Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year

I think New Year is my most favourite time of the year. Each new year is filled with new possibilities and endless opportunities. Like the mantra of Anne of Greengables, tomorrow is fresh with no mistakes.

 I love thinking of what I want to achieve and do and for some reason I feel there is no barriers or hindrances, the world is my oyster, and I have complete faith the next year will be better. Of course as the year goes on, more often than not the reality of life bites and I soon discover I don't have 48 hours in a day. So my ability to be able to make a huge amount of dolls and bears, keep a clean house, be the best most attentive mother, wife, daughter, niece, friend, or to train and concentrate on my fitness and only eat organic, clean healthy food soon gives way to the bare reality there is only so many hours in a day. But alas.

We worship the clock on new years, count the minutes down to the final second of the past year and rejoice that time has been reset and is finally on our side. For me, I am innately optimistic, I still believe in new years resolutions as much as I believe in fairies in the garden and that behind all the bleakness and fear of this modern world we are all going to work it out and live happily ever after.

Each New Year, like most people,  I try to simplify my life into what is important. Kindness, health, relationships and remembering simple pleasures are truly what makes the world go round. I hope 2015 rekindles the true beauty in all our lives and we are able to take one step away from the modern mayhem that surrounds us and closer to embracing simpler lives! Lets take a leap of faith into future!

Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dolly Picnic Time

A few weeks ago I spent a some time immersing myself in creating a dolly picnic basket fit for the most special of dollies. In fact it was a blessed few days to which my family thought I was absolutely crazy!!! I am fascinated with the ever so tiny, though this set is more Waldorf dolly size than true scale miniature. Nevertheless, whenever I have my 0.75 mm crochet hook out my husband and older girls always approach me with the same puzzled look, the shaking of heads and the verbalising of... "you're crazy!!"
The little basket was crocheted in merino yarn and embroidered with Mogear mohair thread, it was also finished with vintage lace and antique mother of pearl buttons.

The little food was crocheted from cotton thread; a tiny cupcake, cream pie and strawberries.


I'm hoping to get some time over the next few weeks to make another set... I just had the best time creating this.

Mel xx

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Introducing Becky Bear

This little bear is named Becky and has been occupying my crochet basket over the last week or so. It has felt so lovely getting a little Miss Molly work done, and although I haven't had a huge amount of time to myself this week.... what little time I have had I have dedicated to dear little Becky.

 I have to say as well.... I have absolutely loved working in pink, for sure one of my Miss Molly favourites. She became such a girly bear as I worked away, I think her personality is quite sweet and gentle.

All of my crochet bears are made free hand. I literally grab some wool  and my hook and just see what little personality forms. I never use a pattern, which is always problematic when I have days in between working on limbs and trying to remember how many stitches on the other side.

 I always begin with the head and face.... probably because I am just so impatient to see who will look back at me. I then create the body, for Becky I shaped a little pot belly. I then work on the legs and feet. I love them a little oversized.... I think because as a child I had a bear named Honey Bear who had such substantial feet, I now have a lifelong love of thumpy feet. And finally the arms are finished, created with a slight curve to give lovely bear hugs.

I hand shade each bear to emphasise their features. For Becky I worked with soft browns and pinks. I brush on colour fast pigment and slowly build up layers, adding some embroidery stitches to the nose and paws.

The final stages is playing with laces and flowers to costume each bear. I have box of small pieces of antique laces and netting tulle and really I just fiddle with them. I think the bear will tell you what they want or don't want to wear, you just have to listen.

My love for creating these little crochet bears has really started me rethinking Miss Molly's Dolls, perhaps a name change is in order. For although I will always make and adore creating dollies, I have a new found obsession in crocheting bears. Is it wrong that I am now thinking Miss Molly's Dolls & Bears????

Mel xx

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Oh Christmas Tree

Apologies for not posting anything over the last month or so. My Mum was in an accident in October and life in my already quite chaotic home has been topsy turvy dealing with Mum's injuries. She has ultimately had to come and live with us as she's slotted into that quite uncomfortable state, of not being sick enough to stay in hospital, but not being well enough to go home. So my Miss Molly corner of the world needed to packed away so my daughter could move into it, and my Mum into my daughters room. Miss Molly is now in a corner of my own bedroom..... a corner now filled with boxes stacked almost to the roof, a desk and a set of draws. But in the end you really have to think what is more important.... and definitely, for me, family comes first.

So as Christmas is fast approaching, I am now reminded that no matter what path you think you may be on, you really have very little control. All you do have is the love and commitment of family and friends.... because I guess that is the only real truth in this world, all the rest is really just illusion.

This morning was my first opportunity to really pick up the crochet needle and do some work. Although I do have a bear I am working on, but given that is a very very tiny bear.... using a 2 ply baby angora thread, I am tending to only work on her in bits and bobs because my eyes ache if I work for to long. I have true admiration for tiny thread bear artists, or working in any kind of miniature.... oh my such talent! Anyway, back to this mornings creation.

As the Christmas tree is now overtaking our already quite small lounge room.... I felt a real sense of Christmas inspiration. I mean, you would think that given the amount of people living in my shoebox of a house, I would have scaled the tree to the room. But no, I have the biggest tree I can find, because I figure the bigger the tree the more people can enjoy trimming it! So this morning I set out to create a little vintage Christmas tree decoration, because at the end of the day, you can never have a tree to big... and you can NEVER have enough decorations!!!

This little tree is the simplest of projects... VERY easy!!! I thought I would share with you all how to make it, just in case you share the same belief as me, that you can never have enough Christmas decorations.

Miss Molly's Christmas Tree

I began this tree using some vintage DMC crochet cotton in size 5. But really you can make it out of anything you fancy or have on hand, just adjust your hook size. For the DMC 5 I used 1.75 mm hook.

Chain 18.

Turn, and single crochet in the last stitch, through to the beginning of your original first chain. 

Single crochet back and forth till you only have 1 stitch left.

(Now because you aren't doing a single crochet chain at the beginning of each row, the piece will gradually slope inward from both outside edges.)

Chain 1.

Inserting your hook into the outside stitches, single crochet along the outside, picking up the stitch at the beginning/end of each row. Continue in this fashion until you have gone all the way round you tree and you are back to the top with a single stitch remaining. A single crochet chain around the edge of your tree will finish it nicely as well as providing some stability so it doesn't roll in on itself.

Chain 18. Slip stitch into the back of the stitch at the top of the tree. This will give you a little loop to hang it.

I used some Rococo silk trim to finish one of my trees. I did make another which was slightly bigger and finished it with buttons and a hand stitched crochet chain garland. For the stump I used a piece of antique lace, rolled in and stitched down. For the star I used a vintage millinery flower.

You can make these trees as big or as small as you like, depending on how many chains you start with. The bigger one is begun with a chain of 24.

You can also have a huge amount of fun going through your ribbon & button stash to come up with all manner of tree trimmings.

Enjoy your tree decorating!!!

Mel xx

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Miss Coco

I think its official, I have definitely caught the bear making bug... I absolutely LOVE making them. As a doll maker, making bears is a blessed change, something just a little different, like a cool breeze at the end of a summers day . It is so exciting discovering their little personalities, each one very unique, those big brown eyes always revealing their own character.

I have been a dog lover my entire life and I do feel a kinship to bear making and those dear dogs who have blessed me with their love and absolute faithfulness. Harvey is my current beautiful boy and his big brown eyes are a constant inspiration to me... oh such cuteness is my Harvey, but with an equal amount of complete cheekiness and mischief. To anyone who knows my family and Harvey, they will absolutely contest to his outrageous personality! He greets all who visit with love, excitement and joy. Although some have translated his energetic greetings to him saying.... "please save me and get me away from these mad people!!!!"

When I started Miss Molly, my work area was a definite no go zone to Harvey. But to anyone who has ever owned a Cocker Spaniel, you may well know that "no go zones" simply don't exist. Cocker Spaniels have a complete and utter need to be with their owners, so anywhere we are... Harvey must be. And a few months into Miss Molly I had to give in, and remove "pet free environment" from my listings. Now as I work Harvey sits at my feet, sometimes even on my feet, all the way into the wee hours of the night he is my constant companion. I often have middle of night conversations with him about all matter of Miss Molly decisions, and when it comes to bears his loving glances often serve me with the most relevant advice.

So this week I spent time finishing off a bear that had been waiting patiently in my progress basket. I had no real true vision for her, only that I wanted a very vintage boater style hat for her.

Over the last few days Miss Coco was born, heavily influenced by the most gorgeous piece of antique lace that I had been hoarding, waiting for just the right way to use it.

Her little hat is crocheted from fine crochet cotton, it took an entire afternoon to make, slowly working my way round in tiny crochet stitches. I stumbled on the fact that this vintage seaming ribbon was EXACTLY the same colour as the crochet cotton I was using. I'd like to own the fact it was a premeditated decision, and I had to order the ribbon online and wait weeks for its arrival, but alas it was a complete fluke I'm afraid. A benefit of my hoarding and collecting nature, because as my stashes grow, so do these moments of "oh wow... it matches!!!"

As little finishing touches I added some vintage flowers to her hat and a little brass locket.

Mel xxx

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Oh for the love of Millinery!

I have to admit I have fond memories of being part of the doll collectors movement in Sydney 20 years ago. Spending weekends at doll shows and rummaging through doll stalls. I soon developed a love of vintage and the amazing work of reproduction antique doll makers, and in particular specialist hat and shoe makers. Oh my nothing made me more excited than a FABULOUS dolly hat.

So what makes a breathtaking dolly hat! Well so many elements, but by far the vintage millinery flowers!!! You simply can't have an authentic dolly bonnet without them.

And I freely admit my love for these simple floral creations is far deeper than just seeing them as hat trims. In my little flower collection I have flowers that I would never dream of ever using. I keep them boxed for no other reason but to look at them occasionally in complete and utter admiration.

I still have my original collection. Some of the flowers I managed to buy decades ago from the USA. Others I found at doll shows or shops. I'll never forget my excitement when I moved to Newcastle to go to university and discovering, what I thought to be, the centre of the universe! Islington Street... shop after shop of antique costumes, linens and laces and flowers.

Somehow my original collection managed to survive. Many years of being fumbled with in my dolly studio and then countless moves, being lost in boxes, stored in attics and garages and even garden sheds, amongst boxes of baby clothes, cots and high chairs! Until now all these years later discovering them in a box, my life finally ready to embrace them all over again.

These days I spend large amounts of time searching the net and yes, still my heart goes fluttering when I stumble upon a lovely bunch. Because the creative possibilities of these rare beauties are endless.

So this birthday week, my 2nd giveaway and representing my 2nd Miss Molly love, is of course millinery!!!

This little hat is made from crocheted Italian linen. I absolutely love working with linen yarn, especially for dolly hats. It has such a lovely weight to it and holds its shape really well. To trim the hat I used one of my favourite pieces of antique lace. This piece is well over 100 years old. When I bought it, it was very brown looking, but with some washing and restoration it is now a lovely vintage ivory colour.

The flowers I've used are a mixed selection from my collection. A silk chrysanthemum, a couple of cherry blossoms, a single lilac flower and a stunning velvet pansy. The pansy is hand coloured and dates back to 1920's.

If you are interested in joining in the Millinery giveaway, please follow the link at the top of this page to my Facebook page. I will be drawing the winner tomorrow morning, Thursday, 10 am AEST.

Stay tune over the next couple of days for a little glimpse of my next Giveaway, representing my next Miss Molly love.

Mel xx

Monday, 3 November 2014

Birthday Week Celebrations

Over on my Facebook page we are running some little giveaways to celebrate Miss Molly's first year. In my last post I talked a little about the giveaways and showed a glimpse of the first one, a little sewing basket. Only a few hours left before that one will be drawn. If your interested in joining us, follow the Facebook link at the top of this page.

As the week goes on I will have a few others up for grabs, each one representing some of my Miss Molly loves, Vintage Sewing being just the first.... I'll post some photos later in the week of the others, stay tuned!!!

Good luck to all who enter.

Mel xxx

Monday, 27 October 2014

First Birthday Giveaways, A vintage Sewing Basket

Well I am very excited! Next week marks Miss Molly's Dolls 1st birthday. And what a year!

It all started with knitting little dolly clothes to keep my hands and mind busy while I was at home raising my large brood of children,  the youngest 3 all being born within 16 months of each other. Now I can admit I had fallen deeply into postnatal depression and I was searching for anything to help me climb out of it. So one day  I began with some knitting while the children were playing in the garden, I hadn't knitted anything for years and it was a lovely way to keep my mind busy. And oh what a lesson in concentration, keeping count while I conversed with my littlies. Or keeping calm when our very young puppy ran away with my ball of wool and my knitting still attached and dragging behind. There was no doubt knitting became my therapy! On days when I felt I couldn't cope, I just thought about the stitches... one stitch after the other, just like life... one step after another.

Keeping track of patterns was of no use under the chaos of our home, and I soon gave up. Instead I began making my own patterns up. Then I decided to teach myself how to crochet... ahh the hours of me in front of YouTube videos, a crochet hook in one hand some yarn in the other. And just when I thought I stood no chance of ever mastering it, like a scene out of My Fair Lady I heard Rex Harrison's voice exclaim... "By George I think she's got it!!!!"

And so began the thought of Miss Molly's, perhaps I could make some things to sell, to pay for my yarn. But also to justify the hours of time spent with hands busy away making things. And then the distant thought.... perhaps I could go back to doll making.

I found it impossible to even dream of sewing or doll making during the day, with two toddler boys and a sewing machine on the table.... enough said!! So I became a night owl, as the children went to bed so began the doll maker's journey. So many dollies ended up in my girl's toy boxes in the process of trying to master Waldorf doll making. When I made Waldorf dolls for my children, it didn't matter if there was a lumpy arm, or a stretched seam.... because it was for my child to play with and made with complete love. But to sell a doll that was a completely different story, it had to perfect, or as close as I could get to perfect. Many times I felt like giving up, but a well known Waldorf doll maker said to me the secret of Waldorf doll making is... "practice, practice, practice!"

One year on I don't think by any means I have mastered it, I am still practicing... and I am still the night owl doll maker, getting out my machine once the children have gone to bed, still fearful of the boys playing with my tension knobs and climbing under the table and around my foot pedal while I sew! But I do feel I have achieved a lot this year for sure, and a lot of it due to the encouragement and unbelievable support from people all over the world. On days when I questioned my work and my abilities.... the cheering from my Facebook page kept me going, boosted my spirits and forced me to get back into the saddle. These people became my friends and in many ways helped me in my journey out of PND.

So it is almost 1 full year. And I feel birthday celebrations are more than needed. This year has meant so much to me. Being a stay at home Mum can definitely dampen your confidence, and I have been completely blessed by the support I have received. I have decided then more than 1 giveaway is necessary. So I have a few planned, representing some of my Miss Molly loves.

The first giveaway I can reveal is a little celebration of my love for vintage sewing supplies, a little sewing basket filled with my favourite things.

This little basket is finished with vintage lace, MOP's and a very special antique velvet flower from my collection. Its filled with MOP button cards, spools of lace, ribbon and trim and vintage cotton reels.

As the week goes on I will let you all know the other little giveaways. If you are interested in joining the giveaways keep an eye out next week on my Facebook page.

Mel xx

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The History of MOP Buttons

One of my all time loves is the Mother of Pearl button. There's not a week that goes past here that the postman doesn't delivery me a little package with a few these beauties. I use them in almost everything I make, hats, dolly dresses and of course knits. But can I announce that I have an addiction to playing with my buttons.... some things never change because as a child I used to play with my mothers and grandmothers button collection. There's something about the feeling of your hand moving around a tin full of smooth buttons, sorting through them and discovering shapes and sizes.

So yes, I freely admit I have been caught on numerous times in an hypnotic state with my hand in my button jar... embarrassing I know and the fact that I am openly admitting to it on the internet only serves as proof of my addiction to these amazing, beautiful, dare I say, works of button art!

But it got me thinking.... as I stared fondly at my ever growing button jar, where did they come from and what is the history of the humble vintage MOP button?

I have known for some time there are two kinds of buttons in my collection, river buttons and ocean pearls. The river buttons have a creamier look to them where as the ocean pearls have a very distinctive iridescence. Both though have quite different histories.

River MOP Button
The majority river MOP's come from the USA. They used the mussels growing along the river edge. Button factories popped up along rivers in the United States from the 1890's to the 1940's. The Mississippi River being the largest producer of buttons.

The industry boomed over the first four decades of the 20th Century, like a gold rush people came to the rivers to harvest the mussels and make their fortune. Town after town adopted the button making industry, and hundreds of factories came into existence..

 At the height of harvesting and production the Mississippi saw 2600 barges working the river. In a single year just one  town  produced as many as 138,615,696 buttons!!

The sourcing and production of MOP river buttons slowly ceased towards the end of the 1940's, this stemmed of course from a change in fashion and the introduction of plastic buttons, but equally through the absolute decimation of mussel populations.
Pacific Abalone
A very large proportion of the worlds MOP buttons were also sourced from shells around the pacific, Abalone being the most popular. Australia during the height of the MOP button boom was a major exporter, as well as many other pacific countries. Unlike the collecting of river mussels though, shell fishing was a dangerous affair and many died in the process of collecting these beautiful shells.

Once the shells were collected, they were dried in sun.  

Australia exported the majority of their shells to factories around the world to be cut, polished and carved. Sad to say that I failed to find any reference to an Aussie button factory during this era, it seems we were a primary resource only. Even button factories situated close to the coast in the USA used shell from either Australia, Japan, New Zealand or the Philippines.

The Production of MOP's
Once the shell was collected the production of buttons fell into 3 stages, soaking, cutting of blanks and  polishing and carving.
The shell was soaked for at least a week to ensure they wouldn't shatter during the cutting process.

The next stage was to produce the shell blanks. This job was mainly left to men, and involved the cutting of discs into the raw shell using a special lathe. Although the production of button blanks existed in the button factories themselves, it was also a booming cottage industry and many people had button cutting machines in their homes.

This amazing video from the Milton Historical Society recounts memories from a town devoted to the production of MOP blanks.

The blanks were then shipped to factories all over the world that specialised in the polishing, and carving of buttons. England in particular had many, many factories devoted to this skilful art. But there were many around Europe and America. Some of the buttons produced during this time were absolute works of art. Many carved by hand.

The final stages of button production was often a women's affair as many women were employed in the finishing of MOP buttons as well as sewing the buttons onto button cards..

 I think for me researching the extraordinary history of MOP buttons has only heightened my adoration for them. Of course the sheer size of the production in the 50 years of the height of their popularity is mind blowing, but I think also the realisation that so much of their production was by hand and involved entire communities and townships. After the 1940's we saw machinery development and button production shifted into overdrive. These automated machines could produce the same amount of buttons one person would make in an entire week in just one hour.
Vintage MOP's are yet another example of a time where craftsmanship was valued and beauty was cherished... even with something as simple as a button!
Mel xx