Friday, 14 June 2013

Work in progress . . .

. . . or it was, about fifteen years ago!

Look what I found!  I'm really delighted, it was such a nice surprise. I think the design is called Persian Garden but when I dug out this mini rug by accident yesterday - from the pine chest where I keep a stash of fabrics and trimmings - there was no pattern with it. Fortunately there's not much of the border left to do and I can follow what's already there. The rug measures 16.5 cm (6.5 in) in length and will be ideal for the sitting room upstairs over the shop. 

This was my first attempt using embroidery silks (floss) instead of 2-ply tapestry wool  (yes, there were actually four more rugs lurking in the chest) however, with exception of the pink rose design below, I confess I don't much care for the others. 

They're stitched on a coarser canvas and seem clumsy by comparison (I was so clearly a novice!). They'll probably end up rolled up and leaning in a corner of Charlie Brennan's secondhand shop.

This (above) was the first and worst. But I can't have been discouraged because I went on and finished two more in wool. I wish I could remember where the patterns came from, I'm sure I didn't work without a guide.

Hmm, orange and green could prove difficult to place.

The Tree of Life is quite cute but possibly a bit folksy for the Brennans. Perhaps it'll go to the lodger. Lodger's rooms are often the last refuge of odd bits and pieces of furniture. 

By the way, the warm glow is due to the fact that I took these shots out of doors under our peachy-coloured sun umbrella.

To help me decide their fate, the mini rugs must be blocked, ie damped and nailed down on a board so that they will dry straight and square, not all cock-eyed and wavy as they are now. I shall do that job over the weekend - finishing the Persian Garden may take a little longer.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

The English Sumer Is Icumen In

And about time too. To celebrate its arrival, and the fact that our gardens are blooming at last, I post this bunch of sweet rocket plus a stem of pink columbine that got caught up with the rest. The scent indoors is both sweet and spicey - delicious!

Beyond this jug of flowers, I'm afraid I have nothing to offer this time, I only dropped by to say hello because it's been a while since I wrote. Some RL paid work has arrived at my desk and I must pay it some attention. As usual in these situations, the mini world suddenly seems even more attractive and one longs to have time to 'play'. 

As things stand, I'll just have to find smaller tasks to do in odd moments - the dolls need wigging and I have several pairs of army boots to make from Fimo.

Meanwhile, enjoy the season, wherever you are.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Cleaning up at the Summer KDF

Once more to Kensington Town Hall on 11 May for the Summer Festival. I went with an expat American friend - expert quiltmaker and all-round needlewoman - who, although a regular attender of the big stitching shows, had never been to a miniaturists' fair before. She was amazed at so much skill and ingenuity and specially delighted to discover the mini florists, inlaid furniture and ceramics.  We had a great time going around the show, I don't think we missed a single stand!

I'd resolved to keep a tight hold on my purse and not give way to too many self-administered treats (I knew it would be impossible to forbid myself completely). I went for this bright red dustpan and brush from Laurence and Angela St Leger because I had nothing made by them already, and I've always loved how they put their own style on the most ordinary household items.
I called in to see Steve Messenger, kit-designer at Sid Cooke's, and took another look at the completed Bon Marché model. I wanted to check the roof opening and also see whether I could alter the chimney height and position. Steve tells me he is taking plenty of orders from the US these days.
After that, my other 'practical ' call was to Wood Supplies (see their catalogue at ) for a neatly packaged boxful of pre-ordered cornices, skirting boards, picture rails etc. Let's hope all my estimates and calculations are correct!

This charming mirror by Tarbena (see will hang in the hallway. It deliberately doesn't go with the wallpaper but reminds us of Charlie Brennan's heyday as an antique dealer. There are quality items like this scattered throughout his house, Charlie gets attached to certain things and 'forgets' to sell them on. 
Not such a glamorous object but vital to the story: I collected a small sink unit for the ground floor kitchenette from Rob Lucas (see At home, I swapped the Belfast sink and drainer supplied by Rob for a shallower Butler-style with ribbed sides that I already had. This small unit with its single cold water tap would have been the one and only when the house was newly built. A larger sink and unit were put in later upstairs, when the big kitchen was created and a hot water geyser installed; and what a wonderful innovation that must have seemed.
 While at World of My Own's stand, my eye fell upon this perfect little meat safe - absolutely identical to the one my grandmother had hanging on the wall outside the back door.
I had to have it for one other nostalgic reason. When my grandparents eventually bought a fridge they didn't need the meat safe any longer and threw it away into a corner of their garage. From where I rescued it, scrubbed it clean and with my grandfather's help - tools, scraps of wood and old pots of gloss paint - converted it into a dolls house that I could keep and play with whenever I visited them. As an avid eleven-year-old reader, I had just devoured Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca so I called my new mansion Manderley . . . what else?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


In my previous post (Newels and nosings, 2 May), I'd decided the stair balustrades were to be painted a deep cream in contrast to the dark oak-stained woodwork of the rest. They are done now and I'm rather pleased with the dowdy effect. The assembled parts are still not finally glued together because first I need to mix some murky-coloured acrylic and wash a layer of grime into the turned bits, to stop them looking too shiny and new.

I know that weathering or ageing certain aspects of our miniatures points to an obsession with mini details but I also know we are not alone. This time, instead of my caboodle, here is a link to two remarkable collectors, Tom Giannini and Linda Gavin. 
Don't miss the prompts 'Click to read more ...' for their fascinating stories.

This weekend is Dolls House Festival time once more at Kensington Town Hall. Good luck to everyone involved! My planned purchases are very down-to-earth and practical, no impulse-buying allowed. But of course, one can never be quite sure . . .       


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Newels and nosings

Before installing the three flights of stairs in this shop/house, I had to decide how to treat the woodwork. Would it be painted or stained and what colours would I use? In the end I chose to copy the type of decoration that we had discovered under various layers of paint in our own RL house.

It's a typical terraced villa built in 1906 - right in the middle of the Edwardian period. When we moved in, it had kept its original stained glass front door, plaster mouldings and brass door knobs. However, it wasn't until we stripped down the window frames, skirting boards etc for repainting that we uncovered the dark brown stain that had been applied to the pine wood in the beginning. Obviously an attempt to convert it to instant ancestral oak!

So, assuming that no one had wanted to change the look of the staircases throughout the twenties and thirties,  this is what I have done to the miniature woodwork, using the same stain as on the floorboards (In at the ground floor, 5 November 2012).

And since I don't want a glossy effect, I have just waxed and polished the 'oak' stained parts to a moderately smooth finish. The balustrades or spindles will all be painted a contrasting shade of deep cream, in a nod to the move that the Edwardians made away from the heavy Victorian style.

Apart from the business of newels and nosings, I've done a little more kit bashing and installed an extra window in the side wall of the lodger's room at the top of the house. The room has a large dormer window but I had a small square frame lying about doing nothing and it seemed a pity to waste it!

It's been fitted high enough to allow furniture to stand underneath because the sloping ceiling doesn't leave very much upright wall space in that room.

Josje's recent post, on the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum, showed some beautiful miniature silverware. Now I certainly don't have anything to match such a marvellous display, but it reminded me that I have collected a few pieces in the past (when I could afford them!).

The lovely monteith bowl is by Ken Palmer, one day I may get some little glass cups to hang round the rim. The pair of serving spoons is by Jens Torp. The minute salt cellar and even tinier salt spoon are the work of Mike Sparrow. The candlesticks, wine cooler and cake basket are from the Royal Tunbridge Wells Miniatures collection issued during the mid-1990s.


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hall, stairs and landing(s)

The toughest decorating job in any house is papering and painting the hall, stairs and landings, so in the case of Bon Marché, I'm glad to get it out of the way early. I don't have any choice to be honest because all three staircases run sideways up the back wall and I can't progress until they are in position and the wallpaper must go on first!

As I mentioned in my last post (Measure twice . . . 2 April), the wallpaper design was printed from a CD. Inkjet inks are water soluble so I couldn't use ordinary wallpaper paste and I'm having to trust to spray mounting the A4 paper directly onto the MDF and smoothing it down firmly with a clean soft cloth (synthetic fleece is ideal). With the paper held top and bottom by mouldings and skirting boards not to mention the stairs themselves, I'm hoping things should stick OK. But if any peeling does occur, the old shop/house is not meant to be in perfect repair and it won't really matter!

This shows the wallpaper following the line of the first flight of stairs. The area behind the stairs is Charlie Brennan's kitchenette at the back of the shop, and here I'm also trying out the position of the sink and draining board. Above the sink there'll be a dummy window. I might also install a false door down to the (imaginary) cellar if space allows.

The caboodle theme is sculptural this time. 

Remember that Charlie's shop specialized in antiques and curios before the war, which accounts for anything and everything gathered together here, from a statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, a suit of armour, the figurehead from the good ship Centurion and the gilded Virgin and Child from a baroque crib, to various other bits and pieces (probably destined to stand gathering moss out in Frankie's yard if there's no room indoors).


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Measure twice . . .

Our clocks have just gone forward one hour for British Summer Time but that signifies nothing this year, we are still waking to frosty rooftops and a cutting east wind that won't drop. However, when I might otherwise have been outside gardening, I've stayed in the warm working on the shop/house Bon Marché.

After deciding to swap and relocate the internal walls between Floors 2 and 3 (Having a bash, 14 March 2013) I've pencilled all the new positions on Floor 2 - several times over as it happened, because I was forced to pin my vague visualizations down to physical reality and precise measurements! 
At the bottom of the second flight of stairs, I've created a concealed space for the lighting switchboard, the SWP power controller, (see Kensington Christmas Festival, 29 November 2012) which I shall mount on the back of the dummy door to the living room.

The dummy door has no hinges, instead it will lift out completely for access to wiring and switches, via the narrow opening panel on the left of the house. A hole drilled in the rear wall will allow the jack plug to feed through from the regulated dc power supply. As you can see, this particular board has a convenient socket for the jack, which saves any more faffing about with connecting wires - hooray.

Two tiny holes drilled in the centre of Floor 2 mark the positions of my first ceiling lights, in the shop area below. These are the elegant double-armed models bought from Ray Storey last November. And I've papered the shop ceiling as well, using a remnant of Lincrusta from our own RL decorating. 

After threading them through to the floor above, each pair of wires is firmly taped in position, ready for connection to the board. I think I am slowly becoming a real electrican!

The lights fit neatly against the ceiling. The carcase lies on its side as I work on it, but when it's turned upright, the chain switches will of course hang vertically. 
I've always found the use of full-scale wallpapers quite attractive when looking into antique dolls houses, and I'm keen to try the effect in my own. I think of it as the Picasso trick because it plays ambiguously with proportions, space and distance.

I found a book and CD of fabric designs in a museum shop and printed enough copies of this late-Victorian iris pattern to cover the staircase wall. Its large scale will be scarcely visible except through balusters and open doorways so we shall only get occasional glimpses. 

The caboodle this time is a wooden dresser destined for the kitchen next to the living room on Floor 2. It's a much-altered ebay purchase with the varnish sanded off and ball feet removed so the cupboard is flush to the floor. The shelf sides were cut back to give a larger work surface and the door and drawer handles replaced by white 'china' knobs - actually map pins, glued in with the points safely snipped off inside. When I saw how nice the plain wood looked I abandoned the idea of shabby painting the dresser. Instead I'll use a dab of shoe polish to match the kitchen table top. 



Saturday, 23 March 2013

A post about a beam

This week I finally decided to add rafters and a ridge beam to the loft space.

This is how the sloping roof interior was left after the initial paint job. Since then, I've built a water tank and put together a collection of old toys, and there's a hidden box of letters yet to come. Now that the loft has become more interesting, I realize the background should be more detailed too.

So I took a number of flat wooden strips 7 mm [1/4 in] wide, (the same as I used for the floor joists) and dirtied them down with dilute grey watercolour paint. I did the same with a length of square section wood for the ridge beam. 

I cut the flat strips into lots of short pieces and stuck them with PVA onto the dark painted areas in pairs at regular intervals, cleaning off the excess glue as I went.

Here's a view inside the apex at this stage, already far more realistic (compare it with Not much room at the top, 19 December 2012).

Working on the half of the roof that will be permanently attached to the rear wall, I fitted the ridge beam into the space allowed at the top ends of the rafters, then I filled in the hinges with shorter pieces cut to size. The loft floor will cover the lower ends and neaten the paint line. The gable ends were left clear so that the hinged section will open and close OK. 

And now I shall reward myself by making up the box of secret letters! 


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Having another bash

Wrapping tape around the waist of Bon Marché hints at some serious work ahead, and it is. For a start, it takes two people to assemble the main panels enclosing the ground floor. They are pretty heavy and about a metre in height - we have the makings of a Laurel and Hardy episode until everything is secured. A tolerant family member or friend is absolutely essential at such times!

Already sanded and primed, the largest sections are checked against one another. The rear wall of Bon Marché is MDF and the sides and front (which I've already covered) are of plywood. Because of their different manufacture, MDF and ply are not guaranteed to remain dimensionally stable in relation to each other, something I discovered as we got on to the next stage.

After laying the back and right-hand wall panels horizontally, at right-angles to each other, we began to prepare the floor sections for final fitting and gluing (but not actually gluing because the decorating is still to be done). 

Like the rear wall, the floors are cut from MDF and their tabs fitted the slots on the back without any difficulty. However, the slots in the plywood side were too narrow - only by something less than 0.5 mm - yet just enough to resist the necessary snug fit. The plywood had shrunk while the MDF had not, but it could be remedied by shaving the ply down one side of each slot with a sharp Stanley knife (an ordinary craft knife or scalpel blade would not be strong enough).

In the end, all the floors were pressed firmly in place and squared up.

Keeping the carcase on its back, I experimented again with swapping interior walls between Floors 2 and 3 (SeeThink electric, 19 October 2012). Fortunately the height of the rooms is the same on both floors.The result of the swap is a full-depth living room on Floor 2, visible through the side opening in the left-hand wall (see first photo). And each bedroom on Floor 3 gets its own door. Win-win! 

First, I took the walls from Floor 3 to Floor 2 where I plan to have a kitchen next to the living room. The smaller room was too narrow and I have moved the party wall a little over to the left so that the kitchen is now big enough for Charlie and Frankie to eat in, as well as cook. It will also be separated from the stairs and landing by a half-glazed partition,  a very common solution in those days to making extra room space in old houses.

And this is the living room viewed from the side. I'll block up the old connecting doorway with a chimney breast and fireplace. The new door onto the landing gives access round from the kitchen and also up the next flight of stairs to the bedrooms. 

Up on Floor 3 I had the same problem with the smaller room being too narrow (beds take up a surprisingly  large area, I find). So here too, I've moved the party wall and made enough space for a wardrobe.

This shot shows I've kept the dividing walls in a vertical line. By the way I hope you'll excuse the rather crooked, fuzzy photos, they were taken sans tripod from the top of a small step ladder. The house was lying on its back and the interior walls were propped up on Lego bricks. It was an all-round balancing trick!

Here's some 'new' vintage caboodle to finish with:

I'm so pleased with the F.G.T & Sons  gas fire, I've been chasing one for ages and to get the pale blue version is a real bonus. This is ideal for the lodger's room, now I'll have to make a coin-in-the-slot meter to go with it. The bread bin and slop pail aren't vintage, they're just awaiting 'the treatment'. 


Friday, 22 February 2013

Oh, what a tangled web . . .

The box of toys has finally been assembled for the loft, including the mini baby doll I had mislaid earlier. Rather than blow dust over the arrangement, I wanted to try the cobwebbed effect. It seemed logical to use genuine spiders' webs and so I set out for a prime source - the festoons hanging inside the windows of our garden shed. 

I made a loop of wire and harvested what I thought would be enough, keeping a wary eye open for any spidery movements. Not that I'm particularly scared of them but I am very allergic to being bitten (don't let anyone tell you we have no venomous spiders in the UK, I was sensitized by a harmless-looking little number that crawled out of a bag of grapes).

The initial problem was carrying the web material back up to the house in a keen easterly wind. Of course, it promptly wrapped itself around the wire. Once indoors I had to tease the stuff apart  in order to spread it over the toys. I was surprised it didn't disintegrate, quite the contrary, it's really tough and has a lot of stretchability. 

The snag is that web silk is designed to stick to any living thing that isn't a spider, so half of it kept coming away with my fingers. And it was so strong that I found I couldn't break off the unwanted bits without dislodging the toys. It was definitely one of those frustrating times when you think 'only a miniaturist would even contemplate this!'

So here's the result. It's only an experiment, I could try teased-out cotton wool instead. Or perhaps I'll just leave the toybox down in the shed for a few weeks and let the spiders deal with it all by themselves.


Sunday, 10 February 2013

Has Spring come early?

Something like a spring clean began in our real house this weekend. I decided that all the old magazines I've kept for about ten years must go for recycling. I hadn't looked at them for ages and they were only gathering dust in a set of very nice wooden file boxes that I can put to better use. Result: the mags are now in the hallway awaiting the weekly paper collection - a heap of magazines on antiques, interior design and some on gardening too. 

But of course, I didn't dump them before tearing out any pictures or articles that could be useful while building and furnishing the Bon Marché shop/house. Second result: I now have a very respectable looseleaf file of references, stored in punched pockets (salvaged from a finished writing project - double halo!). 

In the course of the clear-out, I came across two very old miniaturist magazines from 1995. I've kept them because they are small (A5) and no longer in production. Does anyone have fond memories of The Home Miniaturist? Packed into its neat format were loads of practical articles and projects. 

One article in particular caught my eye, called Miniatures via Internet, it started with the sentence:
 I'm sure most of our readers will have heard of the Internet, but lots I am sure will not know what it actually is, how one could get into it and for what purpose. 

The author, Lorna Payne went on to describe getting help from a miniaturist friend to:
use my PC as a means of communicating with friends around the world  
and how, through the US dial-up system that she signed on to:
it is possible to join various forums for every hobby . . . The system works by the members sending messages on their computers to others of like mind . . . It is even possible to converse by tapping in your message which is immediately transmitted to the person with whom you are in contact, they reply and the message comes up on your computer.

After becoming familiar with exchanging information around the world, Lorna set up what must have been one of the earliest internet forums for miniaturists. Rather disappointingly, she had little response from the UK at first:
I am sure this is because we in this country are not yet into regularly using computers as part of our everyday life . . . it is an incredible way of communicating and making friends . . . of great enjoyment to those who are unable for any reason to get out and about to do so.

Lorna's vision is commonplace now and we've all come far since 1995. We take such a lot of our social networking for granted that it's easy to forget what a mystery the 'Internet'  was to everybody at one time, and Lorna's vintage article certainly took me back with its 'brave new world' approach. 

Lorna Payne currently teaches miniaturist classes for all skill levels in her workshop in Yorkshire and here's the link


Saturday, 2 February 2013

A riveting tale

This post is about how I built a water tank to go in the loft of Bon Marché. The loft height of the shop/house is limited, so -  just as I had 'pretended' the floor joists with flat strips of wood (see Not much room at the top, 19 December 2012) - I had to make the tank only half as tall as it would have been if true to scale. Nevertheless I felt I could manage to create a convincing enough big metal box .

I rummaged through the keep-it-in-case clutter that accumulates around all dedicated miniaturists, and fished out a small cardboard box. It was the right height but I needed to cut down the width so it would fit sideways between the loft hatch and the house wall. It didn't matter what the alteration looked like because I'd had the bright idea of wrapping the whole thing in thick foil cut from the bottom of a food container - the sort used for frozen ready meals or take-aways.

I folded and trimmed the foil, deliberately making overlapping flaps at the corners. 

These were a vital part of my next bright idea . . . rivets! In two neat(ish) lines, I pushed ordinary dressmaker's pins right through the foil and cardboard until only the heads were showing. The inner box helped hold the pins firmly and I could leave them full length inside without bothering to secure them. 

Out of one side of the food container I made a sliding lid, and included the rolled edge of the container for a neat front lip.

So far so good. Yet obviously, nothing would stay clean and shiny in a real attic. I had some Japlac metallic paint to tone down the brightness of the aluminium but I wanted this water tank to have become quite rusty as well. A regular task for Frankie Brennan is checking the wretched thing for leaks - they do happen, you only have to look at the ceiling below, (see again Not much room at the top).

On offcuts of foil, I tried out various red-browns from our ancient collection of Humbrol enamels - leaving them overnight with a note of kindly advice to the unwary! Next day, matt no. 62 offered the best imitation rust. 

By the way, some welcome news for modellers and miniaturists: Humbrol have moved their paint manufacture back to the UK from China. During recent years customers have reported  problems with colour matching, covering power, drying times, and consistency. Let's hope Humbrol's homecoming brings a revival of their quality and reliability.

Back to the water tank -  I began with two coats of steel-coloured Japlac. As its name suggests, Japlac provides a high-gloss, lacquer finish, not really what I wanted. So when it was almost dry but still tacky, I pressed sandpaper into the surface. Then, wearing vinyl gloves, I worked the paint firmly all over with my finger tips until it had dulled down quite a lot more. 

Painting the rust was the fun part. I didn't stir the brown enamel too thoroughly because some of the surface oil served as a light wash for a hint of rust, especially on the tank lid. In other parts I laid the paint on more thickly where the rust had bitten deeper.

To finish, I sprayed the box with Ghiant's matt ink-jet fixative, which is very useful for misting over things.

And now, a word of caution: using aluminium foil means any paint you apply is not keyed to a reliable base. This tank is OK because I'll stick it to the loft floor, where it won't be moved about or handled. And the 'rust' is a handy excuse for concealing future knocks or scratches with extra blobs of no. 62. Otherwise I'd recommend making the basic 'metal' model from ordinary cardboard where paint can soak in and prime the surface for subsequent layers.

Finally, I got round to painting the little wooden horse for the box of toys - not too carefully because I feel he should look homemade. He just needs a black cotton tail, perhaps a tiny red saddle, and he's done.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Forgotten toys

The final week of January in the UK doesn't find many of us bursting with energy. Daylight hours are so short it can seem hardly worth starting anything before darkness falls again. And after the initial pleasure of looking out on a soft white world, the snow soon loses its charm - in town at any rate - and turns into a slippery nuisance.

Feeling quite 'January' myself, I thought I would go for a nice easy job such as putting together the box of abandoned toys to go up in the loft space. 

Well, you know what it's like, reviewing your stash and trying to assemble a specific part of it. It always takes far longer than you imagine because things have migrated to different drawers, boxes and bags, and some have mysteriously vanished altogether. I was surprised at how many toys I had managed to collect over the years, not only bought but also homemade ones and swaps with friends, some even came out of Xmas crackers (like the skittles and the racing car). 

I finally put together a selection of possibilities, although I haven't quite made the final choice yet.

Because the toys that I choose will need to look dusty and cobwebby, I don't think I want to distress the little white lamb that my daughter made for me, nor do I want to risk spoiling the china kitten in the gingham dress. I received her years ago from Sue Atkinson of Sunday Dolls, when our mini-stationery business designed and made a range of tiny display boxes for her dolls house dolls' dolls! 

I think the mini dolls house, the golly and the funny lopsided teddy (also made by my daughter) will form the basis of the forgotten toy group. The charmingly detailed house (50 x 50 x 32 mm) is actually a box when you lift the roof off. It's made of coloured straw, from China of course. Wooden Mr Noah is genuinely worn already, it would be great if I can paint and age the horse on wheels to match him.

Look, I've found an old cardboard box, which I'm going to cut down a bit - so really there's no reason for me to delay any longer, is there? 

Watch this space . . .