Friday, March 30, 2012

Waldorf doll hospital

Moonshine's tenth birthday is fast approaching, and all she wants for her birthday is to have her doll fixed.  Not any old doll, but Ella, her Waldorf doll.  The one she's been loving on for almost eight years.

We've gone round and round about whether or not we should fix her doll for longer than I can remember.   Over the years she's had a few stitches and both partial and full hair replacements, but Moonshine has been unwilling to let me do anything more out of fear that Ella will be changed.  Unrecognizably altered.  Too different.

I totally understand where she's coming from.  It's a daunting task.  What if I mess up?  It's not just a doll, if you know what I mean.  It's Ella.  And though she looks a bit worse for wear now, she's part of the family.  She's been around longer than Kitty Bill has.  She's a part of us.

And then there is Rosey, Sunburst's doll.  The first Waldorf doll I ever made.

In eleven years, Rosey has been through her share of adventures.  She has required several rounds of stitches and hair replacements.  At one point there was an episode of body restuffing.  She has been around the block and then some.  The poor thing has been absolutely loved to death.

Sunburst has been even more reluctant than Moonshine.  Poor Rosey has been losing her stuffing for years now-- wearing socks on her hands and feet to keep her wool from falling out.  Her entire body, including her face, looks like it has been mauled by an army of pitbulls.  Not once, but twice.  At least.  She requires total reconstructive surgery.

Every couple of years Sunburst and Moonshine bring up the idea of fixing their dolls, and before we can get to it, they change their minds.  But this year they are finally ready.  Both of them.

And so last weekend Moonshine and I set up a makeshift Waldorf Doll Hospital.  The dolls were brought in and placed gingerly in their bed, treated to cups of water, flowers, and get well soon cards. And then one by one they were carried off on stretchers to the first step in their process.  The spa soak.

Here's Rosey waiting her turn.

After soaking in their individually prepared baths with wool wash, they spent several hours in the sauna, or rather, splayed out on the drying rack over a space heater.  In the morning they spent some time sunning in the garden.  That helped them dry a little more, but it also helped lighten the fabric which has darkened over the years.  Frankly, I wasn't quite sure where to start, and I figured it couldn't hurt.

Moonshine thought they looked happier already!

I brought them inside and the girls and I evaluated just which body parts they wanted me to replace.  The dolls had another visit to the sauna-- drying tightly compressed wool takes an awfully long time-- and I got busy cutting and sewing new body parts.

 For Rosey: one pair of arms, and one entire trunk/legs piece.
For Ella: one pair of arms, and two feet.

Sunburst and Moonshine took this opportunity to sit down at the table with me and sew some felt hearts which will be carefully inserted during surgery.  Despite my sewing machine giving me fits, I managed to pull the sewing bit off.  Unfortunately, I'm well aware that this part was the easiest, and the painful task of decapitating the dolls was the next step.

After a break that involved a bit of knitting in the sunshine and a quick two overs of cricket in the back garden, I came back inside and prepped the dolls for surgery.  Rosey's wool needed re-carding, so I took a deep breath, opened her up, and emptied her insides over a towel to let them finally fully dry themselves.

Before the girls had too much time to gasp, I quickly and carefully picked out Ella's upper seams, then removed and emptied her arms.  There were still a few bits of damp wool, so I pulled out a hair dryer and gave their innards a quick blast.

While Sunburst was busy carding Rosey's innards, Moonshine and I tried Ella's new feet to see how they looked.

The poor dear!  Moonshine hemmed and hawed over it awhile and finally decided that Ella would be happiest if her feet matched her legs.  So we opened her up, gave her bits a final blast, and Moonshine set to carding while I sewed up another body.

Bodies are one thing, but repairing heads are an entirely different matter.  My dollmaking book says that if you need to repair a face, you can just cut new skin, stretch it over the old skin, and tack it in place at the hairline.  I'm sure it's very good advice if you have minor wear and tear.  But what if your doll looks like she has had most of her face chewed off?  Then what?  The book doesn't say.  Which is really what has been holding me back all these years.  Is Rosey beyond repair?

Because the next part was a bit scary, Sunburst was adamant that she didn't want to be around to watch.   Moonshine agreed.  So one night while they slept, I pulled out the scissors and my courage and set to work.

I started on Rosey first, because she needed the most attention.  And part of me knew that if I really messed up Rosey, then I could just back away from Ella with my hands up and not completely ruin Moonshine's birthday.

The main problem with Rosey, besides her skin falling off, was that I really didn't know what I was doing when I made her.  I was an overzealous Waldorf convert back in the day.  Not only did I make a full-size doll for a two-year-old (and then out of fairness had to repeat the process for Moonshine three years later), I didn't make her head firm enough nor her neck strong enough.  She was cute, but a bit wobbly from the get-go.  And her mouth-- I know you've all been thinking about her mouth embroidery since the beginning of this post.  Yes, she has full lips.  I recently read somewhere that we unconsciously make our dolls in the mirror image of our children.  I don't know what I was thinking at the time, but Sunburst does have full lips like Rosey's... just as Ella's wide smile mirrors Moonshine's.

Sometimes I think these dolls turn out a certain way for a reason.  Whatever the reason, Rosey's lips have been kissed a thousand times since she came into being, and so I have had no regrets about embroidering them that way.  Until now.  Because now I'm expected to remake them just the way they were.

First thing was first, though.  Rosey needed a stronger head and more firmness to her neck.  There was nothing to do but remove what was left of her hair and face, cut her eye and chin lines, and pray.

To be continued...

For the continuation of this story, please see Part 2 and Part 3.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Moonshine and I have been working on some human and animal studies this month.  Right now we're having fun with snails... it took us quite a bit of poking around to find some that the birds hadn't already eaten in our garden.  Every morning there is a scattering of broken shells all over the place.  The birds must be having quite an early morning feast.  If I were a snail, I would be hiding, too!

One thing I could thank the birds for was that they made it quite easy to examine the inner spiral of the shells.  So perfect!  They reminded us of a spiral ceiling we saw in Barcelona this past summer.

After digging around a bit in the garden, we unearthed a couple of live snails to investigate.  Then we made good with some empty shells and modeling beeswax to make some snails for the nature table.  Moonshine was so pleased with how they came out -- a mama and a baby!  So precious together!

Moonshine was hungering for some lovely stories this week, so we read the snail stories included in Jacob Streit's Animal Stories.  I've been looking for a copy of this in English for years, and I finally found one a couple of months ago.  It would have been perfect for Grade 2, but we're happy to have it at all.  I think it's just as applicable to the Grade 4 study anyway.  Perhaps I chanced upon our copy at the right time after all.

Just by luck I came across an interesting BBC video about the sounds tiny insects make, including snails.  Fascinating stuff!

Moonshine and I have also been talking about crafting some animals for our study.  I found the cutest pattern for crocheted snails here.  At first glance it looks to be a bit complex for my mediocre crocheting skills, so we may just end up making it up.  I'm thinking it will be fun to try.

But not this week.  This week I have undertaken a HUGE project which is eating up all of my extra bits of time.  Not that I have many extra bits, but you know what I mean.  Hopefully, I'll be able to show you that huge undertaking tomorrow.

More fun with moving pictures

Spring is definitely here!  We have had full-on sunshine for several days in a row now, and I feel like I'm finally awake after that icy winter.  It hasn't even drizzled this week, which seems like a small miracle to me.  I hope it lasts!

This week has been incredibly busy, but Kitty Bill and I have carved out a bit of time to make several moving pictures together.  We adore making these pictures and telling stories to each other.  Kitty Bill, in particular, is drawn to anything that needs a bit of engineering to pull off, so these pictures are perfect for him.  And he's full of story ideas just bursting to get out.

Here are a few that we made this week. 

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

 The Night Gnome and His Cat

The Raindrop Gnome Goes Fishing in the Dead of Night

He's really starting to develop a bit of control with the beeswax block crayons.  It's a good way to get those sharp edges worn down before we start grade one stories this fall.

I don't know what it is about moving pictures that calls to me every spring, but it seems to have become a regular springtime activity around here.  You could almost set your clock to it. ;)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Daffodil boy

During our first two weeks in England we probably visited over a dozen different bookshops.  Big ones, small ones, new, used.  It didn't matter.  Every time we passed a shop that sold books, we went in.  The kids were so overjoyed to see so many books in English.

It was on one of those first trips that our kids discovered just how prolific Enid Blyton was.  Her books are absolutely everywhere here, and now we're not sure how we lived without so many of them.  Kitty Bill, in particular, found a charming little picture book at a charity shop called The Yellow Trumpets.  It's a book about some fairy boys who make noisy trumpets, get in a bit of trouble for it, and end up hiding them in the flowers-- thus creating daffodils*.

It's a cute book, but for some reason it struck a chord with Kitty Bill.  He's a sweet boy, but he hasn't been as interested in the natural world as our girls have always been.  I think he spent our entire time on the farm in Switzerland paying more attention to the tractors than plants or animals.  Even so, after reading this book, I was a little surprised to discover that he didn't remember ever seeing a daffodil before.  Ever.  We had plenty of them growing in our garden over the last two years, and almost every year we have had some in pots growing on our nature table.

So imagine Kitty Bill's surprise this year when he discovered his first trumpet flower!  He ran over and pressed his face up close to examine it completely.  To his utter delight, they have now sprung up everywhere in our garden.  The first few days I'm sure he was checking for signs of fairies...

*There are other flowers known by the name of yellow trumpets from the Sarracenia family, or the North American pitcher plant.  Perhaps those are created by other naughty fairies.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Our newest knitter

Introducing our newest knitter... Kitty Bill.

He announced around Christmastime that he was ready to knit.

As he watched his sisters and me busily planning and crafting presents for each other, he realized that he needed to come up with some presents, too.  And those presents, he decided, were going to be knit.  By him.  For us.

He's six.  And in all honesty, he's been around knitting his whole life.  Over the last three years, he's even made a few stitches with help here and there when he felt like trying it.  His interest never lasted for more than a few stitches on whatever project I was working on.  And I wouldn't say he really understood what he was doing, he was just testing the waters.

In September I gave him a huge, beautiful hank of handspun wool for his birthday and a very cool knitting tool, kind of like a knitting Nancy, but very simplistic.  I bought it from a cute little shop in Arlesheim, Switzerland called Ahornblume.

Well, the huge hank of wool lasted maybe two days.  After his initial bewilderment, he absolutely loved it! He quickly turned the entire hank into one unimaginably long knit "snake."

Fast forward to December.

He had a few ideas about what he wanted to make-- ideas that are completely out of reach for a new knitter.  I tried to gently steer him into the realm of things that can be made from a simple square or rectangle, but he wouldn't have it.  Instead, he pulled out our pattern books and started pouring through them.  He came back to me wanting to make Moonshine the elephant pattern from A First Book of Knitting for Children.  I took one look at the pattern and saw the determination in his eyes and said, "Are you sure?  It's going to require a lot of work and attention.  You'll have to knit every single day."  He didn't even blink.

So I pulled out some yarn and let him choose a color, and we sat down and worked on casting on and simple knit stitches.  He has a very mechanical mind-- he's always drawing complex factories for some reason, so he had no trouble figuring out the engineering of the stitches.  In fact, he paid quite little attention to what he was actually doing once he figured out the stitch.  He'd carelessly knit a few rows and put it down again, pick it back up hours later, and almost with his eyes closed, begin again.

It's no big deal.  It's just string.

This was a very different experience for me.  --Three different kids, three very different kinds of knitters.

His whole attitude about it made Sunburst completely crazy.  She couldn't watch him without cringing or trying to help him in some way.  "Your needles are backwards!"  "I think you slipped a stitch." "But you dropped a stitch, let me help you!"  Frankly, he didn't want her help.  He didn't want anyone's help.

He could care less about how many stitches he dropped or if he accidentally slipped a few stitches.  People in this house knit stuff all the time, and it doesn't look so hard.  What's the big deal?!  The more he knit in his careless way, the more panicked Sunburst became, and I finally had to separate the two of them.  The rule quickly became, "If your brother is knitting, you're not allowed to watch.  Period."

And that got us through December.  He knit every day.  I helped him with the shaping-- there was a lot of binding off and casting on involved to make the legs and trunk.  But in the end, it looked mostly like it was supposed to.  There were holes a'plenty, but together we closed them all up so the stuffing wouldn't fall out.  And then we sewed it up together, and it looked like an elephant!  It really did!

He was excited about it for a few minutes, but then it was no big deal. Really.  I mean, who doesn't knit in this house?!!

The excitement came back on Christmas morning when he presented his wrapped present to Moonshine.  He was bursting for her to open it.  And she loved it, of course.  There was no question about it.  She had already shed a few tears when she found out that his first piece of knitting ever was a present for her!

In January he starting knitting a dollhouse-sized doll for Sunburst's birthday using a pattern from the same book.  This required a doll's head made by mom, and more closing of holes and help with the shaping, but again he had the determination to see it through to the end.

He's a knitter now.  He has already started his third project-- a robot for himself.  Who knows what's next!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A little knitting

I had other things I wanted to post today, but my brain isn't functioning enough to bring them to fruition.  This cold has caught me in its sticky web, and like a small bug, at first I felt just a glimmer of hope that I could wrangle myself free.  But today I have to acquiesce.  I'm caught.  I'm sick.  I need more kleenex and a cup of hot tea and a good lie down on the couch.

What I really need is some mindless knitting to go along with that... the kind I can put down in between blowing my nose, sipping my tea, and petting the cat.

I've just finished mailing off a host of new baby presents, and I have nothing simple on the needles.  I've been knitting baby presents nonstop for over a year now.  I don't know what water source all our friends seem to be tapped into, but I almost feel as if I've forgotten how to knit anything but baby gifts.

Here are the latest two, just shipped off this week:

A Baby Kina for a baby in Switzerland.

A little top-down raglan sweater for a baby in Germany.

An old friend in Hamburg has been wanting to be a dad for awhile, so sending something for his newborn son was a pretty big deal.  The girls wanted to knit something as well, so Moonshine knit her first pair of socks: Baby Socks from More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts.  And Sunburst, a bit forlorn that she couldn't knit the socks, knit this sweet hat: Basic Baby Hat.

The sock pattern was one of the simplest yet, and Moonshine was pretty pleased with herself.  As she should be-- I think they look fantastic!  It's amazing to watch these children transition from their first wobbly stitches all the way to their first pair of socks.  And what's even better is that they know it.  You can see it in their eyes.  Moonshine just stared at them in disbelief when she was finished.  "Wow!  I actually made these!"

And now for that lie down.

If my brain is up and running tomorrow, I'll tell you all about the newest knitter in the house.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Norse Myths

Moonshine has been thoroughly enjoying the Norse myths, and it really shows in her work.  She has become such a wonderful artist-- quite attentive to detail and completely absorbed in what she's doing.  Her enthusiasm is delightful.

It's my second time introducing a child to these wonderful stories, and this time around I'm pulling ideas from two additional sources-- Charles Kovacs' Norse Mythology and Eugene Schwartz's Grade 4 files-- as well as D'Aulaire's Norse Myths.  When I did this block with Sunburst so many, many moons ago, I just had the latter book to pull from, and it was fine.

This is not the first time that I'm left wondering if too many sources is a bad thing.  The Kovacs' book was just released in the last couple of years, and because I've grown quite fond of his work, I was eager to buy it.  Twice, as it turned out, because I inadvertently loaned out my first copy.  Anyway, so far it's a lovely book.  Both the Kovacs' and D'Aulaire's have engaging stories.  Visually though, the D'Aulaire's is incomparable.

There are discrepancies between the two re-tellings-- different names, different outcomes, and a different order to the stories.  Some characters are highlighted more in each source, which is neither good nor bad, just an observation.  I will probably continue forward with both books when we return to finish up next month.

The files from Eugene Schwartz have some good phrasing with the writing examples.  Moonshine wants to tell every part of the story in her writing, and I found the beginning a good compromise with some of his phrasing and some of our own.  Moonshine was smitten with the beginning of the Kovacs' story, so we borrowed his poetic introduction as well.  We're also borrowing ideas from Sunburst's main lesson book when it feels right.  It seems like that was created a lifetime ago... has it only been three years?

Both Moonshine and I were completely surprised with the quality of her work this time around.  There has definitely been a palpable shift.

We're having a bit of an issue with the quality of the latest batch of main lesson books that I ordered.  The ink from the fountain pen runs right though!  We've ended up doing a lot of pasting into our books.  As you can see below, it looks like she forgot to make a background and paste one in.   Oops.

When she's done with this block, I plan to have her go back to these images and work in some celtic knot form drawings where she can fit them in.

Sunburst would like me to point out that the following is a poem that she and I wrote together when she did this lesson.  Moonshine liked it so much that she asked to copy it into her own book.  Except for the opening pages, the rest of the writing was created from Moonshine's verbal retelling of the stories, and then me telling her, "It's too long, how can we make it short enough to fit in your book?"

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