Dressing Basil Bunsen

I may have mentioned previously that I enjoy shopping at second-hand stores. I just love how I never know what I might find. In my shopping, I am always on the lookout for Calico Critters items. They don’t come up all too often, but the excitement I feel when I find something for my hobby is so exhilarating.

Recently, I found an adult Sweetpea rabbit tucked in a bag with a whole bunch of plastic figures. I saw that it was in quite good shape (though unclothed) and since the entire bag was only $1, I had to bring it home.

On the way home, he told me his name is “Basil Bunsen” and that he’d really like some fashionable new clothes, please. He prides himself on being a fashionable rabbit and it would be so embarrassing for his new neighbors to see him without a stitch of clothing on!

I just had to help the poor fellow out and give him some fashionable garments before he moved into Crabapple Crossings.

Tutorial time Below the Cut!

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Review: Calico Critters Town Series Creamy Gelato Shop

My hiatus from Calico Critters has been for a few reasons: other hobbies taking precedence, not feeling motivated, having to move things around after my craft room had another minor flood… But I am a bit sad to admit, part of my disinterest in critters lately has been due to my ambivalence regarding the new product releases. The Calico Critters Town Series just hasn’t really caught my fancy. Yes, it is exciting that a ton of new items were created. Yes, it is wonderful that the delay between products being released overseas (Japan specifically) and the United States has decreased signficantly. And yes, I think that for many collectors, this series is the breath of fresh air they desire.

But for me, the Town Series just didn’t take my breath away. I’ve always loved the more earthy, rustic feeling that Calico Critters provided. I’ve loved that it is essentially a dollhouse, but that due to the animals and the more forest-like colors, the line felt it could be equally appealing to young boys and young girls. This direction towards a more ornate, feminine appearance has made me a little bit sad – that the woodsy, agrarian feel of the toys that I love is being replaced.

I also was disappointed to learn that the buildings in the town series are much shallower in depth. As a collector who enjoys decorating and setting up scenes, these shallower buildings seemed a bit like a downgrade.

But…when I was at my local Homegoods store and saw a few of the Town Series items at a significantly reduced price, I just couldn’t help myself. In the case of the Creamy Gelato Shop, the MSRP is $34.95, which was way too much for me to take a chance on an item I’ve been pretty ambivalent about. But at $14.99? Well, even though I don’t need an ice cream shop, I could maybe consider transforming it into something different.

But I want to give the toy a fair shake – get my hands on it and see how it looks in person, how it feels in my hands. So here is my way overly detailed review of the Calico Critters Creamy Gelato Shop.

First Impressions: A very appealing box. The front features a lovely scene of the gelato shop in place among other Town Series buildings. In terms of items pictured, but not included, the photo features two Light up Street Lamps, the Maple Cat mother, Bell Hopscotch from the Dress Up Duo set, and Stella Hopscotch from the Town Girl Series (not included) as well as some trees and flower planters that are not available for purchase.

There are also some very cute vignette pictures on various places on the box.

I always appreciate the images on the side of the box that truly show the included items.

Additionally, the bottom of the box features a printed list of included items. I really like this detail, as it reduces confusion as to what each item is.

Opening up the box reveals the various pieces.

And all these goodies are inside the white box.

Let’s start by taking a look at the main structure:

The structure of the shop is an attractive robin’s egg blue with a light tan textured floor. My first impression is that it really is a very shallow building, but the detail is rather impressive.

The exterior is exceptionally ornate, featuring many intricate details. I am especially drawn to the Corinthian columns flanking the doorway. And the little bay windows are too precious.

On the other hand, I am a bit disappointed regarding the floor. Why does it have so many molded slots? Two across the opening , and one at each side door. These slots stand out like a sore thumb to me, and really detract from the overall look of the structure.

This issue with the slots continues with the terrace. I do appreciate that the terrace can be used either as an upper floor for the shop, or as an extension to the interior. Once again the molded slots take away from the otherwise elegant look of the structure. I also wish the floor pattern on the terrace was identical to that of the main building, as the abrupt change in pattern when used as a base extension is quite jarring to my eye.

Also, I could not get a good picture of it, and I can’t seem to upload the video, but the floor of the main structure bows up a bit in the middle a couple of millimeters. It seems to be just enough of a flaw to make some items a bit wobbly when placed in the shop.

Since I am not sure I will be keeping this building as a gelato shop, I did not apply the shop-specific stickers to it. I put up the awnings, but I think I actually prefer the look of the building more without them. There is so much intricate detail on the exterior that it seems a bit of a shame to cover it up with the awnings.

The gelato counter is quite brilliant. The curve of the counter is attractive, and I love that it even has a dedicated area for the gelato spade to sit. The molded gelati are nice and glossy in lovely natural-looking colors. I especially appreciate that the vanilla gelato is not a pure white color. Really beautiful. Each gelato has a small sign that fits snugly into a slot, as well as a single scoop that fits a bit less securely.

The shop also comes with a table, a cone holder, and two cones. The scoops of gelato fit into the cones, a really neat detail rather than having cones pre-molded with gelato. The slightly curved counter fits very well in the interior space – it has a nice, solid presence, and the curve is an attractive solution for the shallowness of the structure. The interior also features two gold-toned wall sconces – they are decorative only, and don’t light up. I really like this detail – they give the space an opulent look, and I appreciate that they were included, rather than sold separately.

One area of disappointment here is that I think the set would be much improved for play-ability if it included a chair or two to match the table. I have to say that without anywhere to sit, the building looks a wee bit empty to me. I also wish that the cone holder had someplace to sit on the counter. I generally think that it makes a bit more sense for the cones to be near the gelato sales-critter rather than out in the customer area.

Now, one thing that I think is important to consider when buying new items is the packaging. That is one of my ongoing complaints (maybe complaints is too strong a word, maybe let’s say issues) with Calico Critters is the excessive packaging for their products. Let’s take a look:

Not only does the set have a cardboard exterior box, it also has two cardboard supports, a smaller, thinner cardboard box, a plastic-y sticker sheet, four pieces of molded plastic, a plastic support for the cones and signs, and four additional plastic bags. For the amount of items in the box, this is a lot of waste! Especially a lot of plastic waste. The bags, especially are annoying to me, in particular the bag that only held the sticker sheet and a small paper storybook. I recognize that my hobby is wasteful, but the plastics in particular seem excessive.

Before you throw away the molded clear plastic, maybe they could be reused.

These sections, which held the gelati could possibly be cut out, painted, and used as sinks.

These two pieces that mirror each other have an interesting shape. Maybe with some paint or fabric, they could become a neat little sectional couch with space for a child or adult and a toddler figure, and perhaps an attached side table?

I am not saying you should not buy things you like because of the waste created, just maybe try to think outside the box on how things could get reused.

So, what is my verdict? This is a tricky one! There are certainly things I like about the Creamy Gelato Shop. Now that I have had the building in my hands, I can really admire the amazing details in the structure itself. Truly, the Rococo molded details of the structure are incredible. The color of structure is very pleasant and I like the movable terrace. The color and glossiness of the gelato is lovely. But…there is just something missing the mark for me, overall. I just can’t seem to get past the more shallow building. This could have been mitigated for me if the terrace fit more seamlessly on the ground floor of the structure. But with the difference in “tile” design and the inexplicable slots that bother me so much, it doesn’t feel like a natural extension of the interior. The lack of seating feels like there were corners being cut. I guess my frustration is that the set is so close to being wonderful, but just comes up a bit short.

For the $34.99 MSRP I would absolutely not recommend this set. This is $5 more than the price of the Calico Critters Red Roof Cozy Cottage which not only is two full stories tall, it also includes a critter figure, as well as doors and shutters that open and close. Comparing these two items, the Creamy Gelato Shop is significantly overpriced. But then we come to the question of the sale price, the price at which I purchased it: $14.99. Is this set worth $14.99? I would say it probably is. Despite my complaints, the details really are gorgeous and I can see it being fun to play with.

Truly, if the Creamy Gelato Shop came with a chair or two, and maybe a couple of additional ice cream treats, there would be no question of buying it at its sale price. If you are a creative person, I think the set would be greatly enhanced with the addition of a few homemade bits and bobs to give it a bit more life.

Family Introductions: The Holstein Family

NOTE: These ARE NOT the official Sylvanian Families or Calico Critters names or biographies and should not be used for factual reference! All names and biographies are my own creative writing.

Father Herb will make you feel all better – because he is Crabapple Crossings’ local pharmacist! He works closely with the Doctors Lapin to ensure that everyone has the medications they need to feel healthy and happy. When he isn’t busy filling prescriptions, he’s happiest out in his flower garden, tending to his plants so they produce the biggest and most colorful blooms possible. Of course, he is an active member of the gardening club and has earned many blue ribbons at the yearly flower festival. He also enjoys swimming, eating ice cream, and going dancing.

Mother Holly is the town beautician. She subscribes to all of the most fashionable magazines in Sylvania because she has to keep up with all the newest coiffures. You’d better believe she knows all the town gossip, listening to the ladies of the town talk as she gives facials, manicures, and other beauty regimens. But she prefers to be discreet, sharing very little of the rumors she hears. Her hobbies include keeping up with all the latest fashions, doing origami, and arranging flowers from the family flower garden.

Daughter Hazel loves math and science and wants to be the first cow on the moon. She loves to explore the natural world around her, identifying plants, insects, and other animals. She is a math whiz and does complicated equations just for fun. Her natural talents have made her a sought-after tutor for those to whom mathematics do not come easily. Her other hobbies include singing, baking, and going blueberry picking.

Son Hugh shares his sister’s passion for math and science. He loves writing out complicated story problems and then solving them. He thinks being a math professor at a university would be a great job when he grows up. His other hobbies include acting in local theater productions, drawing funny comics, and playing on the playground.

The New Crabapple Marketplace

The village of Crabapple Crossings continues to grow in leaps and bounds. And several of the town’s smaller shops are settling into their new home – The Crabapple Marketplace.

This new structure, a project created and funded by the Crabapple Crossings Chamber of Commerce is a new concept for small businesses in the village.

“Most of the retail space up to now has been larger, purpose-built buildings,” says Mr. Owen Otter, president of the Chamber of Commerce. “Not everyone who runs a shop needs so much space to peddle their wares. So we came up with a ‘marketplace’ of petite booths for smaller-scale retailers. We decided to begin with just four store fronts, but if it proves successful, we can certainly add more,” he says.

The first two retailers have set up shop in the new Crabapple Marketplace. Gail Goat, of Goat’s Greengrocery was the first to jump at a chance for a permanent store location. “I was becoming so exhausted setting up and taking down my grocery every day,” she explains. “When the Chamber of Commerce offered one of the booths to me, I said ‘yes’ right away!”

Goat's Grocery

The next tenant to set up shop in the Crabapple Marketplace is Charles Cheddar of Cheddar’s Cheese.

Crabapple Marketplace 2“Opening Cheddar’s Cheese has been a dream I’ve had for years” he says. “And the Crabapple Marketplace has truly made that dream a reality. I’ve always felt my shop would be a curated collection of cheeses – I never really needed a huge storefront for my morsels. The booths here at Crabapple Marketplace are just the perfect size for my needs.”Cheddar's Cheese 1Mr. Cheddar sources his cheeses from all over the world and only sells cheeses that reach his high standards. “I am, of course, a cheese connoisseur,” he explains. “There is an amazing variety of cheese from all corners of the earth. I love to find small-scale, traditional cheese-makers that bring something unique and delicious to the table.”

Although two store fronts remain empty at this time, Owen Otter gave many assurances that the spaces would soon be filled. “My wife, Octavia, will soon be opening her fishmonger’s in the Marketplace, and I have received word that a spice shop is looking to move into the remaining vacancy. I am certain that the Crabapple Marketplace will be a popular and vibrant addition to our village community.”

 

★★★★★

Finally, my inspiration for miniature crafting has returned! I guess I just needed the right push! 

My lack of inspiration has meant that I have not been participating in my own Creative Crafting Challenges. And imagine my surprise when I went to log in one day onto the Sylvanian Families forum and found it gone! I was in shock! All of the messages in regards to it had apparently gone into my spam folder and I was caught completely unawares. My relief when I found it revived as the Sylvanian Families Collector Forum was intense! I have enjoyed interacting with and sharing with other collectors of these adorable toys and I am so glad the community lives on.

Maybe my panic at seeing a community I enjoy missing (albeit temporarily) gave me the boost I needed to get crafting again.

This challenge was #20, entitled “Let’s Go Shopping” – all about stores and shopping.

I have been planning a cheese shop for quite some time, but I just couldn’t imagine building and furnishing an entire shop solely devoted to cheese. The idea honestly felt overwhelming – to make it full and vibrant, I would need to make so much cheese! And I’ve found that I really hate creating doors and windows when I make my own buildings. It’s just so tedious. But then I had an idea…why not create a series of small, connected stalls instead? Then I could move forward on several of the stores I envisioned without dedicating countless hours and possibly running out of steam midway through (like the cursed Porker House, which still sits unfinished.)

I also have been a bit unhappy with my greengrocer display. It just felt like it was taking up a lot of room on my display shelves and wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as I wanted. But the size of the display tables were so unwieldy to me, I couldn’t envision how to place them in an enclosed space. So when I had the idea to leave one end of the stall unit open to allow the tables to be at a right angle to one another, I was so excited!

Crabapple Marketplace 1

Creating the four-unit structure wasn’t terribly difficult. It’s made with my usual foam core. Probably the most challenging was choosing the wallpapers for the different shops. I agonized over it for 24 hours! 

Once that was figured out, it was mostly clear sailing for me. The greengrocery didn’t need much, just a couple of chalkboard signs. I also recently found some cute minis at thrift shops – big and small pumpkins, baskets of apples, and a basket of squash. The pile of pumpkins definitely helps fill the space and disguise the unattractive meeting of the two tables at the corner.

Furnishing Cheddar’s Cheese was quite fun. I designed the display table and shelf out of foamcore. I also used a really neat woven material for the horizontal surfaces. I think it is a sample of wallpaper or something that I bought at a thrift shop. 

I truly enjoyed making the variety of cheeses for the shop. I spent a dedicated afternoon and evening looking at photographs of real cheese shops and trying to replicated the cheeses in the pictures. Once I got going, it was hard to stop!

Cheddar's Cheese 2

Cheddar's Cheese 3

I think I’m especially proud of my caciocavallo on the top of the shelf – I tied small pieces of embroidery floss around them to make them more realistic. Truly, making the cheeses was great fun! 

The last addition to the project so far were the signs in Cheddar’s Cheese. The one poster of French cheeses is from Cavallini & Co. – I know it’s a copyright violation, but it is for my own use. The other side of the shop is difficult to see, but it also has a chalkboard with a list of the available cheeses. 

True to the story above, I plan to furnish the remaining two shops with a spice shop and a fishmonger. The fishmonger has been on my “to-make list” forever, and I think I’m finally ready to get to work on it. I’ve found some really awesome resources – I can’t wait to try the one at this link: making tiny fish by painting grains of rice silver! This creator is absolutely full of amazing ideas. I’ve done some preliminary testing on her way of making shrimp and have found it quite successful. 

The spice shop will be more of a challenge. But hopefully my crafting inspiration will continue and I will keep improving and expanding Crabapple Crossings.

Bedroom Re-Do

For this round of the Year of Creative Crafting Challenge the theme was “Night Time – it’s all about the hours after the sun has gone down. You could make something for bedtime or sleeping, or maybe something for a late-night gathering spot.”

Strangely, this was a more challenging topic for me than I anticipated. Inspiration was absolutely not coming to me. I know that I should continue to work on the Porker home – and the bedrooms (3 of them) are my next assignment, but I just didn’t have the spark to work on it. Instead, I returned to my favorite – and most complete – residence, the Mouse house. Even though it is the most finished of the homes I’ve built, I often find myself finding things to tweak here and there. And one area of the house that has been bothering me for a while is the bunk beds in the children’s bedroom.

mouse house kids room

This is a picture of it as it was…and maybe you can see my problem. The blankets. I definitely took the easy route and simply cut some felt to size and placed it on top of the mattresses. I have never been a fan of the bedding that comes with the set (see here) but my felt solution was not much better. It looks neither good, nor does it look realistic.

In improving the bedding situation, I found myself in a bit of a pickle – I really wanted the bedding to drape down off the bed, not be all tucked around the mattress. But then I came to my next problem: the mattresses seemed too thin.

bunk original mattress

If I made blankets that draped down, then the blankets would be sitting on the rails, rather than on the sleeping surface. Well, I couldn’t let that stand, so making new mattresses was in order.

bunk new mattress

I cut pieces of foam core to size, then added several layers of felt on top to give it squishiness (I could have used batting, but didn’t have any on-hand.) I then basically “wrapped” the foam core/felt structure with fabric, like wrapping a present. I used tacky glue to adhere the fabric to the bottom and sides of the structure. These mattresses turned out awesome, in my opinion!

Then I made new blankets with pieces of cotton fabric that I hand hemmed. I ended up using the original pillows, as they looked nice enough.

bunk new bedding

I am overall quite happy with my night time project. It is a definite improvement over the previous blankets and adds more color and personality to the Mouse kids’ bedroom.

bunk new bedroom