Sunday, 26 April 2015

Further playing with lights

I have become obsessed with tea lights. After I made the flickering fires I bought a set of eight tea lights that are better than the ones I got from Poundland, because they are easier to switch on: just turn the base. They are also smaller. And they don't flicker. I don't want flickering light in my table and ceiling lamps.

Small as they are, they need to be hidden, to filter the light and make it even and smooth. I have seen various models that people in my facebook groups have made, and while I was looking for something to use as shades I came up with this idea:


I have at least a dosen thimbles from charity shops; they are thin porcelain with delicate floral painting, and it's perfect if I can think of a way to disguise the base because the way it is, it does not look natural. However, to test it, I put the eight lights, with thimble shades, all over the house.

It looks rather boring, but I can have a couple perhaps. Then I tried to make table lamps.

For the first, I took a miniature copper candlestick (made from old copper coins) and constructed a shade from a bit of handmade paper. I must admit that I hadn't made this particular paper, although papermaking is another hobby of mine. For the second lamp, I took another mini-candlestick and a piece of self-adhesive border, which I believe is used for scrapbooking. 

I also tested putting a light into a crystal chandelier. This chandelier needs mending, but you get the idea. 

It was easy to white-tack a light into a chandelier in the drawing room, although I am not yet sure how I will fix it permanently. 

The music room chandelier is the very first I made, many years ago. I feel moved when I look at these old pictures. I couldn't in my wildest dream imagine that it would one day look like this: 


It's very difficult to take a good picture of lights, but the table light is in the corner, there is a light in the chandelier, and a flickering fire in the fireplace.The house becomes alive with lights. 

This is what it looks like through the front window.


And this is just the beginning. At the moment, I have to switch on each light individually and manually. I have seen that you can get these lights with remote control.

More "spot the difference"

I have mentioned repeatedly that it may seem odd that I keep putting objects into half-finished rooms only to remove them the next day. But if you think closer it makes sense. At each stage, I need to check what it will look like, and it is here I can spot mistakes and correct them. It isn't an option in 1:1 decoration, so there you must guess and trust your intuition. I don't mind moving things around, and I like putting everything back in the evening so that I have a nice view when I see it next morning.

So I removed everything from the smoking room to add moulding. As I was doing it, I realised that I wouldn't be able to fix skirting before I knew that the floor was right, and I wasn't sure that the adhesive lining floor was right. That's the problem: once you have started doing proper floors you aren't satisfied with half-measures. At least it didn't feel right so I tested the floor that I initially made for the nursery, but it is much too sofisticated for the nursery so I thought it would go well in the smoking room. I had to trim it a bit. The mouldings aren't fixed yet except for rails.

And then - yes, you have guessed it - I put everything back again.

This is the first room that is actually finished - apart from mouldings. I cannot yet fix the skirting because I need to attach the ceiling light in the room below, and the hole is under the floor. Apart from that, it is all done, the door surround glued, and I can start thinking what else is going into this room: pictures, ornaments. occasional tables, smoking utensils, lights. Maybe another male doll?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


Did I say in my previous post that I had made zillions of mistakes? Well. I have just discovered a big one. Remember the gentlemen's smoking room I was so proud of? It looked great, didn't it? And didn't I say that the rear room didn't matter because it wouldn't be visible? Well, it depends on how close you look.

The other evening I switched off all lights in the 1:1 room and switched on all lights in the house, including the flickering flames in the fireplaces. A professional might take a picture that does it justice, but believe me, it was stunning. I was particularly fascinated by looking through the windows. It was really intriguing.

Until I came to this lateral view of the rear room behind the smoking room:

This would never do, would it? Maybe one in a hundred guests would bother to have a look, but it would certainly be an inquisitive child who would notice and comment.

With a deep sigh I tore everything down and was back on square one. 

The lateral view through the side window revealed the open stairwell, the unfinished wallpaper, the wrong panel colour and the absence of proper moulding. In each case it was perhaps no more than a centimeter. But it looked untidy.

First of all, I had to close the stairwell. Because there would be no heavy objects there I simply took a piece of card (old document folder) and covered with self-adhesive shelf lining.

This time I didn't take any risks. Yes, only a couple of centimeters would be visible laterally, but it's easier to cover it all.

Then I painted the dark green panel. I should have removed the paper from the wall, but that was an overkill so I just painted over it. Then I added simple moulding, just unprofiled balsa strip and coffee stirrers. I didn't bother about the cornice although if you look very, very, very carefully through the side window you may see a glimpse of an edge. I don't think even an inquisitive child would notice. 

Now it was time to think about how to attach the book case to the wall. It so happened that I was reading a post in one of my Facebook groups about someone fixing something with velcro. I have a roll of velcro that I bought six years ago and only used two millimeters to make a toothbrush.

What a brilliant idea! Why haven't I thought about it before? I am sure there are more things in the house than can be successfully fixed with velcro. Whoever mentioned this on Facebook, you have the credit. Although I would never trust just velcro so I also used a screw to hang the book case on - it is made from a picture frame and has a hook.

I also put a painting on the wall. It is one of the first paintings I made, many years ago. It will be visible extremely laterally, but it adds hugely to the effect. You get a sense of vast spaces inside there.

Here is the result so far, although there is still moulding to be added.

Seemingly, this picture is exactly the same as in the old post. "Spot five differences". But the most important thing is that the lateral view is now correct. Welcome, the inquisitive child!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Annual reflections

It has now been a year since I bought Womble Hall. Of course it was not delivered until August, but I have been the happy owner of this unique property for a year. This invites reflections.

Firstly, I am really glad that I didn't wait until I was retired because I still have some years until retirement, and I have already enjoyed this house so much, and I know I will go on enjoying it. It has been very good for me. It gave me relaxation when I most needed it. It has also given me a lot of confidence when I had to solve seemingly unsolvable problems.

The other day I was talking on skype with an old friend. I was rather depressed and told her so. When I say depressed, I don't mean temporarily upset because you have broken your favourite cup; I mean medically depressed without any particular reason. My friend recognised and acknowledged it. We went on talking, and I started telling her about the dollhouse, turning the iPad here and there for her to see. Then she said: "Have you noticed now much happier you feel when you talk about your dollhouse?" I hadn't, but she was absolutely right. My dollhouse is my best therapy. (That said, when I am really depressed I don't even want to play with the dollhouse. Then I know it's really bad).

Secondly, when I bought the house a year ago I thought I would finish it by Christmas. When it was delayed, I admitted that I probably wouldn't finish it by Christmas. But I had no idea that it would be so slow. Of course I have a full-time job and more, so I can only work on the dollhouse some evenings and some weekends. It does not say much that I have worked for seven months. But I have kept a log. I have so far spent 548 hours on this project. I am nowhere near completion. With luck, I may finish by Christmas. Then, what do we mean by "finish"? A dollhouse project is never finished. Which means I will probably go on for the rest of my life. I don't want to think what happens when I am gone. Perhaps I ought to make arrangements for that.

Thirdly, I know that if this had been my very first project I wouldn't have managed it. Now, I don't believe a beginner would ever dare start with something so grand, but seven years of dollhouse- and roombox-making was a very good training. I knew what tools and materials to use, how to do this and that, what pitfalls to avoid. Still, this project needs so much careful planning. I am glad I haven't done anything in a hurry. Lots of initial plans didn't work or there were better plans, better ideas, better colour schemes. I made tons of mistakes, but fortunately nothing fatal - yet. I haven't damaged anything beyond repair, I haven't hurt myself (except for my back and shoulders, but I do this when I am gardening as well). I haven't broken any of my precious mini items - I do have a couple of really valuable ones.

Fourthly, and not unexpectedly, the initial costs of the kit itself was just the beginning. I keep a log of purchases as well: materials, extra parts that didn't come with the kit, paint, tools. So far, I have spent in addition half of the cost of the kit. There are many indirect costs too, like I ask my husband to buy gluesticks when he goes to the supermarket. I recycle a lot using things such as wrapping paper for wallpaper so I don't spend a lot of money on things I can make. The most expensive have been doors, that I cannot - yet - make myself, and lighting equipment. If I had bought everything I could have bought: wallpaper, flooring paper, roofing, door knobs, fireplaces - I know I would have doubled and tripled the bill. It is also important that I have most of the tools necessary for miniature work. I don't have any sophisticated tools, just the very basics, but I know how to use them. There may be tools I don't know I need that would make some things easier. I also have all the materials I have saved all these years so whenever I need a piece of wood or a bit of fabric or a length of wire, I have it.

People who have seen and admired the house don't understand much about it. When I had my Christmas party and my guests wanted to see the house, they ah-ed and oh-ed, but at that time the house was dry-assembled, with bits of wallpaper white-tacked here and there, no doors, half-finished floors, unpainted edges. They didn't see it. But then I probably wouldn't have seen it before I started miniature-making.

I have become much more demanding, in a positive and negative way. On the positive, I want to make things properly. On the negative, I have reluctantly discarded some of my early-day furniture and objects because I am no longer satisfied with them. Sometimes they are not in scale. Sometimes they are too crude. But some things I would never have the heart to throw away. Certainly not the dolls.

Finally, and sadly, I have been so focused on this house that I have completely neglected all my other mini projects. I have given away a couple of dollhouses; I haven't made any new room boxes, and I haven't made any improvements on the two dollhouses I have left: the Tudor house and the retro house. I have definitely lost interest in half-scale. I notice that I pinch objects from room boxes to put into the new house. Maybe that's the way it should be. I am not yet ready to let go of the Tudor and retro houses, but I think I may at some point. I am not a hoarder. Well. I am, but...

In short, it has been a fantastic dollhouse year, and I have learned a lot and had fun. The Facebook groups have been supportive and encouraging. I am looking forward to whatever the future has in store.

Sunday, 19 April 2015


I will now go back to the beginning of the second floor and the rear corridor even though I have shown similar pictures before. The reason I think it is important to account for some projects step by step is that, if people only see the finished room, they have no idea how much work lies behind it and how much needs to be planned and considered.

I had removed everything from this space.

The only thing I had done is fix the pictures permanently because I won't be able to do this once the partition is in place. You can also see where the LED light sits. It won't be visible through the doors.

This was the time to glue in the partition, and you know what? I decided not to. It sits quite firmly in the groove, and if I for whatever reason need to remove it I will only have to tear down the mouldings and wallpaper. I do hope this never happens. Not in my lifetime anyway.

I put in the wall and placed the furniture in the rear corridor. I have added and rearranged the ornaments on the chests. I visited a stately home last weekend and noticed, once again, how crammed chests and dressers were.

Then I put in the middle partition and of course noticed that the edge needed painting. These are the small details you discover as you go, and it makes sense to paint the edge before putting in the wallpaper.

I made the bathroom tiles more than half a year ago.  This sets the whole project in perspective. Now they are finally in place.

But there are still several things to do. For instance, door posts. In the adjacent room I could do this on flat surface because the wallpaper was already done, but here I had to do it afterwards. Another argument for doing as much as possible on flat surfaces! Frankly, I don't know how you can do all decoration after assembly. But I have a bad shoulder.

That done, compare the difference.

The next step is moulding. Now, it isn't my strong side. I have never figured out how to mitre cornices, and I think I won't bother.


The cornices are white-tacked so far because there is yet another detail I need to decide on. I won't have skirting on the back wall because it will be hidden by a dresser.

Now some objects to get the general idea.


The whole project, from the first picture above to the last, including painting the mouldinds, has taken six hours.

Chandelier in the great hall

When you work on a huge project like this, it is tremendously important to plan all details. Just as I was about to glue the partitions for the rear corridor I realised that the hole to hang the chandelier on the floor below was in the corridor that I was about to seal off. Normally a hole would be in the middle of a ceiling, but in this case, because the chandelier will hang over the stairs it is closer to the back wall.

I made the chandelier some time ago but now I had an unexpected challenge. If you have never tried to balance a chandelier with six chains, let me tell you that it takes a lot of time and swearing. But finally it was done. So what I had to do now it thread the wire through the ceiling rose and the ceiling, fix it and glue the ceiling rose to the celing. I could have used another pair of hands.


The ceiling decoration is a picture frame that I found on the "take if you want it" table at work. The ceiling rose is a brooch. I had to paint the central bit because it was too bright red.

Here is a close-up. I see that I need to fix the candles better.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Gentlemen's smoking room

I have made considerable progress, adding three more lights in rear rooms, but because the front rooms are not finished there isn't much to show. I used the same technique as for the first corridor, with small LED-strips. So far, I am halfway through the gentlemen's smoking room, which is on the second floor to the right. It is a very interesting room, but there were many challenges.

This looks pathetic.

The stairwell is for the stairs that are invisible on the floor below - one really bad fault in the design that I have mentioned before. I am not using the stairs so will not use the stairwell either. The space is a complete waste. I won't use the prescribed divider because it won't be visible from any angle. I won't even bother closing the hole. But the tiny back room to the right will have a book case, my very first book case that I am still pleased with. I only need to add some books and fix them permanently, because the book case will have to be permanently attached to the back wall and won't be accessible after I have sealed the partition. It means that I have to think about everything before I do it.

For instance, I had thought I'd just have a plain green wall because it won't be visible. But this partition has an arch rather than a door, so there is more space visible than in the other rear rooms. There is a bit of wall above the book case that would look better with matching wallpaper.

And although I only needed a small bit of wallpaper I realised that I had to put in cornices. I also added a dado rail, although a fake one, just made from a coffee stirrer. Still, it will look neat this way.

As I said, the book case will have to be attached to the back wall. I haven't decided yet how to do it. Since the book case is made from a photo frame it actually has a hook. I could also simply glue it onto the wall. If you wonder why I don't use blue tack, I don't trust it, because sooner or later it will go off, and then I am in trouble. There is no way I would be able to do anything in the rear room after I have put in the partition.

Therefore I have only put it in temporarily. I will need to consider further possible problems.

I think this arch is a very interesting feature. It adds variety to the rooms.

To test what it will be like when I am finished I put in some objects.

There will be a fake ceiling light, dado rails and cornices. I am not sure this is the right floor, but I may change it later. I am very pleased with this room. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Fire in the fireplace

Recently, at least one of my facebook groups has become obsessed with tea lights. Electrical, battery-powered tea lights that are apparently hugely useful in dollhouses. I have been far too busy with other projects, but yesterday I happened to be in a budget store, and they had these famous tea lights, so I grabbed a pack of three for £1. The batteries were included.

If you have been following my blog you know that I am coming closer to the perfect lighting solution, and I had some thoughts about flickering fires. Once again, there may be a way of putting all lights on the same system, but why not try something that everybody seems to be doing? So I tried.


When I shared this picture on FB yesterday, with a comment that I made the fire "the usual way", people kept asking me what the usual way was, and going through my blog I realised that I haven't ever told properly how I make fires, although I refer to them in many posts. So here is the secret, developed from Jean Nisbett's invaluable book.

Obviously, any background needs to be black, although you can also have brick or stone. What I discovered when I was making chimney breasts from foam is that foam crumbs make perfect coals for the fire. So I glued these crumbs on the back of the fireplace, and for the candle, on top of the candle (which I had painted black). Then I painted the crumbs black. If you want a log fire instead, take some real twigs and arrange them as you would with a fire. And of course you can take small pebbles instead of foam crumbs.

For the flames, I have used various materials that were at hand: coloured tissue paper, candy wrap, small pieces of shiny fabric or ribbon, all shredded into teeny tiny bits. Tip: orange is imperative! Just red and yellow will look unnatural. Nisbett recommends glitter, but I haven't tried that yet, just my usual useful rubbish. I spread some glue over the surface, sprinkled a mix of "flames" and added more glue.

This is what it looks like.


Or used to look like, because after I have tried the flickering tea light I will never again be satisfied with a static fire. Of course you cannot see the flicker, and I haven't yet learned how to add a video, but if you use imagination and trust me, the effect is amazing.

More luck coming my way

I have had luck with flea markets (aka car boot sales) and ebay auctions, but nothing like I had last Sunday. I was in Ely with my granddaughters, and we were going to Evensong in the cathedral. I had no plans for visiting the market; I was almost sure there wouldn't be any market on Easter Sunday, but there was. I said to my granddaughters: I'll just have a quick look. And the quick look revealed two boxes of dollhouse furniture. I told the girls to walk around because it would take some time. I picked up this and that, and I saw that some things were nice and some were rubbish, and also I had to be reasonable, so I selected a cupboard and two dolls and asked how much the man wanted for them. He said he wanted four pounds for the cupboard and two for each doll, but if I took all of it I could have it for fifteen.

I want to see a dollhouse person who could resist this. Two full boxes of stuff, even though there were certainly things I didn't need and didn't like. See for yourself:

Some things I only discovered when I came home and unpacked them. Some I definitely don't want, for instance, the Lundby-scale kitchen. Some I might use sometime in the future. Some I will remake. But remarkably, some things I thought I didn't want at all have already found their place.

Take the bed. I was dead sure I didn't want it, but I tried it in the attic bedroom, and isn't it just perfect?


I thought the piano looked too large for the room, but it wasn't. It was perfect. It looks as if it had always been there. Moreover, the doll I first thought would only make a governess is suddenly the best piano player. Not least because she has bendable limbs and can be placed neatly on the piano stool.


The cupboard, even though broken at the top, has replaced the old one in the rear room behind the dining room.

The back wall of the dining room isn't inserted yet, but the cupboard will be visible through a door. Maybe the broken part will be hidden, but otherwise I will mend it. And as you see, the gentleman has now got a twin!

The red sofa and armchair will look good in the gentlemen's smoking room. The cat has already approved.


There, too, the back wall isn't in place yet. I was going to have a green sofa, but this set will produce an interesting contrast with the green wallpaper. I will perhaps have matching curtains. The tiny parrot on the desk also comes from the lot.

I hadn't even seen the tea trolley before I came home. The wheels had come off, but luckily not lost. It's a very interesting piece that I have never seen before.


There are other small things that I have already put here and there. Most of the fabrics will be useful: curtains, sheets, towels. And even if I give away all other things this has been a fantastic bargain.

Saturday, 4 April 2015


I concluded my previous post by a promise to share my new ideas about dollhouse lighting. The issue is raised again and again in dollhouse discussion groups, and since I once was a beginner and hugely ignorant, I will tell the whole story. If you know all about conventional lighting and the more recent LED lamps, you can scroll down to where the present project starts.

In my very first dollhouse that I made in a bookshelf I used Christmas lights. I was tremendously proud of myself although it was of course very crude. When we moved to England seven years ago and I decided to resurrect my dollhouse in a cabinet, I also decided to get proper lights: transformer, power strip, wires, plugs and all. I was in a kind of chock caused by moving and needed all therapy I could get, so I didn't mind all the work with tiny plugs that escaped under sofas and cupboards. We were renting a house which was small and crammed, so I didn't have enough space, but I made several lights in each room, mostly using my previously handmade chandeliers and other lamps. Here is a good example of how I made kitchen lights.

After that, I made several other houses and room boxes and didn't bother about lighitng until LED lights came. To me, it felt a liberation. They were of course more expensive, but they could be easily put anywhere, without drilling, wiring, swearing over those tiny plugs... I happily bought a number of LED lights, tested them in a house and was utterly disappointed. They were far too dim. Maybe they are fine as complement to other lighting, but you would need a dosen in every room to make it work. They say there is a "new generation" of LED lamps, but I don't quite believe it.

Some lights in my cabinet house stopped working, and I discovered what a horror it was to find what was wrong, replacing a bulb, mending a contact, changing a fuse. I gave up. There were still enough lights to impress guests, but I just felt I didn't have the energy to go through the whole system and make the necessary repairs.

I also noticed, during my visits to the London Museum of Childhood that far from all dollhouses in their collection had lights. They were illuminated from the outside. 

Then I made a room box where light was essential. My youngest son who is a filmmaker and knows all about professional lighting suggested that I use a kitchen spot. It worked for my purpose because I could hide in behind the frames. But in a dollhouse or a smaller room box, the spot was far too large and nowhere to hide.

I gave up again, but when I started building Womble Hall I knew that lighting would be inevitable. Since the first project I sort of finished was the basement I wired two lights in the rear corridor. The result was truly wonderful, but it cost me so much frustration that I realised that all the joy of this wonderful house would be spoiled by wiring. I needed a different solution. Call me lazy. Call me whatever, but I will never, ever again touch those tiny plugs.

 So together with my filmmaker son and my very clever son-in-law I started looking around for new ideas. First, I tried battery lights of the kind model railway people use. They were a bit dim, but if you put 4-5 bulbs together it made a decent light. That's what I tried in the basement. I am not quite happy with it. I was going to use the same system in all rear corridors, but I have definitely changed my mind.

Then we discovered the LED strip. As far as I understand, they are mostly used for lighting under kitchen cabinets. YouTube tutorials show how to make it.

This is a 5-meter strip that theoretically should be enough to light the whole house. There is a standard transformer, the same kind you use for computers, that plugs into a main. The strip can be cut into any number of bits that are then connected with a very smart contraption that I even can manage. What my son-in-law did when he visited was extending some wires, which required soldering. Mind: I had a soldering iron! But I would never dare soldering wires. So he will have to come back again. Together, we bought a dimmer with remote control - it will be a most sophisticated lighting system. The strips will be hidden behind moulding to produce soft, even light without shadows. That's exactly what they have done at the Museum of Childhood.

Meanwhile, I found something else: short LED strips with a battery holder and switch.

They come in different lengths, but I have already seen that a 5-cm strip with three LEDs is enough for my purpose. And my purpose is to have lights in rear corridors. I am sure my clever son-in-law would figure out how to put them on the same remote-controlled system, but I need to prove to myself that I can at least make something.

So I drilled a hole in the upper corner of the rear corridor just large enough to fit the strip. It doesn't have to be neat because this corner will not be visible.

The battery is on the back of the house. I will think of a smart and neat way of holding it in place, but for the moment I simply sew a little bag that I fixed onto the back with paper pins. The switch is easily accessible. I took me about fifteen minutes to fix it all, as compared to hours with conventional lights.

Then I put back the rear partition, still not glueing it yet.

Finally, I put in the room divider and the bathroom wallpaper. I put back the chests in the rear corridor, and I also put in some furniture into the rooms. The front corridor to the right will have stairs - that's what the opening in the right top corner is for.

I am tremendously pleased with the effect. Now I will do the same with three more rear rooms. Come back soon.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Rear corridor, continued

The way I left the rear corridor yesterday was untidy, but it was less than half-finished. First, I need to decide what I will put into the corridor. I had several ideas, and they didn't quite work because the furniture I had in mind wasn't in the same scale, and you could see it immediately. So I tried one piece that I had intended and another borrowed from a room box.


I wasn't happy with this. I cannot really explain it because both pieces are nice, but they felt wrong. The other piece I had intended originally is slightly larger than 1:12 so the matching piece should be large enough. I went through my antique shop room box, and then I found what I was looking for in my clockmaker's room box. It works well in the clockmaker's, but I will put something else there. Because this felt just right. Exactly the kind of stuff you would find in a corridor in an old house.

This was a test. After that, I finally decided on the wallpaper in the front corridor, which meant that I could go on. Surprisingly, once I made up my mind I cannot see how it could be anything else.

Then I tried out the furniture again:

Then I put in the rear partition

With the light on, you can see the corridor better. Now the room divider:

The front corridor - on the right - will have a staircase, although not for a while. The bathroom walls are one long roll of paper so it's just a matter or putting it in: 

This isn't glued yet, but it gives you an idea. And now I have also revealed the secret of my rear corridor lighting. It's a 5cm LED strip with battery holder and switch, the kind model railway people use. The battery will be on the outside, and the strip will be fixed so that the light is even and soft. I haven't seen that it works yet, but if it does, it's a revolution in dollhouse lighting. I'll keep you posted.