Monday, April 29, 2013

A Close Shave

This is the latest doll Mom has dressed. A few years ago, my brother became interested in the 1930s. An offshoot of that was that he started dressing in 1930s style clothing.  He began shaving with a straight razor, wearing suspenders, and learned to tie a bow tie. Needless to say, he had a lot of input in this doll!
Though Mom usually makes her own leather shoes, but this time she bought them from the Doll's Cobbler. The rug is a leftover from a bunch Mom made for her cottage, using upholstery fabric samples.
Mom used a pair of my brother's fishtail back trousers to draft her mini pattern.
The Bespaq shaving stand came from my dollhouse. It was one of the first "adult quality" miniatures I received in my early teenage years, when my miniatures were transitioning from toy to collection. An irresistible deal on a stunning shaving set by St. Leger made this stand redundant in my dollhouse, so I was happy for Mom to give it purpose again!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

5 Tricks and Supplies* Every Miniaturist Should Know

1. Get the gunk out of paintbrushes with rubbing alcohol.
This is a trick that I learned from Casey. Just dip those crusty old paintbrushes in rubbing alcohol, and the paint will come right out. It seems to soften some of my brush bristles slightly as well, though this could be my imagination!

I used a hairdryer to take apart this bespaq love seat  for reupholstering.
2. Use heat to soften the glue on commercial furniture. Just use a hair dryer to heat whatever you are trying to remove/take apart.  I don't recall where I first learned this trick, but it really gets those stubborn pieces unstuck without breaking.

I used the microwave method to stiffen the crown for this pirate's hat. 
3. Dry leather in a microwave. If you need leather to hold a specific shape really well, get it wet/damp, stretch it into the right shape, then microwave it dry. The microwave "cooks" the leather into a hard shell. It will also change the texture of the leather, into a smaller, more pebbled surface. I wouldn't recommend doing this in a microwave that you use for food, since I have no idea what toxins might be in the leather.

4.Printable Scale Rulers
I can't tell you how many times these accurate miniature rulers have come in handy. I tend to convert measurements to fractions of an inch when I need to reduce them precisely. But if I've eyeballed something and just want to confirm that it's approximately the right size, I love the 1/12th and 1/144th scale rulers from Jim's printables.

5. Use Zip Kick to instantly dry Zap-a-Gap glue.
I first heard of this stuff in a "behind the scenes" interview with a movie prop master. Then, I used it for the first time with Nell Corkin at the Guild School. Zip Kick dries Zap-a-Gap glues instantly. I always tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes for super glues to dry, and for a while I gave up on using super glues, since my glued joins never seemed to hold, and I was constantly having to
unstick my fingers! It comes in spray or liquid form. Just be aware that the spray form smells terrible.

Disclaimer: I am making no money from promoting any products mentioned in this post. All opinions are my own, based on the products I have purchased.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Cat Painting

 Yesterday the weather was so sunny and beautiful, it was the perfect day to dig out my watercolors, which I hadn't touched in far too long. In rearranging my bookshelves, I'd come across an old planner illustrated with antique watercolors. One of the paintings which caught my eye was of a sitting cat (you can see it here.)
 Here, I've lightly traced the frame I plan to use on the finished painting, and masked off space for the painting. I love the extra thin masking tape from model railroad shops because it has a very tight seal. I've never had a problem with it leaking. I sketched the cat and shadow freehand, adjusting a little as I went to compensate for my slightly wider frame.

My laptop is acting up, and won't let me upload the other photos, but here it is afterwards. The black frame just has an undercoat at the moment. I'll be drybrushing it to lighten it up.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Guess What I Did Last Night?

The nonfiction sections of my (real life) bookshelves were completely out of order, and a quick straightening job turned into a full scale project! My books are in several bookcases spread all over the house, so it took a few trips with a laundry basket full of books to get everything in the right room, let alone on the right shelf.
Victorian books above, miniature books below

The reason I'm posting about it here is that I finally got all my dollhouse books together. They've been spread out for so long, I was a little shocked to see how many I had accumulated. The bottom shelf is miniature books- histories on the left, guides to specific houses/collections (e.g. Queen Mary's dollhouse, and the Thorne rooms) in the center, and how-to books on the right. As I was going through, I noticed I had duplicate copies of a couple books, and many similar books on certain topics. I'm planning to go through them at some point more carefully, narrow them down, and offer the duplicates to anyone who is interested.

I decided to separate out all my Victorian reference books as well, since I mostly pull them out to figure out what my dollhouse should look like. They ended up on the shelf above the miniature books. You can see two of my favorites on this shelf. Antiques from the Victorian Home, by Bea Howe, is an older book that gives a great overview of Victorian crafts and tchotchkes. There are a few crafts discussed in this book that I've never/rarely seen mentioned anywhere else! Inside the Victorian Home, by Judith Flanders, is another favorite. It's the thick cream book on the shelf above.  While it's not the most relevant book if you are looking for information about decorating a Victorian period dollhouse,  it has tons of interesting information on everything from the release of the drug aspirin to the invention of the S-bend!

More books on a variety of topics
My favorite resource for books are the local library book fairs. I go to several every summer and come away with boxes of used books on the most random topics. In fact, the more quirky the topic the better, since these books often have more specific information about minutiae than brief web articles! Some of my favorite finds: an entire book about Cotswold privies, another about the history of valentines, and a guide to framing paintings which has a great section on antique frames.

Sorry for the tangential post. I'll be back to miniatures next time!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Little Life in a Dark Corner

I've had an orange tree in my parlor for years.  Mom made it from twisted wire and laser cut rose leaves, and planted it in one of the wonderful old mossy pots from Clive Brooker. But it took up a lot of space. I was wondering where to put it when I thought of the empty dining room corner. 
The underside of the stairs runs through the dining room, creating a dark, difficult to see corner that nonetheless looked odd when it was empty.  I'd considered putting a tea cart  under the stairs, with a mirror on the opposite wall to show it more clearly. But when I experimented with a mirror, I couldn't get it to show the right spot, so I never bought the tea cart. The orange tree ended up being the perfect thing to bring a little life to the underside of the stairs.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lottie's Bedroom Makeover

Lottie's bedroom is one of the rooms I've always struggled with. Since I love miniature dolls, tea sets, paper dolls, etc, I'm constantly having to edit this room. The other problem was that the furniture nearly hid some of my favorite miniatures. Last year, I did some re-arranging and added the carpet which definitely helped, but there were still a lot of awkward areas. This time, I ended up taking out the Bespaq desk, and moved around every piece of furniture except the bed. I think it's the first time those hats have been visible since I put them up seven years ago!
This little chest used to be wedged in the back corner of the room. I like it much better out in front, especially since it allows my silver chocolate pot and Lucy Coles wash set to be seen. It also reminded me that the chocolate pot is on a truly awful metal tray. I don't object to fake silver, but I can't forgive how chunky that tray is! The Monet and Renoir paintings were half scale  paintings done by Josephine Meyer. The two porcelain dolls were made by Lucy Coles.
With the chest in such a visible spot now, I've started wondering what can be done about its finish. I have a love/hate relationship with Bespaq. I bought/was given quite a bit of Bespaq when I first started collecting. When I started collecting artisan made furniture, I noticed that the Bespaq finishes all started to look flat and a bit plastic next to the beautifully polished woodgrains of the hand made pieces.  I'm toying with the idea of painting or faux finishing this chest, since I do really like the scale of it..
The painted doll bed was one of the first "good" miniatures I bought, over a decade ago. It is still one of the most delicately painted pieces in my collection. Considering the way the paper backing on the mattress has yellowed, and that the dealer who sold it to me specialized in estate miniatures, I'm guessing it's a bit older than that.  The signature on the bottom says  S. Hoeltge(?). Does anyone know who that might be?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April Showers Bring May Flowers

I spent all of last Sunday working on this iris kit from MJ Miniatures. Of all the iris kits I'd seen, this one looked the most realistic.   I quickly realized I'd gotten in a little over my head.
Flower making is one of my least favorite projects to begin with, and this iris kit was easily the most finicky flower kit I've ever attempted. The petal paper was thin and easily soaked  up my purple wash of paint. But because the paper was so thin, I accidently ripped/mangled quite a few of the damp petals, even using my softest paintbrush. I ended up with enough petals to make 12 big blossoms, which wasn't bad considering the number I had to throw away!

I "planted" the iris in this painted wooden vase. I didn't want to make the flowers permanant, so I just stuck the flowers in a piece of styrofoam. I painted the top of the foam brown to simulate dirt.
My favorite detail of the finished flowers (and also the step that nearly drove me over the edge) was the snippet of tan tissue arournd the base of each blossom and bud.

Here are the irises in place in the music room. The pink and white flowers are all from SDK kits. The SDK kits are punched from pre-colored paper, so they looked a bit flat next to the irises. I gave the pink flowers a quick, uneven wash using pink and orange tones to make them look varigated. They were cut for a much smaller vase originally, so I had a little trouble aranging the short stems.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Great Switch

Last night Mom was going through her dollhouse, and decided to rearrange some of the furniture. She ended up taking out a few gorgeous pieces that just weren't working in her house. Rather than packing them away, she let me take them for my house.
This plate was one of the things that came out of Mom's cottage. I only had space for one plate left on my kitchen plate rail. Now that it's full, I'll have to go through and rearrange the order a little. I just worked my way around the room as I bought more plates, so some of my favorites ended up in the very back where they can hardly be seen.
The other thing I took was a gate leg table made by Gerald Crawford. Mom had two of these, and kept the one by the fireplace upstairs, but this one was fair game. I rearranged the parlor a little to make room. In the process,  I decided to  take out a few pieces as well.
This big round Escutcheon* table in the photo above has never fit in my parlor. It was an expensive mistake (and a beautiful table), so I kept moving it around trying to make it work, but it never did.  Mom took one look at it and said it would be perfect for a newly-cleared spot in her house, so I was thrilled that it finally found a home! The orange tree and screen also came out. The orange tree was an early project which needs touching up, but I have a few new spots in mind for it after the makeover.
* I'm sure I've seen their website, but I couldn't find it. Does anyone know the link?



Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Mother's Dollhouse: Wash Day!

I don't think I've ever really shown this view of Mom's house before. These doors are around the right side of her cottage. The door on the left leads into the kitchen. The right hand door leads into a pantry/storage room (originally intended to be the outhouse, but Mom thought a pantry was more interesting!)
Mom has period wash items set up out here. She made the tub and bench herself.
Mom loves David Edwards' miniatures. For a while, a few local dollhouse shops carried some of his work, and Mom bought out all the clothespins they had!

This little nest is tucked above the kitchen door.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Toys in My Mother's Cottage Dollhouse

As a kindergarten teacher, Mom loves children's toys and picture books. She gets very excited about finding the perfect Christmas and birthday gifts for my young cousins, and can spend hours in a good toy shop, so it's always surprised me how few toys she's added to her miniature cottage.  

The wooden market and animals were purchased from Eileen Godfrey's shop. They all have a great patina The little boy is by the Wren's nest.
 On the bed in the smaller bedroom, she has an antique wooden doll.
This little wooden bed is tucked between the foot of the bed and the fireplace. Mom made the mattress and stained it with tea to make it look older. The jointed wooden doll was made by Eric Horne.
These tiny toys are in the middle of the room. I think the wooden doll is another Eric Horne creation, but it's smaller and has fewer joints than the one above. We don't know who made the other pieces. It's hard to convey how tiny and delicate these miniatures are from photos. 
You can see that the bed has been painted with roses. I think the basket was made from some type of seed pod. I found them at a show years ago,and bought three or four. Two ended up in Lottie's room, but one made it's way over here. It's only about 1/4" wide.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

This is Mom's latest project. When we were at the Philadelphia show last November, she found another dealer who was selling the sweetest porcelain dolls and knit items. Mom bought both the sweater and small doll (undressed) from the dealer, but hasn't had time to do anything with them until recently.  The dealer's name is escaping me right now, so I'll have to check with Mom. The little girl is made with porcelain pieces from Ellen Scofield.

Mom dressed the little doll in soft shades of purple. I added the rose!
The girl is dressed in one of Mom's favorite floral fabrics. Mom still needs to make the final adjustments to the girl's pose and smooth down the sweater, but I couldn't wait to photograph her! The toy carriage is the same one I made over. You can see I haven't fixed the wheels yet. I'll probably use the "O" rings that Sharon suggested but I haven't gotten to the hardware store yet!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tutorial: How To Make a Venetian Mirror in Miniature

In my last post, I shared my struggles with making realistic looking etched miniature mirrors. After more experimenting, this is the best I can come up with. They won't fool anyone up who looks too closely, but they turn surprisingly realistic if you move them a few inches into the room.
 You will need:
small mirror (I used a 1/2" mirror tile)
silver/mirrored paper (the shinier the better)
paper pattern*
x-acto knife and cutting mat
tacky glue
grey marker or paint
white craft paint
small paint brush
cotton swabs
 * My scanner wasn't working, so I couldn't scan in the pattern I made, but you can easily draw your own. The only important thing is to remember that the mirror will need to be glued to the back of  the frame, so you need to keep the opening for the mirror slightly smaller than the size of your mirror.
 1.Glue the frame pattern to the back of the mirrored paper.
2. Use a knife and straight edge to cut out the frame.Begin with the inner portion of the frame.
3.Color the inner edge of the frame grey to hide the white edge of the paper.
4.Continue cutting out the frame.
5.When frame has been cut out, glue to a scrap of thin grey paper.
6.Continue cutting out the decorations, and arrange them around the frame. It is often easier to cut the curves with short straight cuts rather than long curved cuts.
7.When you have cut all the decorations out, glue them around the frame. Leave a tiny space between each piece.
8.Use a thin, sturdy tool to draw designs in the paper. I used the point of my tweezers. These designs will eventually look like they have been "etched" into the mirror. For the most realistic look, lengthen any dots into short dashes.  You can see in the photo above that the border around the inner and outer edges of the frame is made of dashes, rather than dots.
9.Once you have covered the frame with embossed designs, you will need to fill them in with white paint. Mix white craft paint with water to thin it out until it looks like milk.
10.Use the thinned white paint to coat the embossed designs. Make sure the paint gets down in the impressed lines of the design, but keep it away from the edges of the individual mirror pieces.Let the paint dry completely before moving to the next step.
11.Use a cotton swab to gently buff the paint off the mirrored surface, leaving impressed design highlighted in white paint. You may find that a slightly damp cotton swab gets the paint off more easily, but be careful! A damp cotton swab is more likely to strip the paint out of the design.

12.Here, the design has been filled with white paint, and the mirror is buffed clean.  It may be necessary to apply two or three coats of paint in order to fill the entire design..

13.Use your x-acto knife to cut away the grey paper wherever it shows around the frame.
14.Once the grey paper has been trimmed away, glue your mirror to the back of the frame.
15. I forgot to photograph this step, but you should also run a grey marker around the outside of the frame to get rid of the white paper edge.