I am a rather hands-on sort of person. It’s a good thing when it comes to miniatures because I could never afford to just be a collector, buying everything ready- made for my individual miniature settings. I learned to build miniature dwellings because I wanted them and that was my only realistically affordable option. Besides, that way, I was able to get exactly what I wanted. I learned to build the furniture, create the foods and sew small items for the same reasons. I really enjoy cooking (in real life) and so it was important to me that any scenes with food were depicted as accurately as possible and any dwelling with a kitchen was properly equipped for the time frame and circumstance represented.
Miniature food is difficult to find, especially believable and affordable food items. Adding to that complication, I am interested in historic foods and items from places like Britain, which may be easier to locate there, but not here in the US. My solution was to research the subject, and then learn to craft my own miniature foods from a variety of materials. This is how I came to design and make a boar’s head and a roast suckling pig, for a Tudor buffet I was creating, as well as numerous other miniature foods. Note the croissant, poached pear and tea with a slice of lemon on the bed tray below.
Each miniature collector, crafter and creator has his or her own vision and angle when it comes to the hobby. I’ll discuss a few of my own miniature perspectives for you to keep in mind while you tour some little places…
One of the goals I strive for in my projects is a sense of realism. I like to leave a well-layered bed turned back to reveal the sheets and blankets beneath a cozy comforter. I spend a lot of time making the layers of linens for my miniature beds; so why then would I want to cover them up?
A mug of cocoa with floating marshmallows, or a cup of hot mulled cider with a cinnamon stick in it, on a small table next to the bed and a pair of spectacles on an open book. All these details help to create an illusion of someone having just stepped away for a moment, before preparing to settle in for an evening of reading at bedtime.
Humor is also important in my work; a mouse under a chair and a maid doll standing on that chair… A ball of yarn tugged from a knitting basket, being tossed about by a naughty kitty while no one is looking… A tipped-over sugar canister included in a cookie-making vignette …
These touches all make the viewer think a little bit beyond the obvious. They imply action and activity, in essence; these details suggest life being lived within the miniature dwelling or scene.
Collections Suggest a Theme
I created a fairy house to shelter my collection of woodland fairies. It’s a setting made from a hollowed-out section of a tree trunk (from a dead apple tree we had to take down on our property.) It was a short step to enhance it with varieties of wild silk and dried plants and silk and feather butterflies and dragonflies. The fairies residing there seem very comfortable and quite content as well.
Miniaturists tend to collect in miniature what they collect, or what they wish to collect, in full-size. I love blue and white dish patterns in full-scale and like many collectors who are also miniaturists, I began collecting dollhouse-sized examples of these plate patterns and colors over the years. My Victorian era retired sea captain’s home was inspired by my original humble collection of miniature blue and white porcelain. The tiny Blue Onion, Blue Willow, Canton, Delft and other pieces … inspired me to create a dollhouse around them in similar tones, with individual rooms based on the thriving sea trades of the time: the China trade, the Dutch trade, the India trade and the Japan Trade. Thus, my retired sea captain’s house was inspired and born!
A similar connection exists with the Goldilocks and Three Bears Cottage, which I created around a collection of little honey pots and jars.
So real life interests and hobbies can inspire miniature projects, and often do. In fact, the very first dollhouse I ever built for myself, a small 4-room Victorian cottage, called simply: Rosewood Cottage, is full of rose-colored and blooming rose-themed items. I’m crazy about English Roses and this project is evidence of that.
The exterior of Rosewood Cottage is painted a deep rose shade and has a climbing rose painted on one side and a smoke tree in bloom on the other. There are window boxes with flowers and a small cozy porch with a wicker chair and some interesting architectural details to add interest.
Inside, each room has examples of items with a rose theme. Lace curtains hang in all the windows. The kitchen contains pieces from several sets of rose-patterned china. I painted the enameled cook stove in a soft garden green to compliment the rose and white theme there. In the living room, an afghan and a Victorian bell pull are reproduced in excruciating detail by my dear friend Ellen, both done in very fine needlepoint. The bedroom has splashes of roses amidst green and rose velvet. The bathroom is typical of a modern indoor facility of the time; claw foot tub, pedestal sink, pull chain toilet, all with a touch of roses…
As an ode to my love of dollhouses, I have set up a miniature dollhouse shop in a small wooden cupboard. The many tiny dollhouse models I’d been collecting needed a home, and what better venue for them than a dollhouse shop?
This is also an example of how a miniature setting can be created with items typically found around the (full-sized) house, a special dwelling does not always have to be created, just re-purposed. A spare bookshelf or an empty cupboard or crate, or any number of other containers may work just fine.
If you are interested in creating a miniature vignette, but are a bit intimidated by the prospect of building a house, look around you and see what you already have that might work as an appropriate vessel. An oatmeal box would house a family of mice quite nicely. A medicine cabinet would make a small apartment for the right doll. I spice cupboard could hold a small kitchen or pantry. Even a dollar store gift bag can be turned into an interesting miniature setting…. Just think outside the box! It’s easier than you think to get started.