Saturday, 21 December 2019

Plastic furniture upcycling

My recent acquisitions of cheap plastic furniture include these items:

All are used, some heavily used, some broken, and none is a valuable vintage object. My new obsession with chalk paint demanded that these things be upcycled into something more interesting. Decide for yourself whether I have been successful. I will show before and after pictures, with occasional comments.

You cannot see it very well in the picture, but the paint created a nice fabric effect on the bedspread.

I will replace the mirror, which was crooked anyway, with a real mirror sheet.

I had nothing against the fabric, but I had to remove it, and it was glued firmly and couldn't be saved. I am not sure this is the best fabric, so I may replace it later.

The desk was the right colour, but still looked like plastic. Upcycled, it looked like ancient oak.

This is the result of two afternoons. More to come.

Monday, 28 October 2019

From coffee pods to flower pots

Some time ago I visited a friend who used coffee pods to make coffee. I have heard about them, and I have heard that miniature-makers find them useful, but I had never seen one. My friend was utterly perplexed when I asked whether I could collect the used ones. I wasn't sure exactly what I could make from them, because they are different from milk containers, slightly convex.

But I was sure that I would think of something, and I was also eager to show my friend what a valuable contribution to my miniature-making she had made. So this past weekend I started exploring the potential of used coffee pods.

My first thought was buckets, like I make from milk containers. The bottom can be easily bent inwards, and it doesn't matter that there is a hole. However, they have large brims that don't look natural for a bucket. Flower pots was the next option, and although they are twice the size of a 1:12 flower pot, I thought they could be planters or larger tubs.I wanted them to look like terracotta, but I am not very good at mixing paint. I should have added more red. Still, I was quite pleased.

While I was at it, I also painted a nasal spray bottle cap that had been waiting for this transformation for a long time. It is more like a flower pot in size and in shape.

Then of course I had to make plants. First of all, I made a simple fern, using florist wire and tape and painting the leaves with a lighter shade of green for effect. Then I constructed a weird plant from plastic Christmas decorations, but as I was passing the kitchen to clean my brushes, I suddenly saw that I had a plant with exactly that shape of leaves. (It is not my plant, so I am not on friendly terms with it). It also needed some painting, and the result was, if I may say so myself, stunning. I don't know the name of this plant so maybe someone can tell me. After that, I made the third plant by cutting up a 1:1 plastic twig.

For the smaller pot, I made a geranium. I will not describe the process because I have done it before, but I can confirm that it took about six hours and that the twelve stems contain 240 individual petals curled while wet one by one. Since I don't have my punches at the moment, I cut the leaves from florist tape and painted a bit here and there for variety.

So here is the result of my weekend:

Last in the picture is another milk canister I made from an eye-drop bottle.

This was a hugely productive weekend, don't you think?

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Small makeovers

One of the perks of being retired is that you have plenty of time. In the past few weeks I have been going to flea markets here and there - in a big city, there is always a flea market somewhere over the weekend. Some of my visits have been more successful than others, but last week I had incredible luck, interestingly, at two different stalls, and one seller clearly knew what they were selling while the other was just happy to get rid of stuff.

With the first seller, it was a bundle, and not everything was of interest (I don't need the horse and the cow), while with the second I picked exactly what I wanted. And I wanted plastic stuff to upcycle.

Stupidly, I didn't take a picture after I had sorted the treasure into categories, but you can see that there are many shoes. I once made a shoe shop for a friend, and with this pile of shoes I might make another one. Another large pile is combs and brushes and hair dryers, which begs for a beauty parlor. Sports, portable phones, food, kitchen utensils. Some things I found a place for at once, like the garbage bin that went into the garage of my Triang, the only dollhouse I have in my present accommodation. It's not period correct, but nothing is at the moment, while it really looks nice there. Some things fit in the Triang kitchen.

But otherwise I just had this enormous number of small items. I needed to start somewhere, and I picked some, more or less at random.

Mind, there is nothing wrong with them if you are a child and play with your dolls, and some collectors might be happy to include them in their projects as they are. But my challenge is to make them more interesting. 

Here is what I have done with them.

I would never be seen with a handbag like that if you paid me, but I have a friend who would love it. The jewellery box, I just painted over slightly, to make it look less plastic, and the notebook almost looks as if it were leather. The comb and mirror don't look exactly like ivory, but still better than before. Some items I need to explain. For instance, I wanted to make the coffee pot look like a traditional Kockums piece.

I studied the web carefully and found helpful images. I mixed chalk paint with hobby paint to produce the right colours. I had some paint left, and I had an extra lid, so I made a matching canister. I am not sure Kockums made canisters, but it doesn't really matter. I used eye-drop container.

I am particularly proud of the scissors, because they look exactly like my 1:1 scissors.

Similarly, I used my full-scale binoculars and iron to paint the miniature versions.

Side by side like this, you get a very good sense of scale.

I find this upcycling utterly fascinating. I do like making things from rubbish, but there is a very special joy in making ugly things more attractive and unique.

Finally, I dealt with the "silver" coffee set in which both coffee pot and sugar bowl lacked lids.

I once made a lid for a real antique tea pot (scroll down in the post to find it), so this was child's play.

Now the father in the Triang house can have his coffee, even though it is totally wrong scale and style.

Monday, 30 September 2019

More chalk painting

I have been experimenting further with chalk paint, and while I am still learning, I believe that I have found a technology that I am going to fully embrace in my future miniature-making. Here are some more examples of upcycling furniture that is generally of good quality, but not perfectly finished. Once again, you can paint it with ordinary paint, but you need to remove polish either chemically or by fierce sanding. Chalk paint covers any surface smoothly.

To start with, I repainted the dressing table I showed a few weeks ago. I was quite happy with it then, but my demands on myself have risen. So I used Versailles and waxed first with clear and then with dark wax.

I think this is an improvement.

I got this sideboard at the same car boot sale, just before I left Cambridge.

It is a nice piece, but unnaturally shiny as most similar miniatures, so I repainted it with the paint called Coco. Maybe the difference is not all that striking in pictures, but believe me, it is in reality.

Meanwhile, I raided my son's basement where he had put all dollhouse stuff that my granddaughters didn't want any more. They are too old to play with dollhouses, but too young to engage with them seriously, and if and when they show interest, we will negotiate.

Most of these items are 1:18 scale (Lundby) that I don't normally work with, but this is an excellent opportunity to experiment with paint. Some of these I gave to one of the girls a few years ago when she was visiting and thought she might want. Among them were two cupboards that came with my Tudor house (don't ask me why). I never did anything with these pieces, precisely because they didn't fit into any of my projects, neither in scale nor in style.

Otherwise, it is a nice piece. I used Duck Egg Blue and again clear and dark wax. I used paper clips for knobs. 


I put it in a house - the only one I have at the moment - although it is totally wrong style, but it still gives a sense of what it will look like in an appropriate surrounding. 

The second one is similar. I added the tile back all those many years ago, but I never used it in any project except my antique shop where I would put all kinds of things that didn't fit with anything else.

I used the same paint, and I took a picture halfway, just to show the transformation. 

Final look:

Now you may ask, why do I use the same paint for these items? There are several explanations, the simple being that I only have a few tester jars, and because the paint is expensive I want to be absolutely sure that I like it, before I invest in a broader selection. Secondly, I am just playing, and these pieces are not going into any specific project, at least not at the moment, and if they do at some point, they are probably not going into the same project, so it won't matter. And of course I can always paint it over.

In summary, I can confirm that chalk paint is a revolution in miniature upcycling and possibly in miniature-making as well, which I will test as soon as possible. Watch this space.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Further play with egg shells

I bought this plastic table at a car boot sale. It is part of the IKEA set, which I have, so I knew I was buying it for upcycling.


It is 1:6 scale so doesn't fit into any of my current projects, but it doesn't matter because I am just playing. I decided to decorate it with egg-shell mosaic. I have done several egg-shell projects, including a simple coffee table and a Queen Anne table. I thought mosaic would look good on this table, and it just so happened that I chose the same colours as before: white and two shades of green.

For this project, you need shells from three boiled eggs (that is, if you are using three colours as I did), glue, tweezers and a lot of patience. With my first project, I used shiny Humboldt paint that took ages to dry. This time I used ordinary hobby paint, with precisely the same result.

Yes, I glued bits one by one. Yes, it took me four hours. Four hours of quiet, relaxing pleasure. So I don't want to hear how I could have done it quicker. Quicker is not the point of this project.

I used hobby varnish to seal the surface. I am more pleased with this table than the first one because I really made the effort to crush the shells into very, very small pieces.


I assure you that this is the only table of its kind in the world. If I were to sell it, the buyer would not pay for plastic, eggs, paint or even the time I put into the project. They would pay for my creativity.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Barbecue, part 3

Read the previous post about this project.

I had several ideas about how to make a fake window, but in the end I cut it from card and put a bit of transparent plastic and two bits of ribbon behind it. I glued the assembly onto the wall, then added the frame, made of coffee stirrers. I made the shutters from strips of wood and coffee stirrers and painted with the same technique as the door.

I made a window box from a bit of a biscuit box - just the right size and shape.


I bought these flowers cheap at a car boot sale. Have no idea what kind of flowers they are supposed to be or whether they need leaves, but I won't spend much more time on them, after all the whole wall is just a backdrop for some garden furniture. I may add a rosebush in the left corner.

 I aged the furniture a bit with dark wax. I found the garbage bin at a flea market the other day.

What is left to do now is some details: barbecue tools, wood or coal, meat and other food, plates and glasses, maybe children's toys left behind. This will be fun to make. Come back soon.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Chalk painting

Last weekend I attended a course in chalk painting. It wasn't a miniature-making course, but it was organised by a miniature society, and I thought it would be a good way of starting to learn new things. I had a vague idea of what chalk painting was (totally wrong), but I had a slightly better idea of some other techniques that were announced, such as patination, crackle-painting and decoupage.

The course was based on Annie Sloan's paints and techniques. I knew absolutely nothing about them, and I learned a lot in just one day. Some of the techniques can be simply applied to miniatures, other need adjustments, but it's the paint itself that makes all the difference.

I love upcycling ugly things, particularly cheap plastic furniture, but also made-in-Asia miniatures that are often of good quality, but not nicely finished, far too shiny. I have upcycled utensils, a fireplace, chests, clocks, shoes, a sofa, and two plastic houses, one Playmobile, and one half-scale. In most cases, painting plastic surfaces was a nightmare, while painting polished wood was challenging. Polished wood should ideally be stripped of polish before repainting, but I have never done this because I lack skills, tools, supplies and adequate space.

This is why Annie Sloan's chalk pain is a revolution for me: it can be used on any surface, and you can work miracles with it.

I will need to practice, practice and practice, but I have tested it on a few things, and I am really pleased. I had bought some cheap plastic stuff at a car boot sale, and after making sure it wasn't Kleeware, I used it to experiment with chalk paint.

I started with this dresser because it was straightforward. 


I used  Versailles (see colour scheme), and it was immediately clear how this paint was superior to any other: smooth surface, no more than one coat, neat and nice. As we were taught at the course, I used a hair dryer (purchased cheap at the same car boot sale). The paint dries as you blow, which is amazing. Then I used the aging technique I learned, applying first transparent and then dark wax. I bought the supplies from the course instructor, and it's fully possible that similar effects can be achieved with other paints, but here it is:

The knobs are too large, but I needed them to cover the heart-shaped plastic ones. 

I tested the piece inside the only dollhouse I have at the moment, my Triang. It is wrong style, but a piece always looks more interesting and authentic in an environment. In a way it fits quite nicely.

Next, I decided to test painting one of the pieces I bought at a car boot sale on one of my last days in Cambridge. I have already shown what I have done with a vanity, but that was before my chalk-paint conversion. I will repaint it soon.

I tried the bookcase, that, as I said, is good quality, but really badly finished.

I had been uneasy about it for exactly the reason I mentioned above: ideally, the polish should be removed with chemicals, otherwise it's sanding, sanding and sanding because normal paint would not cover the shiny surface smoothly. But chalk paint does! I used Duck Egg Blue and again, finished with transparent and dark wax.

I admit that the result looks more like a kitchen dresser than a bookcase, but it doesn't really matter; I am just playing, and it is not going anywhere.

My final challenge for this round was this monstrosity:


When I saw it, I had a vision of a haunted castle so this is how I worked. I used Country Grey, dabbing it on rather than painting, to create an effect. Here, drying with a hair dryer was useful. The roof, the interior and some details I painted with ordinary acrylic and felt the difference at once. Again, I used wax for distressing.

I added bars on windows, some cobwebs inside and more realistic vegetation. I am not happy with the torches, but haven't yet figured out how to improve them.

I will add some objects inside, maybe a luminescent ghost, a skeleton or whatever; but my main goal was to test the paint, and I don't think I need to persuade you.

I am going to test more techniques so stayed tuned.