeps me in touch with so many interesting people.

Part the Third.
Hmm. Back Again. Slight technical hitch with font size stuck in Large. Can't fix it in Firefox. Going to try in IE.

Less amusing than earlier. Is this Firefox's revenge for the wind-up? Hmph!

Part the Last
I think I've fixed it, by taking one para at a time, and going back to check. If this entry is still shouting at you, please accept my apologies. I didn't mean to push the formatting to critical mass...


Visiting my eldest brother's family a couple of years ago, I told Princess Alice that I was going to make her a doll, and asked her what she should look like - and so we have Sarah, with curly brown hair, and dressed in pink. Now, I don't go for Barbie pink, which is what we're talking about here, but Alice just loves pink. And Barbie! Upshot? An assortment of clothes, including pink pyjamas!

This is also from Alicia Merrett's Book of Doll Making - quite possibly the only book on designing and making dolls that you will ever need. Such range, and so well written and illustrated that it makes learning as satisfying as seeing the end result.

However, I don't care for the expression on 'Beth's' face. And I like embroidered faces, for reasons both aesthetic (lively texture and colour) and pragmatic (A wrong stitch is easily unstitched, but once you've taken up your permanent pen, and inadvertently made your doll wall-eyed, cross-eyed or terrified, there's no way back to that promising blank face!)

So I followed the instructions for Joe, a toddler doll. Look at the sparkle in those eyes! Don't you love him!

So, this is Sarah. The head and body are made separately, and stuffed firmly. The arms and legs are cleverly designed to bend at knee and elbow. I confess to a mishap: I stitched the knees the wrong way, so that her legs bent sideways. Now Sarah is a traditional ragdoll, so there was no way I was going to get away with it; but I'd stitched them too strongly to unpick without ruining them. (I thought about it!) So Sarah has traditional legs, and I've got a pair of spares for something less..... traditional...

In dress, pinafore and felt shoes.

In a playsuit from a crazy patchwork experiment gone wrong. I knew it would come in handy eventually!

She'll be wearing pink pyjamas.... Even I have to admit, she does look pretty in pink!

The hat's from a different pattern again. This book will keep me going for years.

And I still cannot quite believe that I made something as beautiful as this.

Sybil - just a pretty trifle

This pattern is from a terrific book, the imaginatively titled Book of Doll Making, by Alicia Merrett, which I bought at Book Corner in the Dune Centre, Al Diyafah Street. (Do look at her site, which is mostly mouth-watering patchwork.)

Hepzibah has button-jointed limbs and a needle-sculpted face - less challenging than it sounds! I love the reversible hat, and used it for Sarah, too.

Here you can see how the doll is constructed. Because I used satin, I had to stuff her quite softly or risk shredding the seams. If you want your doll to sit up without support, you should go for a good quality cotton (dress weight for a decoration, sheet weight for playing with). A cotton will support the head, withstand firm stuffing, and keep its shape when you stitch your buttons through body and limbs.

Twenty one inches of classic Hollywood glamour!

I want a coat like this! But I'll try and get the collar right next time....

As with Sarah, I preferred an embroidered face to drawn-on features. Also, because I made her for myself, which means that safety isn't a factor, I used white seed beads to highlight her eyes - literally, since they reflect light in a way that white silk (floss) can't.

I always knew I wanted her to have green hair to match her eyes, but it took me a while to decide on the style. Meanwhile, Sybil sat on a shelf, green-eyed, pensive, and quite bald under that hat. She put me in mind of the sybils, the female seers of classical times, hence her name.

A bald doll is simply work in progress, but this one disturbed me. She was disconcertingly real, regardless of the particoloured body. I couldn't just leave her on a table, any old how: she had to be up, elegant, with her collar turned up and her hat turned down. If she hadn't got hair, she at least had her dignity.

On reflection, I realised that the other dolls were archetypes or children; their features sweetly neutral, their expressions uncomplicated; but Sybil has an extra, unmistakeably adult, dimension - a suggestion of wisdom gleaned from experience - which turned my pretty trifle into something else entirely. Maybe it's the glass beads in the eyes? The arch of her brow or eyelids? I expect that a psychologist could make some suggestions, but me, I don't know.

I have always understood that the human race responds very powerfully to its own human image, and that this is not simply a matter of aesthetics or vanity; we need to represent ourselves to ourselves. I know where my increasing fascination with dolls comes from, but I'll spare you that. Ah, tis a grand thing, the human psyche!

Anyway, this particular pretty trifle will always put me in mind of women who face down cancer and the wretchedness of chemotherapy with quiet courage and a show of stylish aplomb. I've known some. Bring on the green wig, the snazzy hat, the silk scarf and the huge brooch: someone's got a life to live.


I believe I mentioned doodling faces as a useful exercise. It's also fun! I did these a couple of years back, and keep them for reference.

I cannot draw for toffee, as all my students can attest, so I copied most of them from somewhere else before cutting loose and experimenting. Certainly, if you want to make a doll with an identifiable race, age, character or personality, you're going to need more than two beads and a stitch of pink!

Good sources, depending on whether you're aiming for fantasy, cosy, satirical or portraiture, include newspaper cartoons such as Eb & Flo, Dilbert, Garfield, Andy Capp; - children's comics and the likes of Marvel comics; political cartoons; children's picture books; books for older children - especially if they have line drawings; and magazine adverts. That's just off the top of my head!

Incidentally, while the Perfect Little Angel and Calico Gals are presented as female, the faces and bodies are androgynous, so you can do what you like really. (I know I keep saying this, but it's true!)

Both patterns are intended for hanging, or sitting, but if you alter the leg pattern to give them feet and/or insert thick wire into the legs and body, you can pose them to strengthen the sense of age, character or situation. (Good grief! Who let the drama teacher in here?)

Going now!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Angel Variations

More challenging than the Calico Gals (9 pattern pieces instead of 5), the Perfect Little Angel is also a more stimulating and versatile pattern. Here are some of the things I've done, with the pattern at the bottom, in case inspiration strikes!

My eldest brother and his wife produced their own personal little princess - Alice, by name - so I made a medieval princess for them. They now have Princess Clara too, equally gorgeous, though completely different from her big sister.

As the eldest of seven, I know and rejoice in the individuality we're all born with. I may hardly ever see my fambly, but I love 'em, and next summer, we're moving back to Europe - Wheeeeeeee!

The medieval angel is the closest to the original pattern, although that specifies double fairy wings, and I prefer a single pair.

This one I kept!
I spotted a cheapo imported Chinese wreath in a bargain shop on Rolla Road in Bur Dubai; stripped off the decrepit robin and other tat, but kept the little sacks tied with red ribbon, and some of the artificial greenery; and repainted the lettering, added cones, star anise and the little bell.
Jo - let's call her that after Jo March, who knew how to do Christmas properly! - Jo is not wired, and cannot balance on this shallow, curved surface; but I didn't want to glue her in place, so I resorted to two carefully place safety pins, and that has worked a treat.

Here's her back view. Without the wings, you can see that the skirt is a gathered rectangle, and the bodice another rectangle, masking the skirt gathers, and stitched into place.

The bloomers are part of the doll: they are stuffed less fully than the torso and head, allowing the doll to sit. The dress sleeves are also 'built in'. If you use cotton rather than felt, and give her a secure hairstyle, such as braids stitched firmly in place, I think that this pattern gives you a doll sturdy enough to be played with, and survive washing. No bead eyes though!

Serafina is just for me, and has nothing to do with Christmas. She's wearing what was once a beautiful Indian brocade trouser suit from Splash, plus an earring I've had since my twenties - I hate the way I always lose one earring, but at least it gives me an interesting collection of odd ones for odd projects!

I've made other variations too, but I have no photos, unfortunately, because it was a while before I thought to record what I'd made, and who for.

One Christmas angel was for a seven year old who had admired another one I'd made. I was going to warn her mother, before Christmas morning, that it was less a toy than a pretty ornament - but they didn't wait til Christmas to open the wrappings. Oops. Next time I saw that doll, she was in need of a tailor, a hairdresser, and a week in intensive care! Be realistic about how children play with dolls.... sob!

Another was for a friend with considerable knowledge of Maori culture, who was returning to her beloved New Zealand. I had a dark green shalwa khameez that looked wonderful at my third brother's wedding, but was now faded in places, and put away just in case. ;P The gold block print on the hem and dupatta had always reminded me of traditional Maori patterns: perfect!
I used a mid-brown felt for the doll (any darker would have been too much with the dark dress, even with lots of gold blocking), mother-of-pearl buttons buttons (Satwa again), and peacock feathers for the wings, angled so that they swept up and out, taller than the doll herself.
Damn, I wish I had a photo of that one!

Ditto for another South African friend: I went for satin and gauze in cream and antique gold - fabulous against dark brown felt - and crowned her with orange and yellow flowers like the bouquet that Serafina is holding. Never mind having a photo, I wish I'd made her a little cousin!

Anyway, here's the pattern, if you'd like to have a go yourself.

Finally, another variation, for a Palestinian friend who absolutely loves colour, and is always a delight to the eye in vivid complementary and contrasting colours - and she has the vivacity, warmth and style to carry them off. This time I bought the wings and simply stitched them on: a spread of real feathers, shaped like a butterfly.

I've included Laila separately, because she does not follow the pattern exactly: the separate head, plus turban would have been huge - out of proportion to the rest of her - so I made the head all of a piece with the torso as for the Calico Gals.

Once you get started, there's no end to the flow of ideas, and what keeps it fresh and interesting for me is working with other people's colours: I don't know about you, but there are some colours, and combinations, that I really don't get on with, and the challenge is to come up with something that works for both of us.

If you can do that, then it becomes almost as much your friend's gift to you as yours to him or her, because you have all those days of pleasurable anticipation as the gift came together in your hands, in colours which from now on will always have a happy resonance for you - even if you still wouldn't be seen dead in them!

Enjoy. And post pictures!

Perfect Little Angel - the pattern I use most

Here she is, Her Angelic Loveliness, the best Christmas angel pattern of them all, in my opinion.

She appeared in Woman's Weekly, several years back. You can buy the kit online from the Christmas section of Candle House Crafts which has plenty more charming designs.

The post that should appear between Canadian Quirky and Calico Gals! (Don't ask.)

While Margi Hennen was the catalyst for tossing out convention, I took the pipe cleaner bods - obviously more sophisticated than those for the felt dolls, from Hannelore Wernhard's enchanting (and very practical) book, The Knitted Farmyard. (My farmyard consists of lots of separate knitted bits, none of which I have actually made up - I rather missed the boat with Habibibaba, but there are always the nieces and nephews to finish it for.

So, this is the basic structure for the Gin Fairy (Sorry Mother - I don't think she even likes gin..... so I guess I get that from my dad!), Harriet, and TFFKAP (The Fairy Formerly Known As Psycho).

And if you can get a copy of Hannelore's book, you can make these:


What greater incentive could you ask for?

Calico Gals

I think these came from Prima magazine - but I'm not sure! It's a practical magazine full of gardening, cooking and making ideas, and features well-designed pull-out garment and craft patterns, which I think anyone can follow successfully.

This is a sleeve from the binder where I keep my patterns. Tracing paper can be hard to find, but I use airmail paper to trace doll patterns, and paste it onto cardboard for strength. They stay in the file from year to year, and if I tear something, I can retrace it.

Here's my Calico Gal. My youngest brother's twin boys were six when I made her: I thought they'd rather have a funky angel than an airy fairy.

She's a traditional soft-bodied doll with no awkward corners, darts or gussets to contend with; her face is done with felt tip; and that's the easiest head of hair I've ever done! If you'd like to do something similar, look out for a pattern with a keyhole-shaped head and body section, and long slim arms and legs. Or be brave, and make your own paper cut-outs, trimming them until the arm and leg sausage shapes are in proportion to the head and body shape. This naive style has spread into shaped and painted tin (Magrudy's have stocked them for a couple of years now.) so a little window shopping will help you to clarify the style you're looking for.

There are only two potentially tricky areas:

1. When you've sewn the arm and leg seams, you'll need to take the wrong end of a pencil or knitting needle, and first poke them inside-out (actually inside-in! - so that the seams are turned inside), and then poke stuffing in, and tease it out til it's evenly spread. This may sound silly, but don't make the legs too thin, or you'll never turn them or stuff them!

2. With the keyhole shape, the narrowest point is the neck, and tight curves are quite challenging: make it easy on yourself: keep the curve shallow, and snip little 'v's out of the finished seam allowance after sewing; that way, when you turn the head and body inside out, the side seams will be smooth.

If you look at the photo - and at the pattern piece in my file, you can see the shallow curve from shoulder to head. Mind you, if you get it wrong, you can always tell your children that you've made them the Hunchback of Notre Dame. If they're so impressed that they beg for an Esmeralda, remember that she has long hair which can hide any little neck problems - though of course, you'll know exactly what you're doing by then!
As I said, practice makes perfect - or confident, at least!

Canadian Quirky

This feature on Canadian maker Margi Hennen dolls is from the same issue of DOLL as the little felt dolls.

I was inspired by the alliance of wit, warmth, and modern artistic opportunity, with an old-fashioned ingenuity that recalls pioneer women reworking old sheets and clothing into wonderful quilts to soften the rough edges of pioneer life. (We had all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books at home when I was a child. Caroline Ingalls was a remarkable woman. Whatever you made of the (syrupy!) Little House on the Prairie TV series, I would strongly recommend the first book, Little House in the Big Woods....and then there's On the Banks of Plum Creek, Little House on the Prairie, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter..... you get the picture?!)

Anyway - Here's a Christmas angel I made years ago, from samples of furnishing fabric. Basically, as you can see, I just stitched some squares together, made a head (drawing round something circular to get it right) wrapped it up, stitched and stuffed and stitched again. I don't recommend velvet for small work - too bulky on corners - but I'm fond of this Miss.

The pearl bead halo is wired on, and has to be straightened every year when it comes out of the the Christmas deckie box. Ahhh!

Do you see the influence of Margi Hennen in this wild vision in silver? I made her for my mother's Christmas tree: a fairy (definitely no angel!) for the more mature woman!

She has a pipe-cleaner body, with legs encased in woven ribbon.
Instead of felt, I used soft cream cotton for body and hands - which means a seam allowance to allow them to be turned inside out - otherwise she'll fray!
I cut two keyhole shapes for her head and torso, seamed, turned and stuffed them, and stitched them to the pipe cleaner armature. Getting technical now! See next entry ;P

The silver dress is one big rectangle with gathers around the neck slit; seamed down the sides, and sewn around the hands (on their pipe cleaner ends). It's a kaftan really, tied at the waist, with the upper part pulled up to create a bosom, and the bottom edge deeply frayed.

I may have drawn her face before making up the body: there are two advantages to this approach: 1 - you're drawing on a flat surface, and 2 - if you make a mistake, you can just turn over and start again! However, you need to pick pens that will not bleed ink, to remember that the stuffed face will curve, and to think about where her hairline will be. Practice makes perfect, but mistakes can be hilarious, or result in unexpected depths; bottom line - Do it your way!
P.S. The wand is a cocktail stirrer, just to complete the Gin Fairy image!

Next up, the formerly stoned/psychotic angel I mentioned before. She's actually a variation on the felt dolls.

I reset her eyes (felt tip, though you can buy fabric crayons and school-tag permanent pens) but the smudges indicate where I first stitched the beads - so far apart that she was more wasp than fairy.

The head is a gathered circle of felt, as for the felt dolls, with lengths of gold braid stitched on.
The body is a rectangle of felt, wrapped and stitched around padded pipe cleaners. (Again, see next entry.) As you can see, the head is attached at a right angle to the torso.
Her legs are pipe cleaners in the same woven ribbon as Mother's 'Angel'.
The arms are different. I threaded wire through this really thick multi-coloured braid, turned back the ends with pliers because vicious scratches have no place in my Christmas experience, and frayed the ends to suggest fingers.
The dress is a rectangle, not a cone; hemmed at the bottom and gathered at the neck on the doll herself, with a ribbon sash to add fulness and keep it in place.

And this is Harriet. I love Harriet: she's so optimistic, and nothing surprises her. She was my first Margi Hennen-inspired doll.

Keyhole face and torso on a pipe cleaner armature, just as for the Gin Fairy, and as you can see, the pipe cleaners mean that you can pose her.
The terracotta tabard is all that remains of a once splendid silk suit that Habibi had years ago. The under-tunic is a longer piece of fabric, hemmed and doubled over, with a neck slit. Those are beads of semi-precious stone at her wrists and collar, bought in a tiny packet from a haberdasher.

I don't usually buy variegated yarn because I don't like the effect when it's knitted up, but it's perfect for suggesting the various hints and tones of a head of hair. Here, though, I used yarn in two different colours, to get the balance I wanted. I cut a piece of card for length, and wound the yarn round and round until I had the fulness I was aiming for, then stitched the hair in place, without cutting the ends, and used contrasting thread to prevent tangles.

And the moral of the story is, whether you go for nursery felts, pink fur, black leather, purple satin, foil, crepe paper or - whatever! - from a basic model, you can do pretty well anything you like, and if your angel doesn't turn out quite as you expected, you can always sit her amongst the foliage of your Christmas tree, positioned to show her best feature!