I have lived in the UK for ten years, and I remember very well when, ten years ago, I told myself that I would now be able to go to the Kensington Dollhouse Festival. It's just an hour by train from Cambridge. But for some reason or other it never happened – until last weekend. And it only happened because I already was in London and had some spare time.
I had consulted my miniature friends on Facebook, asking for advice on how to make the most of it. The advice I received was: Go early and bring plenty of money. On the former, I had not much choice because I had something else in the morning; on the latter I asked whether credit cards were accepted, and they were. So against the advice, I arrived at Kensington Town Hall about 3pm.
I had no expectations. I had seen pictures from previous events in dollhouse magazines and on the web, but things are different in real world. I knew it was on three levels and there were hundreds of stands. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do at a dollhouse festival. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to buy anything or just look. I am easy to tempt, so I decided that I would only buy something if I fell in love with it at first glance.
I spent two hours browsing. I went around two or three times, returning to stands where I had noticed something interesting.
It was a lot like being at a book fair.
Here are my reflections as a novice dollhouse festival attendee.
Firstly, it's amazing. So many stunning, fantastic things. Most of them unique, one of a kind. Handmade. It means that mortal humans have actually made them. They have probably been doing it for decades, and they obviously have appropriate tools. And today's tools are helpful. Precision laser cutters, 3D printers. You still need your skills, and it takes years of practice, but all these wonderful things were made by passionate, imaginative, creative people. I don't have time to develop the necessary skills, so I will never be nearly as good, but I can try. In a year and a half I will be free. I will get myself a laser cutter and a 3D printer. I will make miniatures full-time and try to be as good as I can. So it was highly inspirational.
It was interesting to see the prices. I have seen fancy prices on Etsy, and since I know how much time and effort it takes to make a miniature, irrespective of the result, I am not surprised. But I do wonder what kind of people buy tremendously expensive things at a fair. Maybe you need to see them in real life, touch, feel. I did fall in love with a marquetry cabinet, but I am not yet prepared to invest half of my monthly salary in a trinket. On the other hand, why not? It's like buying expensive jewellery or art.
There were lots of things that were lovely, and I told myself: some day I will make these. Again, with some practice and with better tools. And some things I will never be able to make, like ironwork.
Miniature food was prominent; it's fun to make, and given some practice I will get good at it.
There were many 1:24 and 1:48 scale things, but I have never been particularly interested in them. There were no 1:18 scale things! It must be almost exclusively Swedish.
There was a lot of kitch too.
There were tons of supplies: fabrics, wallpaper – tempting, but I am a recycler. I believe this is my foremost lesson from this visit: I am a recycler, and I am interested in making miniatures from rubbish rather than from expensive supplies. (I did, however, buy a piece of fabric to re-upholster a sofa I am not happy with). But it is good to know that if I need something special, it's available.
Anyway, next time I go - which I think I will - I'll know what it is like and what to look for
I had told myself that I wanted to buy at least one thing (fabric doesn't count). So when I saw this one thing I made up my mind quickly. Actually, I asked the seller to keep it for me for ten minutes because I needed to sit down and breathe for a while. I know it's silly to go to an artisan fair and buy an antique, but it just so happened. I am not telling you how much I paid. It's Christmas soon.
I didn't think it was appropriate to take pictures, although some people did. But I made lots of mental notes. One thing in particular caught my attention: Adam tables. They were either House of Miniature kits or very similar: lovely half-moon side tables with Adam pattern on tops. I don't know how that seller made the tops, but I immediately thought that I had some Adam paper left from my ceilings, and I also had a duplicate HoM kit that I could experiment with. Back home, though, I didn't want to use the kit before I knew that my idea would work. I used a cheese box for the top. The trick was to sand the edges so that wood and paper were seamless. I used decoupage technique, varnishing and sanding, then painted the edge with gold. It took me a long time to figure out how to make the base because I didn't have a suitable round piece of wood, but finally I found one when I was looking for something else. I used chopsticks for legs and even managed to cut them equally long which has always been my problem.
Of course it is not good enough to be displayed at Kensington Dollhouse Festival, but I am really pleased.