Thursday 4 February 2010

Start at the very beginning...a very good place to start

This will be a long blog entry I am afraid - I have over a year of catching up to do!

All my life I wanted a dolls house....I think that creative urge was there early. I knew what wallpaper would be just right and that there had to be paintings on the walls, many comfy seats and definitely plenty of flower arrangements scattered around (carefully of course!) The people who lived there would just love the homely atmosphere that I had created.....but all those plans went unfulfilled, as no dolls house arrived. Even as a teenager that dream didn't go away. My best friend and I shared the same dolls house ambition and would spend ages reading dolls house catalogues and discussing the merits of choosing one cooker rather than another and which sofa was the best.

I was amazed to then see that my mother-in-law was even more of a fan than I was...and had many houses that she had created. I was in heaven....oh, how I wanted one! Yep... the dolls house bug was still there despite the fact that I had forced myself to accept that I would never own one.

I occasionally peeked at dolls houses on eBay, usually when they were pointed out by my mother-in-law (I hope she won't mind me calling her by her name to save typing!) Gil would send me links of ones she knew I would like and I always did love them - It never failed to start me off daydreaming about furniture and fixtures....I would watch the bidding and then she and I winced at the final prices. I have two small children and our budget doesn't allow for the extras that creating a dolls house requires. I don't mean to come across as whinging about that. I don't resent it at children are the best people to have ever come into my life.....but I couldn't justify spending that amount of money...and wouldn't for many years to come. I put that dream away again...occasionally sneaking images/ideas away from ebay sales when they caught my eye! 

 Such as this lovely hallway...I have already tracked down that exact wallpaper and flooring and I will get it for my dolls house! day I saw an advert for a dolls house on a selling site I belong to. Hmmmmm....should I ask about it? An email was sent asking for pictures and a price....Pictures came back with details of room dimensions and my heart skipped a beat I think! It was PERFECT!! Just what I had wanted - 3 floors with a loft.

I wanted non symmetrical rooms and this lovely house had a variety of room sizes....and they were good size rooms too , not little box shapes. Only one room was painted (teenager had given up very quickly) so no wallpaper to was a beautiful blank canvas.....and to top this off the price was good!

I wanted an expert opinion so wrote an email to Gil...she had often pointed out the pros and cons to certain houses - things that I had not noticed and I was thinking maybe this house was too good to be true - was I overlooking a problem? She really liked it and in fact she offered to buy it for me for Christmas....I was so grateful and thrilled that I was on the first step of my dolls house journey at last. On Christmas day I had totally forgotten about the dolls house gift (I have that kind of brain I am afraid) and was bewildered when handed a strand of wool and told to follow it led my up the stairs to one of the bedrooms and inside was my dolls house....although technically it wasn't a surprise I must admit there were tears in my eyes...and I could have hugged Gil forever.

I decorated the house very quickly...

I needed to do this without spending much money so I would grab a few feet of several wallpapers from a DIY shop under the pretence of needing a sample....pots of tester emulsion are cheap and searching a DIY store online I found some samples of parquet and laminate flooring I liked. I copied the image and then put it onto a word document and printed it up on card....hey presto - I had a really good floor for the art room and the nursery. 

I did a similar thing with tiles...finding tiles I liked online and then printing them onto photo of yet I haven't found the right tiles for my bathroom but I will find them sometime! Decorating the rooms was fun but I did go through a slight hiccup in my plans though. I had decided very quickly what rooms were what and I knew that the woman who lived there was a art and craft lady and would have her own craft I set aside the small hallway outside the main bedroom for that use. I chose the perfect wallpaper and although there wasn't much of it, the paper would cover the room but it wouldn't allow for many errors. Very carefully I pasted, cut and papered....stepped back and admired the work....allowing for a moment of smugness - I had done a very good , neat job.

However, hold on a minute - something is wrong, this definitely doesn't look right....oh blooming heck! (I am ashamed to admit my actual words were much stronger) I papered the flipping living room instead! - carefully I unpeeled the freshly hung and expertly cut paper that I had no more of....took a deep breath, Well, the art room is smaller thank goodness. I'll just try and use it in there. Of course it fitted and the mistake wasn't too horrendous. It taught me to be far more careful in future. I am a rusher by nature, wanting everything done yesterday and I have learnt the hard way that dolls house creation takes a long is a journey best taken enjoying the view, not hurried along ignoring everything that passes.

Time was passing however - with no money for furniture, the house stayed empty and even sadder was the fact that it had become a handy place to store letters and general bric-a-brac out of kids reach. This wasn’t what I had intended - I didn’t want a dolls house shaped storage cupboard. I wanted a beautiful house full of lovely daughter was upset at this too and would ask “when is it going to be ready to play with Mummy?” I wasn't forgetting my dolls house plans though. I was collecting many ideas and items from the internet. Every time I saw a thing I liked, flooring, wallpaper, furniture, pictures etc I put them into files on my computer, all tucked away until they could be used.

I knew that although the ideal "easy quick" solution was to have enough money to go out and buy all brand new furniture - there was very little fun to be had doing that for a person who likes crafts as much as me. Of course, there is the 'retail therapy' point of view but that is a very short lived thrill. I began to look for second hand furniture on eBay with the view to renovating it - but prices are still very high and many of the mixed lots on there would have only one or two items I liked and the others I wouldn't use. So that idea bit the dust. Gil suggested that I make my own furniture. she certainly has more faith in my abilities than I do. "I CAN’T make furniture!" I would reply. "I can’t even do flat pack full sized furniture". My husband refuses to let me help with furniture building as I have no understanding for the need of instructions and surge on ahead guessing what piece goes where. I would never have the patience to sit and cut out wood and then horror of horrors….follow instructions!!!

Last week Gil visited me while my husband Adam was away. She carried with her a bag of the dolls house magazines that I love reading. While Anya was out and Jakob was asleep I began to flick through the pages when I found a “make your own Victorian kitchen” magazine. That looks nice I thought, again dismissing the possibility that I could even understand how to make anything. A dresser caught my eye….it was too big for what I wanted but I could see that the plans were very simple yet the finished item looked fantastic..something people would pay £15-20 for…suddenly I was tempted. What could go wrong? I just buy some balsa wood (the item was actually made from cardboard but it said wood could be used and I wanted something sturdy) If it went wrong I would just know for sure that I couldn’t make furniture. I glanced at other pages…ooohhh a nice coffee grinder, shelf unit, aga cooker, gas lamp, bucket, saucepans….all made from cardboard, balsa wood, beads and gilt findings…...I wanted all of them and to get them I had to try to make them.

Something small to begin with…the shelf unit. A back, two sides and two shelves and a base. Easy shapes to cut out. My long suffering husband responded favourably to my request to buy balsa wood and glue etc and I got to work. 

I cut out the templates and then the wood. Hmmm.....instructions - PAH! Don’t need those! I know where the bits go…but as you could probably guess I did it wrong because as with so many of these things, bits have to be done in a certain order otherwise they don’t fit. 
“You mean I have to sit and hold the items together while to glue bonds?” Oh for heavens sake! that doesn’t fit in with my total lack of patience.

Anyway I held the shelves onto the back of the unit, impatiently waiting for minutes to pass, let go......."yes they have stuck!" only to then watch the shelves slowly collapse....with sticky fingers I would apply more messy glue and I would try to construct it again....... the whole lot a soppy mess of glue and fingerprints. I have a 'bit' of a perfectionist streak in me and if something isn't absolutely perfect then it is wrong! I glared at the gaps where the knife had cut at an angle instead of straight and realised that to make things 'perfect' I would have to take more time and sand down the edges....such a small detail but taking that extra time all adds up to making them look more like professionally made items. 

 If I was going to continue with my rushing "make it in ten minutes" plan I was going to end up with shabby crooked wonky furniture - something I had hoped to avoid by buying things new. However before this realisation hit me I growled and cursed and then announced “Oh this is hopeless…I CAN’T do it and it looks awful”

Adam, as always was there with the patient calm words of encouragement along the lines of 'practice' makes perfect….try and try again…don’t give up….The ambitious, tenacious side of my character took over and announced “OK…I’ll do the dresser tomorrow”

This time I looked at the instructions…even crossing out what I had done so that I didn’t get confused with all the “attach A to side B then attach two G’s to corner C” etc etc…. I also labelled the cut wood so that I knew what bit was - very unlike me! I took it slowly, even sitting holding bits together till it had set. I was amazed as the dresser too shape…it looked great. I even managed to divide the pattern in half as the original was too big for what I had wanted…. The dresser went so well I have plans to adapt it into a bookcase and also maybe a sink and unit for the bathroom. I hope it will work... the plans for the dresser are very simple and I think very easily adapted.

Now I needed beads and gilt findings for the other items. Gil to the rescue. She let me raid all the dolls house bits she has collected and it was great to find everything I needed, even old party poppers which apparently I can make into saucepans. 

Now with all the metal bits and pieces perhaps I could make an aga cooker? First just to get some more practise maybe something simple...a clock? Probably the easiest thing to make and cost pennies to do. 

Two bits of wood, a bit of metal, a button and a printed clock face....easy peasy!

The cooker was tougher. I wanted to reduce the size and height by about a third and my maths wasn’t up to the precision needed. So it didn’t go together as accurately as the dresser did. But I was very happy with the result and although I don't mean to brag I actually prefer it to the original one in the magazine.

I also like the fact that it is now an original rather than just a copy. I was pleased to find the perfect door hinges (links from an old bracelet) in the items Gil donated. The magazine recommended brass nails but I think the links work better. Rummaging through the items I found other appropriate metal bits including perfect handles and a dolls house door handle made a perfect ash drawer handle.......Adam really liked it and added his recommendation that I paint the hob plates a silvery metal so they show up which I will do at some point............. I finally have a cooker!!!

What will I make next?

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