Saturday, 29 September 2012

Making Vera, the vintage felted mouse landlady

Like many people these days, I can't afford the luxury of owning my own house. I do live in a lovely cottage in the Somerset countryside, with my husband, but our cottage is rented. Before I met my husband, I lived in London, and the only places I could afford to live in on my own were rented rooms, and I've lived in more of them than I care to admit, even to myself!

But the experience got me to thinking about bedsits and living in lodgings in general, and how different the experience is today, compared to what it must have been like back in the day.

Today if you need to rent a room, you have two choices; you can either rent a room in a house-share with a bunch of other people who you may or may not like, they'll be 'professionals', students or just generally, people who can't afford to buy a house, so that narrows it down! Option number two: You can pay an extortionate amount of money per week for the privilege of living in a lonely, grim bedsit, with only a miserable looking two ring baby belling cooker for company, and a plank of chipboard to prepare your vegetables on. Not very inspiring is it?

In days gone by, when people rented rooms,  it was called lodgings. The landlady actually lived in the house, and would  provide meals too! More than likely a plate of bread and dripping, or a vat of lard, but still, you know what I mean. This is a good example of the fact that we, as a nation, (no, scrap that) as a species, have been steadily becoming more and more separate from each-other, with less community spirit.

Vintage films and books show mostly young, single men living in lodgings, with a landlady who always seems to be portrayed as just a little bit nosey, and mainly always spends her time hovering about at the bottom of the stairs. The vintage landlady is a no-nonsense, rather imposing presence,  who loves to keep everything ship shape..Very house proud, or mouse proud, in my little felted mouse's case.

Catherine Tate, the brilliant British comedian, did a hilarious sketch of a vintage landlady and life in the 1950s, from the third series of The Catherine Tate Show, in which a modern day police officer gets knocked off his motorbike,  and somehow wakes up in 1950s Britain.

Anyway, back to my little mouse, Vera.....Inspired by this theme, I decided I wanted to make a felted vintage landlady mouse, with a miniature vacuum cleaner. I could picture her in my mind's eye, but I had no idea what she was going to turn out like....

For Vera's body and hair, I used a gorgeous Beige coloured Shetland wool. Vera's hair was made with a fantastically soft Fawn Alpaca wool silk.

Vera took about 3 days to make, and I knew that was going to be the easiest part. The hard part was going to be making a dress for her. Mostly because I can't sew! I decided to ignore that fact, and just go with it anyway, I'd cross that bridge when I came to it! Hmm, I thought, that could be a bit of a major issue! I decided maybe I would buy an ready made outfit for her, but then I realised it would be far better to just face the challenge and get past it. I can felt, but I can't sew. I wasn't going to let that stop me though....

I stomped around the local charity shops looking for vintage fabrics and came back empty handed. I eventually found some reclaimed vintage fabric online that I liked the look of. I have to say,  I know absolutely nothing about which fabric is good for which project, I do know what looks lovely, and is obviously good quality.

Right, so I had the things that I thought people who do sewing would need; fabric, needles, cotton, scissors. I don't have a sewing machine, but after battling with Vera's dress, I think now is a good time to invest in one! I've never actually sewn anything in my life, apart from a button on a pair of jeans, and even that was definitely not in the right place. So with a deep breath and the thought 'why don't I just buy a dress' in my mind, I struggled on....

I searched online for a tutorial video, for what seemed like aeons, but I couldn't find one that didn't seem to assume the viewer had at least some knowledge of how to make something out of fabric. I finally found a tutorial in photographs, for Barbie (or similar) dolls:

I won't tell you how many 'patterns' (if that's what you could call them) that I made and threw away, because it's just embarassing, I can almost hear the sewers among you giggling at my sewing genius ;)

After I'd pulled most of my hair out in frustration, I had this. Ok, don't laugh too loudly...

Um, what is it?

Then I pinned it to Vera. She turned her back on me and said....

You've got to be kidding me, right?

Well, no actually, I wasn’t kidding. Here you go Vera, here’s your dress….One very unimpressed mouse.

You seriously expect me to wear this?

I had ordered a teeny tiny vacuum cleaner from a doll's house accessories shop on Ebay. I wasn't about to start wondering around my local shops asking if anyone, by chance, had a miniature hoover they could sell me. I already have a reputation in my neighbourhood for being a bit odd ;) The problem with buying doll's house accessories, as I found out, is that most of them are scale 1/12, bigger than Vera, who stands at about 3". An upright modern, but vintage looking mini hoover would have been far too big, so I went for a genuinely vintage vacuum cleaner. It cost more, but at least it's the right size and it is genuine vintage. Although from a later time than Vera is from, but that's just getting picky.

The mini vacuum cleaner arrives!
How cute is that?

Time to do Vera’s hair and I thought a snood would be very fitting for her. I found a really sweet crocheted vintage doily in my local charity shop that was perfect for Vera’s snood.

Vera's vintage snood material

I rolled the fawn Alpaca wool & silk onto needle felted ‘rollers’ and felted them into place…

Watch the hair lady, I still haven't forgiven you for this dress.

Rollers all in, now for the snood….

Yes, lovely dear, but when are you taking these rollers out?

Phew! Finally finished – Ok, so I kind of covered up the messy bits on the dress, but for a first time tiny dress, I’m giving myself that!
Vera is happy with the way she looks, but she’s still a little bit grumpy about the fact that the rollers are going to be in her hair forever….

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