Thursday, December 31, 2009

MIniature embroidery

After I finished the big jousting tapestry my fingers still seemed a bit itchy, so I stitched up a small vertical piece designed to be hung between windows.

This Tudor pattern comes from Sandra Whitehead's book Celtic, medieval and Tudor wallhangings in 1/12 scale needlepoint.  I worked it over three and a half days, which made a pleasant change from working on something that took 2 and a half months :)  I changed a few colours and stitched it on 26 count linen with two strands of cotton floss.

Here's Whitehead's version:

It now has a home between the two windows on the main floor of the tower:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Tower, update

Here's what the Tower is looking like right now. 

The main floor is right where it was a few weeks ago, with the addition of a light between the two windows (I installed that for our Christmas At-Home party on Dec. 20).

The first floor, the Library, has its floor installed, the walls stained and the stairway, railing and bookshelves roughed in.  I have to install the panelling and glue everything together, but it's coming along.  The floor looks great -- Eva scored it with a pen to mark out the wide, uneven floor boards, and then we stained it.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas from the Tudor/Medieval Dolls Castle!

The kids and I decorated the Great Hall for the holidays, and here's what it looks like:

Tiddles hung the garlands (made from lengths of artificial amaranthus sprays from Michaels and clusters of small red seed beads) using Museum Putty.

The minstrel's gallery features a lute (bought via eBay) and a lovely viol da gamba (made by Fred, who's studying violin).  There's also an anachronistic Christmas tree :)

Fred also made the bowl of wassail on the table, next to Tiddles's boar head!  The table runner is a length of fancy trim bought at Designer Fabric in Toronto.

I made a roasting suckling pig on a spit, with andirons, a brick hearth and a drip tray, all created from polymer clay according to the directions in Sue Creaser's amazing book Food displays.

The court cupboard is groaning with treasures:

And last, but not least, I finished my immense embroidered tapestry of two knights jousting today!  I'm SO happy to have this finished -- I've been working on it since mid-October!

A Happy Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The authentic Tudor and Stuart dolls' house

My copy of Brian Long's book, The authentic Tudor & Stuart doll's house, just arrived in the Christmas Eve post, and what a marvellous Christmas present it is!

While there are super projects in this volume, it is principally for inspiration and reference, giving authentic examples of real Tudor and Stuart details of nearly every part of a house, inside and out.

Certainly the most detailed and in-depth book I have on the subject, and I recommend it highly to all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Medieval tile floor finished

One of the most absorbing aspects of this project, besides the hand work required, which I enjoy, is the research needed to come up with a miniature and theatrical version of a medieval dollhouse castle being lived in by early Tudor-era people.

Learning about medieval flooring has been a real pleasure, and I'm terribly happy that my miniature tile floor is all finished.

Overall, I'm pleased with the effect, particularly from a distance.  Close up, one can tell that the owners of this castle hired blind apprentice tile makers back in the 12th century :)

I think I'll make that part of the story ...

The yellow ochre glaze I used really helped to tie things together.  Then I used a burnt umber glaze to pick out some of the tiles and to muddy things up a bit in general.

There's no grout.  There perhaps should be -- some of the gaps are pretty big!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Miniature medieval tile floor

Before I put in the first floor of the Tower, I need to finish the flooring below.

At first I planned to put in a  black and white chequered floor, made from peel and stick tiles.

But after sketching it out, I decided it didn't look period enough, so I went in search of possible flooring options for 12 century English buildings.

I came up with encaustic tiles.

These tiles were made all over England from the 12th to the 16th centuries.  The word "encaustic" comes from the Greek, meaning "to burn in" (hence its relation to encaustic painting, where the pigment and beeswax combination are melted onto the canvas).  The raw clay tile was  stamped with a wide variety of patterns and the impress was filled with a white clay slip.  The whole was then fired and glazed with a characteristic yellow glossy finish. Each tile was typically about 6" square.

I've decided to make mine out of polymer clay.  In scale they will each be about .5" square.  I need over 600 of these little suckers.

For my first batch I made up my own terra cotta colour from brown, white and red clay.  Then I discovered the "pottery" colour of Sculpey clay, which is just perfect for these!  That's fine, I like some variation in the base colour, which I think will improve the effect.  Detail always does.

I tried a number of techniques to make the tiles:  I rolled out flat sheets of clay and then baked them, and used a guillotine to cut half inch strips, then cut the half inch square tiles.  This was VERY slow and quite wasteful of clay!

A much faster way is to roll out the clay, and then cut out strips and the individual tiles using scissors.  This is surprisingly easy, especially when one's eye becomes accustomed to estimating the correct size.  It's also easy to pull out all the tiles that are obviously the wrong size or askew, before they've been baked, and just junk them back into clay, thus reducing waste.

To mimic the white slip pattern, I used a small paintbrush and thinned acrylic paint for the first batch, which worked out okay.  The second batch I used a Gelly Roll pen in white, and this gave me much more control over the detail in the tiles.  For the finished floor I'll mix the painted and "penned" tiles up, but another time I'd just start in with the pen.

I'm not trying to make a particular pattern on the floor, so I'm using just about every design I can find for these tiles, and mixing them up.

Some of the floors include tiles in a darker colour, what looks like a very dark blue, but is probably black.  I'm making some dark blue tiles to break up the mass of terracotta coloured tiles, and I'll play with the layout to see whether I want to put these in a band around the room or just mix them in with the clay coloured ones.  I mixed the basic Sculpey blue 4:1 with black to get a dark blue.

Here are some of my tiles:

Friday, December 11, 2009

"The boar's head in hand bear I, bedecked with bays and rosemary!"

Yesterday the kids and I worked on the castle a little bit, among other activities.  Tiddles decided to tackle the Boar's head on her own.  She worked from the basic description in Sue Heaser's wonderful how-to book "Food displays", part of the  Dollshouse Do-It-Yourself series.

Tiddles used the instructions in Heaser's book as her jumping-off point, but was gently critical of the way Heaser's boar's ears looked.  Tiddles knows a lot about pigs, as she's been taking care of her farm's pet pig, Griselda, from the time Griselda was taken in as a runt to be hand reared.

At the end we decided to add tusks, to make the boar look more fearsome -- I mixed the clay from half white and half translucent, and Tiddles arranged the tusks in just the right place.

Tiddles, by the way, is 9 years old :)

I just need to varnish the parts that should be shiny, and it'll be perfect!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

To do list before Christmas

Instead of decorating our real house this Christmas, we're going to decorate the Great Hall of the dolls castle in Tudor style! To that end I want to:

  1. make boar's head out of polymer clay
  2. prepare Yule log
  3. finish and glaze windows
  4. finish dolls
  5. finish tapestry 
  6. trim room with greenery

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dollhouse tapestry so far

Back in October I started to teach myself to do needlepoint, using Sandra Whitehead's book Celtic, medieval and Tudor wall hangings in 1/12 scale needlepoint.  The kids and I have since been involved with various projects, and this is the one I've been working on since the middle of October:

(I've had it stretched on a few types of frames, so it's a bit skew-whiff :) I'll have a lot of blocking to do when it's finished!)  It's based on one of Whitehead's very attractive counted patterns, is done in stem stitch on 22 ct canvas, and I've added a few elements.  In the original the background is solid cream colour stitching -- I've replaced that with sky and grass using a combination of solid and ombre floss.  I also made the red knight's shield more obvious and added plumes to each knight's helmet.  I've still got a lot of stitching to do, but when it's done, it will probably hang in the Great Hall (since it's too big for any other room we have so far :)

 This is a photo of the original, from Whitehead's site:

I'll add some photos of the kids' stitching as soon as I can -- they've done amazing work.  Very neat indeed!

Tudor Windowpane Tutorial

I bought some inexpensive windows from Little Dollhouse Company back in October -- they had removable acrylic glazing, but it as pretty bland and rectangular.

Although the Tudors did use small rectangular panes of glass in some of their windows, diamond panes are more characteristic of the style, so I decided that my castle inhabitants had redone the windows in the Tower in contemporary (Tudor) style.

Here you can see the window I bought -- lower right.  I cut a new pane out of a clear plastic sheet (.030" thick) I bought at my local radio controlled aircraft modelling shop.  Then I applied 1/16" black pinstriping I bought at the same model shop -- a relatively pain-free way to add leading to a plain window pane.

The end result looks pretty good, I think!  I will paint the frames a stone colour to go with the walls.  (I realize that the side I've got showing inside is meant to go outside, but I like the sills, so I'm doing it backwards -- I'll add some bland molding on the outside of the castle to tidy things up there.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Faux stone blocks in Tower 1

Today I did the first roughing-in of the stone blocks on the ground floor of the First Tower.

I painted the walls of the room a medium grey.

Then I used a few glazes of darker grey, lighter grey and a warmer tone (raw umber) overtop of the medium to give me a stone texture.

Then I painted the grout lines of the blocks freehand.  I now need to go over individual blocks more and make them tidier and more varied in colour.

Here's the result so far:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First Tower Construction (continued)

Today we assembled the first Tower and I built the ground floor stairway.  First of all David and I glued and pinned the three walls to the base (using wood glue and an air nailer).

Because it's easier to build from the ground up, we left off the interior floors.  Now the first order of business is to construct the stairs from the ground floor to the first floor.

First step:  use wooden blocks to make the stairs and first landing (this was a bit like making stairs as a kid from a set of wooden shapes :) I had cut these shapes out downstairs in the workshop ahead of time, and just brought everything upstairs to assemble.  Everything is pine.

Second step:  glue in the staircase:  I'm using a standard, easily-available narrow, steep, open staircase, which I'll stain dark brown.  My idea is that the stairs to the first landing (as shown above) are stone, the next flight is wood.  I had to cut the top step off, but it fits quite well and takes up very little space.  You can see the member I put in to support the first floor, and the notch I put in it for the wall of the stairwell.

Then I glued in the walls of the stairwell to enclose it.

Here is the room so far:

And a close up of the stairs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Standing desk, lectern, book stand

One of the pieces I want for the Library is a lectern or standing desk.  I built one today, using some new tools I've acquired :)

The top tool is an Easy Cutter Ultimate, perfect for cutting strip wood, and with a built in mitre box for a variety of angles.  VERY useful!

Then there's a lovely Razor Saw David got me from Lee Valley Tools yesterday.  Thanks, darling!

First of all I cut the sides from boxwood, and the bottom and back from balsa. The angle turned out to be about 60 degrees.  It could certainly have been less steep :)

I added a bass wood top and for the fiddle at the bottom (the part that stops the book from sliding off) I used some gorgeous 1/12 scale laser-cut gingerbread.

I made a stand from square balsa stock and popsicle sticks -- here's one of the two supports gluing up in my jig.  I may make a prettier stand later, but this will do for now.

Here's the stand before sanding and finishing:  I added some trim around the sides and drilled some decorative holes.

And here it is with the book I want to display on it -- Les tres riches heures

And here's the finished lectern, painted and varnished, posed next to some of our books :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Making the first Tower

This morning David cut out the basic plywood pieces for the First Tower, the one that will house the Throne Room, Library and Guest Bedroom.

As for the Great Hall, we used 3/8" good-one-side plywood.  The base is 15" wide by 12" deep and the tower will be 34" tall.

Now I have to mark the locations of windows and doors before we can assemble it!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Court Cupboard

I got a shipment of little turnings and settled down to build an open court cupboard for displaying pewter and silver in the Great Hall.

This sort of piece was my inspiration:

Again, I was improvising and didn't take photographs, but this was my general method:

I cut the shelves out of basswood -- three shelves, each measuring about 4" by 1.5".

I drilled out holes for the tenons on the turnings.  I used four turnings for the front supports, and four plain pieces of strip wood for the back supports.

I assembled the shelves and supports, gluing and weighing things down.  (I hate waiting until the glue sets!)

I glued the plain wooden friezes on the fronts and sides.

I would like to learn how to carve, but until I do that, I decided to try my old friend, polymer clay, to give this piece the detail a court cupboard really needs.  I rolled out some thickish strips, cut them to width and length and embossed them with a jewellery finding.  After they were baked, I glued them onto the friezes.

The cupboard was a little low (I wanted it to be about 6" tall, it was more like 4" :))  so I made some longish feet to boost the thing up a little.  I made the feet from chunks of balsa wood with balls glued on the bottom.  The finished height is about 5.5".

Then I painted the whole thing with a darker shade of burnt umber (added some black) and washed some raw umber and black over it to bring out the "carving".   I varnished it, and I'm very pleased with the end result (although my photo could be better).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Current photos of Great Hall

This morning I decided to take a few photos of the pieces we've made recently and of the Great Hall in general.

First up, here's one of the early dolls I've made from polymer clay -- she's actually my first doll -- sitting on our new settle in front of the fireplace I worked on yesterday.  The settle is from an eBay seller. Above her head you can see the brass double candle sconce I painted black.  The rug on the wall I also bought from an eBay seller -- I'm very pleased with it.  The enormous cat's name is Ralph Roister Doister, after one of our cats, whom he greatly resembles.

Here's a complete view of the Great Hall as it looked this morning.  The minstrel's gallery to the left hasn't been glued in place -- we're still working out how the little inhabitants of the castle are going to get to it :)  My husband rejected the stairs I had worked out as unrealistic, so we now think we'll cut a door to it from the library which will be next door in the Tower.

(Am I nuts, or do other people turn on the lights in their dollhouses or roomboxes nearly every day and just gaze with profound satisfaction at the tiny world they're creating?)

Looking at the photo I realize that we really have to deal with those windows -- we haven't figured out the best way to divide them or frame them or anything, so for the moment they're just big ugly holes.

Here's the table, groaning with the books the kids and I made last week.

It's amazing what scraps of leather, pieces of balsa wood and gold paint can do, eh?  This is a very good craft to do with children --even very young ones can produce satisfying results, although you'd have to watch them with craft knives.  If you cut the scraps of balsa wood for them, thin leather can be easily cut with scissors, though.  (The children making these books were 9, 12 and 15).  If you get the grain of the balsa wood going the right way, it looks very like pages when it's been gilded.  If you get it the wrong way (as I did, nearly every time) you just shelve them and hope for the best!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Library Fireplace, day one

The next section of the dolls castle we're going to work on is the first Tower, the one that houses the Throne Room, the Library and the Guest Bedroom.  It's to the left of the Great Hall.

In preparation for that, I'm working on the fireplace that will go in the Library.  It's a basic, prebuilt Jamestown fireplace, chosen because it's reminiscent of a Tudor limestone fireplace (it's almost, but not quite, got the Tudor arch :)

To make it look more authentic, I want to line the firebox with herringbone brick and add a fireback.  My inspiration includes this wonderful, REAL minature limestone fireplace by UK artisan Gavin Poyner:

I recently bought a selection of Malcolm's Miniatures' brick impress molds from Silly Sisters in the Netherlands.  The instructions suggest using air dry clay, which I'd use if I were doing a floor or a wall (I want a brick floor in the castle kitchen, for example).  But I just couldn't see using air dry clay in the rather restricted confines of the firebox.

Polymer clay to the rescue!  I made a paper pattern (see photo above) of the three surfaces I have to cover in the fireplace, rolled out some scrap clay (a particularly virulent yellow) in my pasta machine, cut out the pieces of clay using the pattern and used the mold on them.  (The white you see is baby powder -- first of all on the tile I bake my clay on, to keep the thin sheets of clay from sticking, and secondly to dip my mold into, to keep the mold from sticking to the clay).

Voila!  This works brilliantly -- the pieces of baked clay are stable enough that I could try them in the fireplace for fit and thin enough that I was able to further trim them to size using an ordinary pair of scissors.

I then painted them grey (for grout -- I could have saved this step if I'd made them in grey clay to begin with :). 

Here they are, being worked on for the first layer of colour.  I'm using cadmium red medium, raw sienna, black and burnt umber in various combinations.

This was my first use of the impress molds, and it's far from perfect.  I didn't use even pressure, so some of the grout lines are fainter and less impressed than others. I forgot to stipple or texture the clay after impressing it.   I also messed up the pattern a little :)  Still, for all my faults, I have to say the results are pretty darned good -- well worth the 7 euros for the mold -- and relatively idiot-proof.  Thank you, Malcolm's Miniatures!

This is a close up of the first layer of colour.  I picked out a few bricks in raw sienna, then applied a base coat of red and umber to the other bricks -- the base coat was put on rather "dry", so as to keep it out of the grout lines.  I've drawn in some of the grout with a thinner wash, to make the bricks clearer.  I will clean things up on the next pass, and add some more character and age.

So here it is with the brickwork more or less finished, and the panels in place but not yet glued down.  I've very happy with the brick impress mold and love the contrast between the warm brick and the pale "limestone" finish of the mantel.

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