Last year I managed to squeeze everything into one post, but this time that's just not going to work. I think Blogger might implode. So this is the first of a trio of dollshouse posts coming your way over the next few days. I hope you enjoy them! Coffee (or a large glass of wine?) may be necessary...
For those that don't know, I've just returned from five weeks in the Czech Republic where my mother has a dollshouse museum, Small Worlds, formed of her extensive 40-year collection. You can follow the story of the museum on her blog - Cestina's Dollshouses.
Small Worlds opens for the summer months, and it really is a working collection - houses are always being transformed, improved and (let's get it out there) new ones being bought to add to the collection.
So one of the first things we had to do was rearrange the whole layout to fit in some extra houses.
These are just a few shots of the new set-up. I may share a couple more in my final post, but for now you can find lots more pictures over at my mother's blog here; and for before, during and after shots of the reorganisation, you can take a look here.
I majored on two houses, but did lots of other things alongside, continuing work on some of last year's projects, as well as helping out with some of what Cestina was getting up to.
First up, I'm sharing one of the two houses I spent longest working on.
This rather splendid Tudor affair already looked pretty good on the outside when my mother picked it up on ebay as part of the Essex Dollshouse Haul (six houses for £35.55 - yup, just under £6 per house).
So last year it was on view in the museum mainly for the exterior, with just some odds and ends of suitable period furniture in it.
(For dollshouse aficionados it's not really fair to call them "odds and ends" - they're actually vintage pieces by well-known makers, Barton.)
But the interior was completely bare surfaces, just as it was when it was collected from Essex.
My mission (and not much choice about whether to accept it): to create the interior settings for an Elizabethan tavern.
So how's this?
Anyone who knows about my Shakespeare connection will realise that this was practically like coming home for me.
At the moment, we're at the Sign of the Lion (he's perched on the edge of the balcony). But in my head it's really The Boar's Head Tavern, where Prince Hal hangs out in Shakespeare's plays Henry IV Parts 1 and 2.
And although the troupe of travelling players has yet to arrive in the inn courtyard, you'll see as we go that I have already added some traces of Will Shakespeare himself.
Let me show you around in more detail... Those who want to skip the making-of stuff, are invited to visit the completed rooms in close-up towards the end of the post!
First things first: floors and walls. I really wanted something nice and textural for the walls, to capture that plaster and limestone feel. I tried a couple of different methods to get it. Downstairs in the kitchen, I used Polyfilla straight from the tube. I started out applying it with a spatula, but ended up just smearing it on with my hands... messy!
Upstairs I took a different tack, partly because the Polyfilla was running out, and they don't have quite the same stuff in CZ. (Sorry, I know that's not the right abbreviation for the Czech Republic, but it's what I use!)
Instead, I mixed some textured paste into paint and applied that to the walls (this time a brush did the trick).
You can't just have plaster though... these are oak-framed houses, so I started a beam factory.
Endless lengths of wood strips - inked, then given a wash of black acrylic, then lined up to dry on the radiator!
The inking was done with a mixture of Distress Re-inkers and Walnut Crystal solution. Then the black just gave it a greater depth and weight.
Then in each room, I created a beam structure "within" the walls....
The beams are different from room to room - lessons drawn from my visits to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust properties in Stratford upon Avon.
You can see in those houses how different storeys were constructed in different ways, so the beams often seem quite haphazard.
In the large room upstairs, I decided I also wanted some cross beams in the roof.
Ingredients: dimensional wood strips, more inking, acrylic washing, lots of measuring, shaving of ends, hot glue-gunning and much swearing!
But probably worth it... from the bare ceiling to this.
There were some doors included with the house, beautifully made, but a couple of them were still in their naked state.
Some Distress Re-inkers soon took care of that.
Some of you will remember from last year that handmade floors featured largely in that post.
Thankfully there was no parquet required this time. But I did have to make a large number of oak boards for the upper storeys.
It's not until you are stamping the Kaisercraft Woodgrain stamp over acres of of card, inking it, cutting it into "planks" (a.k.a. strips!)...
... sticking it down on to templates cut of the floor shapes, and lacquering it that you realise exactly how large this house is!
Wooden floors would be no good downstairs in the kitchen, though.
This needed a different approach - flagstone flooring... something I've always wanted in real life (and did sort of have in my tiny cottage kitchen in Stratford - and I mean tiny... about four flagstones in total).
So again I cut a template for the floor (including the really awkward bit around the entrance way), and started smearing texture paste over it quite thickly.
While still wet, I used the end of a paintbrush to "carve" my flagstones into the paste.
I had to do it in sections, as the floor is so large that if I'd tried to do it all in one, the paste would've been dry before I could get to carving it!
Once it was all dry, I started applying paint to create the stony look. Stone Fresco Finish paint played a large part, unsurprisingly...
... and Weathered Wood Distress Paint, washes of black for a grimier look, and some greeny-blues for extra interest...
I'm really pleased with the slatey texture - just from having applied the texture paste with a palate knife in the first place.
I think it looks pretty good in place, especially if you get the right lighting.
An improvement on those blank walls, I hope you'll agree.
But still a long way to go... Charge your glasses, refresh your teacups, and on we go!
Bizarrely, this is a house without chimneys!
I'm hoping people won't really notice that, as one of my main additions to the interior is some fireplaces. The rooms just don't look right without them.
For the large room on the first floor (that'll be the second floor for the Americans - shall we just call it the middle floor?) - which is the main taproom for guests and drinkers to gather and sit - I created a large hearth to create a warm welcome for them.
It's carved out of polystyrene packaging, then covered in more texture paste, and given a smoky charring with some drybrushed black paint. (Click the photos for a close-up.)
I needed some tiles for the hearth too - hands up those who spotted the Frameworks Lattice die pieces... top marks! I cut them from thick card, then added either DecoArt Stucco or DecoArt Crackle to each of them.
Once dry, coats of Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Transparent Red Iron Oxide were added to the mix...
...and again some washes of plain black for a grimier, smokier look.
This plastic affair dug out of a storage drawer also got the painty treatment...
... and became an embroidered fireguard, to keep the faces of the guests from overheating.
The kitchen now looks rather cool, I think, but it's urgently in need of somewhere for the cooking to happen!
There was a magnificent copper hood from the hoard that I knew I wanted to use, but I needed a fireplace/cooking hearth to go under it.
Polystyrene packaging, texture paste and paint to the rescue again...
...and some more cardboard tiles, differently shaped (hand-cut this time), to tile the wall between the hood and the hearth.
And more drybrushed black paint to smoke up the walls surrounding it.
Now, how about that Tudor cooking equipment?
Well, from this unpromising bundle of old plastic toy fences and bits and bobs, I think I was able to create something reasonably effective.
Black enamel paint is a saviour in this kind of work - going onto plastic easily, and giving you a nice shiny metal effect.
I didn't want it too shiny, though, so it was time to crack open one of my most exciting crafty purchases - the Ten Seconds Studio Verday paint.
You'll get to see what the Patina Solution does to these amazing paints in terms of decay and distressing later, but for now, I was delighted with the look I got from just adding a coat of the Iron paint.
It's much earthier and grittier, with a great weathered iron texture... I altered lots of shiny gold kettles and cauldrons the same way, and one plastic blue one too.
You can see the progression from gold to shiny black to rugged cast iron.
So, from the fences and some bits of wooden dowelling, I now have a spit (the handle for turning it is a curtain hook (European style - you'll see them bobbing up in a number of places over the course of these posts)...
... as well as a grate to hold the logs for the fire. The legs are formed by a small wire photo frame holder, also painted black.
I've got one of those for upstairs too, this time with a champagne bottle wire as the legs...
(Sorry the lighting's a bit weird in this one - hard to get a proper picture with it all at the back of the room.)
... and outside in the courtyard...
... a couple of racks of hay for the guests' horses, while their masters are refreshing themselves above.
In my mother's actual house in CZ, she still has the bread oven which was originally built into the walls (though not in use)... so I decided my hostess (shall we just call her Mistress Quickly and be done with it?!) needed one of those too.
Some cork and cardboard - okay, I grant you it doesn't look like much yet...
... but with a couple of chopped up curtain hooks (yup, here they are again) as the handle and latch, and that old black paint magic - look what we get.
And here it is mounted on the wall beside the large copper hood, with the bread shovel and some freshly baked rolls nearby (made by the brilliant Lady Fanaberia, and won in a Blog Candy by Cestina)... pretty pleased with that!
Lots more altering with paint going on...
... barrels and baskets and all sorts gleaned from the 40-year hoard of small things...
... and made over to suit my purposes.
As you saw (hours ago at the beginning of the post), there were already a few beds and sideboards available.
Ignore the doll with the piercing eyes... she's likely only a temporary resident!
And I found some wonderful chairs and a table for the main taproom amongst the hoard.
But I really needed some more kitchen furniture... as well as some furniture for the tiny office adjoining the taproom.
Out with the balsa wood - supplies running low, and it's not readily available in CZ, so this was the rather paltry selection I was able to put together... not leaving much room for error here.
The balusters are reclaimed from balcony fences - I thought they might make rather good table legs.
So with a sharp craft knife, my Walnut solution, my Re-inkers and my black paint, I was able to put together a large table, several benches, and a smaller table for the office too.
The large table now takes pride of place in the kitchen downstairs, laden with food being prepared for the guests upstairs.
The food's mostly not my own work (though there is some on there that's mine, and there'll be more to come some time).
One bench is ready for a quick rest whilst plucking capons, shelling peas, shucking oysters, or some such task.
The sharper-eyed amongst you may have spotted one of the other benches over by the bread oven, alongside a cabinet which started out bright green with colourful transfers all over it!
And you'll have seen the one in the courtyard for anyone needing a breath of air to recover from the fug inside.
The altered barrels and baskets are stowed about the place, along with jars and bottles, storing sack and sugar, curing meats and fruits...
... and a shank of meat hangs curing in the smoky atmosphere, alongside other kitchen implements.
Upstairs in the taproom, you can relax, knowing the next barrel to be broached is right at hand.
(The large barrel by the doorway in the kitchen is actually a novelty whisky miniature - so it would've been worth broaching once upon a time!)
There's more to be done on the top floor (quite apart from anything else you could take a pretty lethal tumble down that stairwell!) but the beds are back in place with their rather opulent red silk hangings.
The altered basket of somewhat plainer linens to be repaired does seem to imply the red silk is only for occasional (large and corpulent) guests.
There's a room in the Boar's Head Tavern called The Pomegranate - an appropriate name for one of these chambers, I'd say.
I wonder whether someone like Doll Tearsheet plies her trade up here amidst all this plush red satin.
Certainly somebody seems to be prepared for there to be trouble, judging by all these rapiers and poniards - all that's missing is a Pistol!
The ancient bronze shields and the mirror below have both been subjected to the Verday Paint Patina - I love the decayed metal look you can get.
More of that in another post...
(I hope you like the Vermeer-style lighting in this shot!)
And so to the small office... where, during the day, Pistol might busy himself with the accounts (unless Mistress Quickly catches him at it).
Whoever occupies this room clearly has a taste for the scientific, with all the latest gadgetry gathered about him.
But once it draws on towards evening, in the last rays of the setting sun, and folk are getting louder and drunker in the taproom....
...there's one particular regular at the tavern who has permission from the landlord to slip into the office when he needs to, to use the small desk there.
He's one of a troupe of actors, but not as rowdy as the other performers. He seems to spend most of his time listening to the conversations around him, drinking in the tales and information he hears. Every once in a while, he feels the need to record something he's heard - a interesting phrase, a newly-coined word, or some piece of court gossip.
So he slips into the adjoining office, and seats himself at the small (handmade!) table.
He has his own sheaves of folio manuscript paper, as well as scrolls and scripts about his person, and he'll use the quill and ink just to make a note of what he's been hearing...
After all, these jottings might make a good scene for a play; or perhaps offer an interesting quirk to a dull character - maybe he'll make a note of one of the drawers serving in the tavern, with his constant cry of "Anon, anon, sir!".
Can you guess who it is yet?!
There's still lots I want to do in this house, to keep adding extra details, and obviously it's already peopled in my head.
To be honest, the dolls upstairs may only be temporary residents. One thing I still want to try is to make some of these characters... the hostess, the quiet writer, the travelling players...
Yup - dolls are next in my sights. I'll be experimenting over the summer, and I'll let you know if I have any success!
That's it for now... For once, I'm not going to apologise for the length of the post. I want to document this work for myself and for Small Worlds. If it gives you pleasure in the sharing, then that's a lovely bonus!
(Bit more Vermeer for you...)
There'll be another house along in the next couple of days, home to a very different kind of person, as you can see from this little sneak peek.
I hope you enjoyed this little journey into another time... I'd love to know what you think.
What the heck... it's been a long post, now here's a long quote to finish it off! A little alehouse scene full of fabulous insults for you...
Come, I'll drink no proofs nor no bullets: I'll drink no more than will do me good, for no man's pleasure, I.
Then to you, Mistress Dorothy; I will charge you.
Charge me! I scorn you, scurvy companion. What! you poor, base, rascally, cheating, lack-linen mate! Away, you mouldy rogue, away! I am meat for your master.
I know you, Mistress Dorothy.
Away, you cut-purse rascal! you filthy bung, away! by this wine, I'll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play the saucy cuttle with me. Away, you bottle-ale rascal! you basket-hilt stale juggler, you!
From Henry IV Part 2 II.iv, by William Shakespeare
Thanks so much for your company. Have a lovely Sunday everyone!