Monday 23 December 2013

A Merry Christmas, one and all!

Time for the last post of 2013, such an exciting year for me on the dolls house front.   I know many of you have followed this journey on my blog but if you want to read it in a less protracted form you can also find it in the on-line magazine on the website of Dollshouses Past and Present.  Part One is here and Part Two here.  

The third part will appear in February, all being well.   There's lots of fascinating stuff for miniaturists on the website and a great deal of expertise to be found there too.

And so to the last item in the window display.  I apologise for the quality of the photo - if any expert photographers reading this can enlighten me about taking photos through glass without getting so many reflections, I would be very grateful.

Perched right on top of the central breadbins you can spot a large paper bag intended for packing Christmas presents.  I remember that one year I had resolved never to wrap another present, so I'd bought a large quantity of bags of various sizes. When the dolls house group - the Herts Miniaturists - that I was a member of at that time decided that we were going to create Christmas scenes in a paper bag, I was spoilt for choice.

Cue slight digression:  the group was very much into putting room settings into unusual containers just then. It was one of our members, Norman Randall, who made several of my dolls houses for me, who first came up with the idea.   He produced a kitchen in an old enamel saucepan and then sent off photos of it to the Home Miniaturist magazine. (A little bird tells me that this creation is on its way to Small Worlds - thank you Sheila!)

His room-in-a-saucepan sparked a nation-wide competition and suddenly all the dolls house groups were thinking up unusual containers to put scenes into.   I particularly remember a large packet of washing powder with a launderette inside. The final winner of the competition was the plaster cast of a broken leg with a hospital scene inserted into it!

I think this was the same year that the Herts Miniaturists suggested "Christmas Past" as a theme for a room setting and since this blog post will be very short of photos if I only cover the Father Christmas-in-a-Bag - no photos of the process for example, because it all happened so many years ago - that I have decided to first give you a bonus scene that isn't in the window display. 

Blog followers will be familiar with the photo that appears beside the "About Me" paragraph of my blog.   It is taken from a series of photos taken the Christmas Day I got my very first dolls house. Based on these, I was able to recreate our living room that day and attach the room setting to a photo frame, in the same way as I described in my last post.   This time it was a double frame, showing the original photos on one side and the miniature room on the other. 

Everything that is in the original photos, I managed to reproduce in miniature.   Butterfly tells me she made the pram.   I believe her of course. The abacus caused a great deal of swearing, as did the tiny furniture in the house......

So back to Santa in the paper bag - it's once again very easy to do.   You cut a hole in the bag at the height you want and then build a structure to insert inside. You can use either stiff card, as (judging by the corrugations I can see) I did here, or better still, foamboard.   

Foamboard, or Foamcore is polystyrene foam sandwiched between two sheets of card and it's brilliant stuff for crafting.  As is polystyrene of course - just a reminder, since it's Christmas, of the wonderful Christmas creches I featured at the end of this post last year.   All of them carved out of polystyrene....

Poor Santa seems to have got himself into a slight pickle.   I rather think he's stuck.   Watching with interest at the foot of the chimney are two very early productions by Butterfly, tiny teddies made whilst she was recovering from her "A" level examinations.  

The only addition I have made to this very ancient scene is the Christmas creche in one corner...... 

I leave you with a close-up of the whole scene and the hope that Father Christmas makes it safely down your chimney on Tuesday night.......

Thank you for continuing to follow this story.   I wish you all the very best for a joyous Christmas and a peaceful and happy New Year.   See you again in 2014.....

Sunday 15 December 2013

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.....

Just enough time to squeeze in two posts before Christmas I think - so back to the breadbins.... 

I dithered for a while about posting the Santa story this week and then decided it was just too soon to bring him down the chimney.

So, since snow is likely to be around in the Czech Republic at the moment, at least in the mountains, if not in Bavorov itself, I decided to go with the snow scene first.

But before frost and snow descend on us, and overwhelm all the fungi on the forest floor, let's take a closer look at the fishing basket which houses Peter the Mycological Rabbit.

(I've just realised that none of the last three containers we will be looking at in detail are actually breadbins.  Never mind, at least they are not traditional dolls houses...)

Peter has been around a very long time.   As someone with a passion for fungi-collecting and another passion for all things miniature it was very natural that I should at some point combine the two.   This basket was very easy to put together - I found both the small rabbit and the basket in Ikea.

The various mushrooms have come my way either from friends who made them in clay or they are New Year's decorations from Germany or Austria.   Some are even real!   Those are the ones on the tree trunks lying on the forest floor. 

The fearsome spirit in the tree trunk at the back came from Denmark more years ago than I care to remember and both wooden gnomes were acquired in Germany, also many years ago.

Railway modellers amongst you will recognise the moss strewn across the basket and once all that was in place, all that remained was to make sure that Peter was fully equipped to go out and show off his foraging skills.

When I first started to learn about fungi - something that is fairly uncommon in England, unlike in the Czech Republic, where the greeting when you visit someone in the country is not "What's the weather been like?" but rather "Are there mushrooms?" - the leader on the first course I attended told us we should go into the woods and fields armed with several essential items.

First and foremost a basket - fungi do not do well in plastic bags.   Then a decent knife so that you can raise the mushroom from below the soil.  A toothbrush, or other small brush to clean off the worst of the woodland debris before taking them home, and a good small guide.   Last of all, a handbag sized pocket mirror.   We gawped at that.  Why on earth?  "Because", he explained, "you do not always want to pick the mushroom, but you do want to be able to see underneath so that you can identify it by the gill shape and colour..."

Peter has all of these, plus a nifty little camera for on the spot photos.  

The rather large knife jammed into the top of his trousers is a tribute to another course tutor who insisted on leaping across large logs and fallen tree trunks brandishing what could only be described as a scimitar.   When at rest, he also thrust it into his trousers.....

And so to the snow scene.   

This too was very simple to make.   You take a photo frame and remove the back for the moment. Cut a wide strip of card, the length to fit the perimeter of the inside of the frame, and the width to the depth that you would like your scene. Glue it into the frame and then glue what was the back of the frame onto the back of the card.

Oops, hang on a moment, it's better to decorate both the card and the backdrop first, before gluing it all together.   But it really is that simple and most of us have redundant photo frames lying around at home.

I'm afraid I haven't any photos from complete scratch because I already had a frame which had housed another scene so I did do what it is easier not to, which is paste  the new backdrops into an already constructed box.

The sky round the sides  is real life-sized wallpaper and the church at the back, as every Czech person reading this will know, is from one of the wonderful annual calendars featuring the work of Josef Lada.  I have been collecting them for many years and have some plans in mind for using a few more images in the future....

Once the frame has been glued together then you have to build a little platform to carry the scene.   Very easy if it is going to be a snowscene because clearly that's exactly what polystyrene ceiling tiles were made for.   And I was quite impressed with the effect of grey paint on a rather more pobbly one.   Just like a drystone wall....

A bit of white painted moss down the sides to hide the inevitable gaps and time for the snowman and snow balls to make an appearance.   More polystyrene for the balls..... 

and a cake decoration snowman plus a few cake decoration trees.... 

Then out come the children to play - they too have been in my collection a very long time - and another scene can take its place in the display window.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into how easy it can be to create a miniature scene and that you will join me next weekend for the last blog post before 2014 arrives.

In the meantime I hope you have a peaceful run up to Christmas, enjoying the preparations, listening to lots of Christmas music and singing along as well.   Thank you for continuing to follow my journey in Small Worlds.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

I want to ride my bicycle....

Almost another whole month has scooted past without my putting fingers to keyboard to blog further adventures in Small Worlds. 
The main reason is the difficulty I find in connecting from England to the Czech Republic, and vice versa.   Over the years I have been travelling to and fro I have found that when I am in one country, I become completely disconnected from the other.   This can lead to all sorts of difficulties with things like paying bills.....

And it seems that the disconnection also extends to writing blogposts. However I did arm myself with photos before I left the CR and so I shall try to reconnect now for a little while.

When last seen, the mouse troupe were exercising their cycling skills and where there are bikes there are inevitably punctures which require the services of a rijwielhersteller.  

For those who don't know it, this is a nod in the direction of a wonderful Dutch card game called "Stap Op", in which you cycle across Holland meeting all kinds of problems en route.   (It also exists in a far more boring French form called "Milles Bornes", which involves cars.)

But I, like the mice, want to ride my bicycle.....which means that one needs a rijwielhersteller, better known in English as a bicycle repairman.

Which of course brings me to the next breadbin.   I had actually planned to make a car mechanic's workshop
but when the idea of the multiple breadbin window display came to me I realised that it would be faster and easier to make a cycle shop.    

I had a few miniature tools, mainly from a plastic mechanic's kit, but I needed a great deal more than that.   So out came one of the plastic sorting boxes - the one with all the stuff that couldn't really be identified, and I scrabbled through it, pulling out anything that to me looked vaguely mechanical.   Or could be made to look mechanical with the judicious use of black or metallic paint.

If you study the later pictures carefully you may spot some of the objects, reincarnated.  Click on the photos to get a better view.....

The mechanic was easy - he too was part of the plastic kit and I hauled him down from the roof of the thatched house, where he was trying to finish off the excellent job done by my Dutch friends, Bep and Irmel, and placed him in his proper milieu.

He was very happy to be back at ground level - he'd never had a good head for heights.

I had great fun painting little bits of plastic and metal which I then distributed round the breadbin.   A useless wooden fridge with a broken door, became a steel cupboard in which the rijwielhersteller keeps his most dangerous tools. 

I have no clue what many of the plastic and metal things I found were originally intended for - these things for example.   But they made useful brackets to hang tools on the wall.

My dread is that someone who really knows about these things will one day look into this breadbox and question me closely as to the purpose of many of them....

I also gathered up as many tyres as I could find in my storage boxes.....

It was easy to find wonderful vintage adverts for various makes of bicycle - life is so much easier now things can simply be downloaded from the internet and printed.   When I started in this hobby, forty or so years ago, one had to scour catalogues for tiny pictures of a usable size.   Later the reducing photocopier made a useful appearance, but one still had to reduce each picture many times to get it down to the size that was needed.

The final touch for this breadbin was to add as many bicycles as possible, without over-crowding it too much.   I leave you with a couple of close-ups of the whole thing.

Thank you for joining me again in Small Worlds.   I hope to be with you again before Christmas, with a seasonal offering, though this time not in a breadbin.   In the meantime - Happy Advent to all of you.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Mouse manoeuvres

The last month has sped past at a phenomenal rate.   At one point I was completely certain that we would not succeed in packing up and moving out of our full-size home before Completion Day arrived on 18th October.   Far easier to move many mini-houses!

But we made it and are now snugly esconced in our much smaller, rented, property where we can, I hope, relax for a few weeks before considering "What next?"   Butterfly has a beautiful craft room and I have a glorious bedroom.

And I suppose I should turn my mind to another blogpost.   But it's actually quite difficult when so much has been going on in the past few weeks, and I am many hundreds of kilometres away from Small Worlds.   But it's mice to the rescue!   Or rather it's Maximilian's Troupe of Amazing Performing Mouses.   They have a number of fans amongst the readers of this blog and just before I went away I thought I would stock up with some photos so that they could feature over the coming months, before I get back to Bavorov.  

Many of you will remember how the mice took up residence in a carefully designed home.

Some rich relations arrived for a visit but then decided to flee to a tranquil garden rather than be besieged by many tiny mouses.   Well, this excursion has inspired the young mice to plead for one of their own and Maximilian has taken up the challenge.

Cue digression:  one of the problems for non-English speakers is our rather cavalier attitude to plurals.   I offer this helpful guide to such readers of this blog who may have become confused by my somewhat inconsistent approach to the plural form of the stars of this post :

Now if mouse in the plural should be, and is, mice,
Then house in the plural, of course, should be hice,
And grouse should be grice and spouse should be spice
And by the same token should blouse become blice.

And consider the goose with its plural of geese;
Then a double caboose should be called a cabeese,
And noose should be neese and moose should be meese
And if mama's papoose should be twins, it's papeese.

Then if one thing is that, while some more is called those,
Then more than one hat, I assume, would be hose,
And gnat would be gnose and pat would be pose,
And likewise the plural of rat would be rose.......

Maximilian decided to take advantage of his juniors' wish for excitement and give them a little useful circus training at the same time.   After all, although he and his partner were trying to start a mouse chorale, it was still early days and, judging by the choir practices, a sideline might not come amiss.

So off he went to the nearest cycle shop, housed in a handy breadbin, and ordered an assortment of bicycles to be delivered as soon as possible. 

When the bikes arrived there was, of course, considerable argument as to who would ride what, but Maximilian had not been a successful ringmaster for nothing.   He soon allocated the bicycles to his satisfaction, and the troupe set off for the nearest suitable practice area, in the grounds of a nearby stately home, formerly inhabited by smurfs.   Who knows, maybe they will return one day to take up residence again.

As you can see from the photos - from teenage to tot mouse, a very good time was had by all!

They all enjoyed themselves so much that when they got home they didn't stop badgering Maximilian for another day out.   But that of course, is a different story......

I am sorry there has been such a long gap between posts;  I shall try to be with you again soon.   In the meantime, thank you for continuing to follow the story of Small Worlds.  It means a lot to me to be able to share my hobby - or should I say obsession? - with so many people.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Forgotten things......

Oh my goodness, since I last posted on 2nd September so much has happened that the title of this post is well chosen.   I can barely remember what I was doing in Small Worlds before I set off back to England.   And the title also cunningly covers the current challenge at Our Creative Corner, one of the craft blogs that I do keep a weather eye on, since there is a heavy family involvement - you might like to take a peek at it.   And perhaps even have a go at the Challenge?   You have until 28th September to get your entry in.   Since this post covers several things I had forgotten about I shall cheekily pop in an entry too.

I just read through my last post and noticed that I promised to be back with you "towards the end of the week" so I apologise for not making it.  But since then I have "zazimovated" the house (apparently there is an American term for this process: "to winterize"), driven halfway across Europe, staying with some wonderful new friends en route,(not the dolls, though there were many in the house, but the lady in picture nine) arrived back in the UK only to get caught up in the Dartford Crossing closure, thus turning an easy one and a half hour journey on the M20 and M25 into a four hour one through the centre of London, viewed 17 properties to rent in the space of four days, settled on one we love, met with the landlord to clinch the deal, and started the house-packing in real earnest.   So maybe you will forgive me for the delay!

So back to the breadbins......I think we will look at the stable this week.

The idea of having something horse-related in Small Worlds was as a direct result of inviting the class of my friend Jana - remember her from the Opening Day? - to visit the museum as a group.   I needed to find out how many children I could cope with at once, because next year I should like to offer group visits to local schools.   So Jana's class of ten and eleven year old children was an obvious guinea pig.   I learned a lot about managing a big group and they gave me some good and willing feedback on the spot.   I also asked Jana to let them expand on that when I was not around so that they could be freer with their comments.

In general they had much enjoyed their visit but, predictably, the boys wanted more things of interest to them - again, watch this space - and several of the girls wanted something to do with horses.

I already had plans for a smithy but I also started looking out for stables on ebay in Britain and Germany.   It was after several that I had had my eye on went for what I felt were exorbitant prices, that I realised I had no need to buy anything - a breadbin would make a perfect stable.   No shortage of breadbins in Small Worlds!   I buy every one that I see at a carboot sale.....

So armed with an empty breadbin, I started to gather the makings of a stable interior.   First of all I needed horses of course.   I had one already - a relic of Butterfly's childhood, a Pippa pony.   I imagine that will bring back memories for some of you, it certainly did for me when I found it.

I had also bought a couple of horses in Czech toy shops - a somewhat spirited steed in black and white who took my fancy, and a rather tamer roan coloured one.

But before I had even started the stable I had a visit from an elderly lady and her granddaughter.  On getting into conversation with them I discovered that the latter was an avid collector of model horses, both Schleich and Breyer, and many others.   She offered to bring me some she no longer needed; I was delighted when her troop arrived before the stable had been completed.   I say troop advisedly - it turned out that her great-grandfather had been a Hussar, which I found very exciting.

In the end the black and white horse didn't make it into the stable - he was replaced by one of the Hussar troop who has a very sweet face.

The horses would clearly need stalls and here the ever-useful orange crates came into play.   I didn't want oranges visible in my stable so I cut some end pieces of crate and then joined two bits back to back to make the stalls.   

I was somewhat handicapped throughout this process in that I know nothing at all about horses, riding or stables so a lot of googling went on to find out how various things looked.   I suspect most of the things I made have some sort of technical name - for example the things on the wall in which the fodder (ooh look, a technical word, not sure if you can apply it to horses though) sits.   I had one stray hair curler - also long forgotten - which I thought would work well to hold the hay.
It had to be cut in half and painted brown, and I hunted in vain through the local shops for a second one since I needed three feeders.   No one sells hair curlers like that anymore!  Even my hairdresser, whose premises are right outside the back entrance to Small Worlds, couldn't help.  

So in the end I resorted to a strange plastic object which came in a packet together with a miniature skateboard from one of our favourite cheapie shops - remember my clock?  I have no idea what it is meant to be, some sort of bicycle stand perhaps?   

You can see in this next photo that I am not the tidiest of crafters - everything I am using, plus all the glues and tools, seem to end up in one chaotic heap, however hard I try to keep things tidy. 

Once I had the stalls in place, and the feeders on the wall, I had to think about keeping the horses in.   The left and right hand stalls were easy to provide gates for - I used the grates of two metal ashtrays made in the shape of fireplaces.   And helpfully the places to rest cigarettes on made very handy hinges to fasten the gates to the wall.  

The centre gate was rather more difficult but in the end my trusty party poppers once again came to the rescue, together with some kebab sticks painted black.  I experimented with straws first  but they weren't really strong enough.

So with the inside more or less sorted I turned my attention to outdoors.   The tricky thing with using the flap of a breadbin to provide a further display area is that everything has to be placed so that it does not crash into anything inside. It then has to be glued down very firmly.   

The whole point of a breadbin is the big reveal, when one opens the lid and an ordinary household object turns out to be housing a miniature secret.....

I decided that the horses would need a source of water, and possibly some other animals to keep them company.   I looked around Small Worlds for the makings of a granite trough, such as I have in my fullsize garden.    (One of my rooms used to be the cowshed and I inherited four wonderful granite troughs.   I don't think my builders thought they were so wonderful once they had moved them all three times....).

I came up with some assorted bathtubs - somewhat lighter than the troughs that my poor builders had to deal with.....

I chose the wooden one on the left and proceeded to coat it with a mixture of glue, sand, polyfilla, grey paint and a few scatterings of moss so that it ended up like this: 

I then stuck a large sheet of sandpaper over the whole flap and spent quite a long time placing all the items in the most suitable places.   One cat gave me a lot of trouble.   I wanted a confrontation between the two cats, but could I place them so that one didn't knock over the centre gate when I closed the lid?   

No I couldn't, so in the end one found its way onto the trough and that worked.

One of the difficulties when doing this placing and gluing is that it is almost impossible to temporarily stick heavy items down in order to test out whether the flap will close properly.   The whole process involves a great deal of swearing......

But in the end I was quite pleased with the result and the stable is an undoubted hit with everyone who sees it.   It has the wow factor - except that Czechs don't say "wow", they let out a long drawn out sighing sound of pleasure that I don't believe can actually be written in English unless one can use phonetics.   

I am delighted to say that I hear it a lot in Small Worlds and I am missing it now that I am back in England for six months.   Writing the blog brings back happy memories of the summer in Small Worlds and I hope it continues to please you all.

I am not likely to write another post until our house
move has been completed which will, fingers crossed, be in just one month's time.   But I hope to see you again then.   In the meantime thank you for continuing to follow this journey.