Dolls House Heaven


Down-Sizing - Again

September 12th, 2010

Posted: under News.

This commission came from David Mitchell who was actually searching the web looking for a railway “N” gauge gas tower when some tortuous route brought him to my website and a picture of the railway garden I’ve already done for my partner.   I don’t know whether he ever found what he was really looking for, but on the way he asked if I could make a garden for him on the same scale.  (N gauge = 2 mm/12″).

Through the post duly arrived a complete house (beautifully detailed in resin and about 5 cm/2″ high) and a template cut from mountboard.   To start the garden, I used the template to cut out a thin sheet of plastic that was to be the base.  There are two main advantages of using thin plastic when constructing a “portable” garden:

1)   The plastic will “take” a vast quantity of paint, glue (or anything else you care to throw at it, within reason) with only minimal - if any - warping or shrinkage.   I’ve tried using an aluminium sheet in the past, and the unspeakable result was only suitable for the nearest dustbin.

2)   The thinness of the material means that it can easily be slotted into an existing layout with no apparent variation in height.   A few dabs of glue in the right places, and the scene can appear as though it was constructed in situ as an integral part of the layout.

There were very few restrictions other than some bushes and trees/fence “would be nice” along the long side as this edge would be going straight up against the backdrop of his layout .   I also needed to be aware that the two sides opposite the long side would be where the train would run.   Apart from that,  I could:

1)  Put the house where I wanted.

2)  Put anything else in the garden I wanted.

As I’ve been making fruit and vegetables for many years in 1/12th scale, my immediate thought was to do a vegetable patch.  I remember many years ago being told by Sue Heaser (an world-renowned expert in polymer clay modelling) that when you are working in a very tiny scale, you cannot hope to recreate every last piece; rather you have to do just enough to give an impression.   The imagination and perception of the viewer will then “draw in” the rest.   Hence cabbages with just a miniscule knot of clay and a maximum of four surrounding slithers and the same for the cauliflowers and lettuces.   Railway materials (such as the scatter materials and grasses) did a lot of the rest.   For earth at this mad scale, I can heartily recommend textured paint - different shades mixed together for realism.

The apple tree was made from fine copper wire (stipped out from an old power cable) then covered with a thin layer of texturing material.   Yes, I did roll individual apples from clay, but if you look closely, you’ll see there aren’t any stalks.  You will need to imagine those.

For the bushes, I used a lot of “sea moss”, which is a natural material that first needs to be softened in water, but can then be sprayed with scatter glue before dipping in various different scatter materials to simulate leaves.   Small flowers are literally just specks of different colours of scatter materials and Flower Soft.

As for the house, it had already come ready painted, but I added greenery to make it look like it had stood in situ for years, not to mention “dirtying” it up with railway modellng powders to resemble soot(particularly on the side facing the railway).   A bit of a confession though - I had to make a new chimney pot for on the chimneys as it got “lost” somehow.  So sorry David - hope you didn’t notice!  (But I do know now how to mix a clay colour in clay….. if you get what I mean….)

The completed garden was duly popped into a box, put in the post, and is going to be slotted into a layout that David is working on called “Kidmore Yard” which is scheduled for an exhibition in April 2011.  To see more of David’s work, visit:

kidmorengauge.weebly.com

Flowers for Wallpaper

September 12th, 2010

Posted: under News.

This was a particularly delightful commission from a lovely lady in America.  The brief was quite specific in terms of colouring - two vases of flowers to complement a particular wallpaper.  She described the wallpaper in her email with the all important name/make of it - and so bingo!   I found the exact wallpaper in my local dollshouse shop (the last piece they had) and I couldn’t resist buying it.   There is nothing like having the real thing in front of you when it comes to colour matching.  You only have to look at a paint chart to know that there is actually no, definitive, one colour called “white”, never mind pinks, lemons, blues and creams.

This vase of ranunculus and jug of tulips and hyacinth are destined for a tea shop.   It is still under construction but apparently has already been described by someone as something resembling a runaway train.  I have been promised photographs!

Hardware Shop

September 12th, 2010

Posted: under Miniature Know-How.

 

I did not put my hardware shop together with the intention of its being an artisan piece.  As a miniaturist, my own speciality is making food and flowers, so a hardware shop wasn’t something I’d normally contemplate in the course of what I do.    Rather it was something deeply personal, a less than faithful representation from a memory of a visit to the reconstructed hardware shop that I saw at the Black Country Museum in Dudley,  England.   This particular real shop is set in the 1930s but I wouldn’t claim that my version is the same.   Truthfully, I haven’t kept to any precise era.   You can most accurately describe my hardware shop as being “old fashioned”, sort of Victorian, sort of Edwardian probably with later elements thrown in.   To me it doesn’t matter.  I was aiming to capture an atmosphere and a feeling of generic age.  Were I to burn a paraffin lamp close to it, I could probably even capture the smell of the place as well.

 

Apart from that, why did I choose to put a hardware shop together in the first place?  I suppose I was attracted to the clutter of practicality.  The hardware shop used to be the modern day equivalent of a department store for homewares.   You could get the majority of goods for your home from a hardware shop in days gone by, and my first impression of the hardware shop in the museum was that of clutter.   Tins, packets, bowls, baskets, brushes and anything else you care to mention were everywhere; particularly hanging from the ceiling, not to mention outside the shop.  In miniature terms, that translates as “anything goes”.  The occupational hazard for most dollshouse collectors is accumulating piles of odds and ends that have taken our eye for no particular reason, that thn end up in drawers waiting for a home.  A hardware shop could be that home.

 

The building itself is the Sid Cooke corner shop.  Ok I cheated.  It was already built and ready-wired when I bought it.   I like constructed shells ready for me to move into.  I don’t like woodwork and I’m no good with copper tape, screws and electrics.   The nearest I got to woodwork was making the tongue and grooving for the walls.   I could have bought proper, sophisticated miniature tongue and grooving, but for some reason I can’t fathom, I chose to paint individual pieces of wood and stick them one by one on the walls.   Looking back, I think it would have been better to have chamfered the sides first since they look rather stark, but they’re stuck solid now, so they’re staying.   And I don’t think anyone would notice, unless I told them.

 

Oh yes, the flooring is wooden as well, but I had the sense to buy that in a sheet and lay it in one piece.   The beauty of doing a hardware shop is that the floor can be as rough, shabby and grubby as you like.   In reality, that meant a lot of staining, sanding, more staining, more sanding, a bit of boot polish, loads of expletives and probably a lot more boot polish.   You can actually throw anything you like on a floor like that while you try to get the right effect.  If it doesn’t work, just take yet another sheet of sand paper to it.  If that doesn’t scrape away a mistake, you can always blame it on the miniature public stomping through the shop in their hobnail boots, bringing in the dirt and generally making a mess.

 

The nearest faithful, authentic representation of anything in the museum is the counter.   The counter particularly grabbed me with its quality mahogany top and black body (with some strains of mahogany peeping through cracks in the black paint).   My counter started off as a plain wood cheap import and I first stained it mahogany all over.   Leaving the top mahogany, I painted the rest in several coats of matt acrylic black paint, then sanded off a few areas to reveal the mahogany beneath. .Similarly with the shelving, I just bought some plain wood units and roughly stained them mahogany.

 

The advertising inside the shop was fun.   A few pieces I bought complete as they are, others I cut from pamplets (or dare I say it, even books).   There is a wealth of material out there, often from curious places.  For example, the notice for soap flakes (above the mangle and tub containing soap flakes) was cut out from some rather original wrapping paper. 

 

I made the Sunlight bars of soap from small slivers of wood.   I actually bought one real bar of Sunlight soap years ago from the old fashioned style Apothecary shop to be found in Howath, Yorkshire, England.  (This is the real shop where the brother of the Bronte sisters bought his drugs in the nineteenth century – I digress, I know – but it was very interesting.)  Back to the bar of soap – I simply scanned the wrapper into the computer, shrank it down then printed several copies to wrap round the slivers of wood.  I did the same for the blocks of Reckitts Blue having found a real one.  The rest of the tins and packets were bought ready made.  There is a great variety available on the market that to choose from if you find you can’t make them yourself

 

(If you are wondering why the soap flakes in the tub with the mangle look so realistic, it’s because they are real soap flakes bought from the same wonderful Apothecary shop.  Add real water and you’ll get real froth.)

 

The rest of the contents of the shop were the results of years of collecting and hoarding, just like the rest of us.  Looked at objectively, I don’t think my hardware shop is full enough, but that doesn’t matter. Like I said at the beginning, it was never intended to be an artisan piece.   It is a piece of my own history, a piece of one memorable visit to a memorable museum that is organic, like a real hardware shop and I will continue to add to add to it as I go along.  It is a moment in no particular time that will grow with me for the rest of my miniature days.  

Death of Sarah Price - St Hilary’s Miniature Church

July 3rd, 2010

Posted: under News.

Very sadly, I must announce that my sister, Sarah Price, died on Thursday 17th June 2010  She originally collapsed with anemia while visiting the March 2010 Miniatura show, and tragically this was later found to be due to wide-spread cancer.  However throughout this period, she showed incredible courage, determination and love of life, despite the suffering.

Many of you will be familiar with my sister’s miniature work through her much loved website (www.miniaturechurch.co.uk - St Hilary’s Miniature Church) that she set up in memory of our late mother in 2003/2004.  At the moment, no decision has been taken about the future of this website,although I am sure it will continue as it currently stands for a while yet.

I am sure that those of you who regularly visit this, my own website, will have noticed that no new items have been added for some time now.   As you can appreciate, my priorities have necessarily been directed elsewhere, but I fully intend to start working again on making miniature food and flowers very soon.

1/24th (1/2″) Scale Flowers - A First (for me!)

March 8th, 2010

Posted: under News.

 

I never thought I’d even be attempting 1/24th (1/2″) scale flowers, but here they are; sunflowers which are approximately 2.5 cm (1″) high from the flower to the last leaf on the stem.   They have been made as part of a commission, which was phrased along the lines of “loose sunflowers to go as part of an allotment scene”.  I merrily assumed they should be in 1/12th (1″) scale, ie about 30 cm (6″) high.  But no.   A further email asked that they should be about 2.5 cm (1″) high.   I gulped, took a deep breath and started thinking really small.

I’m just glad I wasn’t asked for daisies…..

A Tiny Departure

December 6th, 2009

Posted: under News.

 

Here is something different - not a 1/12th (1″) scale dollshouse, but an N Gauge model railway cottage and garden.  

For those of you who have not been initiated into the delights of model railways, N gauge is 2 mm to the foot, or 1:160th, ie compared to 1/12th scale, absolutely TINY!   You could call this a bit of a sideline for me - the model railway itself belongs to my partner, but I have been detailed to make all the scenery.   Or to put it another way, he does the technical stuff and I do the pretty stuff.   Yes, it is a departure from dollshouse miniatures, but there is nonetheless an overlap.  I still mix paint, get covered in glue and in many respects the whole difference is the matter of the tiny scale.

As an aside, the Warley Model Railway Club had a stand at the recent Miniatura exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham to demonstrate the railway hobby.  Then at the recent model railway show - also at the NEC - organised by the Warley Railway Club, there was a stand publicising the Miniatura and the dollshouse hobby.  A beautiful 1/24th (1/2″) scale house by Petite Properties was on display next to an O Gauge sized house and they were remarkably similar in size. 

Back to my partner’s model railway layout - I must emphasise that I am NOT building any of the houses.  These are a mixture of ready-built from resin, or constructed (not by me) from card kits).   However, they are passed to me to weather and add foliage.    The garden bases come in the form of cardboard templates which I do my best not to distort.  The design of the gardens are then totally up to me and I can let my imagination run riot.

I only wish I could make fimo flowers small enough - but I can’t!   I therefore (like most people) use scatter materials and any other railway modelling materials I can find.    At this tiny scale, I found that grey marbled paper and card made credible paving stones throught the lawn.  The “large” tree is about 2.5″/7 cm high, and was made from twisted copper wire (taken from a stripped down old power cable) then covered with a product called “flexi-bark” and finally the umbiquitous scatter material.

Who knows - one day I might make a 1/12th (1″) scale tree using the same technique ………

I will add photographs of this model railway layout as it progresses.   Next (so I am told) is the village green.  I don’t think it will have a pond!

Christmas Selection

November 6th, 2009

Posted: under News.

I have now created a new section for my “Christmas Selection” miniatures which I will continue to add to.

To show you all things are not always straightforward, I should like to share some of the mini-disasters that have happened to me in the process of crafting these items (and some that have yet to appear for reasons that will become clear).

1) Wooden boards for the mince pie making - believe it or not the first two I used snapped, and this was purely down to a spot too much of brute force on my part. The downside of oiling boards to seal the wood is that the wood itself can warp if you don’t apply the oil evenly to both sides at the same time. So two boards warped, and like an idiot, I tried to straighten them - after I had stuck everything down. Snap. Oops. Start again.

2) Christmas puddings - I put them in the oven accidentally at too low a temperature so they didn’t harden sufficiently. As soon as I got them out of the oven, they crumbled into something resembling cat food. So that’s what they’ve become - all they’re waiting for now is a few splodges of gravy, then they’ll appear under “Miniature Miscellany” in yellow bowls marked “cat”.

3) Santa trays with brandy, a mince pie and a carrot. I am always very careful to get colours and shades right. So for the brandy, I “borrowed” a few drops from a friend, but even so the mixture I finished up with (almost set in the glasses) was slightly too dark. Never mind - brandy I’m told comes in different shades. However, for various reasons (that I’m too embarassed to own up to), the “brandy” also had air bubbles. Now I’ve never come across real fizzy brandy so I tried to pop the air bubbles with a pin. Disaster. Somehow, a slightly dark brandy turned in minutes to something resembling treacle toffee. Oops. I’ll try again. Keep watching!

So now you know!

Wedding Cake tips

July 12th, 2009

Posted: under Miniature Know-How.

Wedding Cake

You can make your wedding cake as simple or as complicated as you like. Whatever your choice of design and decoration, you may find the following tips of help when using polymer clay for your cake.

1. Put the cat out. Polymer clay attracts dust and fluffy bits more effectively than any vacuum cleaner. Cat hairs can appear from nowhere and embed themselves deep into the clay – even when you haven’t actually got a cat – so it is important to keep your working area and tools scrupulously clean. Nail varnish remover is excellent for this.

2. Cutters are wonderful for cutting out shapes but you need to take care when using them since it is all too easy for the middle of the shape to bulge out when pressing down on the cutter. Once the cake is cooked, you may need to slice the top very carefully to provide a flat surface.

3. If you want graduated squares (or oblongs) for a tiered cake and don’t have the appropriate cutters, try using an omnigrid. This is a special plastic “overgrown ruler” type tool used by quilters for the accurate cutting of material and templates. I have found it works very well for polymer clay – especially when using it with a tissue blade. (See picture).

4. If possible, once you have cut out your shapes, do not lift them from the tile, but bake them first in situ.

5. Don’t be tempted to varnish any of the finished surfaces unless you specifically want something to shine. I have personally found that un-varnished clay makes for very realistic icing.

6. Once you have your basic shapes cooked and assembled, you can decorate your cake to your heart’s content. If using ribbon, you will find the silk variety much more pliable on such small shapes than polyester and they therefore appear to sit more naturally.

7. Remember with polymer clay that so long as you do not over-heat the oven and burn the clay, you can re-bake as many times as you like if you want to keep adding to your cake.

8. Let the cat back in.

Click on the link below to see cakes and pastries I currently have for sale:

http://dollshouseheaven.co.uk/index.php?cPath=1&osCsid=42657f7ef1a9481f1e0ba676374eecd2

A Miniature Wreath for a Miniature Church

July 12th, 2009

Posted: under News.

Yes - you are reading and seeing correctly! I have a made a miniature wreath for a miniature church!

This was a commission from my sister for her miniature church, named St Hilary’s, after our late mother. Over the years, this church has been the scene of a wedding, a christening and many other church-related events, so it seemed right and proper to create a funeral setting in miniature. And flowers are a beautiful part of most funerals so I was more than happy to attempt this rather unusual commission.

This wreath is in the form of a cross and contains white lillies, white roses and lemon yellow roses together with an assortment of real miniature greenery. I started with a rough cross shape, fashioned out of paper covered wire to quite exact measurements to fit the coffin. The flowers were made individually on paper covered wire which was thinner than the wire I would normally use were I making the flowers for a vase. Firstly, I covered this wire base with some mossy type real greenery to provide a soft base for the flowers. Using lots of glue(!) I twisted the wires of the flowers around the wire/moss of the base, poking more greenery into any spaces.

I found that it was important to create this wreath quite slowly, by adding a little, letting it dry before adding more. It was therefore quite time consuming, but enjoyable nonetheless.

I made the solid mahogany coffin from a beautiful kit by McQueenie Miniatures. The coffin cover was crocheted by my sister from a pattern by Buttercup Miniatures, which was specifically designed to fit this coffin. The child doll is by Jane Davies (no relation!) and was commissioned for this church.

To see more on this beautiful miniature church and to see the antics of the congregation (mostly children and mostly created by Jane Davies):

www.miniaturechurch.co.uk

To visit the funeral page, and find out just why the children of the congregation have put a pair of muddy boots on the coffin:

www.miniaturechurch.co.uk/erniethanksgiving.html

For more miniature crochet and knitting patterns, needles plus all the materials you will need:

www.buttercupminiatures.co.uk

For beautiful furniture - both kits and completed:

www.mcqueenie-miniatures.co.uk

For the most exquisite dolls I have ever seen:

www.jsdartistdolls.com

A Moment in Spring

May 20th, 2009

Posted: under Miniature Know-How.

Other than the ’sale item, half price’ sign, the dark stoney trough said ‘buy me’.   I hadn’t a clue what for until a recent walk in a park, and there was the answer suddenly at my feet.  The vibrant lights of spring flowers were bursting through the dead leaves of last year’s autumn as winter was finally switched off and that was it.   The moment to capture in miniature.  That’s why I’d bought the trough.

 

The first thing to do was fill the trough with a thick polymer clay layers of yesterday’s failures squashed together with a top dressing of brown clay.  You can relax.  The slimey trails in the photos did not come out of a 1/12th scale slug, just a tube of glue.  The stuff gets everywhere.

 

The main material I used to make this trough was polymer clay (Fimo).   I love using this for flowers for three reasons.  Firstly the infinite variety and intensity of colours you can achieve.  Secondly the ability to rebake and rebake, so you can create multiple layers of petals/leaves without disturbing the shape of what you’ve already done.   Thirdly, I have a big deep drawer full of it and it needs using up.

 

I used only very simple tools to put the whole arrangement together – just tweezers, a needle, a razor blade and my fingers.  I know that very flowers can be crafted using the many wonderful flower cutters available.   However, the sad truth is that I’m no good with cutters!   I don’t know why, but as soon as my fingers spot cutters, they turn into fat sausages incapable of handling or manipulating anything.  This leaves me with the time-consuming method of tweezers, a needle, and obedient fingers.

 

My method when making flowers is always to start from the centres and work outwards, rebaking the different layers if/when necessary.   I haven’t actually ever needed to dissect a flower but I often root through them in nurseries counting petals.  And yes – that’s in public.  (As an aside, primulas have five petals, sometimes six, and they seem to overlap quite randomly.  I thought you’d like to know that.)

 

The crocuses and the primulas had the same ground rice origins at their centres.  Thirty-three gauge paper-covered wires were dipped in white PVA glue, then into ground rice that had been already mixed with pastel chalk (orange for the crocuses, yellow/green for the primulas).   These were left to dry and harden.

 

For the single coloured crocuses, it was a question of rolling a manageable sized ball of the clay, gently drawing off a petal shape from one end then nipping it off with the needle.   This was applied to the pre-hardened centre with a dab of PVA glue, and the exercise repeated and repeated.

 

The primulas were made slightly differently, having bi-coloured petals.   I made a log of the two colours in a rough petal shape, took very thin slices off with a razor and shaped them with the needle and tweezers.  These were applied and overlapped onto the centres.

Although snowdrops in real life have coloured centres, you can’t actually see them unless you turn them upside down, so I skipped that step and started with the petals.  The three inner petals were made using a very basic cane with white and a green “V” shape, from which a cut three slivers.  I then drew out three longer petals from a ball of  white clay and placed these in between the three inner petals.  

 

At this stage the flowers were all baked.   A word here about clay baking temperatures. For delicate flowers, you must make sure they don’t bake at too low a temperature otherwise they will crumble. Depending on which clay you are using and the plasticizers they contain, the necessary range is 110 – 130 degrees C but you will need to experiment with your own oven as they are all slightly different.   For my oven the correct temperature for flowers is just one tiny click below Gas Mark 1.   An accidental tiny click above Gas Mark 1, a long phone call and the flowers are burnt.

 

Once baked, I added additional greenery to the stems of the crocuses and snowdrops while the rest of the leaves were made separately.  If you want to add very fine veins to a polymer clay leaf, or simply give it that extra little crinkle, try pressing the clay against a “skeleton leaf” then removing it before baking. I came across these skeleton leaves (see photo) in the card making/scrap booking section of craft shop and I think they worked particularly well with the primula leaves.

 

When it came to arranging the flowers in the trough, I had no great design in my head.   I just dug holes with the needle and placed them and re-placed them until I was happy with the effect.   I didn’t use glue at this stage, but chose the liquid clay.  This gives a sufficiently globular medium for the flowers to stand up in, but doesn’t set until going back into the oven so I could move everything around until I was happy.   The whole thing went back into the oven to harden the all “earth” and liquid clay, and the scene was now set.

 

Now for the finishing bit.  The fun bit.  Throwing scatter material around the base of the flowers and leaves.   And it’s so easy. It all comes out of bags (apart from the diluted PVA that is spread first.)   First of all the loose earth, which is just very fine brown railway ballast.  Like the glue, these tiny granuals did get everywhere, so they had to removed from petals and leaves with a pin to prevent the appearance of a premature aphid attack. Then the miniature real dried leaves – again railway material.   (You can get mixed leaves, oak leaves and ivy leaves.   For the trough, I stuck to oak leaves).  Then finally other odd bits of greenery which I’ve picked up at various dollshouse/model railway shows and the trough was complete.

 

So there you have it, a moment in spring, my lasting memory of a beautiful place in a park at a particular time in the year that will last for many seasons to come.  It is something to hold on to.