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.