A Randomly Selected Newspaper Headline:

The following is a randomly selected newspaper headline from many years ago:

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I have also added a separate page to the blog for the Tower of Magic with a brief summary of all the rooms of the ToM in the one spot. The link is just below this and above the main body of the blog, or you can just click here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shop at Pennicott's

You already have the address,  now you know the name of the best (okay, only) ladies boutique on my worktable.  Pennicott's at 214 High Street is the place to go for sophisticated fashions and accessories.  The proprietor, A.L. Pennicott inheritted the business from her slightly eccentric spinster aunts and has since extensively modernised the shop's decor to be bang up to the minute.  The minute in this case is sometime in the mid 1950s.  Above each of the ground floor windows is a simple yet bold sign proclaiming the name of the establishment.  The signs are made from cardboard cut to fit in the purpose designed hollow above each window.  The card was painted deep green and foam letter stickers were painted gold and then pressed onto the cardboard.

With the 'bones' of the dowstairs sorted last week, this week I worked on the upper floor.  While the ground floor will concentrate on gowns, the upper floor will house all the accessories needed to accompany them.  A display counter runs along the left wall.  This is made of two parts, the first being a ready-made high counter that was hanging about and the second being made of balsa wood and a few tiny turnings.

In the middle of the floor is a round display stand.  This was made from chipboard scrapbooking swirls and circles cut from balsa wood.  A similar stand runs along the side of the stairwell, this one made with some jewellery findings in place of the balsa wood.  I raided my box of furniture and found some suitable display shelves to line the back wall and a seat to sit against the front wall.  This space still needs some extra shelves on the wall behind the counter and some stair rails, but like the downstairs, the basic 'bones' of the room are now in place.

Scattered around the shop are some polymer clay mannequins and busts.  For the most part these were made with the help of my full body female mould.  You can probably tell which ones were freehand without me needing to point them out.

With the shop progressing well, it was time to get back to the much ignored Apothecary.  This stalled at the start of the year when I decided to use clay to make the bricks.  This is a messy, time consuming task that can't be done in stinking hot weather so while we had a cooler change and a long weekend I got to and pulled out the clay and my impress moulds.

The air-dry clay was rolled into a thin sheet and glued onto the walls.  My brick impress mould (made by Malcom's Miniatures) is then press into the clay to create the brick pattern.  Doing this in tight corners and accross and over arched ceilings requires the skill of a contortionist to both reach in and still see what you are doing, but the frustration is worth it.  Short of buying real brick slips (which are expensive and probably just as frustrating) clay is the most effective way to produce a brick look finish that I have found.  Because I wanted the Apothecary's chamber to have a very aged, rustic effect I didn't fuss too much with getting the bricks even.  At this point the dried clay has been painted grey (for mortar) and had a couple of dry brushed coats of brickish red-brown but still needs a few more layers of paint before they are properly finished.

At the moment I am really pleased with how both projects are shaping up, if only I could stop the metallic stripe in Pennicott's wallpaper from reflecting the flash everytime I take a photo!

Monday, January 21, 2013

No. 214 High Street

The shop is starting to gain it's identity with all the doors and windows now glued in place.  In other Corner Shop kits I've seen done their creator usually places the store's name in the glass panel above the door.  I considered doing the same, but I've picked a name a little too long for the space (I'll reveal what it is next week).  The next most logical thing to have over the door is the street number of the shop.  I found some gold number stickers and randomly chose a two, a one and a four to create the address then used faux leadlighting paints to create a design around the numbers.

 I still need to get the signwriters in to add the store name above the windows, but overall the outside is now shaping up nicely.  I do have one problem however.  Now that the windows are fixed in place I can no longer reach through them to push the ceiling of the shop up to make the front pieces slide into place.  Nor can I wrap my fingers through the holes to get a good grip to pull them out again.  Downstairs, I can push the door open to do these things  but the top floor front has nothing at all to hold onto and no way to reach inside.  It is now almost impossible to get the top floor front open.  I wonder if all Corner Shops have this problem or is it just my alteration?  I have a feeling it's a flaw in the design of the C. Shop exacerbated by my alterations.  I've said before that I don't think DHE think through all their kits properly before releasing them and I'm rapidly becoming certain of the fact!

 I've been working inside the shop too with all the major structures of the ground floor now in place.  Along the back wall are three curtained booths.  The two at either end will become "fitting rooms" so the shop's customers can try on their wares in privacy while the centre booth will either be another fitting room or will showcase a gown on a mannequin.  The curtains are made from velveteen and pleated as usual by pinning them into shape on a foam board and spraying with starch.  In the far corner is a faux door leading out the back to the "stock room".

The stairs are still far from perfect, but I only have so much patience for sanding and by flipping them to rise from the back to front you can't really see the rough surface and resulting patchy paint work on the stair treads. Under the stairs is a built-in storage unit.  The lower section has faux cupboards while the upper section has open display shelves.  In front of this is a shop counter from my furniture stash with Dan filling in for the absent sales assistant.

In the centre of the floor is a round platform covered in more of the velveteen.  A display of dresses on mannequins will eventually stand on this.  A coat rack will go between the front door and the side window.  The only logical place left for a "husband waiting couch" is under one of the windows, but this means there can't be a display in that window.  I'm thinking it should be under the side window rather than the front one so that the blokes are further away from the counter and won't see how much money their ladies are spending.

My follower count is slowly climbing towards 200.  When it gets there, I'll hold a celebratory give-away as a welcome to all the newcommers and a thank you to all the older ones so please remember to keep an eye out for it to start.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Little Progress . . .

There are still at least half a dozen fires burning in Tasmania, but none of these are currently considered to be a threat to people or property. At the height of the fires last week 111,000 hectares of land was burned in a six day period which is a little under 2% of the total area of Tasmania.  A total of 250 homes were destroyed. The Red Cross has raised over 2.5 million dollars to aid those who were affected.  If you have helped by making a donation, you have my sincere thanks.  Although the situation in Tasmania and Victoria has eased, bushfires are still raging uncontrolled accross the state of New South Wales (at least 120 of them) affecting an area at least half the size of Tasmania.  I know of one Aussie miniaturist whose property and possbily life was saved from fire last week only by a shift in the wind direction.  To my other fellow Australians, please stay safe and let's all hope for a moderate amount of rain (we don't want to get flooded out again like January a couple of years ago).

 On the miniatures front, the shop is progressing slowly.  I might have been able to do more with it, but I've been babysitting my sister's eleven week old kitten and trying to do something constructive with a hyperactive ball of fur in the house (or, as in the above photo, in the shop) does not work very well.  He won't even stay still long enough to be photographed properly.  The apothecary has not progressed at all for the same reason; somehow I don't think trying to cover a room (and myself) in clay and press bricks into it before it dries while trying to keep a small cat amused and out of trouble at the same time will really work very well.

What I have managed to do is to add some trim around the outside of the shop to cover the join between the top and bottom halves.  It's made from a thin piece of inch wide balsa wood over which a centimetre square strip of balsa wood was laid.  Off cuts of cornicing/coving cut into centimetre wide pieces were glued to the underside of the square beam for decoration.

Once this was in place, I gave the entire outside of the shop a coat of matte sealer.  In a recent post, Daydreamer at About My Dollhouses complained that her matte sealer dried with a shiny finish and here you can see mine has done the same thing.  Matte does mean non-shiny, right?  Well, at least the chalky green paint no longer marks everytime you touch it.

 Inside, I've been trying to figure out the arrangement for the furniture and displays that I want to put in.  As usual, when you first put the kit together it looks enormous, but when you try and fit everything into it, there is no room at all.  My plan was to have gowns on display downstairs and accessories (shoes, jewellery, etc) upstairs. The position of the front door and stairs leaves surprisingly little room downstairs.  At best I could fit in three half mannequins (i.e. full figured in front, but flat to sit against the wall at the back) and maybe one central full mannequin, but there would be no space for a fitting room or counter.  More dresses would fit in much better if I moved that department upstairs, but then I still have trouble arranging things downstairs.  And I really want the dresses downstairs and the accessories up.  Why don't these things ever just co-operate?

Monday, January 7, 2013


As some of you may already be aware, the past few days have seen severe bushfires devastate parts of Tasmania.  Firstly, let me say that I am not personally affected by this at all and the worst of the fires are at the opposite end of the state to where I live.  There are however thousands of people whose lives have been destroyed by the fires.  The town of Dunalley has been destroyed with the local school, bakery, sawmill and many farms wiped out.  Thousands were evacuated from the areas affected and many no longer have homes to return to.  Electricity has been cut to nearly 10,000 houses due to burnt infrastructure.  100 people are considered missing by authorities and although they expect most of these people are safe, they are searching eight properties per hour for human remains.

If you can spare a few dollars and would like to help the people whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed by these fires, please visit the Red Cross website by clicking here and make a donation.

Over the Christmas period, I made a start on two new properties.  The first is a ladies boutique based in DHE's Corner Shop kit.  At one point I had plans to build this shop from scratch and make it bigger and grander but as I am working with a roombox literally under my feet because I have nowhere else to put it, I reluctantly decided to use the smaller kit.

I altered the basic kit by extending the front/side wall so that the staircase could be placed inside the shop rather than outside so that I end up with one two storey shop instead of two separate spaces on two different levels.  The outside walls were finished by using a brick stencil and my mix of "brick paste" on the lower half and acrylic paint mixed with texture powder to create a stucco effect on the upper portion.  The roof is covered in vinyl tile cut into shingle sized pieces.

Inside the walls are covered in a scrapbooking paper with white, grey and silver stripes.  For me this is a very dull colour palette, but it really doesn't matter what colour the walls are; by the time the shop is filled with stuff you will have trouble seeing them anyway.

The ground floor is "tiled" using a black and white check scrapbooking paper which was pasted to the floor and then coated with gloss sealer.  That rug on the floor?  Oh, that isn't covering an ugly wrinkle in the paper, the fact that there will always be something ontop of this spot in photos is just coinsidence. . .

Upstairs the floor is covered with popsicle sticks laid in a random plank pattern and stained and sealed.  The staircase is not yet installed because it still needs more sanding.  The stairs that came with the kit are about the shoddiest piece of junk I have seen come with a proper dollshouse kit from a company selling "adult" houses.  The surface of the steps were as pitted as the surface of the moon and the stairs were joined in several places with joints that looked like they'd been assembled by a five year old.  The glue used in these joints was either extremely cheap and ineffective or they just didn't use enough of it because one joint fell apart.  The stairs have been filled and sanded and sanded and sanded and I think I'll still be trying to get them smooth this time next year.

The stairs were not the only part of the kit where cheap glue was used; one of the windows that came with the kit arrived in pieces, the other fell to pieces when I tried to paint it, the door is still in one piece, but it won't hold up to a gentle breeze.  The pre-glued pieces of roof were also falling apart when they arrived, but as I wanted to take them apart to extend the roof I'll not complain about that.  All in all I get the impression that the Dolls House Emporium have cut costs as far as they can and sacrificed all semblance of quality to do so.  I'm also not keen on the way the kit is designed to open.  The front panels are left loose and the ground floor front rests on the table, not on the base of the kit.  So if anyone not familiar with the shop tries to pick it up or move it, the bottom front is liable to fall off or simply get left behind and in either case it is likely to be damaged.  In the past I've otfen thought that DHE don't think through their designs terribly well and the Corner Shop is definately a further example of this.  So to cut a long story short, I am not reccomending this kit to anyone.

The second of the two properties I've started making is the Apothecary.  Like the "Bakery" from a few years ago, this property will have a subterrainean chamber, in this case housing the apothecary's work room, beneath the shop.  The underground room is built inside a flat-packed MDF cube shelf unit.  Once assembled, curved ribs of foamboard were glued to the ceiling and a piece of cardboard glued over them to create an arched ceiling.  Plan A was to then cover all this in clay and use my impress moulds to create a brick effect.  I already had my brick stencil out to use on the Boutique, so I figured why not do the Apothecary the same way?  So I went with plan B, stenciling the bricks.

The stencilling process is fairly simple.  Use spray adhesive to temporarily fix the stencil where you want bricks, smear some brick paste over the top, remove stencil and wait until dry. 

It's a method that works brilliantly on the flat outsides of buildings, but it's not so great on the inside because the stencils are not designed to go right up to the edges of things like inside corners.  So once you've stencilled the middle parts you have to freehand the edges up to and around the corners.  And curving arches . . . not so simple.  To make matters worse, working in the confined space inside the chamber has lead to many of the bricks being smudged and smeared accross the wall.  It is a mess, so I've decided to go back to plan A, the only problem is that you can't work with air dry clay in 30+ degree heat; it dries before you get a chance to work it and because it dries so fast it has a greater tendancy to crack.  So work on the apothercary has come to a halt until we get a cool change.

In fact it has been so hot lately that doing anything that involved movement of any kind just seems like way too much work so I've been sitting idle and working on my cross stitch for some of the time I might otherwise have spent working on miniatures.  People say I finish miniatures quickly, but no one can accuse me of the same when it comes to cross stitching as I've been working on this one for at least five years.  In my defence it is huge, about 40x30cm and I do only have an area about 10x10cm left to go.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 in Review - Part Three

Well, better late than never, here is the final part of my look back at 2012.

The "Dragon Wizard" was an unplanned addition to the year's work.  He was created from a sudden flash of inspiration and was my entry in the doll dressing competition run by DHMS magazine.  I had been hoping to win third prize in the competition, but just my luck I had to go and win first prize which I couldn't use!  D.W. still doesn't have a proper home . . . What would an oriental themed wizard's lair look like . . . . ?  This may be a project for 2013.

I have three castles, over a dozen houses and even more roomboxes and scenes, so it seemed a good idea to try and save space by experimenting in the smaller 1/24th (or 1/2") scale.  Not being certain I could tackle details in this minute size I decided to keep my first foray simple and created a cozy if somewhat uninspired house for a lady named Tilli.  Tilli's house started out as a cheap child's toy house made out of foam.

 In contrast to Preston House, Tilli's house went together easily despite the odd issue.  The 1/24th scale bath tub I bought on the internet for example is just a little small for Tilli, a 1/24th scale doll, to wash all of herself in at once.  Is there anything more annoying than buying something only to discover it is out of scale?

On the outside, Tilli's house has a bit of a traditional "Aussie" look to it with a verandah and balcony, wisteria vine and of course a tin roof.

 Inside, the house is neat and elegant, much like Tilli herself.  I had been worried about my ablitity to work in 1/24th scale, but by the time I'd finished I was wishing Tilli's house was a little larger so I could fit more in.  It is now beyond doubt that there are more 1/24th scale houses in my future, if only so Tilli can invite someone around to tea who actually fits on the sofa.

 Alongside Tilli's house, I worked on a simple bedroom roombox (in 1/12th scale).  The purpose of the room was simply to use the expensive painted bedroom furniture I bought for Preston House, then decided not to use.  I simply could not arrange these pieces so they looked good in Preston House and I had almost as hard of a time in this room too.  Truth to tell, I'm tempted even now to try selling the furniture on ebay and making or buying something different in the room.  Somehow, even though it's finished, it doesn't look finished.

And finally of the year was a simple little Christmas vignette.  This was built in a gold gift box out of items I had on hand (excluding the lights).  Personally, my favourite part of this one is the fireplace.  Aside from where the red stain leached through my later paintwork, this is the most successful job of faux marbling I've ever managed.

Phew!  That was my 2012 in a total of eight different projects.  Well, mostly anyway.  I did make a start on two new projects over Christmas, but I'll unveil them in another post in a few days.