Friday, April 20, 2018

C is for...

This week my mind is all over the place, so I've grouped some random thoughts under C to share with you.  C is for comfort food, crochet cat, curated collection, and Chaco.   C is also for covetous creeps who consume my time.  Those are covered under Curate.
Do you have a special comfort food?  When I'm feeling out of sorts, a slice of bread spread with peanut butter goes a long way to smoothing things out.  It's even healthy.  The cute dolly tableware is manufactured at Ceramix, where I sometimes work.  Here in South Africa we have a brand of peanut butter called Black Cat.  It's my favourite.
I haven't had time to crochet anything this year, so I made this little cross looking cat.  I found the pattern HERE.  Hitty likes cats, I think I will let her keep it.

People sometimes contact me when they want to sell their collection of teddy bears, dolls, or related items.
But is it really a collection?  If someone has a box filled with a hundred teddy bears, and the box includes mass produced synthetic Valentines, hand-me-downs with no provenance, and little bears in traditional costume they bought to remind them of their holiday in far flung places, it's a sentimental hoard, not a collection.  Unless the boyfriend forked out for a limited edition bear, or the tatty one eyed bear inherited from a great aunt turns out to be an early Steiff, probably nothing in that box has any monetary value.  In a collection, it's not quantity that counts, it's quality. 

If you want to make sure that your collection becomes worth money, here are some tips to curate it.

What is a curated collection?  It's easy.
  1. Items in a collection have a unifying theme.  It can be as broad as 'teddy bears' or 'dolls' or 'dollhouse', or as specific as 'late Victorian 1/12 scale artisan made English dollhouse furniture'.  If your collection grows too large, you might consider specializing.
  2. Items are organized and looked after.  Not just a jumble in a box.  Make sure every item in your collection is clean, dusted, well maintained, correctly stored or displayed.
  3. Trade up.  Don't be afraid to sell or swap in order to improve the quality of your collection.  If you find a better example of an item you have, trade or sell it, and add on a little extra money to get the better one.  That way your collection will grow better without growing bigger.  Museums do it all the time.  
  4. Weed your collection.  We all have the problem that our collections tend to outgrow available space.  From time to time, go through your collection and look for items that don't fit in anymore.  Maybe you found a better specimen and now you have a duplicate.  There's that piece that isn't quite the right scale.  Your taste has changed, or these days you can afford something better, or your field of interest has narrowed.  Get rid of a few things.   A small collection with good quality items is worth more than a large discordant collection.  It's also much  more pleasing to look at and display.  If your surplus items have no value, donate them to someone who's just starting a collection.  If you think you can get money for it, visit eBay or sell it at a show.  You can use the money to add a quality item to your collection.  
  5. Collections are documented.  Keep a little book and write down where and when you acquired an item, how much you paid for it, who made it and when they made it, and any other information you might have.  You can even add a picture.  If some day your collection needs to be sold, or passes on to someone else as a legacy, documentation to back up the provenance and value of items will be of utmost importance.  
Even my spider collection is curated and well documented.  Each tarantula has a fact sheet where I write down when I bought/traded it, their size, sex, date last molted etc.
Meet Ms Chaco.  She's big as a house, ha ha.  That's a 1/144 scale dollhouse made by my friend Frieda la Grange in 2017.  Ms Chaco is a Grammostola pulchripes aka Chaco golden knee tarantula.  Chacos are native to Argentina, this one was captive bred.  She's 12cm (4 1/2 inches) long.  This young lady will grow to 22cm (8 1/2 inches) over her lifetime of about 15 years.  Because of poor record keeping by her previous owner, I don't know her exact age or how many times she has molted, but we think she's about four years old.  She was a rescue purchase from an owner who had lost interest and sold her entire 'collection'.  When Chaco came to us she was badly dehydrated and looking very sorry for herself.  The first day, she sat with her face in her water bowl for hours.  It made me cry.  Over the next few days she ate voraciously, then went into premolt and just rested and didn't move around much for several weeks.  She moulted two weeks ago.  I took her out of her terrarium today to give it a good clean.  Her new exoskeleton is beautiful and sleek, none of the bald patches and scars she had before.  Now that she's settled in, she's a very calm and docile girl.  Because of their hardiness and friendly nature, Chacos are recommended tarantulas for beginner collectors.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Teddy Bear Workshop

Here's some good Monday morning news.  Liezel from Bresbears will be teaching a teddy bear workshop during the school holidays.  Contact her for more information.  Wishing you all a wonderful week!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Del Prado Dollhouse - Staircase

I hope you had a lovely Easter weekend.  I spent mine trying to get up a staircase.

One of the more daunting tasks ahead of me with the Del Prado house is constructing the staircase.  I've never built one before.  According to the instructions it should be a simple matter of a dab of glue and slotting the pieces together.   We know how that worked out so far.
I started by finding all the pieces, and doing a test assembly.  Surprisingly easy! Then I put it in the hallway to see how it looks, and discovered that it doesn't fit.  This is not Del Prado's fault.  When I replaced the outer shell of my house with solid sheets of plywood, I didn't take the thickness of the wood into consideration.  As a result, I had to trim 5mm off the back of all the interior walls to make them fit.
Now I had a staircase sticking out in front of the kitchen door.  Sigh.  Why does a small little problem like 5mm always come back to bite you in the bum?  I could cut off the banister I suppose, but the more I stood there and got upset over it, the more I wanted someone else to blame.  Then I noticed something so glaringly stupid that I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed it before.  April fool!!! A dollhouse person would go running up the stairs and smack his face against the back wall.  There is no landing!  Not even Escher would have done something that crazy.  I'm all for a bit of deceiving the eye. Doors that lead nowhere, for instance, don't bother me at all.  But a staircase that runs up against a wall, just not on.
Obviously the staircase needed a turn in it.  That would make it shorter to both not stick out in front of my kitchen door and not run into the back wall.  I set about making a mock staircase with cardboard to see how I could possibly alter it to make it work.  A bit of Lego to keep the right angles, a bit of glue...  Voila! Much easier than I thought.
Except when I fit it into the house to test it, I realized that it would now run smack up against the side wall.  Duh! In addition to that, there was no way to put a turn in the stairs without cutting the corner off the door-that-leads-nowhere that I intend to install against the back wall.
I learnt something here.  Unless you want impossibly steep stairs that run up against a wall, you need a much wider hall, or much more height to the ceiling.  Neither of which I was going to get without rebuilding the entire house. 
After a weekend of ripping up mock staircases and cursing my inability to think in 3D, I finally found what I think is an elegant solution.
I'm going to make a small downstairs landing, with triangular stairs that angle around the corner.  The staircase is going to run from the back of the house to the front.  How the dollhouse people are going to carry their couch around the corner and up those stairs is not my problem.  I will have a plausible staircase, my downstairs nowhere-door will have more than enough room, and as a bonus, the entire downstairs hall will not be hidden behind the staircase.  Instead, I will have a lovely interesting space under the stairs to play with. 
I will repeat the same design for the stairs leading to the attic rooms.  I will need to re-cut the stairwell holes, but since I haven't worked on the upper storey floors yet, it is not a problem.  After an entire weekend my staircase doesn't look like much, but it will soon.  I can't wait to work on it some more!
The only downside to my design is that once the staircase and interior walls are installed, one won't see much of it. 
Unless you have a periscope.  Or one of those angled little mirror thingies the dentist uses.  Is there a dentist in the audience?


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Triple Celebration!

Hooray!  The Pretty Little Birdhouse tutorial is finished, and it's in my Etsy shop now.  And there's a HUGE discount specially for you.

But that's not all my news. 
When I started this blog, about 30 people read it every week, I thought that was fantastic.  Wow, someone visits my blog every day!  Over time the number of readers have slowly increased and by now a lot of people read my blog regularly.
I noticed that the little graph of lifetime visitors was slowly climbing to the 200K mark, and I was going to make a celebration of it.  Then, last Friday while I was very busy getting ready for the weekend's market and workshop, there was a whopping 950 page views on my blog in one day! 

That's a new record.   We jumped right over that 200K hurdle, and landed by a thousand on the other side.
Statistics is a dry subject, but when one runs a business it's important to keep an eye on the numbers.  More than that, I work very much in isolation, and often don't see other people for a week or more.  Looking at my little visitor graph and knowing that you looked in on me gives me a warm feeling of companionship.  I am grateful to all of you.

So, to celebrate these three things - completion of the Little Birdhouse tutorial, reaching the two hundred thousand visitor mark, and having 950 page views in a single day -  I'm offering the tutorial for $3 in my Etsy shop.  Next week, it will go up to its regular price of $12.  Click anywhere on this page where you see a Pretty Little Birdhouse, to be taken directly to the listing.

Can I ask a favour?  If you buy the tutorial on Etsy this weekend, would you leave a rating for it?  Endorsements do so much to get the ball rolling when one puts a new design out there.

Thank you, thank you!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

How to make a Fairy Basket from an Acorn Cup

This tutorial was originally posted exactly five years ago.  How time flies!  I'm in miniature making mood, and I still love making these little baskets at Eastertime. I thought I would reshare it, in case you feel like joining me.

I’m slouched behind my computer, supposed to be concentrating on  work.  But somehow my mind only wants to wander today…  It is autumn in the Southern hemisphere, and staring through my studio window, I see that the trees are loaded with acorns.  Which makes me think of squirrels and hoarding things for winter.  Which makes me wonder what the fairies are harvesting right now?  And what are they using to bring the harvest home in?  Which brings me back to acorns.  Acorn cups specifically.  Wouldn’t an acorn cup make just the perfect gathering basket for a fairy?  So, let’s drop what we are doing and go help the fairies make some baskets to bring in the harvest!

Here is what you will need:
Acorn cups, duh, can’t do anything without those.
Something to make a handle with.  Materials that would work well—a platted pine needle, a pliable twig, a snip of wire, a sprig of grass, a scrap of ribbon or string.
If you want your basket to stand, you will need to sand the bottom flat, or glue a small button, metal washer or a flattened ball of polymer clay to the base.
Line the basket to cushion a fragile load.  Use materials that a fairy would typically choose—moss, tiny feathers, a scrap of lace or fabric, cat hair. Huh?  Just checking to see if you are still paying attention :-)

Constructing the basket:
Start by making the base of the acorn cap flat so that it can stand.  You can do this by rubbing the base over sandpaper, or by gluing a small button, metal washer or flattened ball of baked polymer clay to the base.

If you prefer a more finished and durable look, varnish your acorn cup.
Glue the handle to the sides of the acorn cup.  My handles are made from wire, platted pine needles, twisted polymer clay, ribbon and rope.  If you are using wire or rope, you could drill two small holes to put the ends of the handle through the acorn cup instead of gluing it.  I made a polymer clay grip for the wire handle.

Advice when platting pine needles:
These make the most natural looking basket handles, but they require a bit of patience to assemble.  I like to use dry pine needles, because of the natural brown colour.  Soak the pine needles in water for a few hours before starting, this will make them pliable and less prone to breaking.
Tape the end of the pine needle to your work surface with masking tape, and put a pin through it to stop it from pulling out.  Carefully and tightly plat the pine needle.  Rub over the platted length after every few twists to make sure that it is lying flat.  When you get to the end, tape the needles down with a second piece of masking tape, and leave in position to dry. 
I find it easier to glue one end of the basket handle to the acorn cup and let it dry, then cut to length and glue the other end.

Line the basket:
I used a variety of linings—moss in the wire handle basket, feathers in the baskets with pine needle handles, lace with the ribbon handle, and knitting wool fluff to resemble raffia and moss in the basket with rope handle and basket with polymer clay handle.
As you can see, some baskets have a more naturalistic look, and others are more colourful. 

Tip for lining material:
Some wool shops have an amazing variety of chenille and boucle knitting wool.  It can be unravelled or snipped into tiny pieces to make moss and raffia to line your acorn baskets.  Chenille sticks (pipe cleaner) also come in a variety of colours.  Use small sharp scissors to cut off the fluff and use it to line your baskets.
Fill the baskets with goodies and drop off at the Fairy Depot.  Here are some ideas to get you started.

Workshop report

I'm happy to tell you that yesterday's Pretty Little Birdhouse workshop at MinF was a big success.  I'm still on a high.  After all that stress preparing for the workshop, it was amazing when it went off without a glitch. 
The success of the workshop was in no small part attributable to the participants.  I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to teach a group of enthusiastic, talented, friendly people.
 Brenda and Chris

I'm putting final touches to the print version of the workhsop notes.  The workshop will be available as a PDF download early this week.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Imagine with me:
Cold winter day.  The skies are a clear bright blue and sunlight streams in the window.  Far off and indistictly you can hear the sound of birds, traffic, people talking.  You are warm, sitting in a comfortable chair and under your hands you feel the texture of the blanket that covers you.  Look at the dust motes, they are making patterns as they swirl in a sunbeam.

Why are we doing this?
I was having a chat with a hypnotherapist.  Ha ha, no I'm not her patient, I'm probably beyond help.  She's doing research for a script she's writing and asked people to describe the most relaxing place they can imagine. I'm a contributor.
People who are asked, come up with a walk on the beach, waterfall in a forest, campifre on an island... Am I the only one who goes to a place much closer to home?  I hope it is a good sign that I am so grounded and happy in my surroundings.

Whenever I see dust motes caught in a sunbeam I stand transfixed.  It is my quiet spot, it triggers the happy hormones in my brain. 

We all need to hold still, take a few deep breaths and feel calm wash over us sometimes.  What do you imagine when you go to your tranquil place?  How many of your senses can you use to describe this place?  We would love to hear from you!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The cat is disconsolately wandering through the empty Del Prado Dollhouse, wondering whether the human was eaten by giant spider.  The truth is much more mundane.   I'm dealing with real life at present, and it's crap.  Happily, I'm able to escape once in a while to make a sweet little birdhouse or two.  I will be posting about that next week.

In the meantime, everyone who is within driving distance, remember that there is a miniature fair in Bryanston, Johannesburg next Saturday.  I hope to see many of you there for shopping, and to attend the Sweet Little Birdhouse workshop.
Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Plinth box, architrave, dado

The post title sounds a bit like a counting rhyme, doesn't it?  That's one of the things I love about building dollhouses.  You learn things about all kinds of things. Like architectural terminology.
Meanwhile, back at the dollhouse, the cat has left the room.  Not surprising really.  Mrs Smithi from next door came to see what all the banging is about. 
Her full name is Brachypelma Smithi, she's a mature 12cm (5 inch) tarantula, and the loveliest neighbour one could wish for.  Quiet and tidy, a dainty eater, and she's very handy with a thread!  
After she shooed the cat out, she took her time inspecting every corner of the master bedroom, which is the room in the dollhouse I've made the most progress with. 
I've finally decided on a colour scheme for the house.  Blue.  Blue is one of my favourite coulours.  When I found the chiffon blue paint, all my decorating ideas fell into place.  It is a soft and restful colour, and so pale as to be nearly white.  I can use it as the unifying colour in every room. 
In this room, I've made true Victorian tripartite walls.  Wallpaper found on the Internet, rescaled and printed, goes below the dado rail.  Chiffon blue along the middle, and white above the picture rail and on the ceiling.  I haven't painted ceilings and finished cornices yet, need to figure out the electrical wiring fist.
Apart from painting walls, I've been very busy with wood strips.  The skirting boards and door frames are made of strips from the original Del Prado house kit.  They were marked 'roof beams' but I guess I'm so immersed in kit bashing now that I can just use what I like, wherever I like.  The dado and picture rail is made of square and half round pieces of bamboo window blind.
I neatly circumvented the need for mitred corners around the door frame, by making an architrave over the door mantle.  
 I think it also looks much prettier than the original house plans.
Around the bay window, I built a casing with wood strips.  I was wondering how I'm going to make the seam where the window joins to the house look neat.  A casing to hide the join is such an elegant solution. 
You will notice that around the bay window casing and door frame, I made plinth boxes with the skirting board.  I did have to mitre the corners for these, but it was worth the effort.  It makes the whole room look so much more complete. 
Henning criticized my decision to paint the skirting boards white, and not leave them the natural colour of the wooden floor, but after looking at lots of pictures on the Internet, I decided that either would be correct, and painted skirting boards go well with all the other painted rails in the room. Shortly after Mrs Smithi left, the cat started spraying corners to stake his claim to the room.  Seems like nothing around here is mine, sigh.

I am so happy with this room now, and I've already started work on the hallway, where I'm adding Dutch blue.  In the next few weeks I need to tackle the staircase, and electrical wiring.  I've never worked with either of those, so I'm doing lots of research in my free moments.

Wishing you a happy weekend!


Note about Mrs Smithi:
Tarantulas do not commonly live in South African homes, thank heavens!  Mrs Smithi is a pet tarantula, a terrestrial species from Brazil.  She is not poisonous or aggressive.   Tarantulas make the best pets ever, for so many reasons.  They are quiet, clean, and fascinating to watch.  They need very little care, and can be kept in a small space.  Mrs Smithi lives in a terrarium next to the armchair where I sit to read.  She's very good company.  I thought that people who keep spiders are creepy, until I got my first one, and fell in love!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sweet Little Birdhouse

I will be teaching a workshop to make this sweet little 1/12 scale birdhouse at the Miniature Fair on 24 March.  There will also be a tutorial e-book available soon, and kits.
This will be the first workshop I teach in three years... feeling like a total beginner :-) but hooray, I'm getting back into the swing of things!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

In the Pink

I dyed a batch of mohair fabric this week.  It's been a few years since I took out the large dye pot to make my own colours. I've forgotten what strenuous, messy work it is.
First, the fabric is washed and excess water squeezed out.
Then comes stirring in a boiling dye pot on the stove.  I was happy to rediscover my special Dodo dye spoon in the box with the dyes :-)
 When the colour intensity looks right, the fabric is ready to be drained and rinsed.
Several rinses in cold water to remove all the excess dye, and neutralize the acidity of the dye bath.  After this the fabric is lovely and soft, and ready to hang out to dry.
Drying on a line under the trees, away from direct sunlight.  The beautiful bougainvillea flowers pick up the colour!

These pieces of fabric will be packed into kits to make a teddy bear called Erika.  Everything to make the bear and her little kitten and bunny slippers is included.

Available on my website HERE.

I'm still musing about the direction I want to take with the dollhouse.  Now that am over my  mental block about colour, a whole world of possibilities has opened up.  Here are three people who have influenced my thoughts this week:
The Dutch artist Peter Gabrielse.  If you are not familiar with this miniaturist's work, have a look at his website.  Peter also has an Instagram account.

Claude Monet's home in Giverny.  A person who could make colours have a party in every room.  Never too bold, nothing clashes.  I could live in a house like that.

The Canadian artist Marina Bychkova, whose dolls are commanding hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The incredible workmanship and attention to detail in the video makes it clear why her work is so highly valued.

And finally... a blast from the past.  Faded photos of my first experiments with fabric dyeing in 1994.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!