Sunday, 22 January 2017

The most magnificent chandelier ever

Do you want to hear once again that a project is never finished? You probably don't, but I will say it anyway. And I will say again that every time I replace something in the house I feel bad about it. Especially if it is something I made myself very long ago, when I wasn't that good at making things.

This time I am replacing my crystal chandelier. It was among the very first objects I made ten years ago, and with all its faults I have been proud of it. I improved it when I decorated the dining room, and it can and will be further improved, but at the moment I have replaced it with a chandelier I bought last summer in the dangerous shop in Stockholm where I spend more money than I will ever admit. I got it relatively cheap because it was broken, but I was sure that my clever son-in-law would be able to mend it. I did try to solder it myself, but I am not very good at soldering, and it was such a delicate thing that I didn't dare. When my daughter and son-in-law visited us for holidays, he had a closer look at it and concluded that gluing it with superglue would work better than soldering, and since I have the deepest respect for his knowledge I agreed. He glued it, holding it together cleverly, at the same time pointing out that what I really needed for my miniature-making was a tool called third hand, which I immediately bought online, but by the time it arrived my wonderful son-in-law had left.

It took some time before I got down to putting up the chandelier, because to do so, I had to remove the floor of the room above, and I have once described the process. I had to remove all objects from the study, which is so high up that I need library steps to work comfortably. I know it's my own fault that the room is so crammed, but until you have to move them you don't even realise how many objects there are. Then I had to remove the floor, and because last time I put in the floor I was confident it was the very, very last time, it was if not permanently, but very firmly attached. I managed to pull it out without damaging too much of skirting, and while I was at it, sanded and varnished the floor a bit better. This is also typical: you become more and more demanding about the quality of your work. When I made this floor two years ago I was perfectly happy with it. Not any more. So this was an unexpected positive side effect.

I removed the old chandelier, burning with guilt. Then I started hanging the new chandelier and ran into some technical problems. The way I do it is hang the chandelier by a thin wire, the kind you find on wine bottles, then use a large darning needle to run the wire through the hole in the ceiling into the room above and fix it with masking tape. The trick is that the wire has to be strong enough to hold the weight of the lamp, but thin enough to go through the hole, and as I was working with it, the lamp broke again, as might be expected.

However, now I 1) knew that I could glue it 2) had a third hand. It still took a lot of manipulation, but I managed to glue and fix it, left it to dry for some days and today finally put it up. Isn't it fabulous?

Here is a view of the whole room where you can see how it is attached to the ceiling. The ceiling rose is a scrapbooking embellishment. The chandelier goes well together with the ancient mirror, from the same shop.

And this is the third hand. When you have got something like this you wonder how you could ever manage without it.


I think he has a very strong personality. Yes, I am confident it's a he. A bit like WALL-E. He has certainly already become a dear friend.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Step by step: upper corridor

The closest predecessor to the upper corridor in Womble Hall is the staircase in the old Victorian house, rebuilt in the cabinet. To have or not to have stairs in a dollhouse is a matter of taste. Stairs unquestionably take a lot of space, but they do add a more natural look, and they are fun to make (to a certain degree - there is a lot of pain as well).

This is what the corridor looks like today: 


The general design of the house suggested stairs in the right-hand side of the middle room on the upper floor. My initial thought was to ignore the partition that created two very small rooms and just have one large hall with stairs on one side. There were several reasons to abandon this plan. The whole design would have been much too symmetrical: three similar rooms on three floors. The central partition created variation. I also needed the left-side small room for the bathroom. I could have done the opposite: keep the partition and get rid of stairs, but what would I then have in the right-side small room? It has two doors, and doors also take a lot of space. A corridor anyway? Then I could just as well have stairs.

It took ages before I did anything at all in this room. In the early shell, I didn't have any furniture. I couldn't decide on the wallpaper or floor, and in any case I needed to make the rear corridor first.

It was not until December 2014 that I took the first step and made the floor.


It was really, as I say in the linked blog post, a side effect of looking for floor patterns for the other rooms, but at least there was some progress. In this picture, the wallpaper is just leaned onto the wall, the stairs are attached with tack, and the door is not inserted properly. At this stage, the shell wasn't glued yet, and as I mentioned, I had to finish the rear corridor first.

I didn't plan to have any particular ceiling in the corridor so when I was painting and decorating ceilings on flat surfaces, I just left this bit plain white.

When I assembled the house, the back and central partitions were not inserted so what you could see was the back wall of the rear corridor. Nobody would even guess that there would be two more rooms there.

It took a couple of months before I started getting closer, and in pictures from rear corridor trials you can see that I had decided on the wallpaper, which is thick craft paper, with probably too large pattern, but I thought - and still think - it fits well. In this picture, obviously, the stairs aren't there, and you can see a hole in the ceiling where it would eventually be inserted. Paradoxically, without stairs, the room looks very small.


Then finally it was time to deal with the stairs. Read the linked blog post carefully, because it is yet another example of how you gradually become more demanding, not satisfied with easy solutions. After a lot of effort I was pleased, and I still am.


As with the grand stairs, I could have used individual spindles - but it will have to wait. I added moulding and a rail on the wall which weren't included. And this was it, apart from Adam ceiling, which I think gave the corridor a really grand look.


Since then, I have - temporarily - put the magnificent breakfront in the corridor, and as there is no other place for it in the house, I guess it's staying there.The only problem is that it is so big that nothing can be put further along the wall, and I am running short of space.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Borrowers room box, part 2

Read the beginning of this story.

This is how the fireplace in the Borrowers' dwelling is described:

"It was a charming fireplace, made by Arrietty's grandfather, with a cogwheel from the stables, part of an old cider-press. The spokes of the cogwheel stood out in starry rays, and the fire itself nested in the centre. Above there was a chimney-piece made from a small brass funnel, inverted... An arrangement of pipes, from the spout of the funnel, carried the fumes into the kitchen flues above. The fire was laid with match-sticks and fed with assorted slack and, as it burned up, the iron would become hot, and Homily would simmer soup on the spokes in a silver thimble, and Arrietty would broil nuts".

I have no idea how to get hold of a cogwheel from a cider-press. Maybe if I go to car-boot sales or large antique stores. I tried ebay but it only returned steam-punk jewellery. Therefore, so far my Borrowers will have to do with something else.

I don't know what it is, most probably something to hold a water hose. It was semitransparent plastic, and I painted it black with a light coat of copper. The back is just a piece of black card. But there must be something for Homily to put her soup on, and, digging deeper into rubbish under the kitchen sink, I found another object of unknown origin:


Funnel next. I have a set of plastic funnels, and the smallest was just the right size. I painted it black, with the same light coat of copper. And used a drinking straw for "an arrangement of pipes".


I appropriately "borrowed" a flickering tea light from my large Victorian house, piled some matches, found a thimble and a nut.

I think Arrietty's grandfather would have approved of it.

To be continued.

Step by step: bathroom

Bathrooms are very interesting to make, just like kitchens, because there are many tiny details that you can add more and more of.

This is what the bathroom in Womble Hall looks like at the moment. It is on the upper floor, next to the master bedroom. There isn't a direct door from the bedroom to the bathroom, but you must go through a corridor. Maybe it's not correct, but there wasn't any other natural place for the bathroom.


The very first bathroom I made was in my old Victorian house in a bookshelf, which I keep referring to. I still have the bathtub, and I keep changing my mind between it and the current sugar-bowl with lion feet (you can see a glimpse of it in the picture).

In the next step, I added a washbasin and other stuff. I was a beginner then and didn't know what materials and tools to use, but I had fun. As you see, the tiles have found their way into Womble Hall after all these years.

When I moved the house into a cabinet, I kept the bathroom, but it became very small. Yet the concept is the same, and has remained so.

When I started planning Womble Hall I wasn't sure where the bathroom would go. I first thought in the attic, but it would be very uncomfortable for people in the bedroom if they had to run upstairs in the middle of the night. I also considered the large right-hand room on the upper floor, that eventually become the study.

But already on the very first picture of the shell, long before it was glued, you can see the bathroom in its current place.

I made the first attempts decorating the bathroom early in the project, precisely because I simply copied it from the previous house. Maybe it was my lack of imagination, but I really liked the old bathroom, and even though not a lot has survived, the general sense has. As I explain in that early blog post, I have seen pictures of bathrooms in people's dollhouses where they have just pasted the whole sheet of tiles on the wall, and it doesn't look natural. So here I pasted the tiny tiles one by one. Yes, it did take some time. But I am never in a hurry with my mini projects. The floor is also a commercial sheet that I bought very early in my mini-making days, today I would have made in myself. But the sheet was not large enough, so the back part of it is a photocopy. Can you tell?

In the picture below you see a door in the back wall. Behind the door is a corridor, and in the next picture you can see what I made there.


As with all other rooms, it took a long time before I could make any final arrangements. In this case particularly, I had to finish the rear corridor (which I will show in due time), but as soon as that was done, the basic work on the bathroom was done as well.

After that, I added some objects, and the final touch came with Adam ceilings.

Since then, I made the Chippendale dressing table and two small tables - you cannot have too many tables in a Victorian house. I may add another mirror over the dressing table, and the hooks keep falling off, as you see, I must fix them better.I also want to make a proper Victorian water cistern over the toilet. Once again, a project is never ever finished.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Step by step: upper hall

Like the grand entrance hall I described yesterday, upper hall has no predecessors in any earlier projects, and, also like the grand hall, I had no other options than to build it as designed. (I guess I could have closed the stairwell and make a different room, but then the grand staircase would not lead anywhere, and that wouldn't make sense).

This is the most recent view:

Similarly to the grand hall, it took me a long time to plan, and, for instance, I knew that I needed to finish the floors before I could attach the railings.

I knew from the beginning that the hall would be yellow, so when I tentatively painted the back of the house, the back wall of the hall was yellow and has remained so.


This is the first picture of the hall - the shell not glued yet, and it stayed the same for a very long time. I put some objects in so that  it didn't feel totally empty - as I did with all other rooms, but at this point I didn't know at all what else might be here. I made a chandelier to hang over the stairwell, but it was too heavy to attach with tack, and it would be some time before I could attach it permanently.

During the Christmas party in 2014, that I have referred to several times, the hall looks just as three months earlier, but my guests didn't notice that there were no floors nor railings. Just tells you how much people pay attention.

I thought I would have long vertical panels on the back wall that I cut from old postcards, but then I found a set of magnets in a museum shop. This was still before I glued the shell.

When I finally did glue the shell, I was busy making floors and hanging wallpaper, and anyway, I didn't quite know yet what I wanted to do with the hall. I would put in some objects and then move them away as they found their place elsewhere. It wasn't until April 2015 that I finally decorated the ceiling as I had planned for a while and attached the chandelier, but only because I was sealing off the rear corridor from the floor of which the chandelier was to hang.

At some point I must have inserted the window, but not registered it. It is a slightly stupid window because as my house stands by the wall, there is no view and not even any light coming in,although I have ideas about what to do with it.

In the pictures from late November 2015, when my son-in-law made lights, you can still see that the upper hall is a mess.

No floors, no railings, and even the doors are not inserted yet. But all other rooms were sort of finished, so it was high time to deal with the hall.

I finished the floor, which was a laborious task, but truly rewarding.


I say it in the linked blog post, but I will say it again: I estimate that it took me 50 hours to make this floor. Talk patience!

Then I finally tackled the small back stairs and the railings, and if you have ever made railings you know that they just won't stay. Again, I could have discarded the railings that came with the kit and built my own with individual spindles, but this will be in my next life.


Looking back at the process, like this, makes me realise again how much time and effort lies behind every part of this project. I am glad I have documented it in detail, for instance, finally inserting doorsadding mouldings and making the Adam ceiling.

And that's it, really. All that has changed - or has been constantly changing - is new Chippendale chests and side tables moving in and out.

There is only so much you can have even in a Victorian room, so I am not sure what else may happen here. It is doubtless a very grand room and probably the first you see because it is exactly at eye level. I am pleased that it has turned out so well.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Step by step: grand entrance hall

I have realised that I never finished my step-by-step, room-by-room tour of Womble Hall. The last room I showed was the smoking room, and prior to that I also showed the reception room, music room,  drawing room, dining room,  and master bedroom. There are quite a few rooms left, even before I move on to attic and basement.

This is what the entrance hall looks like today. Like everything else, it is not finished. Nothing is ever finished in a dollhouse project. But it is finished enough to be displayed with pride.

This is probably the only room that didn't have any predecessors in earlier projects, simply because there was no space in my other houses for a grand staircase like this.

I did, however, have a staircase even in my very first dollhouse in a shelf. I was very pleased with it, and I still think it was a very bold thing to do, just a couple of months after I first started miniature-making. When we moved to the UK and I resurrected the old house in a cabinet, I kept the stairs that didn't lead anywhere.

When Womble Hall kit arrived, the entrance hall was the only room where I didn't have to make any decisions. It could only be the entrance hall. When I dry-assembled, I attached the stairs with tack.


You get the idea, but it was one of the rooms that took a long time to plan. There is a rear corridor with a door on the right, and it had to be designed and finished before the final assembly. So it took a couple of months before I got down to this room, thinking it over while I was making chimney breasts and deciding on floors.

I chose to paint the walls rather than hanging wallpaper, and it was the right choice, I think, given the many other details that came later. I painted all walls flat, and I also painted the back partition. I have said repeatedly how much I like this kit because of its hidden spaces. The mysterious door at the back of the hall is exciting.


In this picture, from mid-October 2014, the floor is paper, and the wall panels are not finished, and yet you get a sense of what this room is supposed ti be.

The next time I returned to the hall was to make a proper wooden floor. This was still before the shell was glued. Prior to that, I had to decide on the decoration in the rear corridor. Only a tiny part of it would be visible through the door, and yet it had to be done properly. In this picture from the first step of assembly (mid-March 2015) you can see the back wall of the corridor, the half on the right, that will be visible, with proper wallpaper, and the left part, which will be sealed off, with simple printer paper.

I covered the floor of the rear corridor with self-adhesive shelf lining. You have to look very carefully to see that it isn't a proper wooded floor. You can only see a couple of square inches of it anyway.

I now realise that I missed the moment when I put in the partition. Obviously I had to insert the door before I glued in the partition, and since I have light in the corridor I must have added it before as well. The light is a LED strip with a battery attached to the back of the house. My clever son-in-law says there is a better way, but I will leave it to him.

Finally, in May 2015 it was time to deal with the grand stairs, and I came with a solution that I had initially dismissed as going too far. This is a good example of how you put higher and higher demands on yourself and how one detail leads to the next.

For instance, I was not longer happy with the floor because it felt too conspicuous. I tried once again to use shelf lining:

I cut the original sheet into small strips and arranged them into parquet patterns. But you know what? I said this before. Once you have made wooded floors you will never again be satisfied with paper. So I used the same pattern, but made the floor from coffee stirrers

I had various things in the rear corridor, but eventually put a Chippendale hutch cabinet there.

It looks like by that time I had glued on the rails. A dedicated dollhouse-maker would have discarded the rails provided with the kit and built new ones with individual turned spindles. Maybe I will do it some time. But for now, I rounded the edges of the spindles with sandpaper, and I also added mouldings on the outside for a more finished look.

In due time, I inserted the double doors and founds interesting door knobs. I invested in some expensive antique objects. And the final touch was of course the magnificent Adam ceiling.

So here we are, a year later: not much changed, but a few items added and perhaps some more can be added, but as I keep repeating: a project like this is never complete.

For contrast, I will show what three professional designers did with this room, whereupon the house was sold for £25,000.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Borrowers room box

On the first day of 2017 I have started  a project that I have been planning for a while. I will use it for a workshop later this year.

The theme is Mary Norton's Borrowers, a children's book about miniature people who live under floorboards in a large Victorian house and "borrow" everything they need from big people upstairs.

In many ways, the challenge of this project is the opposite of my usual recycling strategy: finding everyday objects that I can turn into something miniature. This time I must shrink myself and see real objects from this perspective, deciding what might be useful to "borrow", including tools to make things.

There are pictures in my copy of the book that give a good idea of what the dwelling looks like and what some of the objects are. There is also a detailed description that goes:

"Homily was proud of her sitting room: the walls had been papered with scraps of old letters out of waste-paper baskets, and Homily had arranged the handwriting sideways in vertical stripes which ran from floor to ceiling. On the walls repeated in various colours, hung several portraits of Queen Victoria as a girl; these were postage stamps, borrowed by Pod some years ago from the stamp box in the morning room. There was a lacquer trinket box, padded inside and with the lid open, which they used as a settle; and that useful stand-by - a chest of drawers made of match boxes. There was a round table with a red velvet cloth, which Pod had made from the wooden bottom of a pill box supported on the carved pedestal of a knight from the chess set..."

I'll stop here, but it goes on, and more details are revealed later.


So there are several interesting aspects to this project. It needs to be as close as possible to the descriptions and pictures. It must be period-correct: no plastic, nothing that a Victorian household wouldn't have (of course, I can paint plastic to look like brass or tin). It also has to be real objects or objects that the borrowers could make with the few tools they have, such as needles, safety pins, or a half of a pair of scissors they use to slice "borrowed" potato.

However, before I can think about the details, some basic decisions. Because this room box will eventually be on public display, I decided to use a proper wine box. (Has anyone noticed that it is increasingly difficult to get hold of wine boxes? All shopkeepers want them for window displays). The only one I had available was the one that once was a yarn shop, then an Alice in Wonderland box. I had already dismantled Alice, so the box was half empty, but it still had the many doors, a row of lamps, wallpaper and flooring. In these situations I usually ask myself: "Who is this idiot who glued wallpaper directly onto the walls..." So this was the starting point:


To begin with, the ceiling in the borrowers' dwelling would not be painted. If I had a new wine box I would just have left it unpainted, but unfortunately that wasn't an option. Instead I covered the ceiling with self-adhesive shelf lining, tested and discarded for flooring in my large dollhouse. But here it worked, because the pattern should be in 1:1 scale.


The box is obviously upside down, so this is the ceiling, which is the floorboards of the big house.

Next, as you can read in the description above, the walls are papered with old letters, and these I printed out from the internet - there are scores of images of nineteenth-century handwritten letters.


The text says "scraps", but I didn't go that far. I didn't print out stamps of Queen Victoria, because I try to print out as little as possible, recycling what I have instead, and I have been saving some standard stamps - this is an anachronism I will allow myself.

Once again, the borrowers live under floorboards and use water pipes for heat and water. You can see pipes in the picture. I had been thinking about these pipes for a while, and this morning I got an idea of making them from kitchen towel rolls, but when I tested they were far too large - they just dominated the whole scene, even though they would be right in scale. I then tried dowel, but you cannot bend dowel the way water pipes bend, so I had to fall back on the well-tested method of drinking straws. They are definitely wrong scale, but as it turned out, they worked well and created the right kind of effect. 

I have a large supply of drinking straws that I use for various purposes, so I painted them copper, but I happened to have one straw painted black, so I tried painting copper on top of black, with a much better result. It really looks realistic. See for yourself. I wanted to build a complicated system of pipes, as they would have in an old house, and it took some elaborate engineering.

I will not show the whole process, but these pictures explain the method. I used toothpicks and grill sticks to attach the pipes to walls and to connect them. Then I used silver duct tape to enforce the connections, precisely like real copper pipes are connected with lead. 

You can see they are pipes, but they do not dominate the scene. 

Then I tentatively put in some suitable objects I had found. 

On the floor, Homily has red blotting paper that Pod borrows from upstairs. I don't know whether you can get blotting paper anywhere today, but I will investigate. So far, I have used soft craft paper. Some objects match the description. Homily knits the family's clothes from silk thread. They use thread spools to sit on. When did you last see a genuine wooden spool? I had some very old ones on my supplies. The watch in mentioned later in the book: Pod borrowed it from upstairs. The egg coddler in not mentioned, but I thought it would be just something Homily would like to have and Pod would be able to carry (he borrows a full-size cup at one point). The bath tub, that you cannot see very well behind the table, is exactly what it is in the book: a tin from foie de gras. All utensils in the shelf are metal lids so they are period-correct (well, almost). The shelf is temporary; I will make something that Pod is likely to be able to make. Of course I know how to make a chest of drawers from match boxes, but where can I get match boxes?? Will ask friends. 

This is how far I got today. Very pleased and looking forward to thinking of more things to add. 

To be continued.