Sunday, 28 December 2014

Doll Dishes and Milkstools

Doll Dishes and Milkstools
Last December at a get-together with one of my social groups, a friend proposed a challenge to the 4 of us for next Christmas.  She proposed that instead of buying each other Christmas gifts, we should make them and spend no more than $5.00 on each gift.  Now here we are at the next year.  The annual  gift exchange is tomorrow and I am excited to see how we all did with that challenge.

Possible Resource

The $5.00 challenge got me thinking about making things.  As you can see by my knitting obsession, I do make quite a few things, and I made many gifts this year.  My reflections took me back to the first thing I remember making….a cupboard for my sister’s doll dishes.  I still have that Doll Dish Cupboard and I have dragged it around throughout my life for about 50 years.  It must hold meaning for me.  In the house where we now live, it has gone from basement to garage, to inner basement, to garage, to camp, to garage, to basement.  You get the picture.  Well, since I have been having these nostalgic flashbacks, I have gone to the basement, dug it out and washed it off.  It deserves a place of honour in my Knitting Studio, obviously.  I must have hung on to it for some reason?  I will be able to use it to hold yarn, or doll dishes, or turnip tags, or expired flashlight batteries, or something.    It already holds memories.
 The Doll Dishes Cupboard
       When my room-mate Tom walked into the kitchen, he looked at the cupboard mournfully and said, "It seems so sad.  And lonely."  How can a cupboard be sad and lonely, I thought.  Decrepit, for sure, but it is 50 years old. 

 This Doll Dish Cupboard started out as a crate that held grapes.  My father would have dragged it home from Atlantic Wholesalers or Willett Fruits upon making delivery of our rhubarb or turnips or cabbage or squash or potatoes.  He would have seen some use for that wooden crate, although I bet doll dishes was not his first thought.  He would have seen it as useful to hold tools or ropes or chains or a motor or something.  He may have even brought home some half-rotten grapes in the crate. 
Wooden Grape Crate

     I can imagine the conversation between my father and me about that crate.

                “Barb, that crate would make a great little cupboard for doll dishes.”
                  “Yeah,” I would answer, assessing it with my 6 or 7 or 8 year-old eyes.
                “You should make one for your little sister.” 
       Kathy, my little Doll Dish Sister, was about 4 or 5 or 6 years old, and the definite favourite.   Did I buy into the cupboard idea because I wanted to make something, or because I was a nice big sister???  You can guess the answer.

Doll Dishes

      My father would have gone into a brief description as to how a cedar shingle was exactly the right size to work as shelves and that I could paint it afterward with some left-over turquoise paint.  And then, he helped me build it.  Or should I say assemble it.  A real cabinet-maker would not use the word build. 
Cedar Shingles
 Leftover Turquoise Paint

     As I look at it now, the assembly of the cupboard would have been pretty simple.  A wooden crate, 2 cedar shingles and turquoise paint.  I don’t remember every detail about building that little gem with my father, but I remember parts of it.  I do remember being in the garage with hammer and nails and my father.  A saw would have been required to cut the guides that held the cedar shingles that became removable shelves in that cupboard. 
Cedar Shingle Shelf Removed
I remember building one other item with my father in the garage….a 2-legged milkstool.  In my early years as milkmaid, I was too little (or awkward) to balance on a one-legged milkstool which was standard issue, so, rather than be excused from milking duties, my father helped me to build my own little milkstool.  I remember my Great Uncle Frank being in the garage when I was trying to nail the 3 pieces of board together.  “Hit the nail on the head, Barb. The wood’s all right.” 
The One-Legged Milkstool
                My little milkstool was so crude and so cute, built with dirty old used lumber, and lots of bent nails where I missed with the hammer.  After I graduated to the one-legged milkstool, my rustic little artefact hung around the barn, wedged into a corner awaiting repurposing.  I wish I still had that milkstool;  I could use it in my knitting studio as a footstool.  Alas, it went up in flames when our barn burned when I was 12.
Did building that cupboard and milkstool start me on the road to making things? I still get the best charge out of making something from nothing---repurposing.  Like my mitten tree.....
The Mitten Tree
or using scraps of yarn.... 
Bottled Scraps of Yarn
to make mittens. 
Mittens Made from Scraps of Yarn
      I know part of my inspiration is simply genetic cheapness but I wonder if part of it is genetic creativity or innovation.  My father built things out of necessity and cheapness.  There is some satisfaction in both. 
No one would ever call my father a doting parent, but building that cupboard and milkstool with him nurtured creativity and confidence in a 6 or 7 or 8 year-old child.  The best thing a child should be allowed to make is mistakes. 
In the Knitting Studio

Until Next Time....


  1. I think your father had it figured out. I remember spendig time with mine in his meticulous shed. The tools and screws and "stuff" were so neatly organized and labelled that it was heaven. I think I missed that gene:) Keep on writing; it keeps memories flowing and I love it.

  2. Thanks, Pat!! I think you got that "organizer gene"!!

  3. Read this earlier and now am sitting still to reply. Love the image of little Barb working diligently beside the big father to make the cupboard. It deserves a place in your own "room".