Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Chippendale chest

After my struggle with the desk, I thought this one would be easy. When I was halfway through staining it occurred to me that I had never taken the before and after pictures, so now I have. I was using new stain because I had just finished the old faithful bottle of stain I bought in a hobby shop in Sweden over five years ago. This one came from an online shop, and although I would guess that mahogany was mahogany, it wasn't. I thought it was far too pink. I had to use at least three coats, and it was still too pink.

Then I made a fatal mistake. The instruction sheet has a warning: before you start, read the instructions carefully and make sure you understand every step of the process. In my hubris, I thought that with my fifth piece of advanced cabinet-making I understood every step. So I put in wrong bits for shelves. For some reason, each shelf must be made of two bits. I am sure there is a very good reason for this in full-size cabinet-making, and I am sure my expert friend Chris Scott would be able to explain to me exactly why it is important. I guess it has to do with aligning. And that's what made it such a frustrating job. It had been hard enough to put in three solid shelves - which was wrong. You might think that in a miniature it wouldn't make any difference. But just as a table top must be made with several panels, so a shelf must obviously be made of two bits. I think my blood pressure sky rocketed that evening.

Finally the frame was assembled, and making the drawers with their tiny handles and keyholes was a joy.

Here it is in its room. I will fill the drawers with bedlinen and other odds and ends. You can see that the stain is not the same, but maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe not all furniture was exactly the same.  .

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Chippendale desk

The next piece of furniture that I made was the most complicated so far, even though I have certainly developed some skills during the past few weeks.

I anticipated that it would be complicated because it has hinged top, and mini-hinges are a very delicate job. In fact it is one bit of miniature making that I actively dislike because I am not good at it. I wonder why they couldn't cut hinge slots when they have all the other tiny details. It would have made this step so much easier. I considered for a moment to use strips of leather for hinges as you can do with mini-doors, but that would make this exquisite piece look clumsy.

This is one of the occasions when having good tools is essential. When I had eventually managed to cut the slots and started to insert the unprintable half-millimeter screws into unprintable holes through unprintable hinges, I discovered that my smallest screwdriver was not small enough so I ended up working the screws with my mini craft knife which was the unprintable of a job. I was exhausted when I finished and almost gave up on continuing that evening, but I had to reward myself for being so persistent.

Assembling the frame was easy. 

Then came a step that demands dexterity and patience, but nothing like the unprintable hinges. Keyholes and handles for drawers - and I had earlier done this with the night stand

I had to leave the assembled desk and drawers overnight to set. 

Then I gave it a coat of varnish.

Here it is in the interior, with the top cabinet in place. Now I only need some teeny-tiny objects to put into drawers and pens and stationary for the desk top.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Chippendale house

Now that I have made some of the beautiful Chippendale furniture, with more to make, I need a good way to display it. There are far too many objects to make a room box. I need a house. One day when I grow up I will buy this house, but until then I'll have to do with what I've got. Over a year ago I bought a dollhouse at Oxfam for ten pounds. I liked it, and I tried to find out what it was and where it came from.

To my huge disappointment it turned out to be from ToysRUs. A playscale house. Not for a serious miniature maker. My two granddaughters were delighted to play with it, since they were not allowed to play with any other houses. Then it was exiled into a corner. For some time I considered taking it out to the garage. Or even taking it back to Oxfam. But I didn't. It is a bit like being adopted by a cat. You have a responsibility. Somebody had thrown this house away, and I gave it shelter.

So now this house will be decorated to host a display of Chippendale furniture. I will call it the Chippendale house to make up for my previous neglect. 

This is a very important blog post, please read it carefully. It endevours to explain how much work lies behind a dollhouse project. Typically you see a finished dollhouse or room box, all pretty and nice, and you have no idea how many hours, days, weeks, months it took to make. Even if the miniaturist says it took them three years, it says nothing. But it probably helps a bit if I describe it step by step.

This house was already assembled. You may think that it was one step less to do, but in fact I seriously considered taking it apart again. Normally you would paint and decorate a dollhouse before you assemble it because it is much easier. It's ok on the outside, but the inside is a pain. However, I was too lazy to take it apart. Besides, you can actually put your furniture into an unpainted house, even though it doesn't look natural. I simply need a place to put them in, so why not a house.

I started by painting the outside walls. I don't have a hobby room so for a larger projects like this I have to use the dining room table and clear up every day when I am finished. I used ordinary all-purpose white paint that I bought five years ago for 1:1 decoration. I have used it for a great number of dollhouses and room boxes since then. Even this first coat of paint made a difference. It looks just like a house under renovation.

I didn't have the right paint for the windows. I ordered it from an online shop after I had read plenty of books about the period in which the right colour for windows in a Georgian house was drab. I had always thought that drab was just a negative adjective, synonym to dull. And it is. But it is also the correct name for a colour that was popular during Georgian era.

Painting windows is a tedious job. Lots of masking tape, and there will still be dabs of paint where you don't want them. It took me several evenings. But I wasn't in a hurry. I listened to music and concentrated on what I was doing. After a long day of working with my head, it was relaxing. 

Here is the result. When I compared it to the picture that had been my model I realised that I had made it all wrong. So much for trusting your memory. The drab in the picture was less drab, almost green. The window lattice was white. At least the door was the right colour, brown. It could also be green, but I have a green door in another house. I haven't painted the quoins - cornerstones - yet, but I will. Meanwhile, I wanted to decorate a couple of rooms to put my furniture in. I had grand plans to make proper skirting and dado rails, but the house is in a wrong scale, and there are rather ugly skirtings and cornices that hold the walls together, so additional rails would make it look too crammed. I'll wait until I have that dream house. But for this one, I painted all the rails white. I made the big mistake of painting rails in one room blue. I thought it would go well with blue-and-white flowery wallpaper. It didn't. It looked hideous. In this situation you are glad you are working on a miniature.

I also had to close two square holes in the floors/ceilings where stairs were supposed to go. I have no room for stairs, they take a lot of space.

This is the first room I decorated, with printed wallpaper and floors. They aren't authentic for the period, but they look nice. Genuine Georgian wallpaper is either too drab or too pompous. This is in between. Pompous wallpaper would be too conspicuous in these small rooms, and I didn't want it to look too drab. It took me quite a long time. If I used a video you'd be bored to death. But I need to repeat it: it looks very easy in a picture, but it takes hours and hours. Especially when your house is non-standard, which for some reason all my houses tend to be.

In this picture, three rooms have wallpaper, but only one has floors. It is a good opportunity to notice what a huge difference it makes when everything is in place. The door is fake; obviously there is nothing behind the wall, but fake doors create an illusion of extra space. I had to clear away the dining room table for Sunday dinner so I just finished as much as I could. Until next weekend I won't have time to work on this project. But even now you can see how interesting it is going to be. The fireplace is temporarily borrowed from another project.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Rag rug

The past few days my miniature group has been making rag rugs with a most amazing technique. This is what makes it fun belonging to a group: somebody discovers something interesting, and then everybody tries and shares. So I have tried too. First, you need some yarn. Let me tell you: embroidery yarn is best. I have tried with knitting yarn, and it was too fluffy. Then you need a piece of cloth. I took a bit of an old sheet. You also need a bit of wax paper so that the rug doesn't get stuck to the surface.

You cut small bits of yarn and glue it onto the cloth, one by one. I used an ordinary glue stick. Textile glue is possibly better, but I didn't have any. Yes, it it terribly messy and takes a lot of time. About two hours for this one. Very restful.

When you have fisnihed, and the glue has dried, trim the long edges and fringe the short edges. The fringe makes all the difference: how it really looks like a rag rug.

Here you can see it in its room - which I haven't shown yet, so make sure you come back to see more of it. 

Friday, 18 January 2013

Canopy bed, finished

You may wonder what happened to the canopy bed I made some days ago. I have been working on it all this time. Here is what I made. First, a matress. I took the foam provided in the kit and made a cover from a bit of an old kitchen towel. I have no idea how I know how to make a matress, but I think it looks very authentic.

It took me a long time to decide what fabric to use for the bedding. It has to be correct for the period. Finally I found a bit that I had bought in a hobby shop in Norway two years ago. It was just waiting for the right moment. I also had a couple of cheap handkerchiefs from a charity shop - I think the kind they have in schools for embroidery. I didn't want to cut them so I measured the main fabric to match. As I was sewing, I couldn't help thinking, once again, how they would do it in the 18th century in the American South. Would they use slaves? Would the mistress hit her slaves if sewing was not good enough? If the stitches weren't small enough or straight? I need to learn more about hand sewing throughout history. In classical English novels, you read about "plain sewing" and "fine sewing". I guess bed linen was plain sewing.

 I made the canopy first so this is what it looked like.

Finally I made the coverlet and a pillow. I will also make curtains. Canopy beds were not decorative. The point was to draw the curtains around them to keep warm.

You may have noticed that there is matching wallpaper in the room. It is not fixed yet because I need to paint the ceiling first, but I wanted to see what it would look like with a matching wallpaper, since that's what they had in those days. Before I cut up the fabric I photocopied it making four or five paper sheets. I am sure somebody has done this before, but I came up with it all by myself. Just because I have my new printer.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Night stand

This piece wasn't particularly interesting or challenging to make, and it didn't take a long time. However, it is a nice piece that will go well with the other Chippendale furniture.

On the left you can see the edge of the canopy bed that I am now making bedding for. The candle and the chamber pot are from another house, and the Holy Bible is a printie.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Hepplewhite table

The piece I had thought would be very difficult actually turned out to be quite straitforward. In Russian, this type of table is called "a centepede", for obvious reasons.

As usual, I started by sorting the pieces on the layout sheet. The instruction says: "Be certain you understand each step before proceeding to the next one". It may sound patronising, but is very helpful. This is my third piece in the collection, and by now I have understood several important principles. Step-by-step and let-dry-before-going-on are essential.

Alignment is something I have learned by now. It is not just helpful, but also makes me contemplate how these things are done in 1:1 scale. Which is what makes this kit-building exciting and new as compared to anything I have done before. Even furniture I have made after instructions from dollhouse books was cheating. You covered everything that wasn't done properly. As you see, I started with the two end sections. I have made half-moon side tables from cheese boxes, but I never reflected that there are two boards on top of each other. This will be useful if I ever make a table of my own.

The middle section also has two layers. Now you would think that for a miniature, you could just take one big table top, but that's not how they made table tops in full scale. It's three pieces that have to be assembled.

As usual, masking tape is indispensable. 

This is what the table top looked like when it had dried.

Then it was time to glue on the legs. Fourteen of them. If you wonder why there is a square of white card, it is not accidental. It is the alignment square, used to make sure that the table legs are straight. I wish I had known this simple trick before.

This definitely looks like a dead centipede.

This is what it looked like 24 hours later, when I also had given it a coat of varnish. You cannot help noticing that it is now in a room. The floor is probably wrong for the period, and also perhaps too conspicuous. It's still at an early planning stage, but it looks so much better in a room.

The smart thing about the Hepplewhite table is that it can also be used in various configurations: as a dining table or as a round table. 

This piece was a huge fun to make, and it gave me a lot of confidence.