Sunday, 31 December 2017

Step by step: basement entrance hall

For obvious reasons there was no basement entrance in my first house, and actually no entrance at all since I didn't have any front walls. In the cabinet house, I made a door and fixed it, improbably, on the inside of the front, because I didn't want to give away the mystery.

In planning the basement in Womble Hall, my first instinct was to remove the central divider altogether and have a large entrance, but then I decided I wanted a larder after all. At the early stages of the basement, I just put some baskets and crates in the hall. My idea was that it was the delivery entrance from which things would be carried over to the kitchens. It was also a suitable space to display some interesting objects from the original house, like the barrels (made from corkscrews).

I started making a diamond-patterned floor for this hall (scroll down to the end of the blog post to see it), but at that time I wasn't yet very good at making patterned floors, and it ended up completely crooked. I discarded it and replaced it which a piece of chequered  fabric (my husband's old shirt) glued onto a piece of old card. It has remained so, but I will replace it eventually, maybe returning to the first diamond pattern because it was pretty and period-authentic. I will have to remove skirting to do this.

I didn't move on a lot, but kept adding Chippendale furniture to it, like the double chest and the dower chest. They take a lot of space, but there is no other place in the house to put them. They also obscure the view of the back part of the room, so I will need to think of a better way. There is a dresser at the back that does not belong in scale or style or anything. It's an antique piece that I like very much, but it will have to go. I will most likely make another open-top dresser. The sconces at the front are fake, made from felt-tip pen caps. The ceiling light is from an online shop - one of those things I bought early, before I knew I could make them.


There is a lot more I can do in this room. The walls are bare, but what would there be in a delivery entrance? Shelves maybe?

Through the door at the back you can see the rear corridor that I have already mentioned in several posts. Perhaps in the next post, I will reveal all the secret spaces of this house. Come back soon!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Really small things

Every now and then I feel a need to challenge myself.

I have recently made some teeny-tiny things of the kind that makes you feel proud and that only other miniature people can appreciate because everybody else just thinks you are crazy.

Some time ago I made a kitchen cabinet. In the top cabinet I have some pretty cups and plates, but I have nothing in the drawer, which is of course absolutely wrong. I have recently by mistake bought a bundle of very nice things, including a set of cutlery. Just the thing you put in a kitchen drawer, yes?

But you cannot just put cutlery in a drawer, can you? The mistress of the house would be furious. (I would be in my 1:1 kitchen). 


You need a divider. And I can finally sort the cutlery in the right order: spoons, forks, knives. My husband and I have different opinions on this, and to avoid conflicts, I let him win in out 1:1 kitchen. But in my miniature kitchen I can have it my way.

You may have noticed that there are other interesting items in this bundle, like tin openers and a corkscrew. Of course a Victorian house would not have prominent twentieth-century tin openers because there were no tins at the time. But corkscrews... Did Victorians use corkscrews? I have always said that you learn a lot from miniature-making. A corkscrew is a very old invention. And I have for a long time wanted to have a corkscrew for my cellarette. It fits perfectly in the drawer.


But wait a minute! I have actually wanted to make a corkscrew! Obviously, I won't throw this one away, but having it as a model, I can make another one. All we need is a spring, of the kind you find in ball-point pens, and I have saved tons of them.

 Cut a piece, then drill a hole in a toothpick... Yes, you heard it, drill a hole in a toothpick.

Put the spring through the hole and trim. Then cut the toothpick to appropriate length.

You know which one is the original and which I have just made.

Speaking of cutlery, I have recently made some knives from hard tin foil, of the kind you find on wine bottles. Here are the steps:

It needs patience, but it's fun. Here are some more, also forks and spoons (the two spoons on the right I just used as models. They are - or used to be - earrings) .

I made some pencils for the nursery. It's easy: paint toothpicks and cut to a suitable length. You need to cut off the tip of the toothpick because it doesn't look natural. The yellow lead pencils are for the master's study. 


For some drawers in various parts of the house I want old maps and newspapers. There are lots of free printies you can find on the web, but the trick is to get them look old and battered. There are many ways of doing this, and I asked my Facebook groups for advice. Some was more helpful than other, and I tested a bit of everything. It's well known that you age white paper with tea or coffee. I had to be careful, because my maps and newspapers were printed with ink that runs. I used a piece of cloth that I dipped in coffee and wrung out really hard, then dabbed the paper. Then I crunched it - again very carefully - into a ball and let it dry, then smoothed it with a bone folder. Sanded lightly on the folds. Tore the edges with my nails. I am very, very pleased with the results. 


The maps are truly old, while the newspapers are 20th century. However, the master of the house is a magician and time-traveler so he would clearly have 20th century newspapers hidden in his house, and only he knows that one day people will walk on the moon. Anyway, it was fun to make. Took maybe three hours all in all. This is what outsiders never understand: it takes a lot of time and effort to make miniatures. You cannot just cut out a printie or assemble a kit. And that's what I love about this hobby.

The final micro-mini I will show today also took me many hours and demanded attention and patience. Some time ago, someone on FB, again, shared nail art in form of fruit. I know that I will never be able to do anything like that (mind, I have said this about almost everything I have done), so I bought a set. It was shipped from China and cost almost nothing.


Now, being nail art, these slices are paper-thin. The first mistake I made was gluing paper-thin strawberries onto the cake (which is a bottle top). It does not look natural, but it's too late. Next, I made a plate of lemons, arranging them a bit on top of each other, to look more like slices of lemon. You do slice lemon very thin. But the rest - I tried this and that, but it became clear that the only way to produce a credible effect was to glue three to four slices together so that each piece would be about 2mm thick. Yes, it was messy, and yes, it took the time it took. But I think it was worth the trouble.

I am not sure whether I will leave it as it is, a fruit platter, or arrange it in some other way, for instance, making some whole or half fruit from clay. But this was a good start toward something I had never done before and that I might like to do more of.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Step by step: larder

There was no larder in the original Victorian house, but there was a cellar where storage of food, preserves, wine and other stuff started. There was no space for a cellar in the cabinet house, so some of the objects were in the kitchen and some were saved for later. And "later" came with Womble Hall that had a suitable room for a larder, to which a door leads from the working kitchen. The larder appeared briefly in some pictures in this previous post.

To display miniature food you need a lot of shelves and other storage so this is where I started. Then I just kept adding stuff, such as glass jars. Eventually, I built more shelves and also aged them with diluted stain for otherwise they didn't look natural.

Most of the food is handmade by me, although there are some things that came in large bundles. Of course cheese and bread would not be left on shelves, particularly with mice running around, but with closed cabinets of course you cannot see the stuff. So this is typical poetic license.

There is a lot more I can do in this room, like adding wall units or hooks to hang things from. The problem with overcrowded rooms is that eventually you cannot see anything in the background, and this room is narrow and deep. But even as it is I think it is a nice complement to the kitchen.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Step by step: working kitchen

Reiterating: the difference between best kitchen and working kitchen is that the former is for show while all cooking is done in the latter. This explains why the working kitchen in Womble Hall is so much more crowded and messy.

In my post about the best kitchen I described how it came about and how it developed so I won't repeat it. I will start with planning the working kitchen at Womble Hall.

Both kitchens would be in the basement, and after some considerations I decided that the working kitchen would be to the right, because from that room there was a door to what could only be a larder. (There is also a door at the back leading into the rear corridor to which I will return in due time).

I decided to keep the flagstone floor in the working kitchen, simply because I had put so much energy into it.  There were other options, but really, I liked that floor too much. I also kept the splash wallpaper, although of course I had to make a new set.

I worked quite a while on the basement before I put on the roof. And that didn't happen for a long time, by which I discovered that some things were left unfinished.

But after I assembled the whole house I didn't do anything radical in the kitchen, just kept adding things here and there. The most conspicuous change was the new cupboard. Reluctantly, as with many other items, I discarded the first dresser I made when I was a beginner. But the sink is still there, and the very first table is also there. As are the dolls.

The utensils in this room are mostly recycled rubbish. The milk canisters, for instance, are eye-drop containers. The black pots and pans on the shelf on the left wall are painted wood. But if you look carefully and know what you are looking for there are some expensive antiques hiding among other stuff.

Among interesting features of this room are servant bells.

The door in the foreground leads to the larder, which I will probably show next. The door in the background leads to the corridor, and when the main lights are switched off, light comes from the corridor, which I will also show in due time.

There isn't much space for more stuff here, but I have a whole wall of utensils on the inside of the front, and I keep adding to it. I need to put stuff into cupboard drawers. Nobody will ever see it, but it's important for authenticity.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Step by step: best kitchen

Don't try to google "best kitchen" - the first two million hits will be offers of kitchen design. Best kitchen in well-off Victorian houses or manors were kitchens for show only, kitchens where you would perhaps invite guests to admire you copperware. The real cooking was done in the working kitchen, and of course in a large houses there would be separate kitchens for servants, preparing different kind of food than for the masters and their guests.

I decided to have two kitchens in Womble Hall because I had so many interesting kitchen items, some of them not really matching each other, and kitchens are fun to make.

In the original house, I only had one kitchen that occupied a whole floor. It started very early, even before I made my very first piece of furniture. When I decided to go into dollhouses, almost exactly ten years ago, on December 27, 2007, I went to a huge permanent flea market in Stockholm to buy cheap recyclables, and among many things I found was a lovely handmade kitchen table in the right scale. I have always seen it as a good omen. And that was the beginning of the kitchen, where I made most things from rubbish.  I made a cupboard and filled it with stuff, I made a stove that I am still proud of, and it is still right there, in the best kitchen of Womble Hall. I made a kitchen sink which is also still there; and I kept adding and making things, because really, kitchens are probably the most exciting rooms to make. Some of those early things were very crude because I had neither tools nor materials nor skills. Other things I still have today, like milk bottles. I also tried making food from air-drying clay. I was on long-term sick leave, and making miniatures was a good way of coping with it. I know I am by far not the only one.

Then  we moved to Cambridge, and I rebuilt the house in a cabinet. Again, because kitchens are fun, I allowed a whole floor out of three for the kitchen. I spent hours making a flagstone floor. I wasn't on sick leave anymore, but I was depressed and very tired, trying to adapt to the new country and new job. Resurrecting and improving a lost world was soothing.

There was so much in the kitchen already, and then I got distracted and had other projects, involving a modern kitchen, a Tudor kitchen, a retro kitchen, a half-scale kitchen, so it was not until I started working on Womble Hall that I returned to the Victorian kitchen, when I also decided that I would have two.

Both were in the basement, and to begin with I wasn't sure which would be which. The suitable rooms were opposite each other, to the left and to the right, without a door between them. The right-hand room had a door into what would make a good larder, and that decided it. The working kitchen went to the right, and the best kitchen to the left. I made a marble floor for the best kitchen.

I kept moving objects between kitchens, but the principle was that showy things, like copper - real and fake - would be in the best kitchen, as well as the showy utensils, clearly not for everyday use.

The main design of the kitchen has remained the same, although I have added quite a few new pieces of furniture, including a cabinet, a chair table and some other tables. Tables are useful to display objects in a kitchen.

As to objects, I haven't made a lot, but I keep adding suitable items that I occasionally buy in antique shops. I don't buy many expensive things, but sometimes I cannot resist them. And this is a show off kitchen after all.

The door at the back leads to the rear corridor.  I will write a separate post about rear rooms, but note than when the main lights are off there is light coming from the corridor.

And if you look in through a side window you can see part of the corridor.

There is a lot more that can be done in this room, and I guess I will be adding to it forever.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

The joy of making

It is strange how miniature making goes in cycles. I started by making as much as possible myself. (Now, ten years later, I know that everything is possible, with right materials and tools, and a lot of practice). Then at some point I got hooked on kits, and I have now made over fifty pieces. In between, I had periods when I again was obsessed by making, recycling and upcycling. And of course making the Adam table from scratch gave me confidence. So after complaining about how bad I am with chairs, I decided to make a chair. A slat back chair.

I once used turned chopsticks to make a Tudor stool, and I had some of these chopsticks left. So they were my point of departure.

I am really, really bad at cutting even pieces so I was extra careful. (Of course you can always sand if the legs are not quite right).

I made slats from coffee stirrers (what else?). The picture shows three stages: a cut piece, square pegs and rounded pegs. I also sanded the top of the slat to make a slight curve. 

Then I drilled holes with a pin vise. Now, if someone told me ten years ago that I would be drilling holes in chopsticks I would laugh. And here I am. Doing it absolutely voluntarily, in my precious spare time. And my, did it take time! But the best thing about making miniatures is that you have all the time in the world.

For spreaders, I used toothpicks. As you see, I didn't quite manage to get the holes right, but I will pretend it's intentional, to emphasise that it is handmade and one of a kind.

This was the tricky part, just as with the kits. The spreaders kept coming off. Patience and more patience.

But it did look like a chair when I finished gluing. A bit wobbly, but not bad for the first attempt.

I wanted to try some interesting finish on this miniature so to begin with I painted it brown.


Then I painted it over with two coats of light blue paint which I had over from an earlier project. I let the paint dry well between coats and after the second coat. Then I sanded it with fine-grained sandpaper to produce a worn effect.

I made a paper template for the seat and cut out the seat from embroidery canvas. It didn't matter that it was not even because I still needed to trim it before gluing.

Finished! You almost cannot see that some spreaders are crooked, and if you can, it is, as I have already suggested, part of the charm.

Compare the two chairs.

Lessons learned: Firstly, I really can make anything. ANYTHING. What a boost for self-esteem! And what I cannot make yet, I can learn. Secondly, this project was a hasty one. I just wanted the test in principle where it was doable. Now that I know it is, next time I will be more careful, make sure that all holes are right, that the slats fit in better, and so on. Practice makes the master. Keep coming back, and you will see me making progress.

Chair disasters

Of all miniature furniture, chairs are my least favourite. I am simply not good at chairs. I bought several sets of chairs for my early project because I didn't believe I would ever be able to make them myself. I did change the fabric.

That said, I made a very clumsy kitchen chair within the first month after I started miniature-making, when I had neither proper tools nor skills. I used lolly sticks, toothpicks and chopsticks.

Like many of my earliest pieces, this one has sentimental value, so I have kept it, and it is now in my van Hoogstraten room box.

Of course I made champagne chairs at one point. 

I was quite pleased with my cabriole leg chairs, and perhaps because they somehow turned out well I thought it would always go well. Hubris. From there, it went downward all the way. The lyre-back chairs were a pain and didn't look nice. I have problems with tucking in and gluing fabric, it just never looks neat. I showed two more chairs in a recent post that I am totally unhappy with. I will work further on them soon.

Meanwhile, I wanted to make a slightly unusual chair, a slat back chair.


My miniature friends had warned me that it was tricky, and it isn't that I hadn't listened, but it felt it was time to tackle this kit.


It looked very straightforward. I used antique pine stain, and when it was dry, I enlarged the holes just a tiny bit with a pin vise and sanded the square pegs of the slats to make them round. Yes, you got it right, square pegs in round holes. Precision work.


The frame was relatively easy to assemble, although there were three different spreaders, with half a millimetre difference, I am still not sure I did it correctly. The layout sheet wasn't too helpful when the scale is so small. The spreaders did come off all the time, but it was just a matter of letting the glue set a little on one side before inserting the other, so I must admit that some bad language went through my mind if not my mouth.

The supplied cord was very white and new, so I dyed it with tea. My miniature group supported me whole-heartedly. I left the frame to dry overnight, anticipating tons of problems the next day.

But not THAT many problems.

To begin with, the cord was very, very long, and you cannot work with such a long thread as it will get tangled all the time. I cut a manageable length and started threading it according to instructions, praising myself for my patience. When I ran out of cord, I tied a neat knot on the bottom side that wouldn't be visible. Several times I had to go back, taking off the needle, upon which the cord kept untwining. But I persisted.


Yet deep inside I knew it was too good to be true. And it was.

My whole attention was on the cord, and I didn't notice when a spreader came off. I was almost finished, although I saw that something wasn't quite right with the pattern. I had very carefully sewn one of the spreaders inside the seat. As I tried to glue it back, several other spreaders came off.


Now what? It took me a couple of hours to get that far. I could try to mend the frame without ripping the seat - in the picture you see that I caught it with another thread. Or I could rip up the seat, re-glue the frame and start all over again. Usually, when things go epically wrong with a project, I put it aside for a while. I did something else that day and looked again the day after. I am sorry to admit that I gave up. The frame was pretty, and I knew that I would hate this chair unless I could think of another, easier way to finish it. I cut up the failed seat ruthlessly and threw it away, which is very unlike me. Luckily, I remembered that I has a piece of embroidery canvas that I had bought many years ago in a hobby shop and never used. I tested with a paper template and then made the seat, tucking flaps beneath. 


Isn't it lovely? I wish I had more of this kit. 

Monday, 25 December 2017

Adam furniture

Before I continue my tour of Womble Hall I will show how I made a couple of unusual miniatures and explain why.

In my report from Kensington dollhouse festival, I mentioned that I saw some magnificent tables with Robert Adam tops. I have used Adam wrapping paper for ceilings - if you haven't seen them look here. I have plenty of paper left, and I thought that it could possibly be used for table tops as well (although they were originally ceiling designs, never implemented).

Although I have now been experimenting with House of Miniatures kits for a while, I still felt reluctant to use a kit without having tried out first. It isn't a rare kit, and I had a duplicate, and yet I thought I would run a test. First, I found a pattern, semicircle, in more or less the right scale. It didn't quite fit, but it didn't matter for my specific purpose. For furniture I have made from scratch, I have used various kinds of wood: pieces of wooden venetian blinds (pretty, but hard to cut), balsa (easy to cut, but crumbly) and cheese boxes. Obviously, a cheesebox lid already has the suitable semicircular shape, so that was helpful, although it was slightly bigger than the HoM kit. I worked with the top first, sanding it smooth, painting gold and then gluing the paper semicircle onto the top and trimming carefully. I needed to seal the edge so that the seam between the wood and paper would be next to invisible, and the only way I could think of was decoupage - I am sure there are other and probably better ways. What I did was varnish the edges and then sand them, repeating a couple of times until the edge was smooth. You could still see the white edge of the paper, so I painted it over, very carefully. The paper is glossy so it did not need any further varnish.

Now the top was ready, and I started thinking about the base. Once upon a time I would probably just glue on the legs that would keep going off, to my irritation. But I had the HoM instruction sheet, and what I needed was a semicircle about half a centimetre thick, and this is not the kind of material I have easily available. I have no tool that can cut circles (wish list for next Christmas?), and when I tried to cut a trapeze it didn't look neat. Usually when I get into a dead end with a project, I put it aside and do something else. I was rummaging my stashes for something completely different when I saw a wooden circle that was a part of a kit to make a piglet. I hadn't bought it to make a piglet, but for all the parts and fabrics included (it was in a charity shop, for 30p). So I cut the circle in two, and then everything was straightforward. I used chopsticks for legs and managed to cut exactly the same length so the table was, to my amazement, absolutely steady.

Seeing that it worked as I had thought, I could now with confidence replicate the miniature with the Chippendale kit. I have promised some miniature friends to post a detailed description, so I took step by step pictures - feel free to skip them if you only want to see the result. 

This is the paper I used; as you see, I had just scraps of it. But then I only needed a semicircle.

Once again, I started by painting the parts with gold. Then I glued the paper onto the top, leaving a margin that I then trimmed carefully.

Then I sealed the edge with varnish.

When the varnish had dried, I sanded the edge. The white paper edge was clearly visible so I painted it very carefully. 

The tool I am using is called "a third hand". If you haven't got it, give yourself a belated Christmas gift. 

The rest was easy: first glue on the base and let it dry under press. The instruction said clamp, but I was anxious not to damage the paper so I just put a heavy box on top. Then glue on the legs. It is probably the easiest kit of all.

Here is the result. 

And here are both tables, for comparison.

Since the handmade table is slightly larger, it is really a semicircle that looks more natural in the middle, but there is not much I can do about it. I cannot put them together to make a round table, which would be fun. But there are two lessons learned. First, I need not be scared to do something radical with the kits. Second, I can make a nice miniature from scratch, particularly if I have a pattern. It means I can try more.

Meanwhile, I got so bold that I decided to try a more sophisticated kit. Again, I only used it because I had a duplicate, and the bold part was making the table top. This is the paper I used.


Obviously, I wanted the medallion in the centre, and the pattern is large so I could only use a bit of it. When it was done I of course saw that it wasn't very well centred, but it was too late.

The challenge was to mix a paint that would match as closely as possible. I am not good at mixing paint, and it is difficult to match perfectly, but close enough.


I am not showing step by step assembly, because I have made this or a very similar kit before. I also had trouble matching paint then.

To make it look more natural, I have "aged" it. And of course I have put some stuff in drawers.

I have no space for any of these pieces in Womble Hall, short of replacing something else, so at the moment I don't know what to do with them. Maybe I will make a special room box. Or maybe I can simply display them as they are. (Although they always look better in a proper environment).