Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Great Hall Chandelier

I wanted a large, central chandelier for the Great Hall, one based on a wheel shape.  There are folks out there making and selling working versions of this kind of period light fixture, but I wanted to try my hand at it myself.

Here's what I came up with.

Black polymer clay is brilliant at imitatating wrought iron, so I based my chandelier on that.  I cut a long strip of rolled clay and wrapped it around a metal lid for a circular tin -- it's about 3.5 inches in diameter, I think.  I baked the clay on the tin.

Wait for it to cool totally before you take it off! It's still quite flexible when warm.

Then I made cross bracing from clay rolls and added twists of thin wire to act as eyes for the chain -- one eye at each end of a cross brace.  Then I made little curved "cups" of black clay to hold the white polymer candles.  I used two lengths of black jewellery chain and hung the chandelier from the ceiling using a couple of lengths of wire, each bent into an s curve.

It's not perfect, but it's surprisingly satisfying and was very inexpensive to build!  Next time I'll figure out how to electrify it ...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Great Hall Lights

David gave me a Dremel-type rotary tool with a range of attachments, so I installed some lights in the Great Hall this morning.
I put a double sconce on the right wall by the door (it's a brass sconce I painted black), the flickering unit in the fireplace and a small pewter finish hanging lantern up in the minstrel's gallery.  I also want to build and install torches in this room, but this is a good start.

Here's what it looked like this evening:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tudor Bed

I've been housebound for a few days, recovering from a back injury, and inaction combined with a tempting heap of balsa wood proved too much for me :)  I made a Tudorish bed.

I should have taken photos of the process, but it was very much improvisational (to say the least!)  I started with some basic dimensions:  6.5 long by 6.5 tall by 4" wide.  I built the head panel first (without doing all the decorative panelling -- I wanted to wait to see how high the frame would be first), then the decorative posts at the foot of the bed and attached them to a foot board.

I was pleased with the turned posts.  They're just ordinary 3" craft turnings bunged into square balsa wood top and bottom.  I made a real hash of this, so had to cover up my ghastly workmanship with some trim, which, while ghastly in itself, is better than my first attempt!

Most of the trim I cut with scissors -- gotta love balsa wood when you're feeling impatient, eh?

After these parts glued up, I joined headboard and footboard with the side rails.  I used little bits of toothpick as dowels, here, to give more strength to the joints (and to keep the darned thing together while the glue dried.

The canopy went on next, with side pieces, which further strengthened the piece, then, finally, craft sticks (popsicle or ice lolly sticks) were the perfect size for the base slats.  I painted it with burnt umber for a dark Tudor finish.

I'd like to make a fine bed out of basswood or hardwood, with everything just so, and a rope support for the mattress, but for two afternoons' work, I'm perfectly happy with this one!

Great Hall Fireplace, day 3

Yesterday I assembled the fireplace, and painted it.  I used a base coat of natural titanium (a buff colour) then added layers of greys, finally stippling the surface with umber and black to resemble stone.  I applied scrapbook stickers to resemble the tiles of my inspiration photo and installed both fireplace and chimney breast.  This morning, this is how it looks:


I am really pleased with the way my miniature medieval fireplace turned out!  It looks like stone and has exactly the feel I was hoping for.  I love this photo, taken from the left hand door -- it looks perfect to me, and I have a wonderful sense of accomplishment :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Great Hall Fireplace, day 2

Having designed the fireplace, it's time to build it.  Here are all the components, cut out -- two uprights made of laminated plywood, a lintel made of balsa wood (6' wide by 1.5 inches deep), two pine corbels cut on our electric fretsaw, and two purchased pressed wood appliques, bought at Lee Valley Tools.

I glued them all together with white carpenter's glue like so:

Now I just wait for them to glue up ...

Painting bricks on the castle walls

Today the girls painted the exterior of the castle.  The girls who did the painting are 12 and 9 years old, respectively.  To simplify things, I had them paint the entire exterior pale grey (I used latex primer with a bit of artist's acrylic black added).  Then they "stamped" blocks on the outside using small pieces of cellulose sponge -- we had four colours:  dark grey, light grey, medium brown, light brown and they just alternated colour randomly.  It worked much better than I thought it would!

We set the block colours out on paper plates:  each colour had its own plate and sponge:


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Furniture from balsa wood

Here are my first table and chair, made of balsa wood.  They're extremely rough, and I shall make better versions soon now that I know what to expect, but they'll do for now.

The table is 10" long and 3" wide. Both pieces are balsa wood, put together with wood glue and, in the case of the table, pegs made from toothpicks.  I scored the top of the table with a blunt pencil before construction, to make it look like boards.  I painted them with my "Tudor wood" blend paint:  one part raw sienna, two parts burnt umber and some water.  Then I varnished them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Great Hall Fireplace

It's fireplace day!

First of all, this is my "inspiration" photo.  It's a medieval fireplace in the Tower of London:

Our backstory for this castle is that it was built in the 12th century, and has been remodelled by the early Tudor family who is now living in it.  Some rooms will be more Tudor in mood (wood panelling, etc.) but we imagined the Great Hall as having a more medieval feel.  The open fireplace is an important part of that feel.

Here are some of the elements of the fireplace stuck together with Museum Putty (it's like Blu Tac, but stickier) in situ, so I can get an idea of how to compose the piece.

The mantel will be supported by large corbels, and the chimney breast will be angled as in the inspiration photo.  I'll paint blocks on the back wall, making them nice and sooty, and I'll put in very sooty Poly Filla "stones" at the base.  The whole piece will be painted to look like stone, and I'll use some tiny stick on tiles to embellish the mantel.

Here it is, in the same shot with the Minstrel's Gallery, to show scale.  It could be bigger (it's 6" x 6") but I'm practising selective scale here, and don't want it too big.

I got a flickering unit for this fireplace during my shopping spree in Toronto last week, and we'll make a nice fire for it to warm up the room.

Here's the  mocked up fireplace, with the back wall painted, a few sticks from my driveway, and the flickering unit.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Minstrels' Gallery Part One

We've planned a Minstrels' Gallery on the left side of the Great Hall, and I'm starting on it today, using a small piece of 1/4 inch plywood measuring 4" by 12", and the two pieces of ready-assembled railing I bought from the Little Dollhouse Company in Toronto last week.

I cut the railing to length using a fret saw and glued it up. A newel post of some kind at the corner would have been lovely, but I didn't plan for it :)

I have to put the supports in the Great Hall -- side beams and a support beam -- and then I think I'll let the kids paint and install the Gallery on Thursday.

Here's the Gallery in place -- I've glued the side supports on, but it's just balancing up there on the support column :)  It looks like part of an opera set, doesn't it?  "Deh vieni alla finestra ..."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Photos of the castle so far

I meant to  take photos of each step of the castle's construction.  Well, I've missed a few, but we need to start somewhere, don't we?

This is how the first part, the Great Hall, looks now, stripped of the temporary furnishings the children and I were playing with.  To recap, this room, as pictured above, is about 30" wide, 12" deep and 18" tall.  Here's what we've done so far:

1.  We painted the beams dark brown -- a mixture of two parts burnt umber with one part raw sienna, mixed up well with a fair bit of water to make a stain (I use artist's acrylic paints).

2.  We added texture to the walls with Polyfilla scraped on and, partly, off, in an uneven way.   The walls and ceiling were painted white.

3.  We made the stone floor with a thicker layer of polyfilla.  While still pliable, I made the grout lines with a blunt pencil.  Note to self for future:  don't try to do this after dark, your lines won't be quite perpendicular :)  After it had dried I sanded some places to even things out a bit.

4. We painted floor and walls.  The key to realistic faux finishing is to do everything in layers and to use both warm and cool versions of your colours.  I started with a base wash of natural titanium (this is a very warm off white).  Then I built up the colour of individual stones using a variety of washes:  yellow ochre, a neutral grey (white and black), raw sienna, burnt umber, and white.  Finally, I put on two washes of raw umber over the whole floor to tone the entire thing down and get a darker colour in the grout lines.  Then I varnished it with a matte varnish.

The walls just got a loose wash of grey then a wash of burnt umber, I think.  Very watery and relaxed -- not trying to cover everything.  Just enough to make the place look used.

I did the first coats on the floor, and then let the children loose on both floor and walls.  They did a fabulous job and enjoyed watching the room come to life!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Making a medieval/Tudor door

Okay, I admit it. I am not a great craftsman.  Although I am in awe of the amazing artisans who can make perfect tiny items, my own approach to miniatures is, of necessity,  less about scale model perfection and more about, "how can I construct this so it looks half way convincing using the tools and materials I'm capable of managing safely." I view it as akin to theatrical set design rather than fine furniture building, and I really enjoy set design :)

With that in mind, here's my first door.  It's made of balsa wood, which is mercifully easy to cut.  I cut out the basic shape using the template I used for the castle door openings.  I scored it with a ruler and pen to imitate boards, and added the Z frame on the back side.  I painted it with a thin wash of 2 parts burnt umber and 1 part raw sienna.

I'm making the hinges out of cotton medical tape.  Here's  picture of the door pinned in place to check fit.  I had to pare the door down on all sides (and on the z bracing) to make it fit and move in the door opening.

As I've said before,  I find that black polymer clay is really good for imitating wrought iron.  I rolled out the clay quite thin and cut out some very simple strap hinges. You could make these quite ornate, if you wanted to.  I added small balls of black clay to represent the nails or bolt heads, and baked them.

I then glued the bandage strips onto the door and glued the faux iron hinge on top.  The glue I'm using is Alene's Tacky Glue, but any good quality white or wood glue would do.

I made a handle out of the clay, too -- shaping the end and then bending the whole thing over my metal craft knife and flattening the ends, adding small balls of clay for nails again.  The resulting handle is good -- a little too bowed, but still quite convincing.  I glued the handle to the door.

Then I glued the fabric hinges to the wall and covered them with the clay hinges, and the door is done! (the upper hinge looks VERY crooked in the photo below, but it looks fine in person :)


Friday, October 16, 2009

Lighting your dolls house

I'll admit it, lighting the dolls castle is one of the most appealing aspects of the project for me, so I want to learn as much as possible about it.

Here's a link to my own articles on the subject:  Electrical fixtures and wiring

Here are some useful links I'm collecting on the subject:

Dollhouse Electrical -- a wonderful article from the Greenleaf site which covers just about everything one needs to know about wiring a dolls house.  There are other great articles on lighting in this issue, too.  Highly recommended.

Dolls House Parade -- Hints and Tips on Lighting -- another great article.  Lots of other tips at this site, too.

Lighting Dolls Houses -- a great article at the Laura Anne Dolls House site.

Doll House Lighting Made Easy -- at the Doll House Miniature club.

I've been to heaven, and it's called the Little Dollhouse Company ...

Having found myself in Toronto for a few days, I simply had to check out Canada's largest dollhouse and miniatures store (isn't that an oxymoron?)  The Little Dollhouse Company is at 612 Mount Pleasant Road in mid-town Toronto.  I had visited their website many times, but this was to be my first visit in person, and it exceeded my expectations.

First of all, it's big.  Really big -- 3000 square feet.  And because its wares are, by and large (there I go again) quite tiny, there's room for a LOT of stuff :) 

Second of all, there are far more things in the store than could possibly be listed on the website.  The range of items covers all price points, styles and several scales, although 1" scale is the norm here.  There are 85 dolls houses on display, so that a potential house buyer can check each model out in detail before buying.

There's something about walking into a store full of tiny things and teeny houses that totally connected me with my inner child.  I walked around, dazed, for a little bit, getting my bearings and with a big, goofy smile plastered to my face.

Once I recovered a bit of poise, I hit the lighting display, since that's my new obsession.  I want a beautifully-lit castle, and TLDC was the right place to learn more about lighting.  I chose their round wiring kit, and can't wait to get back home and start plugging things in.  Co-owner John, who builds and wires all the houses, gave me some great advice on making my own light fixtures, a subject I've not been able to find much information on.  I picked up a few ready-made fixtures, too, as well as some lighting accessories for my first fireplaces.

I then stocked up on building supplies:  windows and stairs, some railings,  a fireplace mantel and few accessories I simply couldn't resist (a tiny trumpet for the minstrels' gallery, for example).
In the course of my shopping, I had the pleasure of meeting John's wife, TLDC owner Marie and her staff, all of whom were very helpful.
The trip was great, and I have a big bag of small things to take home and play with :)  I recommend this great store to anyone who's going to be in Toronto, and I recommend their website to everyone else!  Marie told me to be sure, when I'm shopping on the site, to ask if I don't see something -- they're always happy to check their huge inventory and give whatever help they can.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Our castle design

We've come up with a multi part, modular castle made of up a combination of two kinds of units:  towers and halls.  Our interest for this project, is more about fitting out the rooms than creating a really realistic model of a castle :)  A diagram of the plans is below.

Towers will be 12" deep, 12" wide and 30" tall, with three floors, each with a height of approximately 10'.

Halls are 12" deep, 30" wide and 24" tall, usually with two floors, each with a height of 10", with the final 4" of height as a rooftop area.

We're starting with The Great Hall, the biggest room of the castle.  This measures 12" deep, 30" wide and is 21" tall, with the ceiling at 18", leaving the top 3" for a protected rooftop area.

I chose to make the dollhouse units 12" deep (which is a little skimpy -- 14 or 15" would have been wonderful) because of cost.  I can buy 3/8", good one side plywood in 24" by 48" sheets, small enough for us to get home in our car, and easy enough for us to deal with in my husband's rather crowded workshop.  From those sheets, I can get quite a lot of usable material with little waste, when the dollhouse is only 12" deep.  If the cost is less important to you, then by all means make it as deep as you like -- then you may want the towers to match the depth -- if you choose to make the Halls 15" deep, then the Towers should be 15" x 15".

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Great links for the Tudor dolls' house

These are some of the sites and books that have been of interest or inspiration for me as I learn about creating dollhouses for the medieval or tudor period.  Not surprisingly, most of the sites I've visited have been from the UK.  I will update this post as I find more links.

DIY Sites

Decorating a Tudor Kitchen

Malcolm's Miniatures -- this UK artisan sells impress molds which will allow the miniaturist to produce scale sheets of brickwork, stone, roof slates and other useful surface treatments from air dry clay.

Richard Stacey (UK) sells everything you need for miniature brick and stone work.

Dovetails (UK) makes miniature fireplace surrounds, ceiling roses and other plasterwork for different periods, including the very hard to find classic Tudor fireplace.  Reasonable prices, too.

Town and Country Planner (UK) sells a wide range of roof and floor tiles as well as garden pavers and hanging signs -- lovely looking work.  

Pure Inspiration

Gothic/Horror/Castle Doll House -- this is Teresa Thompson's extraordinary doll house, over whose photos I regularly drool :)  She is a doll maker and costumer in 1:8 and 1:12 scale from the UK.

English Tudor Dollhouse:  Wonderful photos of this tudor dollhouse as it is built and furnished by its owner, Wayne Kaaz of Colorado, USA.

Winkhurst Farm Tudor Kitchen:  detailed photos of this reconstruction of a Tudor kitchen at Winkhurst Farm in West Sussex in the UK. Highly recommended if you're doing any kind of medieval, Tudor, rustic or witch's kitchen.

Peppercorn Miniatures:  scroll down the page to the "Tudor Rose" roombox.  This is one of the most perfect collections of Tudor miniatures I've ever seen.

Lesley's Garden -- List of Historical Plants:  very useful list of what plants are appropriate for what periods.  Lesley also makes wonderful kits!

Miniature Artisans

There are many extraordinary artists and artisans working in 1/12 scale and producing items for Tudor or medieval themed dollhouses.  Here are a few whose sites I've visited, and whose work I admire.

Ray Storey, Lighting:  UK artisan Ray Storey makes perfect period lighting, including some lovely (and hard to find) black chandeliers and lanterns.  Highly recommended.

Pear Tree Miniatures:  UK artisan Barbara Moore's site is a great starting point for research and inspiration.  She shares links to reference sources as well as showing examples of her own excellent work in 1/12 and 1/24 scale heavily-carved furniture. She also makes and sells reasonably priced period books, which can be very difficult to find.

Vic Newey:  UK dolls house maker, with a special interest in Tudor buildings.  Gorgeous work.

Tony Knott, Miniaturist: Another UK artisan, who produces 1:12 scale metal work, furniture and roomboxes, all constructed with meticulous attention to detail.  This is superb, inspirational work, and his smaller metal pieces in pewter are surprisingly affordable.

Willow Models:  UK model maker Martin Pearce makes a wonderful range of items suitable for this period, including furniture, houses, fire grates, spits and pewter plates in both new and old finishes.  Really nice stuff and reasonably priced. Some half and quarter scale items, too.

Sue Dix:  a potter from Chicago, IL in the United States, Sue makes a range of really lovely and affordable 1:12 scale pots and jugs with brown or blue glazes perfect for this period.  She sells under the name Suramics Pottery on Etsy.

Lilliput Miniatures: an Australian maker of Tudor and medieval furniture and accessories, some available in small scales.  These look great! IGMA Artisan.

Linda's Dolls House -- her Tudor dining room is incredible :)

Small Scale Miniatures and the Village Wheelwright:  (UK) 1:12 scale ironmongery, fire and cooking implements, tudor furniture and lighting.

Sussex Crafts:  (UK) 1:12 scale ironmongery with fabulous pieces for this period.

Ann High's carved and painted furniture -- medieval, Tudor and Stuart pieces carved in superb detail in 1/12 and 1/24 scale by this great UK artist.

Herdwick Landscapes -- makers of 1:24 scale houses, also 1:12 and 1:24 scale fires, grates, lighting fixtures and furniture.  Some great pieces for this period.

Sue and Alan's Little Treasures -- these UK artisans make and sell wonderful 1/12 scale historical miniatures, specializing in the Tudor period.  Need a 1/12 cart? A bespoke house? (the photo of the Tudor dollhouse above is from their site).

Old Charm Miniatures -- another great UK site with handcrafted period pieces including fireplaces (see below for an example) and Tudor lighting (they also have offerings for the 1/12 scale church and pub.

Jill Bennett's art dolls -- here are examples of her wonderful dolls in Tudor dress.

Medieval and Tudor food by Carol Cook

Lins Minis -- miniature feathered pheasants and ducks, perfect for the Tudor kitchen

Country Contrast -- UK food miniatures including a fine range of Tudor foodstuffs, featuring roast peacock, manchet and a boar's head.

Costume Cavalcade -- UK miniature doll artist Teresa Thompson's incredible historical dolls and costumes are here (see photo below)

Ashwood Designs Miniature Furniture:  Nothing but handcrafted Tudor miniatures here -- many extraordinary items, too, including a set of virginals and some amazing period light fixtures, all remarkably reasonably-priced, too.

Romney Miniatures:  Oh, how I want to go shopping here!  This UK site sells nothing but handcrafted miniatures suitable for Tudor and some medieval settings.  A great source for fires, firebacks, real clay chimney pots, ironmongery, beautiful floor and roof tiles and more.

The Linen Press, miniature textiles and paperwork:  Another UK site, this one featuring handmade and sometimes hand embroidered miniature quilts, bedspreads and cushions appropriate to dolls houses from Tudor to early 20th century.  It also has some interesting printed materials for most periods.

Kris Compas, an American artisan who makes upholstered chairs, settees and sofas.  She is creative and interested in trying new things, and I can highly recommend her!

Forget-Me-Not Miniatures:  This UK couple make some lovely Tudor items.

Turnings in Miniature:  Thomas Saunders makes wonderful turned bowls, vases and stands out of wood and stone and sells them through his Etsy shop!

Glenda Howell of Peppercorn Miniatures in New Zealand makes rush mats, baskets and potion bottles suitable for this period -- the workmanship is superb.  Her Etsy user name is undancey.


Amazon reading list: Furnishing a Medieval/Tudor Dollhouse

These are all books I own and recommend:

Simple country furniture projects in 1/12 scale -- excellent range of simple, clearly described projects, many of which are suitable for a Tudor dollhouse

Making dolls house miniatures with polymer clay -- a book by English artisan Sue Heaser and one of the first books on miniatures I bought.  Superb directions for a range of projects, and a great introduction to polymer clay miniatures

Making miniature dolls with polymer clay -- another book by Heaser.  First rate instructions for making 1/12 scale, poseable dolls and costuming them in a variety of periods, including Tudor.  Highly recommended.

Food displays by Sue Heaser -- part of the Dolls House Do-It-Yourself series.  Another wonderful book by Heaser, with specific "suites" of foods for Tudor, Georgian and Victorian settings.  Includes Tudor roast pig on a spit (with instructions for making the spit and the andirons), garlanded boar's head and Tudor sweets.  Also includes instructions for making Tudor trenchers and knives.  Highly recommended and well worth tracking down.

Making Tudor dolls' houses by Derek Rowbottom.  A wonderful book with plans for several dolls houses and detailed information about specific projects from fireplaces to beaming and panelling to lighting (although I found the lighting information not so very useful, because the dolls house world has moved to 12v systems since this book was written).  A very good book, inspirational and practical.

The authentic Tudor and Stuart dolls' house by Brian Long.  A brilliant, in-depth source book for period details of all kinds, plus some yummy projects.  Very inspirational and highly recommended.

Celtic, medieval and Tudor wallhangings in 1/12 scale needlepoint by Sandra Whitehead -- this UK artisan's first book has instructions and patterns for a variety of projects in dollhouse scale.  I'm working my way through it, and enjoy it immensely.  You can also visit her website to buy patterns or kits individually.

Welcome to The Tudor Dollhouse Blog

Once upon a time four little girls, one little boy, one big girl and one big boy decided to build a dolls house. One of the little girls (Tiddles) wanted it to be a medieval castle. After some discussion, it was decided that the group would build a medieval castle that was now being lived in by a noble, Tudor-age family.

We decided to build the castle in 1:12 scale, or 1 inch to 1 foot, as that seemed to be the most popular scale for modern dollhouses.

We looked online for help, but couldn't find a great deal about building dollhouse sized castles :) There was one set of plans here, which were interesting, and there was information about a Tudor dollhouse on this model castle site here, and there's a wonderful castle-like dollhouse kit here, but we wanted to build something a little different.
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