Top 10 Props of 2019!

by Carmen - Director of The Prop Factory

Thursday 6th February 2020 14:50:24


My favourite 10 props of 2019 in ascending order! 

2019 was a real ‘year of two halves’ for our prop making. At the beginning of the year our attention was elsewhere in the business, resulting in our prop making department shrivelling into almost non-existence. With other things on our mind, prop making was relegated to the side lines. 

But what a contrast by the end of the year! In September we took a huge leap of faith and grew our prop making department to the biggest it has ever been. We recruited five whole new super-shiny prop makers and even employed a production manager to organise the increased volume of making.

Prop making, rather than buying, is what we are all about, so it is no surprise that eight out of my top 10 favourite props of 2019 are made by us. Completely unique, never seen before props. 

10. Vintage Wooden Rocking Horse So, let’s start with the only two props in my countdown that we have purchased. Saying that, however, even the rocking horse didn’t completely escape a visit to the workshop. We’ve added pretty yellow swirls to his rocker and his ears have had a trim. Yes, his ears were much taller when we acquired him, but we feared they might be likely to snap off in transit.What I love about this prop is that he is entirely made from wood. Not plastic or hollow or fiberglass, but beautifully carved solid wood. His vintage colour pallet is just scrumptious. He reminds me of a little wooden toy horse I had when I was little called Sunflower. This horse would also suit the name Sunflower with his sunrise yellow coat and faded tones of brown.

9. Oriental Gold Bird Cage The oriental birdcage very nearly made it into the top props of 2018 but was purchased just a tiny bit too late - in the first week of January 2019 - to be counted. 

I feel like I owe it to this very grand cage to put in him the top 10 props of 2019 as, if he had arrived only a week earlier, he would have been basking in the glory of the top 10 of 2018. I was delighted with him when he arrived but, to be perfectly honest, I have actually fallen a little out of love with him over the year. He is glorious but it happens with all the props we make and buy, purely because the next newest and most exciting props are always just around the corner. The love for the new supersedes what has gone before. What can I say? To quote another big hit of 2019 Thank U, Next…

8. Realistic Fake Straw BaleIn at number eight, and on to the props we have made ourselves, are the fake straw bales. They look exactly like real straw bales which, as a contender for the top 10 props of 2019, doesn’t sound like very much, but it is precisely why I love them SO much. 

I spent over two years sporadically thinking about how to make flat packable, but very real-looking straw bales. The biggest problem was the material needed for the straw itself and when I found it, I felt a true ‘eureka’ moment.My search had taken me down all sorts of dead ends - even nearly buying a straw matting machine from Thailand. This feels like a real game changer of a prop. For those of you who thought you couldn’t hire straw bales in London, or at least not cost effectively, you are wrong! These are free of pesky, and quite frankly gross, straw mites, are hypoallergenic (so no running noses for allergy sufferers), they flat pack, are light, and have minimal shedding.All for a very reasonable price too. Yes, you can hire real straw bales a tiny bit cheaper but try lugging a few dozen of those around your venue – not to mention the clearing up afterwards – all for the sake of a few pounds!

7. Giant Wooden 8ft Nutcracker CutoutA giant nutcracker had been on my ‘to make’ list for ages. In the early days of the Prop Factory we rather shamefacedly purchased a batch of premade fiberglass props that included an eight-foot nutcracker - the very same nutcracker that every other man and his prop hire company owned. Once we became a bit more secure in our usp we sold off our fiberglass props in favour of unique handmade and sustainable props that we built ourselves (yes, I’m a prop hire snob and proud of it). I’m a big fan of the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, so I felt a little bit sad that we didn’t have a giant nutcracker anymore and was so happy to welcome our new pair back into our prop collection. 

I also love the way they’ve been crafted. I feel their aesthetic epitomises much of what the Prop Factory is all about. Our lovely nutcrackers are 2D but are adorned with recycled haberdashery details. The shoelaces are attached using reclaimed barrel pins. Our prop makers have a real ‘waste not want not’ mentality - who keeps used nails nowadays? I remember my granddad having a cut down milk carton of used nails, ready for reuse. There must be people out there who still save things, but it doesn’t seem a natural part of our culture anymore. No one sews up holes in their socks like my nan did, they just buy new socks. 

I know we’re going off on a bit of a tangent here, but the point is that we make good use of all manner of supposedly worthless bits and bobs and create truly wonderful things - all summed up by some nutcracker boot laces!

Whilst we’re on the subject, I should mention his beard too. I purchased various second-hand sheepskin rugs and the one that became his beard was a rejected purchase because it was too much on the yellow side and didn’t fit with our gentle whites and cream sheepskin rugs. Rather than throw it out we saved it for use another day on another project – which turned out to be this one!Lastly his base shows our visual thinking. Tired of prop companies that use metal bases that are practical but with no visual appeal, we sought to create a base to complement the prop and came up with these trapezoids. They stack well - saving space for us in the warehouse and for you if you are transporting props yourself - and help us be more sustainable - less space needed, less vans on the road, less storage needed. We’ve already given the same type of base to our cymbal monkeys. Expect to see a lot more of these in 2020.

6. Giant Colourful DreamcatcherMy sixth favourite prop of 2019 is the colourful dreamcatcher. First came the giant white dreamcatchers that made the top 10 of 2018, followed by the colourful version. The fabric is bespoke printed georgette on a wooden loop decorated with reclaimed haberdashery.This prop marks the beginning of my love for haberdashery on our props. I have been collecting odds and ends for year and had boxes overflowing with curtain tassels, ribbons and trims. I’d never used them in my prop making until the colourful dream catchers and then the flood gates were opened! Feathers, lace, ribbon and woollen plaits fashioned from left over oddments all helped to create the fabulous tails on these cheerful giants. Next came the festival sign, followed by carnival stars, a stylised wooden ram skull and more.

5. Giant 2D Vintage CompassWe hardly ever make props to order and this was a very rare commission for one of our best customers. The event theme was around travel and, being on the slim side of relevant props, we produced this one. It's our very own giant compass. What a corker of a prop. It really does look like a regular compass - if you photographed it with no sense of scale it would be hard to tell that it’s a giant. It’s a very hard thing to achieve that kind of perfect scale ratio. My favourite part of the prop is that it is freestanding, and the ‘foot’ looks perfectly part of the prop and not an afterthought. 

4. Pink Lemonade StandIt’s not just the yummy 1950’s style sign and perfect baby pink stripes that I love about our pink lemonade stand, it’s what it represents too. Whenever we make a new prop my first thought after the initial prop appreciation is ‘that would look great in another colour too’. I have no ability to rein in my ideas! When we made our original yellow lemonade stand, which was one of our first ever props over seven years ago, I thought ‘we must make a pink lemonade stand’. 

Back then we had a much smaller inventory so the props we had needed to work hard and appeal to as many potential hirers as possible. The more bespoke they were, the less likely they would be to hire and the less money we would make to invest in more props. Through the years, the yellow lemonade stand clung to its place in our inventory when many more niche props couldn’t. As we’ve grown, we have been able to dabble in more and more specific props – and the pink lemonade stand that I’d coveted since the birth of the yellow one at last became a possibility. 

It’s not just lemonade stands either. For instance, we no longer have just neutral white light up letters – we have red colourful light up circus letters too – and two sets in different heights at that! It is a truly wonderful time to be a prop maker at the Prop Factory as the creations we make have never been more interesting. You can search to see our newest items first here.

3. Pair of Carousel Horse Entrance PolesNumber three in my top ten countdown of 2019 is our pair of carousel horses. These I made especially for my friend’s memorial service - you can read about the whole event in my blog DEBFEST.These are another prop made in 2019 that is a benchmark for future prop making. Just like waiting for the right time to make a pink lemonade stand, or collecting haberdashery for years but not using it, the process of creating the art work for these was not a new idea, rather bringing an idea we’ve had for a while into fruition. 

The horses have been specially printed on wood using a huge printer. While we love to hand paint items, we have recently begun to add printed versions of painted details onto props.The process uses vegetable ink so is super environmentally friendly compared to conventional print processes. Adding this new methodology our arsenal of techniques allows us to produce even more props in less time with incredibly detailed surface design, and all made from sustainable wood.  

2. Lion Cage TableOur lion cage tables were made very early on in 2019 for a very famous someone’s Greatest Showman-inspired party. They were used to display the birthday cake, which was a real honour.We even spotted the lion cages on said famous person’s Instagram. These, like pretty much every prop we ever make, had been on the wish list for years and were designed in 2018. It was only when the customer saw our sketch for them and requested them, that we built them.I love the colours flaunted across hand cut wood decals, so very circus-esque!And my favourite prop of 2019 is…

1.The Midnight Stars Backdrop (and not just because I made a lot of it myself)I don’t often get to make many props anymore, although I don’t mind, as designing them is just as much fun! 

There are two reasons that this is my favourite prop of 2019. I just love how it looks, but also how it was made. The prop makers were happily making their way through a list of predetermined props towards the end of 2019, and this particular prop got added to an order before it had been made, something I try to avoid at all costs as we always end up working like crazy to get it finished. Needless to say, that is exactly what happened! I even came in to work with my three-week-old baby to help make this backdrop.It was a bit of a head scratcher to begin with as every fabric sample I ordered just didn’t work. The velvet's were too stretchy, and the ones that weren’t were the wrong colour. In fact, the backdrop is actually fashioned from a lot of the ‘backdrop attempts gone wrong’. All the crushed velvet swirls were once the main fabric of the backdrop. Around the time we were creating this prop our main textiles prop maker left - which reminded me why we try to avoid tight deadlines!I was so stuck on how to make this backdrop that I aimlessly wandered into a fabric shop and made a random purchase of something that could tangibly work. Trouble was, it wasn’t wide enough to be used either horizontally or vertically – either way it would have a huge seam through the middle. So, the first use of the crushed velvet was to hide the seam and, like some of our very best props, it just happened in the moment. Aside from its creation I love this for how utterly dreamy it looks. I really can look at it and get lost in all the stars.I’m not normally a person to attach so much feeling to a piece of artwork as I guess you could call it. It is so peaceful! So, on that soft note, I’ll leave it there. 

My favourite props of 2020 are going to be so hard to choose! We are making more than ever and the standard of our current prop makers is next level amazing. Plus, I have ‘the list’ of every single thing we plan to make this year, so I know there will be some tough competition!

See all the props that Carmen loves in one place here.

Carmen x 

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