Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Alice in Wonderland room box

I have never made room boxes based on literature (except Lord Asriel's study, and it was pure imagination since it is not described in the novel). Since I am a children's literature scholar it may seem natural to make scenes from children's books, but for some reason I don't find it tempting, maybe because it's too obvious or too limiting or whatever.

In September I am doing a workshop for teachers in conjunction with a big international conference on Alice in Wonderland. The workshop will be focused on perception of size and scale, and what can be better as a point of departure than a miniature scene? 

For most of her time in Wonderland, Alice is three inches high, which is approximately 1:12 scale. This is apparently not a coincidence, but reflects spatial cognition, that is, the ability of our brain to understand size and proportion. Our favourite miniature scale is within the cognitive “comfort zone”. It ensures that the miniature world is still recognisable and comprehensible. If the scale is significantly smaller, psychology says, it demands a considerable cognitive effort. We miniature makers know it by intuition. If we work with smaller scales, it takes more effort to "see" the scale. 

Anyway, I agreed to do this workshop some time ago, and as a first step I took an empty wine box (formerly nursery, formerly yarn shop) and put in some random doors I had from various projects. This is what the text says: 

Alice “found herself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof. There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again”.


 The box was the right shape: long with low ceiling. I put in a 1:12 doll, but I also found a tiny doll - dollhouse-in-the-dollhouse doll - to represent Alice when she shrinks to fifteen inches, which in our scale is just over an inch. I also made a glass table with a bottle labeled "Drink me". 

Then I didn't do anything for a long time. I needed a larger doll to represent Alice when she grows to nine feet, or 0.75 feet in scale. She is taller than the ceiling, and I wanted to convey the sense of claustrophobia, the horror of being stuck in a small space, that is repeated throughout the book. I also realised that white doors on white walls didn't look good. It was tempting to paint doors in different colours, but I thought it would be too patchy and distracting, a beach-hut feeling. Instead, I tried various colours on the walls. And I also made "a row of lamps hanging from the roof". The lamps are tops of eyedrop containers. I made some additional doors in my three-layer technique.


Of course the three Alices do not co-exist, but a room box can tell a story containing several episodes. This is the first episode, featuring the middle doll:

“Suddenly she came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass; there was nothing on it except a tiny golden key, and Alice's first thought was that it might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but, alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate it would not open any of them. However, on the second time round, she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!”

I have hidden the little door in the corner, and it is easy to miss it because the large doors will attract more attention. You need to adjust your scaling, just as Alice. Unfortunately, Alice is too tall to go through the tiny door, but when she drinks from the magic bottle and shrinks, she is just the right size, like the smallest doll. But sadly, she has left the key on the table. I put the little doll under the table to show how futile her attempts to get the key are. Luckily, she finds a cake that says "Eat me" and grows to nine feet... and so it goes on. 

The three dolls do not look alike so I had to make them look more alike, and the only way was to give them similar clothes. I didn't want to follow the stereotypical Disney-Alice image with a blue dress and white apron (it is also historically incorrect). There are some illustrated versions of Alice that portray her in a green dress, and I had a nice piece of green fabric. This was a good test of scale! The big doll's dress was child's play, and it was easy to trim it neatly with lace. The middle doll took more time and effort, especially since I didn't want to take off her clothes and ruin them, so I put the new dress on top of the old one. The tiny doll's dress took five attempts, and I am still not quite happy. But at least I think you can see that it is supposed to be the same character. 

I have added some Alice-related items to the scene: chess pieces, the Queen of hearts, mice in different scales, a clock. I wanted to have a looking glass, but I cannot see where I could fit it in. I have some time to work on it. The workshop participants will be asked to create their own room boxes inspired by Alice's growing and shrinking. It wil be exciting to see what they come up with.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Cabinet renovation

This is not exactly about miniature.making, but not irrelevant and an illuminating story.

When I first got involved with miniatures, almost eight years ago, I made my first dollhouse in a book shelf. I had zero experience, low self-esteem, a limited range of tools and plenty of enthusiasm. Also, I was on long-term sick leave and had all the time in the world to play and learn. And the house grew and filled with things.

Then I got a job in Cambridge, and we moved from Sweden to the UK. It was hard, physically, mentally and emotionally, and bringing the miniatures with me was imperative. This is what I wrote about it, in retrospect, with a further link to when it was actually happening. I remember crying floods, contemplating whether I was making a terrible mistake (I still wonder sometimes, but probably not), and I asked my husband whether he would allow me to re-assemble my dollhouse in the old wine cabinet from his childhood home. We had only had for a little while after his mother had died. It is a lovely piece, handmade in Swedish folk style, with rough wooden surfaces. It was quite worn-out on the inside so I painted it, although it was before I started making miniatures and learned how to renovate furniture.

Anyway, we brought the cabinet with us, and in our tiny rented house I started rebuilding my miniature world. It became a key to my sanity as I escaped from the horrors of adaptation to the new job and the new country. It is long ago now, and memory is merciful so it is only with some effort I can remember how desperate I was, but the miniature cabinet was my fixed point.

The cabinet proved to be great fun to work with. It had mirrors at the back which I had to remove, and since I was sure the dollhouse cabinet was for ever, I took the mirrors to recycling. I drilled holes in the back of the cabinet for lighting. I made floors and bought real dollhouse wallpaper. By Christmas time that first year, the house was restored and many things added.

At that time, I couldn't even imagine that I would ever embark on any other miniature projects, but eventually I first made some room boxes, then my husband gave me a Tudor shell, and so on - you can read it all in my blog if you wish.

I did not forget the cabinet dollhouse and added and improved things. But the idea of a really large dollhouse was growing in my mind, and finally, a year ago I became the happy owner of this huge property that will take me at least another year to complete. In case you have not seen it, this is the most recent post.

From the beginning, I moved most of the objects from the cabinet house to the new project because it helped me to decide on decoration and general planning. The cabinet remained as storage, but already then I knew that one day I would like to restore it back to wine cabinet. As I tore down the wallpaper and removed floors, surfaces were damaged. It disturbed me. I kept moving things, and finally last week I put all remaining objects in a cardboard box, scrubbed the cabinet and inspected it for necessary action.

As I adjusted my perception from 1:12 to full scale, my first thought was: What kind of idiot damaged this beautiful cabinet with double-sided tape! Then I remembered that the idiot believed that the cabinet dollhouse was for ever, and I forgave her. It took ages to scrub and sand away the tape and other remnants of the barbarian miniaturist's disrespectful handling of the cabinet, and as a result, the surfaces were smoother than when I painted them ten years ago and probably smoother than before the previous painting - there were at least three different layers of colour before mine.

When I went to the DIY store last week to get white paint for the doolhouse, I brought home some colour cards and chose one I thought was closest. Of course it wasn't even near close, but it was a pretty colour, and now I have painted the cabinet, and it is back to its original function. I have ordered new mirrors, and it will serve as a wine cabinet again. But it is another story.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Imaginative use of full-size wallpaper

I went to get more paint the other day and took home samples of embossed wallpaper. I have already used it for various purposes, from fireplaces to wall panels. This time I needed it to make mouldings on the inside of the fronts. I wanted paper rather than real mouldings so that the front doesn't get too heavy. And frankly, it's much easier. The right front was straightforward: just cut a strip and glue on. But you can imnediately see the difference.


The left front was a bit more complicated. For some reason, the large front doors came without inside surrounds. It said so on the package so it's wasn't a mistake. And you may remember that I had to massacre the front in order to get in the door, and it didn't look good after that. I thought I would make surrounds of dado rails, but again, it would make the front heavier, and... anyway, I just used the same wallpaper strip, and if you ask me, I would never notice it was fake.


You will have to imagine the floor that the man is just about to step on from the balcony. When the front is closed he will be stepping into the upper hall.

I haven't yet decided what I will have on the walls - probably pictures, mirrors, book shelves, sconces. And I haven't decided what kind of curtains I will have.

A side effect of my playing with embossed wallpaper was that I found exactly the kind of ornamental plastering I wanted on the outside. A tiny detail that adds a finishing touch and makes my house unique.


I now have to abandon the exterior for a while and go back to floors, panels, stairs and mouldings. But it feels good to have pretty fronts.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Further exterior progress

This weekend has been dedicated to the right-side front. After I finished the left side, I just couldn't leave the other side as it was. And I decided I liked my original idea for the left side so I used the two patterned wallpapers and painted the middle floor green. As with the other front, I swore a lot at uncollaborative windows, but - now I've done them all! It took some hours.


I am very pleased with the result, and I think it fits well with the three adjacent rooms. There will be fake mouldng between the ground and first floor.

I am not showing the outside because there are still some small details to finish. Come back soon.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hutch cabinet

I have finished another Chippendale piece from my latest bargain, a hutch cabinet. I have stated repeatedly how much you learn from miniature-making. How else would I know what hutch means?

I haven't taken step by step pictures because it was very simple, except for hinges, but even those were relatively easy, thanks to excellent instructions. And after so many pieces I have made, I am no longer intimidated by teeny-tiny handle plates, keyhole plates and escutcheons (here is another useful word!). The drawer and the doors can obviously be opened.


I have deliberately not varnished this piece because I like its plain-wooden roughness. I haven't decided yet where it will go, possibly to one of the rear corridors where I can, for instance, put a clock on it.


I had a visitor recently who was utterly fascinated by my rear corridors. She was a theatre person!