Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Father Christmas correspondence

Or, a glitter signature always means magic...

It was the night before Christmas, and as the sun began to set a little girl wrote a note to Santa Claus. She chose some treats to give Mr C energy during his long night of delivering presents, and a small bottle of mineral water to keep him hydrated.  She laid out the letter, the treats and the mineral water (with a glass and straw) on a tray on the ottomans near the Christmas tree, made a wish and headed off to bed.
Translation from over-excited-forgot-to-add-'please'-in-her-excitement-6-year-old-script:  Dear Santa Claus, I love you. Could you bring me a pillow pet that lights up in the dark.  Love Sylvie.
On Christmas day morning, all were thrilled to see that Mr C had indeed, visited.  There were 'snowy' footprints near the fireplace (remember it's summer here, so no need for fires) and the promised present was waiting in the hearth.  The chocolates had been eaten, and most of the gingerbread.  Mr C must have been thirsty, as all the mineral water was gone!

Wishing you a happy holiday, we're in for a hot day here, we'll be splashing about in the paddle pool on the deck.


Sylvie received the gift from Mr C that she had asked for, a pillow-pet that lights up in the dark.
Thank you Mr C!  Enjoy a well-earned rest after all your travels.

The Apatosaurus is the newest addition to Sylvie's collection of Schleich dinosaurs.  Sylvie was deeply impressed with Mr C's magic glitter signature...

And here is 'Rainbow' the pillow pet from Father Christmas.

Friday, 20 December 2013


Or, bespoke is best.

Crissy, 2014, in her original dress from Ideal.
Thirty-eight years ago I was given a doll for Christmas.  She arrived boxed, wearing a gaudy ankle-length pink gingham dress, with a broderie-anglaise collar and cheap white plastic shoes.  Her eyes opened and closed and what set her apart in the doll market at the time was that she had the ability to lengthen and shorten her hair (there was a knob on her back that twirled to adjust the hair length and a belly button ‘button’ to unlock or lock the chosen length in place).  The box said she was called ‘Crissy’ and, as an obedient 5 year old, this name seemed as set in stone as my own name, and I have called her ‘Crissy’ ever since.
Thousands of children across the world will remember their own, or their friend’s or sister’s ‘Crissy’.  You might well have had your very own ‘Crissy’.  What set my ‘Crissy’ apart from all others was her bespoke wardrobe, her very own couture, stitched by my Russian Grandmother.  Crissy had an entire wardrobe of fabulous and sophisticated clothing; one suited to cocktails, nights at the theatre and formal luncheons.  Some of the outfits still remain intact today, (not all) and I’m delighted to be able to share with you some of my Grandma Helena’s creations. 

Grandma used to help me dress Crissy, explaining how a stole ought to be placed (lost now, unfortunately) and whether Crissy’s hair would be better suited in an up do or down…  There were rules of what ‘went’ with what… a sense of proportion to understand.  I’m definite that these rudimentary lessons on style permeated deeply into my eye for design as it is now.  Unpacking Crissy’s clothes, I could hear my Grandma’s voice telling me about the parties she attended, ‘so much music’, ‘so much dancing’, ‘so much romance’…  She told me that sometimes she would be still stitching the finishing touches to her gown an hour before that evening's dance would begin…

Crissy’s wardrobe was made up of scraps of material from Grandma’s stash of fabrics, she was brilliant at making something fabulous from near to nothing, I thought she was incredibly clever then, and on reflection, and seeing her creativity through the clothes she has made, even more so now. 

Sylvie plays with my Crissy doll now, Crissy is often invited to share tea with Sylvie’s other toys, but her days of glamorous premieres, sumptuous parties and balls far are behind her.  Her wardrobe remains, a symbol of an era past and a tangible way for me to remember my Grandma.

Christmas 1975, South Australia.  Look in the foreground and you will see Crissy on the floor near my brother, my Grandma is on the RHS, that's me with the blonde bun unwrapping something with my Mum.
Full sleeved evening gown in light magenta silk.

Detail of collar.

Magenta silk evening gown.

Detail of hand stitched rolled hem.

Straight woollen plaid skirt with yellow cotton dolman sleeve shirt, buttons at back neck.

Ready for an evening out to dinner.
Front of silky cocktail dress, missing a waist band detail.

Back of burnt orange silky cocktail dress, note the detail to cover the knob at the back.

Showing Crissy's full length of hair.

Wish I had the belt that must have attached with the press-studs that remain...

You can see her pretty shoulder blades in this dress.

Wearing a cape against the elements.
As a child, one of my favourite outfits. A skirt and shirt ensemble.  Gosh I loved the bow at the neck!
My absolute all time favourite gown for Crissy, then, and NOW!

The pink flower (tattered now) is the original from the 70's.

The fan back detail that I adored, the height of glamour I thought at five years of age.  The dress demands that the hair be worn up, of course.

This wikipedia article is an excellent and concise summary of the various Crissy dolls created by Ideal. If you had a Crissy, click here to find out which version you owned!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Summer gifts

Or, why is the grass always greener?

As I write this post today, the 19th December, the forecast temperature is 43 degrees, (that's 109.4 in Fahrenheit).  Should we reach this figure, it will be the hottest day in December in South Australia for 80 years.  I will say that this is considered very hot, and truly out of the ordinary.  Sylvie is at her last day of holiday tennis clinic today.  Due to the heat, they have begun at 8am and the children shall finish by 10.30 am, flushed and over-warm.  The tennis coaches will spray the students with bottles of iced water and there will be frequent breaks for re-hydration. After the class ends, we will climb into the car and blast the air conditioning to MAX.  The steering wheel and seats will be hot to the touch.  In the back of my mind, there is the nagging fear of the threat of bushfires.  Sylvie will sing "Jingle bells" all the way home.

We dream of one day experiencing a White Christmas, to dash through the snow in a ‘one horse open sleigh’...  Sylvie's number one childhood Christmas fantasy would be to build a snowman...  I would enjoy waking to see a blanket of white around me, and to see once again, some snowflakes falling (I first saw snowflakes fall this year, I was delighted to discover they were magically SILENT).

The festive spirit is strong in our household, and, amongst the traditional Christmas carols we play in high rotation, we delight in classic American Christmas songs; swingin' Frank Sinatra’s version of "Jingle bells", the eternally elegant Nat King Cole singing " The Christmas song" and it's just not Christmas for us without Perry Como telling us that "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas".  And my personal favourite... “Winter wonderland”.

So it’s Christmas time; and like many across the world, we’re wrapping presents, writing cards and switching on the Christmas tree lights every night, but unlike the music that we listen to that describes a snowy outdoors, and which defines so much of our modern Christmases; (“Baby, it’s cold outside”), for us in the Antipodes, ‘Baby, it’s hot outside’.

We discuss our intended menu for Christmas Day, whilst hearing about sleigh bells ringing and snow that is glistening.  A balmy 27 degrees (80.6 F) is expected on the 25th, and we shall eat our Christmas luncheon on the deck outside, looking out over the hills at the parched paddocks.  No Christmas pud, too hot, too rich.  Fruit salad for dessert instead.  In the late afternoons, the heat distorts our view of the horizon as it ripples up from the land and rises to the skies above.  Should the hot winds stay away we will return to the deck at the end of the day to observe the spectacular sunset.

I decorate the house with the flora that I find around me.  The roses are spent, they have generously given this season, alas there are few blooms remaining to be seen.  So I make do with the beautiful grasses, a myriad of types.  There are scissors and secateurs in the glove box of the car.  I'm that lady you see leaning in from the side of the road to clip and gather that which most would not consider worthy of notice, the brilliant roadside grasses and weeds.  Such a delicate palette of soft greens, fading to pale biscuit tones as they dry and release their seeds.  If one chooses to venture out on one of these hot afternoons, the drying winds buffet your face and you return inside swiftly, for a glass or two of cool water.  Should I choose to walk in the paddocks at sunset, the dry grass would crunch underfoot. Apparently snow makes a crunching sound underfoot.  I guess the similarities of a cold Christmas versus a hot one end there.

Wishing all a happy holiday season, wherever you are, be it a hot or cold ‘clime.  Remember to notice the small details in your habitat that define the season, the birds that remain to entertain you with their calls, and the flora that emerges.  They truly are thrilling gifts, and you only have to open your heart and eyes to see them.

Best wishes, Lara-Jane.

My collection of grasses clipped from the roadsides nearby; laid out on the tiled floor.
The best place to photograph the arrangement is outside...
As at 4.30pm in the afternoon, we've almost hit 43...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Make me! The Kewpie doll angel

Or, explaining the transforming power of pretty.

Excuse me angel, but my, you sure are pretty!

There is a game I play whilst completing my quotidian duties.  Grasping errand and shopping lists in hand, I secretly people-watch as I add items to my supermarket trolley or wait patiently in line in a store to be served.  (There is my compulsion to tuck exposed clothing tags back into the shirt or sweater of the stranger in front of me, but I suppose that really ought to be discussed in another blog).

My game involves finding an element of natural beauty in each woman around me; the arch of an eyebrow, the gentle tilt of a neck, a throaty laugh, elegant hands, high cheekbones, kind eyes, a warm smile… Often times the women I see are oblivious to that lovely element of their personage; or have lost themselves in the endless daily routine of waking, showering, dressing, shopping, fetching, washing, driving, waiting, tidying and the getting through of each day… somehow.

I am quite sure these ladies have convinced themselves they are not worth looking at.  These women are ‘disappearing’ themselves; this may be deliberate or unconscious but it makes me sad to see it.  Sweat pants, a shapeless t-shirt and flip-flops are depressing both to wear, and to be seen in.  If you are at the point in your life where this is all you think you can manage to dress yourself in; admit to yourself you are in a sad place.  Most of us have chores and errands and children and bills and family issues. That’s life, and these things must be done.  Just not in a livery of gloom.

One can re-emerge from this sadness. You don’t need money, youth, innate style, or to be a slave to fashion.  Make no mistake; this is not encouraging vanity.  This is about finding your trick to feeling pretty.  Feeling pretty helps.  It helps you get through the day, it helps when you’re feeling flat or down or hopeless.  Work out what makes you feel pretty.  It doesn’t need to be much; a touch of blush, a sweep of mascara, a slick of gloss, sweeping your hair into a high ponytail, or a spritz of your favourite scent.  (Oh,... I nearly forgot to add, never save scent for an ‘occasion’, your occasion is NOW!)  Take one minute of your day to think of something simple and quick that you could do right now to make you feel pretty.  Take one more minute and DO IT!  That’s a total of two minutes from your day.  Not one soul would begrudge you that…

Pin this to remind you if you have lost the habit of finding time for pretty.

My beloved Russian grandma always wore red toenail polish (or varnish as she used to say), and she never left the house without lipstick; (the thrifty soul she was, she had the same tube of lipstick for over 20 years; she would use a tiny brush to paint just the right amount of stain to colour her lips).  There was a long mirror in the hallway and Grandma would allow herself a quick overall glimpse to check all was in place, (no vain lingering ‘selfie’ styled poses, this was the 70’s after all).  A little spray of scent and she was ready to face the world outside.  Helena felt pretty, and I always thought she was beautiful.

Plastic Kewpie dolls are a perfect visual metaphor to explain the transforming power of pretty.  How seemingly plain they are straight from the packet; but a little blush, some lipstick, a ‘do’ on the eyelashes, a pretty frock:  Gosh! From pretty 'plain' to pretty 'lovely', pretty-quickly!

Instructions follow on how you can transform a Kewpie doll into a pretty angel pretty-quickly… Why not add Her Prettiness to the top of your Christmas tree?  After the Christmas season has passed, our Kewpie doll angels will reside in the bathroom for the rest of the year, as a visual cue to add just a bit of something to make both Sylvie and I feel pretty.

Best wishes, and remember to do something to make you feel pretty (if you don’t already!)
Lara-Jane. xx

Click here for the:
Kewpie doll angel wing pdf pattern

For one angel you will need:
A plastic Kewpie doll (they come in two sizes, 14cm and 17cm)
A fine Sharpie pen (to write the date and any sweet message you like)

Here she is, pre-pretty transformation.

Adding the ‘pretty’ to your angel’s face
Turps or water to clean the brushes (depending on paint type)
Paint brushes (one ultra fine for the facial features, one slightly larger for the hair)
Gold paint
Pink paint
Red paint
White paint
Black paint (I use model aircraft paints and these colours are part of my crafting arsenal)
Ultra cheap fake eyelashes from a discount store

Items required for adding the 'pretty' to your Kewpie doll's face.

For the angel’s attire
Gold pipe-cleaners x 2 for the halo and to secure the frock
Plain wire to hold the halo in place
A small length of white tulle (see below ‘And now, for the dress’)
Fabric scissors to cut the tulle
Glue gun & glue sticks
Charged electric drill and very fine drill bit

Items required for the angel's attire.

Wings to make wishes with
A clean 2-litre milk bottle
Kitchen scissors
Pencil/biro to mark out wings on plastic
White feathers (from a craft store), I made-do using an old white feather boa
Glue gun & glue sticks
A print out of the wing pattern (either large or small) glued to light card (think cereal box)

Items required for the wings.

How to transform your Kewpie doll into a pretty angel.

Here she is, out of the packet and washed clean of paint flakes.
Her hair needs attention!
Every angel needs a halo
Take a half-length of a gold pipe-cleaner and turn into a circle to form the halo, twist the ends around each other to secure.  Take a 5cm length of wire and twist around the joins of the pipe-cleaners.  Take the electric drill and make a hole in the top back of the doll’s skull.  Insert the wire of the halo into the hole and secure with the hot glue gun.  Let the glue cool.

(At this stage of proceedings ask yourself this: will I be hanging this angel on the tree as a decoration?  If so, drill a hole into the centre of her head also.  Cut a 2cm length of wire, fold and twist at the ends to make a hanging loop.  Insert the ends in the hole so just the loop remains and then add a small dob of glue to secure. You could also experiment with the larger sized crocodile clips and hot glue them to the smaller Kewpie doll’s feet so she could be clipped onto a Christmas tree branch, I have not tried this however, it’s just an idea, let me know how it went if you have tried it).

Augmenting her coiffure
Touch up the manufacturer’s gold paint on the hair, and paint over the lump of glue that holds the halo in place (and any hanging arrangement made if she is destined as a Christmas tree decoration).

Time for the pretty
It is entirely up to you how you choose to pretty-up your Kewpie doll angel.  I added more black to the eye (sometimes the paint was unevenly applied in the factory).  After the black dried, I added a white dot as the iris.  Pink cheeks were applied as simple circles and I gave the angel cupid’s bow lips (think flapper-era actress Clara Bow).  Cut some of the eyelashes to length and apply.  Once glued in place, trim the eyelashes to a shorter length.

Clara Bow... Those lips! Just a few small brush strokes are all that is required on the Kewpie doll to mimic this look.
Nearly completely pretty, waiting on eyelashes...

Making up the angel wings
Take a length of milk bottle plastic (see the link to this project for how to prepare the bottle to use it).

Click to take you to instructions to prepare the milk bottle plastic (from my February 2013 post, "Make me! The milk bottle Easter bunny").

Line up the wing pattern so the straight edge is on the natural fold of the milk bottle plastic.  Trace around the wing pattern you made using a biro or Sharpie marker (I prefer the biro that doesn’t leave an ink mark, just a faint score line that you can cut by in good light).  Firmly hold the folded plastic in your left hand and cut out the wing.

Open out the wing and using the hot glue gun, begin to glue the feathers, covering both sides, I preferred the downier feathers that lends an ethereal soft effect, but you may choose to use down at the top part of the wing and finish on the edges with the tapered feathers (many illustrations and paintings of angels follow this semiotic angel cliché).

(Ask yourself this:  is the angel being crafted as a tree topper?  If this is the case, you will need to add some wiring to the doll’s waist, and have it hot glued in place before you dress her).

And now, for the dress
This can be über-simple, that is, in my example which is simply the tulle and gold pipe-cleaner to hold the dress in place, or you could bead the skirt or dip the bottom edges of the skirt in PVA glue and add gold glitter; it’s up to you.  Whatever you think is... pretty of course!

Measure the body length of the doll and double it.  Cut a length of approximately 1 metre by the height  of the doubled body length.  Fold in half lengthways to a single body length.  Lift the doll's arms upward.  Gather up the tulle around the angel by hand (like folding a fan) and secure with a gold pipe-cleaner around the waist, holding the doll in your left hand and spreading out the gathers with your right hand. The join should be in the back.  Once the pipe cleaner has been wrapped around the waist and tied firmly at the back, trim the excess pipe-cleaner.  Pull and tug at the skirt above the waist line to give and good shape to the 'bodice' of the dress.  In you left hand, gather the skirt at the ankles and trim to an even length. Add a generous amount of hot glue at the back waist to secure the skirt to the doll.

Attaching the wings
Again, using the hot glue gun, attach the wings (tips of the wings facing down).  The wings should cover the globs of glue added to secure the skirt.  The wings should be placed so the natural “memory” of the fold from the milk bottle is facing out from the back (you’ll see, you want the wings to sit away from the back, think butterfly).  (You will need a glob of glue at the waist band and one just above the nape of the neck in the lower part of the hair).  Hold the wings in place for a minute or so until the glue has cooled somewhat.

A close up of the smaller sized Kewpie doll angel, this one hangs from the tree.

Grab your Sharpie pen…
And write the year on the underside of her foot, perhaps a “for (insert loved one’s name), “with love from” (insert your name).

All pretty gorgeous I must say!

Note the longer skirt, the length is up to you!