Saturday, 24 March 2018

Why are handmade miniatures so ridiculously expensive?


I am sure all of you have at some point asked this question. I don't make things for sale, so I have never had to decide how much my work is worth, but I have seen what other people ask, and sometimes I wonder who is prepared to pay these fancy prices for a basket, or a crocheted antimacassar or a fluffy cat. But obviously people do, and obviously they see a value in a unique item.

Making flowers for my florist shop has been a good reminder of how much time and effort goes into a single object. As I am not interested in make more of the same, I decided to try and make a geranium (aka pelargonium) because I have seen them made by people I know personally, and they are not gods, so I thought if they can... I found this tutorial that proved helpful, even though I adapted it a bit, and since it looked tremendously time-consuming I decided to see how much time it would actually take to make a bunch.

I started with just one stem, to see a) whether it worked b) whether I liked the result c) whether I was prepared to repeat it.

Well, it sort of looked what it was supposed to look like, and it took the time it took. So I embarked on a larger scale. The flower pot in the tutorial has eleven flowers, so I cut ten stems and attached beads to them for heads - this is the first short cut I took.

I thought that if I used pink beads it wouldn't matter if it was slightly visible. I was right.

The tutorial says you need 15 petals per flower so next I punched 150 petals over a wet kitchen towel (go back to the tutorial to see what I am doing).

No shortcuts here: each petal had to be curled individually. And before that, picked up, one by one, with tweezers.

I don't have the tools recommended in the tutorial so I simply used the end of a small painting brush. The foam is a coaster upside down.

And here are my 150 curled petals.

Of course it took considerably less time than with the first stem, because I knew how to do it, and also because I did it step by step, not on a conveyor belt precisely, but surely faster than if I made one flower at a time from beginning to end.

Then it was the precision work of gluing the petals. I like this kind of tasks because they need total concentration, and I cannot think about my students' theses, or the journal review I need to write, or even what we are having for dinner. My children often wonder why I don't listen to music while making miniatures, but I tried and found it distracting.

15 petals per flower turned out to be inadequate estimate, so I only made six flowers. All in all, from a piece of paper and some wire to six flowers, it took about two hours.

And you can see how much better the new flowers are compared with the first one. So I think I need to add at least an hour of learning time.

But the project is far from finished. Flowers insist on having leaves, and pelargonium leaves are very prominent, and I don't have a punch. So I will have to cut them out, as I did with daffodils and irises. The tutorial suggests two-three leaves per stem plus some filler leaves. Twenty maybe? And the paper needs to be painted with several shades of green to look natural. 

Some hours later: 


I think this is the best miniature I have ever made from scratch.  

So all in all, how much would this project be worth? Even calculating with a minimum wage, there are hours of work in it, and that's not counting materials and tools. Of course, if I had had a punch it might have been faster, but not a lot faster. And each leaf is unique. I would say, a full day of work. How much would you be prepared to pay for it?

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Florist shop

If you have followed my blog for some time you may have noticed that I easily become obsessed by my projects. One time I made all kinds of things from junk jewellery and fans. Another time I spent a week or so making wooden crates. Or miniature books. Or candles. Or curtains. Or shoes. Or whatever. I don't make anything for sale, and I am not much interested in making many of the same, but I like to explore various ways of making the same or similar things.

A couple of weeks ago I started making some flowers and after making paper flowers I made some from oven-baked clay:


I was quite proud of them to begin with, but then I realised - it also so happened that I had bought real tulips for a friend - that tulips are always hidden in leaves, and I spent some time making leaves, using the technique I learned when making daffodils and irises:

You need to curl the leaves to make them look realistic. I found a foam-lined coaster that served the purpose, and I used my nail file, as suggested in the tutorial. Each flower needed four leaves, so it took some time.

These are the colours I happened to have. Tulips come in every imaginable colour, and some are multicolour or speckled, but I will save that for later.

I got so excited that I decided to make a florist shop. This coincided with an urgent need to glaze my room boxes, and in the process I dismantled my old tea shop to use the box for florist's. Once upon a time you could get wine boxes at wine merchants for a small donation to charity, but not anymore, because, I think, many shops and cafes use them for decoration. I know I can buy a room-box kit, but I am not there yet. I have made several environments in shoe boxes and small cardboard boxes, but wine boxes look so much neater.

I did try to put all flowers I had in a cardboard box. Mainly just to see whether I liked the idea. I dug up Poundland furniture that I once bought in great numbers for upcycling.

 I liked the idea, but I definitely felt I wanted to use a wine box.

I tore down the wallpaper and the floor from the tea shop. This was one of my early room boxes, and I hadn't decorated it very well. And the wallpaper wouldn't have suited a florist shop anyway. I lined it with white lining paper and made a floor with a self-adhesive shelf lining.

I added wainscotting, using my old faithful 1:1 wallpaper. I still need to add moulding.

Meanwhile, I needed to do something with the furniture. This is the recurrent thing with room boxes (or any project that has an environment): you are eager to make whatever you are making - flowers in this case - but you have to prepare the environment first. Luckily, I like upcycling too.

I did a low table and two sideboards. The dresser in the centre moved from the tea shop - it isn't in scale, but I don't think it matters. I distressed it a bit. The fancy table on the left is made from a Chippendale kit. If you have a fancy piece in the foreground it catches the attention, and the rest is less noticed.

I am not sure about delft tiles - they were fine in the tea shop, but perhaps not in a flower shop. But that's easy to replace. Maybe with an old-fashioned flower pattern.

I also wanted a kind of multilevel display arrangement as they have in florist's, and I spent some time trying different options, including steps made from jenga blocks, but they looked too crude. So finally I built one from craft sticks.


When it was time to make more flowers it so happened - I swear, I hadn't planned it! - that a friend asked me to take her to a shopping centre, and while she was doing her shopping I ran over to my favourite hobby store. In my previous post I stated confidently that I wasn't buying a paper punch any time soon, but since I was there anyway... and they had a special offer... So it was meant to be.

I also bought two sets of tiny flowers in the wedding aisle. One just went in as it was. The other was a bundle of closed roses, and I first thought I would just put them in a jar, but then I thought that wasn't much of a challenge so instead I made some bouquets, adding flowers I made with the punch and with a set of scrapbooking daisies. (Scrapbooking and weddings have some amazing resources for miniature-making).

I punched various papers I had at home. 

The punched flowers were easy to attach to stems: I did exactly the same as with daffodils and irises: dabbing the tip of the wire in yellow paint, then adding a bead underneath the flower. I used three layers for each flower. They need leaves, but I don't really know what kind of flower they are and what kind of leaves this flower should have.


Then I had these prefabricated daisies some of which I left as they were and some painted in various colours.

 It wasn't until I started painting that I noticed they were also different shapes, which added to the variety.

Now, these were tricky to attach to stems because they already had a bead in the middle, too small to make a hole through. I prepared the stems with a bead glued on to one end.


I used strong glue and let it dry properly before gluing on the flower.

I made several pots: 


The ones on the left could be anemones. The ones on the right look very authentic, but I don't know what they are.  The leaves are made from a Christmas candlestick decoration that I had had for years, wondering when it might come handy. The pots are bottle caps.

The rest of the daisies, with longer stems, I added to the ready-made roses, arranging them in four OOAK bouquets wrapped in paper. I had to look up on the web how to wrap flowers. There are dozens of useful sites. The ferns are tiny sprigs of live conifer.


I have lots of materials left, and I took time to arrange them for the future. I know there are commercial organisers (I have some), but I am a recycler, and I have saved this chocolate box precisely for this occasion.

Lots of space for more.

I have got so far this weekend, and I won't have time to do more until next weekend, so here is the result up to date.

Some plants and flowers I had before, both ones I have made and some that came with various job lots. I plan to have a rail with hanging baskets and maybe some wall units, so do come back soon.

Sunday, 11 March 2018


Our beloved cat died a few weeks ago. We have now been adopted by two kittens. We have never had young cats before, and we have never had two, and it's like having two toddlers: thinking of what is lying about that they can break or injure themselves on. I have moved my Tudor dollhouse from the corridor into my study, that is already overflowing with dollhouses and supplies. There is no way I can move all my room boxes that so far have been neatly displayed in a corridor shelf. Our old cat never climbed on shelves and always walked very carefully over and around my miniature chaos. She never tried to get into a dollhouse, as many cats do, judging from hundreds of pictures on Facebook.

Anyway, I need to protect room boxes from cats and cats from room boxes (I will still have to decide whether my study will be forever out of bounds for them). This necessity has inspired me to do something I had been planning to do for a long time and for a different reason: glaze. Anyone who has open dollhouses or room boxes knows how much work it is to dust them, particularly if you have hundreds of tiny objects. So, for my cats and for my own convenience, I ordered Plexiglass sheets cut to measure (I had to measure carefully because the boxes are of different sizes). They were inexpensive, and I decided against pre-drilled holes since each hole cost more than the sheet itself. This speaks volumes about my self-confidence. I was sure I would be able to drill holes in 2mm thick acrylic. And I was. It was a lot of effort, but I did it, hole by tiny hole. In fact, they turned out to be so tiny that I didn't have small enough screws. Temporarily  - or perhaps permanently if I see it works - the sheets are attached with thumbtacks.

There are many disadvantages with glazed room boxes. For me, no project is ever finished, and I keep adding objects and borrowing them for other projects, or simply moving them around. Once you have sealed a box, you would have to take off the glazing if you wanted to change something. Therefore I opted for removable glazing. I know some people use Velcro, and perhaps double-sided tape would work as well.

Before I added glazing, there was some preparatory work to be done. I never fix anything with tack or craft dots, still less with glue, except maybe the tiniest things likely to fall off and get lost at the slightest movement. But if I seal the boxes, I must attach almost everything so it doesn't fall off if I - or the cats - bump into a shelf, or even simply when I move the box from my workbench to the shelf. I don't like attaching objects because even the best kind of tack or sticky dot leaves stains, and if you have a valuable piece of furniture you don't want to spoil the surface. (All those moments when I cursed the previous owner when trying to get the cups and plates off an antique table).

Yet I had no choice, so I spent most of the weekend going through all room boxes fixing every little object.  

Another disadvantage is of course that glass produces reflections. I remember this well from when I tried to take pictures of dollhouses in the Museum of Childhood in London. They were in glass cases, and taking a good picture was virtually impossible. And it took me a dozen attempts to take a somewhat decent picture of my van Hoogstraten box. You can see my hands and the back of my real room reflected in the glass.


This was the first box I glazed, so with the others, I took pictures after I had fixed all objects and before glazing.

The Borrowers box was easiest, and I didn't change anything in it so it was just a matter of attaching objects to each other and to the floor. The yarn shop has been moved around, and quite a lot of it was in disarray, so I first tried out some versions before deciding how I wanted it.

I didn't spend a lot of time on it, but it looks nice and neat now. I made this box for my daughter who is a passionate knitter, but she hasn't collected it so far and may never do.

The clockmaker's shop took longest. This is the box that I change constantly, borrowing clocks for other projects, adding clocks that come in job lots and moving in commercial clocks that I replace with my Chippendale miniatures.

There are some rare vintage pieces here (tall Barton clock and the plastic Marx clock, next to the corner cabinet), some upcycled, and quite a few I have made from buttons and other rubbish. I like this box, it is probably my favourite. But it took ages because I had to make sure that all items were displayed in the best possible way. There was an incredible amount of dust in this box, so now it is well protected.

The most radical changes happened in the Swedish kitchen. It was originally built around a traditional Swedish kitchen sofa, which I have given away to someone building a traditional Swedish 19th-century dollhouse. I have been adding and borrowing from this box and have even considered dismantling it, but I like some of the features, not least the stove that won't go with any other of my current projects, and the doll is Swedish, and so on. So I kept it, but before I glazed it, I removed the sink that was slightly too large anyway, and put in a vintage Swedish sofa, a famous and rare brand, and a vintage Swedish dresser that I had, completely inadequately, in the Victorian house, just because I like it so much. But it fits much better here. I also moved the iconic Swedish kitchenware, Kockums, from the Victorian kitchen where it was totally anachronistic. 

I haven't glazed the Jane Austen box because I am not sure I want to keep it. It was made for a specific purpose, and several pieces and both dolls are borrowed from the large Victorian house. But I like this box so maybe I will add some details and then glaze. It is large, twice as large as the other boxes, so I am not even sure where to put it. So far it has been on my window sill, but it cannot stay there forever.

I also have my antique shop that is the most dynamic box. Most things I had there initially have been used elsewhere, and right now it looks more like a junk bin than a room box. I have tons of spare furniture and stuff so maybe I can make something interesting of it again.

I have dismantled the tea shop. It was one of my very first boxes, and I hadn't added much to it, perhaps because there isn't much to add. Instead I borrowed more and more from it, and now I will use the shell for a new project that I will show in due time.

Meanwhile, there is no risk that the cats will tear down a box or choke on something, and all my displays are protected from dust. It was a great investment and definitely worth the trouble.

Monday, 26 February 2018


I have always admired people who make miniature flowers. For my very first dollhouse, I made some generic flowers (possibly lilacs) that I still have, but that clearly need improvement. I made roses for my market stall and some more for the Playmobil house, but that's it. I never got round to making anything more elaborate.

The other day I was browsing Pinterest looking for something different to make. I was down and restless for a good reason and needed a challenge. I found this page and felt it was just what I wanted, although it felt totally intimidating. However, I had all the time in the world and no risks. After trials and errors, here is the result.


It wasn't as difficult as it looked. It was just a lot of precision work and patience and swearing. But it was fun and very good for my self-esteem. I didn't take any step-by-step pictures because the tutorial is there for everyone, but I will tell you what I did differently, for various reasons. For instance, I don't have a punch (and won't consider getting one in the near future) so I simply cut the petals from paper. The first set was far too large, and the flower didn't look natural so I had to discard it. Luckily, I only made one, to test. I am a profoundly decimal person, so 3/16" really makes no sense to me, even though I have a converter. I used intuition.

I don't think I had ever before worked on such small objects. Fringing these tiny pieces of paper felt almost weird, and I kept asking myself: Why the h-ll are you doing this? Answer: because it's fun. In which case, just go on.

I used the paper I had, plain coloured printer paper. I happened to have two shades of yellow. The green paper I had didn't look natural so I painted the leaves afterwards. I didn't have a "small round stylus" (not even sure what it is), but the advice to use a nail file was very helpful. All in all, for the very first attempt, I was pleased.

Next day, inspired by approval from my miniature groups, I started on irises, from the same site. When I shared the result, one comment was that they preferred more conventional colours, and so do I (blue are my favourite), but again, this was the paper I had at home at the moment. I may make some blue ones later. While I was at it, I improved the daffodils, adding more leaves, and I planted both in terracotta pots the origin of which I don't remember. I used coffee grinds for dirt. 


From the instructions, I don't know what Fun-Foam is (remember, friends, when you post tutorials, that your readers may be from other parts of the world; do not use brand names for any materials, glues, paints or stains. It's not helpful and can be frustrating if it's impossible to figure out what you mean). I didn't have green floral tape, but I had white surgical tape that I painted green.

This gave me a boost of confidence and a desire to make more, and one of my long-time dreams had been to make orchids. I didn't find a good tutorial for mini-orchids, but now that I understood the technology, and looking carefully at my 1:1 orchids, I thought I might be able to make it. I found good templates for paper orchids on wedding sites!

Since this is indeed my own project, I will describe it in more detail. Orchid stems are different from daffodils and irises, and I needed to make branches for individual flowers so it had to be several wires put together.

I realise I am doing what I have just told you not to do - showing a brand product, but it really doesn't matter, any floral wire will do, or actually any suitable wire since you will anyway need to cover it with tape, whether floral or surgical. The picture below shows what it looks like. Of course you will then paint it green.

Orchid flowers are complex, which I could state by looking at my real ones. After daffodils and irises, I was prepared to cut each petal separately, but then I found these templates for wedding decorations (who and why makes paper orchids as wedding decorations??), and cut three sets. Again, the first one I did was too large. These petals are really, really tiny.

For the large petals, I used plain white paper. The coloured paper I had wasn't suitable for an orchid, and I tried to paint the petals, and they looked awful. So there is some practice to be done. The beard I painted with nail polish. Then I made a hole in the middle of the flower and glued them on stems.  Then I bent and curled them to add form and volume.

The leaves were easy to cut and crease, and again I had to paint them to look more natural. And I had to check real orchids to confirm that leaves do not grow around the main stem, but on a separate stem. Orchid roots are bizarre. I made them from wire that was already bent (from old binders), and I covered them with surgical tape and painted light green. Again, I used coffee grinds for dirt - luckily, we drink a lot of coffee so there is no lack of this useful material.

There is a lot to be improved, and of course I will want to use other colours, but as a first attempt, and without instructions, I am pleased. Now that I have all these flowers I should probably make a flower shop.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Miniature wheelchair

Some time ago I saw a picture of a miniature antique wheelchair on the web. For some reason or other, I got fascinated by the idea and saved it in my project bank for the future.

For a wheelchair you need wheels, and I consulted my miniature groups, with variable success. Of course, you can buy anything from model shops, but that's not what I typically want, so I put the idea on a back burner.

Then I happened to pass by one of my favourite craft shops, Tiger. I always go in to see whether they have something interesting, and this is what I found:

Frankly, I don't quite understand the "build-your-own" aspect because all you need to do is add pedals, and I cannot at all see why you need four wheels, but since the only thing I wanted was wheels, I got four for the price of two. And a tiny screwdriver as a bonus.

I took the bike apart (this is when I again wondered about "build-your-own") and painted the spokes.

As we all know, acrylic paint doesn't work on plastic so I had to paint with enamel. I wanted the spokes brown, to resemble wood, but I didn't have brown enamel and wasn't confident to mix my own.

Enamel paint takes ages to dry. Meanwhile I made the chair itself. I used a kit from the House of miniatures.


I could have made a chair from scratch, but the challenge was the wheels, and I have far too many chair kits anyway. I will not show how I made the chair because it was straightforward. I used a piece of leather for the seat because I am not good at cushions.

What was less straightforward was attaching the wheels. My initial thought was simply to fix the wheels on a toothpick and glue to the brace, but of course the wheels would not turn, and it felt like cheating.


Back to the group again, and I hope my miniature friend doesn't mind me quoting the instruction in full.

"Take wire thick enough to fit through the wheel centre hole. Now, measure a piece that passes underneath the seat of the chair. On either side, bend the wire at a 90 degree angle towards the ground. Then, at the correct height to match the centre of the wheels, bend it outwards on both sides to lie horizontal. Place each wheel onto the two ends of the wire to check the height. This is where you decide how high off the ground the chair will rest. Then, if you can find a tiny washer or flat disc that fits onto the wire, thread that against the chair. Add the wheels. Now add another disc or washer against the wheel. Make sure the wheels can spin easily. Take cutters and gently cut off the wire close to the washers, leaving about 3mm. Glue a small bead on to the tip of the wire - not the washers and not the wheels - as they must still move. For balance, the best would be to add two chair legs in the front, so that the chair doesn't tip over. Then the nurse can tilt the chair back a bit, and push it forward easily. Unless you can find a miniature wheel for the back, to prevent it from tipping over".

Guess whether I was intimidated! This was by far the most sophisticated miniature I had ever made.

To begin with, the only wire I have is champagne wire. It was the right thickness, but of course it isn't straight and cannot ever be fully straightened. But it is easy to work with. I didn't have washers, but I made tiny spacers from card. So it was easier than it sounded, until I realised that I had no idea how to attach the axis to the chair. Back to the group and the same guru: 

"You will have to mark the position of the wire on the chair base. Then glue wood strips on either side of that, but leave enough space for the wire to fit in the middle channel. Once the strips are glued down, you can glue the wire into the channel, probably with E6000 or some similar strong glue. If you want it to look pretty, you can cover it with another strip of wood or toothpick, or even just paint it to hide the glue".

I don't know what E6000 is, but I used my usual strong glue, and it all worked fine. In my excitement, I forgot to take pictures. But I followed the instructions, glued strips, then glued the wire and glued a piece of coffee stirrer on top. When I painted the whole assembly you almost couldn't see it. I used a tube from a cotton bud to cover the worst uneven parts of the wire, and it looked even more impressive. 

Ideally, I wanted raising foot rest, but it felt a bit of an overkill. (Next time maybe). I don't know whether the foot rest raises on the miniature I first saw on the web. As I was rummaging through my supplies, I decided that sticks from Magnum ice cream would be most appropriate.


I didn't attach them yet, because first I needed to figure out how to make the back wheel. Again, I didn't have to, but having got that far I at least wanted to give it a try. I had the fork from the plastic bike, but it looked too coarse on the delicate chair. I didn't have small wheels with spokes either and didn't know where to get them, so if I ever find one I will replace, but what I had was a little wooden wheel the origin of which I don't remember so it had to do. And it took me several evenings to figure out how to attach it so that it could turn. 


I know it's protruding too far back, and I will make it better at some point (when I also have a better wheel), but at least it serves its purpose. 

I don't remember what the handle used to be, just some bit I had in my supplies. As usual: don't throw anything away, it may come handy. 


I am very pleased with this project. It isn't perfect, but it is one of the most challenging pieces I have made, and it is not unlike what I envisioned. I have no idea where it goes in my various environments.  Maybe I can put it by the stairs in the great hall, waiting for the poor invalid to come down. And I now need a nurse to push it. 

Sunday, 28 January 2018

French cottage style bedroom

I am getting bolder and bolder with my Chippendale kits and want to try different techniques and finishes. I have several kits for chest of drawers, that are mostly similar, and my large house doesn't have room for more chests, so I decided to make a chest that didn't fit into any of my projects. The chest itself wasn't particularly interesting to make, exactly because they are more or less the same. I won't show it step by step, but what I did was paint it with antique white acrylic and then add decoupage decoration. I had never made proper decoupage, and I am not quite sure I made it correctly, but I was very pleased with the result.

The drawers are not glued yes, because I always insert drawer handles before I glue on the fronts. The kits comes with standard handles and plates, but I didn't think they were suitable for this style. I wanted something like I have on my 1:1 chest, metal rings. I have plenty of these from junk jewellery, but they must be attached to the drawer in some manner, and it took me some time to figure it out. As usual, I was just rummaging through my supplies when the solution jumped at me. 


These champagne wires are among the best and most versatile materials. Easy to work with too.


When I shared this picture in my Facebook groups, one friend commented: "Yes, this is what I always do". And I thought I had invented something remarkable.

Anyway, this piece did not fit with anything, but I wanted to make something to go with it and made a bed. Again, I won't show how I made it step by step, because it is exactly like other Chippendale beds, with stringed bottom. Like the chest, I decoupaged the headboard before assembly. 


Making the mattress was again straightforward when you have made it several times, but I have always had issues with bedding because it won't stay. Then I remembered a trick I have seen either in some book or on the web. If you want a piece of fabric to stay, glue it to aluminium foil. In this case, I didn't even have to glue, I simply sewed it inside the blanket.


Now I could tuck it in neatly. Mind, I would never ever have this pink in my own bedroom. But this seemed appropriate. And the two pieces went nice together.


Now, however, I had a dilemma. I already have a shelf full of single miniatures that do not fit in any existing projects. I put the chest and bed tentatively in a cardboard box, but realised I would have to make the whole environment: floor, ceiling, wallpaper, and the box was too small, and a larger box would be too large... So I made a compromise.


This is my first corner vignette, and next time I will do it better. When I asked advice of my miniature friends, they suggested foam board, mdf and other stuff, but I am a recycler, I don't want to buy materials unless absolutely necessary, and also I wanted to make the scene then and there. The wallpaper is a printie from the web, and I made the floor quickly (relatively, maybe two hours) from self-adhesive shelf lining, cutting 4 cm strips and gluing them in a pattern. I used 1:1 embossed wallpaper for mouldings.

The dressing table and the chair are temporarily borrowed from a different project. I have another table kit and may make it in the same style, or perhaps it's not necessary. Maybe sometime I will develop this project in a whole room box or even a small holiday cottage, but at the moment the two pieces are nicely displayed.  

By the way, the tea service comes from a set of earrings an American friend has given me.