Thursday, 28 June 2012

Singing praises

Two suppliers have just come up trumps in a big way.

The wonderful Amanda made me these veggies, eggs and Dundee cake to order.  I even got the variety of veg I wanted - a savoy cabbage and King Edward potatoes.  Yes, I know I am silly picky but these were the seasonal veg for October and the spud for a Brummie could only be a good King Edward.  She usually cuts cakes so you can see her extraordinary work inside - cake crumbs and fruit - but I wanted mine whole as it will be cooling on a cake rack.  I also wanted all the eggs and veg loose as I haven't settled where they will be yet.  The eggs will be in a bowl somewhere.  They were bought loose in 1911 - no egg boxes then!  As a child of the fifties I can remember buying eggs loose in a brown paper bag and them being put in an enamel bowl when we got back from the shops.  I would like to devise a string bag to hang on the back door for the root veg but they may all just go in a box in the pantry or a wash tin under the sink.  I am so very sorry my photography is so poor and you only get a flavour of the beauty of this stuff.  Thank you so much Amanda.

PS - she also sent me a perfect little birthday cake with stripey (!!) candles for Nanny in the Wentworth.

The second supplier is new to me and I found him at the York show.

The Lyddington kit has some pretty crude MDF stair in it which need rails and newels and spindles.  I spent a great deal of time debating whether to just bin them and buy some decent already made-up stairs. I decided I want to try as much as I can doing this hobby so stairs would be my next challenge.  I was also dubious about getting stairs which would fit properly; at least the ones which came with the house were made for the house.  They need to be the right width, slope at the right angle (and this varies hugely) and fit exactly between floor and landing: it seemed best to use what I had.

My staircase wasn't going to be carpeted so I didn't like the fact that they didn't have a proper tread on them and wasn't confident that the MDF would look good stained.  I remembered I had seen someone who sold treads you could add.  Huge search of the web and finally located (I am pretty sure)  the one and only supplier of dolls house stair treads.  It is in the USA so the postage would be prohibitive on a four dollar purchase.  

At the York show I was looking at various trims on the Dolls House Cottage Workshop stand and told this tale to the young man manning it.  He said he would make it for me and, hey presto, within a few days it was in my hands being chopped into treads.

It is totally brilliant.  Slightly too deep for my stairs but so easy to cut that I cut twenty-four of them without error.  It took stain without any nibbing - so no rubbing down and only needed one coat to get a good colour.  In a nutshell it is perfect for the job and has transformed my MDF clunkers into a potentially nice looking Edwardian staircase.  That's assuming the chippy (aka me!) can do a decent job with the rest of it.

There are a few more photos in my web album showing the process if you are interested.

Check out his site, it has some terrific stuff.

I have finished and hung the doors so Bentleys is, at last,  starting to look like a doll's house.  The bad news is I then began to think about doing the roof and this reminded me that I had celebrated too early when I crowed about doing the last brick.....  mmmm.... what about the ones on the dormers? 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Happy bunny

I am one happy bunny today; I have finished one of the 'doors'.

In summary:  

On the outside:  I'm not thrilled with the quoins.  I love the bricks and the pavement.  The shop sign is OK, but it's a bit pubby. The rest of exterior trim is OK.  I'm not fond of this manufacturer's plastic window frames and the lack of trim inside and out; although, on this occasion they don't really need any outside trim and after painting the window frames they look OK.  After more negatives than positives I am still really pleased with how it has turned out.

 On the inside:  I am glad I made a window frame for the shop windows. The windows would have needed mullions to support the weight of the plate glass; indeed they were often made of iron.  It looked very dolls-housey without it.  I will also add a 'shelf' at the height of the sill to raise the window displays off the floor as they would have been in 1911. Ellen will have taken the backboards down from behind the display but there would have been a curtain to afford some privacy for the customers inside the shop.  I am pretty sure I am going to attempt to add the wood trims such as the skirting and cornice to finish it off more.   I think the upstairs windows will look OK pretty much as they are.  If I add a window sill at the bottom of each window the drapes will cover the top and the sides and they should look OK.

Just for the record this is the last brick about to go in place.  I am still undecided whether I loved or loathed doing the brickwork but I really am pleased with the finish and I will certainly use the Richard Stacey versi-products on any future builds.

The build from flat-pack to here is recorded in pictures in my web album if you've only just found this blog.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Job well done

I have pretty much completed all the rooms.  The stair wells and the shop have a bit of trim missing because the stairs need to go in place before they can be finished.  Other than that, they are good to go.

I am very pleased with the end result even if I can see where things could have been better in some way or another.  As a second try at a doll's house it's not bad and I have learned loads of stuff ready for my third go!  Yes, I am already imagining number three and this one isn't even built and dressed yet.  I just LOVE doing this stuff.

If you want to see each individual room go to Bentleys - the build web album.

Also in the album is a photo showing you how I painted the spindles for the stairs using my golf tees, Blu-tak and styrene method.

I will share this image with you here just to show you what a perfectionist I am.  Others change perfectionist to nut-case! 

When I did the trims and finished the wallpaper,  I couldn't see behind the chimney breast however much I tried so I came up with this as a solution.  My husband's logic was, if I couldn't see - no-one will ever see, so pretty much anything would be OK.  I had the appropriate fainting fit at the suggestion and explained just because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't have to be perfect.

That said let me just give you a couple of tips if you are thinking of doing chimney breasts.  Don't try and trim the chimney breasts before putting them in place.  It is very unlikely you will be able to make the room trims come to a good meeting place with the ones on the chimney breast.  I gave it a lot of thought but decided that as every plane - vertical and horizontal - will be slightly imperfect it was no good assuming you were always working with lovely perfect ninety degree joins.  If each one is only out by a degree or two that shows in one twelfth world when they come together and you need to be able to cut and fiddle with each one as you go.

Another thought....  always make sure you are doing a chimney breast which can be papered or clad in some way.  Like a chump I decided the parlour in my premises would have a painted frieze - the only one in the place!  I have a teeny gap between chimney breast and wall which, therefore, can't be hidden with wallpaper.  I have filled it in a bit more than on this photo with excess paint pushed into the gap, but it would have been easier and better to have just been able to paper it.

I am now working on finishing the two front doors/walls.  This entails finishing the bricks, laying slabs on the pavement, finishing the shop front and windows and making the inside match each room as its fourth wall.  I am not adding wood trim (at this stage) as I think it might prove nigh on impossible to do well.  I shall see if I am happy with the inside of the doors just having a nod to the room or whether I really do need to finish them properly.  Opinions welcome as always.

Friday, 15 June 2012

I am all over the shop!

This blog's title has taken on a literal stance.  I am truly all over the shop doing jobs in every corner, so I don't have much of a complete area or job to show you.  I find I am doing bits of painting of stairs, signboards and edges of doors etc, fixing bits of trim when the floors go down, putting the floors down and putting in the lights and fireplaces.

I thought I'd share the fireplaces so far and the shop name boards.

I am very unsure about the signs above the shop.  Right now they are (long-term) temporary until I can find something better.  They cost all of two bucks in materials so will be fine until I can devote more time and interest to them and I am able to find someone to make me some decent ones.

Basically I think they are a bit OTT and look more like a pub than a dress shop.

If you want to see how they were made there are pictures in my web album - Bentleys the build 

 So far I have only managed to struggle a couple of fireplaces into place .  The first one, in the bedroom, was something of a nightmare in that I had to get the lighting wire set in its groove in the floor (which I had cut a long time ago) before I put the floorboards down; BUT you can't put the floor down with the fireplace in its place.  This results in a bit of a one-handed jiggle between the two things.  At the same time you have only one chance to get the floor lined up perfectly with the front edge and the sides because the double-sided tape grips like fury once it touches anything.  

I cut the wood for four chimney breasts for the four fireplaces I am putting in and then I decided that my original idea of only two being needed was the right one.  So there will be two going up for sale on EBay.  £3 each pretty nearly covers the materials, so fingers crossed.

I only need two because in terraces the chimneys were shared.  Each terrace had one side of their house with the whole chimney breast for both houses in their rooms and their neighbours flues and theirs went into this space.  On the other side of the house they shared the chimney that was in that neighbour's house in the same way.  The fires in the workroom and salon, therefore, don't need chimney breasts in their rooms as their flues are in next door.

I hope you can see the parts to the structure.  It is made from four-inch wide Bass board with one-inch sides.  These are joined together and supported by trim from B & Q.  It is MUCH cheaper to buy it from there than any craft shops, if you can find what you want. 

It has been papered (on the underside) and I cut a slit for the wire for the bulb.  As it happens it didn't need a slit for the wire because the grooves I had cut in the floor went from the wall to the centre of the floor to join the lighting grooves rather than to the back wall.

On the above photo you might be able to see that I have deliberately left a small turned edge of the wallpaper to be stuck against the wall.  This is important for a neat finish.  The paper which will butt up to the edge of the chimney breast looks much better with this good 'seal'.  I'll chronicle this better when I do the parlour one - I forgot to record it this time while I was making it.  This isn't a bad thing as I learned something.  

After I put the chimney breast in place I did the left and right pieces of wall paper.  As I said the front one on the right of the fireplace looks great because of the slight underlap of the chimney breast paper and was a cinch to do.  Not so with the other side.  I struggled to stick down the teeny edge of paper on that side because I couldn't see a thing; it was, of course, on the far side of the chimney breast.  This was followed by trying to cut and fit the left piece of paper which was also a bit of a fiddle for the same reasons.  Eventually I realised that I didn't need the same degree of finish as the visible side.  The only possible way the far side join can be seen is with a mirror.  Yes, I did check it with one and yes, it is perfect (!) but it didn't have to be.  So next time round I will put the back piece of paper on the wall first and then put in the chimney breast with just one turned underlap edge and then add the right side piece of paper - so much simpler.

The workroom fire is also in place but the other two are still waiting for me.  I cut out a space for the fire and its hearth from the floor of the workroom before sticking it down but this time I decided to run the wire around the edge of the room before the skirting goes in so I didn't need to cut a grove and therefore no jiggling of floor and fire.  I just cut a space for the fire in the floorboards, stuck them down, stuck the hearth and fire in place and ran the wires to the back of the room.  It made the whole job much simpler and looks just as good.  I managed to cut a hearth from the piece left over from my very posh parlour fireplace (more of that later) and I had a bargain EBay fender which I bought ages ago, so that fireplace is complete.

I have saved the very best 'til last!  I received my lovely Art Nouveau fire from Sussex Crafts yesterday; talk about efficient and helpful and just down right nice......

I emailed them on Monday and said I wanted the fireplace but I was dithering about which tile insert to choose.  This became a couple of email conversations.  They answered my emails immediately and also offered me additional choices of tile to the four on the site.  I finally settled on a dainty blue cornflower.  I really wanted something not too bold as it would 'fight' with an already fussy Art Nouveau fire surround and would definitely have a tussle with the Voyseyish wallpaper.  I ordered and paid on Wednesday and, as I said, there it was safely in my hands on Thursday.  

Besides being spot on for my 1911 shop and Ellen's refurb in 1906 it is just gorgeous.  The little ash pan even comes out, so you could have a maid cleaning the hearth (?). Even the bulb has a little wire carrier.  The hearthstone proved to be enough for two fires and the detail and finish on the fender is also really nice.

It does need a chimney breast as it is properly constructed.  It needs the space as the fire is set back  from the surround as it should be.  Hopefully I should get enough time this weekend to get it in place.  Watch this space.  

Meanwhile I urge you to have a look at the link (above and in the right hand column) to Sussex Crafts they have a plethora of wonderful things and couldn't be more helpful.  They get to go in my (almost) Hall-of-Fame links to suppliers.  As I have said before I am being super-selective about recommending folk for stuff.  I don't think I have had a bad experience buying anything for both my projects so anyone I point you towards has to be stand-out exceptional.  Sussex Crafts isn't a difficult choice as my source for fireplaces and hopefully more things too when I've saved up some pennies.

Monday, 11 June 2012

York Dolls House and Miniatures Fair - 10th June 2012

I had a great time at York yesterday.  I went to this show last year pretty much as a newbie and it lasted me all day.  Having got a few shows under my belt and therefore being familiar with most of the stall holders who do the rounds it is much more like a shopping trip rather than a kid in a sweet shop.

I was very good and bought the essentials I had gone for from my usual suppliers - Jennifer's of Walsall and J & A Supplies.  I also got two fireplaces from Hearth and Home, so that's everything I need to get on with the build...... or so I thought.  Today I discovered that six of my newels for the staircases are not the same at the other two.  Sadly it is the two which are correct and the six which I don't like.  I am a bit cross about it because I was there at 9.30am for the pre-show early-bird let-in, so there were no crowds and he was newly set up and I picked all eight from the same section on his stall.  Lesson learned - don't assume a stall holder has their stock neatly sorted.  It would cost me more to send them back to get them replaced than it would to hide them in a drawer, so they don't annoy me, and go out and buy some replacements locally.

The other minor hold up is fuelled by desire!  I got the two fireplaces I needed, as I said, but I saw a lovely Art Nouveau one on the Sussex Crafts stall which I hankered after.  It comes in at nearly twice the price of the ones I bought.  As of this morning I have succumbed and have decided to order it.  I won't have a fireplace too many because I was debating whether to have one in the Salon or not.  Seems like there will be one there after all.

All that was done in an hour and I dumped the shopping on my husband/chauffeur who stuffed it in the car for me so I could wander round unencumbered for a mooch.  He then went off for a walk in the sunshine (!) and being a pudding magnet he managed to discover a Sicilian restaurant with 22 flavours of ice cream (his favourite food) so everyone was happy.

I spent the next couple of hours trying to decide what little item to treat myself to.  This turned out to be eight more purchases.  

I got a nicely detailed music stand and an unusual little stack of drawers (a sewing cabinet) from someone who was new to me.  I forgot to register her name.  It might have been Alison Davies.  I wish I'd looked properly.  I will certainly try and find her again at future shows as she had some great things and at very good prices.

I also replaced my hunchback midget kitchen dresser with a finished piece from the same lady.  To explain about its predecessor; when I thought I was going to use the Honeychurch I was collecting small pieces of furniture because the rooms were so tiny and I bought an unfinished dresser for the kitchen.  Weeks later when I stood it against a wall I saw that it had a curved back and it looked dreadful.  Small and hunch-backed. Strike two! I had a bit of a look round for a replacement but even the unfinished (nice looking) ones were coming in around ten pounds plus, so I was comfortable with paying £15 for this nicely done one.  I like the drawer handles and the cup hooks.

I fell completely in love with Artforge - check out his site for the most beautiful pieces of work.  Simon is a goldsmith and creates minutely detailed pieces in bronze and silver.  I treated myself to a little letter rack (under a fiver) to remind myself of his lovely work, none of which I will ever be able to buy or have the sort of house to warrant such expensive pieces.  They are really serious collectors' items and museum pieces.  Yet another thing this hobby brings me - the chance to see such works of art... and yes, it is art... it transcends even the best craft work by a mile.

If you want to see my ten (sorry nine! I lost one) ten pence bargains from the charity stall, the put it together yourself single-bust mannequin, bucket and carpet beater, go and have a look at my web album - Bentleys Purchases.

We left at 12.30 and drove over to Beningborough Hall (NT) for lunch and a sunny stroll.  I don't recommend any of the shows for their food if you can avoid it.  

Friday, 8 June 2012

Thrilled to bits

I am so thrilled with these two (well four actually) rugs I had to share them with you.

When I did Wentworth I had a nightmare trying to find suitable rugs.  They needed to be the right period, go with the rest of the décor, look realistic and not cost an arm and a leg.  This was a pretty tall order and I wasted a good deal of money buying ones I hated and then had to to try sell on; and we all know how that works out!  I even bought one which was quite pricey and I chose to send it back.  The seller was fine about it but it cost me two lots of postage and no result.

The only rugs I ever bought and liked were from a seller on E-Bay.  They are in the bathroom of the Wentworth.  I remembered her when I started to think about the rugs for this project.  I had bought a Brodnax (sp?) one for the Salon which I am lukewarm about.  The fabric is OK but the print is dark and vague.  I started to hunt up other Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, William Morris rugs with no success.  As usual if I found one it didn't fit  the criteria I mentioned earlier.  As I said none of them compared favourably to the two little bathroom ones I'd had from Sylvia-Rose (EBay name).  I sent her a message to say if I found decent images could she print a couple for me to size.  Instantly she replied it would be fine and a seven by nine inch would cost £6.99.  How brilliant is that.  I banged off six photos and said which two I would like.  Within two days they were here and they are lovely.  As always my photographs do not do them full justice.  The colours are so much better in reality.  The fabric is a felty stuff but has a very fine surface finish - just enough fuzz to give it a good rug texture.  They are a perfect thickness and have a sort of weight about them in situ.  They sit properly on the floor - looking just right.  Further down the line when I have money and time to be 'collecting' things rather than 'doing' the project I will be back to her for more lovely rugs made to order.  

You can find her on EBay through Sylvia-Rose rugs and she can be contacted via  She also does wall-hangings and cushions.

[Incidentally the small rugs are no-charge bonus rugs which she sent me because 'there was room left on the fabric']

Ten days more

There has been ten days work since my last blog and there's not much to show for it. The  brick process is very slow.  

When I'd top-coated the window frames and the bay window roofs I suddenly registered I had actually stuck the roofs on upside down - or had I?  On the one hand I wanted to see the moulding (and didn't it need the slope for the rain to run off?) and on the other I had a niggling feeling the moulding should be underneath.  I emailed Barbara's Mouldings asking them this and for advice on how to remove something which had been wood glued together if I had indeed done it wrongly.  They contacted their supplier (I thought they made them?) who said - yes, it had been designed for the mouldings to be underneath but most people like it the other way up so it can be seen, so ... please yourself.  Neither offered any suggestion as to how I could remove them.

I had a bit of a go at getting one off but decided it would just make too much of a mess all round and I have left them as they are.  I should have emailed someone I have been talking to about the Lyddington (she has done one) when I was dithering about - this way up or that way up?

The shop bays don't look too bad but I think the porch cover over the front door will look very odd stuck on upside down and even odder if I put that one the right way up - it will demonstrate that the others are standing on their heads.  Hey ho!  I just need to convince myself that only I will see it.

I am glad I added the little stone window sills.  I thought they might be a trim too far but I think they look good.  However, I wish I had stuck to my guns and not added the quoins, I still think they are odd/unrealistic.  That said I still don't see how I would have either filled in the gaps behind the bay window roofs or cut and routed some new roofs to fit and perhaps I wouldn't have been happy with the ensuing gap between the two doors - the left one does, at least, cover that.

If you are considering Richard Stacey's versi-slips I can commend them to you but only if you have a lot of patience.  It is certainly a very slow task and not an easy one. Having finished one dormer I began another but I soon got brain ache having to work out what size was needed where so I gave up on them for a while and started on the front walls of the shop.  At one point I calculated I was doing about twenty bricks an hour.  So just sixty hours work left then!  I lived in hopes of it speeding up considerably when I stopped fiddling round window openings and doors.  I then realised the whole of the area I was doing was around windows and doors.  Some people are very slow to catch on.

In the future I would certainly use them but I'd try to cut down the number by perhaps only doing the upper or lower half of the building in brick and would use masonry paint for the other half and I would certainly choose the half with the least windows.

A big problem is that the underpinning structures won't be designed for a specific amount of bricks, so it is impossible to line them up satisfactorily.  For example, these windows take 13 vertical bricks above them as a trim.  The bricks which will be in a line above them should have one brick lying across three of the vertical tops.  Clearly this can't be done with thirteen bricks.

Another issue was that the space between the two windows doesn't work out conveniently.  The edges alternate with a half brick and full brick (have a look at the photo above).  This leaves a space to be filled between the two windows that was just a smidgen wider than a normal brick.  A brick and a bit of a brick would have looked very odd.  I just cheated here and used a versi-corner (a brick and a half length) and cut a slightly longer brick.  I then just crossed fingers and toes and hoped it would not show when all the other bricks were distractingly in place.  I think I got away with it. 

On the right of the door I was left with a row of bits to fill in which were something like an eighth of an inch.  The gap was too big too ignore and too small to fill easily. I devised a method of stabbing a likely looking off-cut with the point of the craft knife and working my way up and down the row to find where it would fit without any more trimming needed. This was then very carefully touched on to the top of the blob of tacky glue (on a plastic box lid) and then pushed into place with a variety of tools - finger nails, cocktail stick, knife blade, edge of ruler - basically, whatever did the job.

Add to all of this the intricate cutting to size of almost every brick used and you might now appreciate why my work speed is twenty bricks an hour.

None of this is intended to put anyone off.  I love/hate working with tiddly bits of stuff for a doll's house and somehow having that frustrating pleasure is the very thing which gives me a great deal of satisfaction when the job is done.

I have completed the larger side of the front of the shop so the other side doesn't seem too daunting.

The dominant pale line of mortar on the right of the centre window will be over-painted with some mucky coloured wash and will look fine.  It is there because I managed to cut my template brick slightly too long and therefore all the rest followed.  I then also stuck them all in place before stepping back and having a look; at which point a loud aaaarrrgggh! could be heard.  It actually was solved by cutting off the surplus.  With a steel rule and knife it wasn't too bad a job but it removed the dirty based paint - hence the pale stripe.

As 'bricking', as it is now known in our house, drives you quietly nuts after a while I have interspersed it with bits of painting such as these trims.  The gold lining is not as good as I would like.  This is down to a few factors.  The grooves are a more complex cut than you would think and they have sloping side edges as well as the groove itself, so it is hard to keep a line just in the bottom on the cut without getting paint on the sloping sides.  Handling a very fine paintbrush and drawing straight lines with it requires a level of skill and practice which, obviously, I don't have.  Even if those two problem were overcome I am not sure how you can sand/smooth the cuts so they don't soak up the paint like blotting paper which gives a very rough finish.   I did try a couple of sanding passes but they didn't seem to make any impact. I ended up knocking back the gold trim by scratching over it when it was dry and it looks better for not being so in-your-face gold. Again it is a case of convincing myself I am being overcritical and am up too close to see it as others see it and that these various issues are acceptable or, even better, invisible to most people who look at the shop.

I am not sure if I mentioned that the green outside paint on this project is a Cuprinol outdoor wood finish - left over paint from my summer house/shed/workroom.  So far it is excellent.  Goes on very smoothly - better than any other paint I've used - leaves no brush marks.  I do three coats rubbed down between each.  It also has just enough sheen.  If it lasts well I intend to use it on all my wood (if I can find the colour I want!!).  I have just looked on their website and they offer one pound test pots.

I am also in the throes of messing around with an idea for the shop sign.  The signage is my biggest headache - how to get something which looks real.  So far I have looked at all kinds of clever, tricky and expensive computerised routes and even then they don't satisfy.  I can't find tiny brass letters any where and I would love some very small gold Lettraset which also seems to have dropped off the face of the planet.  My shop has two name boards - one over each bay.  I want it to say E. Bentley (in gold) inside some sort of frame/border on each and then on the fascia just below the bay roof the right one would say Milliner and the left one would say Dressmaker. Sounds simple.

I bought these one dollar items to mess around with to see how I might want it to look and I had a sudden inspiration that I could probably paint the white letters and they might actually do for the final job.  The sample one worked well.  The other packet contains all kinds of very fine gold trim which might make a frame of some sort around the letters.  I'll have a bash and see how they turn out.  I may just make them as a long term temporary solution until I find a better one.  A couple of hot glue spots to hold the boards in place would mean I could take them off later without too much damage.  

I can hold off until after Sunday and the York show where I just might find inspiration.  I have a heck of a shopping list and I really must try to stick to it.  I am dreadful for going armed with a very precise list of needs and end up buying wants instead.  I have the list in order of priority so I can see how my money goes and when to stop.  There are some things I must buy so the rest of the build can continue, such as a couple of black walnut wood floors and three fireplaces and the wood to make the chimney breasts. I really must do those.  To be honest that is pretty much my budget blown.  I'll probably stretch to a little treat so it isn't all just the practical stuff.  Choosing the treat will take all day!

I am also intending to say hello to Lucie Roper the editor of Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine.  I can give her my second article which I finished last night.  I am working months ahead of myself as I want all six articles completed before October.

Happy shopping to anyone who is going to the show.  I will be easy to spot as I shall be the old lady sitting on the floor blubbing because she can't have everything she sees.