Saturday, April 1, 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Gasogene, You Say?

In the Sherlock Holmes story "A Scandal in Bohemia", Watson mentions that Holmes keeps "a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner.” A spirit case, otherwise known as a Tantalus frame, is a stand for decanters that allows them to be locked, so the servants can see but not taste them (like Tantalus in Greek mythology, who was doomed to eternal thirst).

A gasogene is a contraption for making fizzy water (the Victorian SodaStream, if  you will.) They came in quite a few shapes and sizes, but they all have two globes covered with a kind of netting (a big one and a smaller one), and a tap on top or in the middle. Here's what the full-sized ones look like.

From Bottle Books
To make my own 1:12-scale gasogene, I used plastic beads with a pearlescent finish. I enlarged the hole in one end of each and filled it with craft glue, then wrapped the bead in cheesecloth, trimmed off the excess and tucked the ends into the glue-filled hole. (The upper one looks a bit ratty, but you get the idea.)

Then I pirated a faucet from an extra dollhouse bathroom fixture and modified it slightly by trimming bits off until it looked closer to the correct shape.

After that, it was fairly easy to glue the beads and the faucet together with five little bits and pieces of jewellery findings. Now for the spirit case!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Your Dark Lantern Seize"

A dark lantern is something you'd only tend to hear about in an archaic context, as in the lyrics quoted in my title, above, from Pirates of Penzance, when the Pirate King is exhorting his crew to collect their tools so as to "vary piracy with a bit of burglary."

But for Victorian criminals and crimefighters alike, it was an important bit of kit. Essentially, it allowed you to see your way in the dark withouht being spotted, by shading the beam of your lantern.

For my Sherlock Holmes dollhouse room, I decided to make a dark lantern. It's  modeled after the one pictured in this wonderful informative post about the Dietz Police Lantern

Antique Dietz Police Lantern, full size

Dollhouse-sized (about 1.5" high) Dietz Police Lantern
Mine is a bit out of proportion: too tall, with a cap that's too large. I might redo it, but for the moment I'm quite pleased with it.

The body is a plastic spool from an emergency sewing kit from the dollar store (about $1.25 for ten or so spools plus needles and so on. The bulb is a cap from something like a tube of glue.

The bottom and top are made with the metallic tape you use to seal furnace ductwork and dryer venting hoses, which I normally have in the house. For the top, I cut out two circles of paper with foil tape stuck to both sides, and simply bent them with needle-nosed pliers.

The back is made with two short bits of tubing cut out of the inner working of a disposable ballpoint pen (which can stilll be used), three paper clips, a tiny rectangle of dollar-store craft foam and more of that foil tape. I actually did inscribe the words "DIETZ POLICE LANTERN NEW YORK U.S.A."on the back, but you can't really read it.

It's finished with a coat of silver enamel paint and some black latex craft paint on top.

I've been working on the room box (with the helpful of my capable and crafty brother), so I'll soon have a place to put the collection of Holmesiana.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dolly Makeover: 1880s Edition

You can buy inexpensive porcelain dollhouse dolls (about $10 each) online, but the assortment isn't large. Say, for example, you wanted a doll to portray Sherlock Holmes' housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, Time for a dolly makeover!

On the left is the Before doll. I peeled off her apron (it was glued on) and "cap", and restyled her hair with a new elastic band and a little glue of my own.

I changed her face a bit with sharp coloured pencils (if you don't like what you've done, you can just wipe it off with a damp cotton swab and start over). I stitched the back of her dress to give it more of an early 1880s silhouette (straighter, with a bit of a bustle) and made a gathered petticoat out of sheer unhemmed ribbon, which gives the skirt support and body. I "ironed" it with a hot hairdryer.

For the finishing touches, I glued a tiny jewel to her collar (it was sold at the dollar store in a packet of items for fingernail decoration), sewed a ring of dollhouse door keys to her belt and made a pair of pince-nez out of a used staple (!) and some thread.

You'd hardly know it was the same doll.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Jewelbox Dollhouse

Here's the bathroom from my one-day jewelbox dollhouse project. It's just two inches wide!

And here's the whole house. It's 10.5 inches wide and 8 inches high; I think the scale is 48:1, or one quarter-inch to the foot.

The catalyst for this project was threefold. First, I needed a break after three weeks of intense work. Second, there was nasty freezing rain all afternoon. Third, I've been wondering what to do with this complete houseful of cheap Hong Kong-made plastic dollhouse furniture. It came in one of the lots I occasionally buy on Kijiji, and I felt I should either use it or give it away.

So the other day, as I was looking through my extra bits and pieces to pick out a few items for a friend, I was reminded of this little hanging jewelbox or kitch display unit. It also came in a (different) lot of second-hand dollhouse furniture. A lightbulb went on!

Here is stage one of taking the jewelbox apart. Luckily, it was only fastened with tiny nails and even tinier staples: no glue. As you can see from the picture above, I slightly reconfigured the dividers. It was my sweetie Jonathan who pointed out that the drawer could make an extra room (I knocked the back off it so the "floor" wouldn't be too thick.

After that, it was just a question of sticking it back together, adding a few scraps of wallpaper, carpeting and some tiny leftover bits of plastic tiles, lightly gluing the furniture in place and painting the outside to hide dirt, dings and nail holes.

The plastic furniture turned out to be remarkably detailed for something that only cost $1.50 when it was bought new. (Mind you, that may well have been 40 years ago, when $1.50 went a bit further than it does now—but, still.)

Here's the attic study...

The bedroom...

The kitchen, complete with icebox, dry sink and cast-iron stove

The upstairs landing, with the telephone on the wall...

...and the dining room (I glued some minuscule squares of fabric to the chair seats).

The original box had a hook for hanging, so I stuck it back on, and here's the finished product in place hanging from a shelf in my office.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Handmade Polar Teddy Bear

I spent one summer working in a stuffed animal factory, turning out hundreds of toys a week. I don't know why it doesn't occur to me to make stuffed toys more often.

This is a very quick hand-sewn felt polar bear adapted from an online pattern, with just a little bit of embroidery and some button eyes.

I may do more of these.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reupholstering Dollhouse Furniture

Since I don't buy much new dollhouse furniture (I get most of mine in odd lots on Kijiji and MaxSold), and also because I enjoy making things, I've recently had a go at re-covering some of my miniature furniture. My first try is shown above. The original fabric was the blue stripe, which looked nice but not really in scale: more like a toy than a miniature.

In order to re-cover dollhouse furniture, you have to gently pry the pieces apart. For some, a hair dryer will help melt the glue; for others, you might need to dampen them (although this could be risky in many ways.) Cheaper furniture is actually easier to disassemble, because the glue gives way easily and there are no nails.

Then you gently tear off the original fabric, cut out copies in the new fabric and glue them on. This wingback chair was a chore to do, because of my choice of fabric. It's a rather heavy synthetic with a tight weave that repels the glue, so I had to work in stages and secure everything with alligator clips while the glue dried. Also, the fabric tended to ravel at the cut edges.

By sheer fluke, I spotted a bit of brown ribbon from a chocolate box as I was working on it, and I like how it looks glued across the front in place of another band of the fabric. I'm fairly pleased with the end result, despite some frayed edges; the interior I'm planning can use some shopworn-looking items.

By chance, I acquired two chairs and a sofa of the same type (but in different colours) in separate lots. The original velvet-like covering was rather threadbare, and a bit was missing from one of the chair arms (above). The swatches show the original emerald and ruby fabrics.

The flowery fabric, which is (expensive) scale fabric, came in a different batch. It's a cotton with a fairly open weave, and it stuck on like a charm. (I think I could size it with a watered-down brushing of glue to really seal loose ends and baggy bits.)  As with my first try, I was fairly lucky in my attempts to make the pattern match up between  pieces.

Here's the sofa from the set, with the cushions lifted out and one piece of the fabric off, to show what it looks like. This set has nails, which makes them fussier to work with, but sturdier in the long run. I'm looking forward to (eventually) installing three matching pieces in the Westville dollhouse.