Preparing for the overhaul...

Monday, June 27, 2011

For Gayle in Maine

Gayle in Maine asks,

"What material did you use for the pargeting ? I am also curious, what size lumber you are using for the exterior half-timbering ?  I am quite new in miniature construction, and very anxious to learn ! I am absolutely thrilled with the idea of a historically accurate building (as much as feasible), rather than just another kit dollhouse."


First, welcome!!!  I've been making minis since I was six, and I'm still learning.  It's a really fun hobby, and one that grows with you.  Because you're always expanding your skills, and building on existing skills, it never gets dull.

For building materials, my go-to sources are and, believe it or not, Michael's.  Yes, the craft store.  All of my half timbering is regular old basswood.  At any given time, I have several hundred different strips, moldings, and sheets lying around waiting to be used.  I also like to keep an eye out for things that could be used in mini making, but that aren't necessarily advertised as such: interesting paint, wallpaper, jewelry findings, etc.

For the pargeting I used...wallpaper!  No, I'm not kidding.  I'm always on the hunt for really good wallpaper remnants.  The specific paper I used there was this horrid metallic gold vinyl paper.  Yes, really.  I sealed it with a couple coats of white gesso before applying a final layer of off-white paint.

The specific wood I used for the half timbering on Nonesuch House was 3/8" x 1/8" strips.  I'm very fond of this size, as it's standard, easy to find (you can buy it in bulk from, and looks good.  The carved posts were actually Houseworks veranda posts that I cut in half lengthwise and glued onto wood strips.  For those strips, I actually glued the veranda halves onto slightly larger pieces of wood, and then trimmed out the composite piece on my table saw so everything would match.  I really enjoy using pre-turned pieces in my projects, and have achieved some interesting effects.

Speaking of table saws, a good, affordable starter saw is the PREAC table saw.  You used to be able to buy this saw from Smaller Than Life, but now the Boorums sell a new saw, the PROXXON table saw.  Their new package is quite a bit more expensive than their old package, but I'd still recommend springing for it if you can.  The Boorums make all the jigs, etc themselves, and they're extremely high quality.  Plus, they're very helpful in the customer service department.

The techniques in my tutorial on dollhouse floors also work for half timbering--and, indeed, are the same techniques I use.  I also really enjoy aging wood with a wire brush and some India ink.  This is how I make my really "dirty" pieces.  First, I scrub my finished piece with a wire brush to age it.  Then, I add a few drops of India ink to some water (the more ink, the darker the finish), apply it with a brush, and wipe it off with a rag.  The best advice I have, though, when it comes to finishing is: experiment!  There's really no "wrong" way to finish or age something.  In real life, every house is different.

When it comes to building historically accurate buildings, I like to kit bash.  There's a post about bashing my Tudor Bakery here.  I get my inspiration from real life: I love looking at pictures of medieval, tudor, and colonial houses in books, online, and in real life.  I'm not really into exact reproductions; rather, I try to capture specific features and themes that I like.

Gayle, I hope this helps, and please feel free to ask any additional questions you may have!

Happy mini making,


Making (That Other) Medieval Bed

It's a common misconception that medieval furniture is all heavy beams and dark wood.  In actual fact, many pieces were brightly colored and patterned.  We know this from surviving examples, as well as numerous woodcuts.

This chest is a modern (full-sized) reproduction of a classic medieval design.  Painted inset panels were very common, and varied a great deal.  Depending on the artist's location and individual tastes, you might get anything from biblical scenes to geometric patterns.

Pieces like this--and less intricate copies--began appearing during the late middle ages.

And hey, let's face it: all that dark wood gets boring after awhile.  The real middle ages were a fairly dark and gloomy time; people tried to inject a little color into their lives whenever they could.  Your dolls' tastes are probably no different.  Moreover, unlike today, paint was expensive.  Using it in your house was a mark of status.  Bright colors like blue and purple were made from rare natural materials.  The wealthier the owner, generally, the brighter his house.

I made this bed out of bass strips and Houseworks newel posts, then I started painting it green.

Here's a closeup.

I'm still at a loss for how to come up with some bedding.  A seamstress I ain't.  Anyone have any ideas?

I painted the entire bed green, leaving the panels blank.  Green is a good middle and upper middle class color, because green paint was made with readily available materials.  Unlike purple, which was made from rare murex shells--and, therefore, protected by sumptuary laws--green was available to nearly everybody.  Since Roman times, people mixed their own green paint using crushed parsley, sap, or various berries.

The next issue is the inset panels.  While some brave souls prefer to paint their own designs, I don't.  My principal concern is one of scale: even the tiniest brushstrokes are HUGE in dollhouse person scale.  Pre-printed designs provide a level of detail that's very, very tough to reproduce freehand.  When I do use my own designs, I tend to paint them, if not full-sized, then quite a bit larger than 1:12 scale, copy them, and shrink them.

These panels are cut from Brodnax wallpaper.  Les Chinoiseries also has some wonderful designs, which are adaptable for these types of projects.  Especially useful are their murals, from which you can cut some lovely "slice of life" scenes.

So far, so good...

The finished product.

You can touch up any exposed white bits with the appropriate color paint.

But seriously...bedding, anyone?

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Where I've Been


Yes, it's been awhile since my last post.  I've been dealing with some health issues, as well as some career transitions.  I've had a lot on my plate, and there hasn't been much time for miniatures.  However, hopefully that's about to change.

I actually took a "mental health day" today, to work on a project I've been neglecting.

How's everyone else?