(You can read Grandmother Matamosca's story here.)
This little doll is a perfect example of making something from almost nothing.
I spent almost seven weeks helping care for my sister Ann, who passed away on October 3, 2008, after a brave battle with cancer that she conducted with humor, dignity and grace.
When I left home to go to Denton, I packed a few tools and some quarter scale kits, in case I would have the time or the inclination to work on miniatures. As it turned out, I wasn't able to focus on much of anything during that difficult and painful period.
I had mentioned on CAMP trying to use a block of flesh-colored Fimo to do some sculpting (molding and shaping it with my fingers, toothpicks and my pick because that's all I had) but found it to be too soft. Fellow miniaturist Irene Holloway in NH was kind enough to send me a package of flesh-colored Sculpey (thank you, Irene!), and as I wadded a piece of foil and stuck it on a toothpick and began shaping the clay around it, I realized the Sculpey was going to work much better. First one, then the other, family member and friend wandered up and soon I had a little semicircle peering over my shoulder as I shaped features on a little man's face. "See, if I push here, I give him sunken cheeks; if I add more here, he has a double chin; if I do this ...., etc."
Although my family knew of my hobby, this was the first time most of them had seen me actually making anything, and it was fun hearing them exclaim happily as they watched the clay forming little faces. But that's as far as it went that day, really; just those little demos.
I only got out of the house twice during my entire stay. One of those outings was to a local Dollar Tree, where I found a string of four skeletons. Thinking maybe I might work up something for the family for Halloween, I looked around the store to see what else I might use. By the time I checked out, in addition to the skeletons I had picked up two girls' or women's lightweight lamé headbands; one in silver, one in gold - enough fabric for two elegant princesses or Vegas showgirls, for example. (You can see them in the Cheap Thrills here.) I also found a girls' plastic clip-on headband that was covered in overlapping fringed squares of miniature burlap-type fabric. This looked like something I could use for a witch's costume, perhaps, so I bought the only two they had, hoping I would have enough material.
In addition to the tie-dye like burlap-y fabric, there were thin filigree brass squares and gold beads stitched on, too. That filigree can be used for all kinds of things, from fancy hair combs to tiaras to collars to earrings, to chair backs in quarter scale, etc. All in all, quite a haul for just $2.00 for the two headbands.
(By the way, all these pictures are being taken after the fact; I didn't take a single one while I was in Denton.)
I also found skeins of some really strange yarns that I thought might work for hair or perhaps some kind of fur, and a small loop of one large and two smaller of what I think are called dichroic beads. Not a bad haul, really.
At that point, my sister's condition was rapidly deteriorating and I desperately needed something to occupy my thoughts during my "off-duty" time when I wasn't helping care for her.
As I emptied my shopping bag back at the house, it occurred to me that I might use one of the skeletons as the base for a witch, since I had none of the materials I usually use to make armatures. But I didn't have the right kind of wire to strengthen the legs of the skeleton to make it stand upright, and I had nothing for a witch to sit on. I tried cutting and shaping a half circle of cardstock to make a cone for a skirt base, but for the life of me couldn't make it work (proably reflecting my state of mind). I gave up, stuffing everything back in the bag.
Later, replacing a roll of toilet tissue in the bathroom, inspiration struck when I started to throw away the empty cardboard roll. So, I went back to the kitchen table and pulled everything out of the bag again. I fiddled with the toilet paper roll, dropping the skeleton inside it. Yes, it would work as a support, but the cardboard was too long and too wide at the top. I cut it down so that it just cleared the skeleton's feet and cut away the excess at the top to fit under the skeleton's rib cage. After a lot of adjusting and using Scotch tape to hold the sides together, I eventually had a shaped cardboard skirt. Since I wanted to create a stooped old woman, anyway, I just let the skeleton's upper body tilt forward against the cardboard.
I took apart the two headbands, saving the filigree and beads for another use.
There was barely enough fabric to dress my little witch, but I managed, piecing here and there. (The above scraps are literally all that was left.) I used hairspray to shape and drape her dress, first pinning the folds into place.
For her eyes I used beads cut from a string that was in my niece Ashley's old jewelry; painting two coats of white, then adding pupils with a felt marker. (I know she doesn't have irises or highlights, but that was the best I could do with no paints.) I inserted them into the clay, formed lids around them, then baked the head in a low oven. When it was cool, I used a dirty-water wash to add shadows and dimension to her features, then for rouging "dry-brushed" with my lipstick, first touching it to the tip of my finger, then wiped it off on a piece of paper towel and then tapped it on with a brush to her cheeks, forehead, nose and chin. I also used my eyeshadow as well. I was feeling quite pleased, although she looked a little benign to be a witch.
One of the fringed brown yarn skeins looked like it would work for hair, but when I unwound it the fringe was very widely spaced and sparse. So, I cut off bits and made wefts that I could glue in layers at her neckline, and pinched together other bits that I could glue in clusters here and there.
The brown yarn had some weird little varicolored bits interspersed along the fringe that on close examination reminded me of pig tails, so I spent a considerable time trying to find enough to match the brown of the fringe. That's what I used to make her hair. (These are the additional colors I cut away from the yarn for future uses.) I used my hairspray as a fixative to help hold the hair in place, as well.
My little old lady stood on the divider between the kitchen and den for a day or so, attracting quite a bit of attention from family and visiting friends, who were very intrigued at the creation process. I kept thinking, She's not a witch, but who is she? She needs something in her hand ....
That's when I remembered the dichroic beads; sure enough, the largest one was just right for a potion bottle, and I used one of the brass beads from the headband as its stopper. As I put her back on the divider holding her potion bottle, I heard a loud Whack! as my nephew Andrew swatted another fly. And that's when I knew who she was!
I rushed to my plastic shopping bag and pulled out the card of large flies that I had found in the Halloween stuff. I had bought them as a bit of a joke because my niece Jennifer had been so aggravated by all the flies that invaded the house with all the people coming and going so much. She had even assigned her younger brother Andy as the designated Human Fly Swatter!
That's who this little person was, a Fly Catcher!
I rummaged through the bag again and found the piece of brown twine that had bound the skeletons together. I unraveled it a bit and found that it was made up of three strands. I tied a knot in the twine above the three strands and glued the cord to her hand; then I glued flies along the three strands.
That evening, family friends Karen and Frankie came over (these wonderful people were so warm and helpful to Ann and Jennifer and the entire family during our ordeal). I asked Karen, "What do you think? Her name is Señora Mosca (Spanish for fly), and she catches flies."
Karen's eyes lit up and she grew very excited. "Oh my god! And she even has a bottle of Holy Water! It looks just like my mother's! But her name should be MATAmosca, because that means fly swatter in Spanish!"
So, Matamosca she became, and Grandmother Matamosca at that, just another elderly resident of Fairy Land, because I had known she wasn't a witch.
A few minutes later, Jennifer, Karen and I were all in the bedroom with Ann. I was telling Karen how much I was enjoying her stories about her mother during the days when she was growing up in McAllen in Hidalgo County, far South Texas.
"Oh yes," she said. "My mother was very superstitious, very religious. She always said if there was suddenly an invasion of flies, that meant Death was near. And if you could smell feces, that meant the Devil was close, so she ran around the house, sprinkling everything with Holy Water." At this point, my niece, who had been leaning down to Ann, stood up and gestured over Ann's head, Shh, with her finger to her lips. It hit us then that Ann was sitting on the potty, and had probably heard us, and we instantly switched the subject, aghast, hoping the moment would pass.
Karen and I were concerned and later we told Jennifer that we hoped she didn't think we were insensitive or that Ann had been upset at our talking, particularly when Karen said that about Death and the Devil. "No, not at all. I think she's already forgotten it," Jennifer replied. And, unfortunately by that time, Ann's brain tumor had advanced to the point that she was extremely forgetful. But Jennifer did tell us that what she had leaned down to hear her mother say was Ann whispering, "Flies don't land on me," and she had whispered back, "No, they don't, Mom." After that, Ann hardly talked at all, sleeping most of the time.
My sister Ann always loved life, but she accepted the knowledge of her coming death with dignity and grace. It was so hard to see her struggle, and harder yet to tell her goodbye. But we all told her once again how much we loved her, and that she would always be in our hearts, and that when she was ready, we could let her go.
From the time Grandmother Matamosca was named, we had no more flies coming in the house. And four days later, Ann passed away.