Monday, January 28, 2013

Making Miniature Vases From Wooden Dowel Caps

There's a section in most U.S. craft stores that carry unfinished wooden items in many varieties.  If you're building miniatures, this section's definitely worth a look because there are items that can fit perfectly in a doll house.  One of these are Lara's Crafts Finial Dowel Caps.  I suppose you could use them to cap your finial dowels, whatever that means, but all I see are mini vases.  The ones I used for this post are the 3/2in with 1/4in hole ($0.99 for a pack of 6, item #11042).  When you get them, they look like this:

Just like little vases, right?!  
You can use almost any method to finish: paint, stain, decoupage, etc. But I've found that an interesting trick is to use permanent marker.  The marker soaks through the wood and acts kind of like a stain, thereby letting some of the original wood grain show through, giving it depth.  Plus it dries almost instantly and, like a baby chick, it's cheap-cheap.  Haha, I kill me (and you may want to too after that joke).  

The first thing is to color the top and some of the interior of the vase.  If you're going to put flowers inside, you don't need to color the inside too much, but I always do a little just because:

After the top is colored, I stick a pencil with a dull or no point into the vase.  If you use a pencil with a sharp point, it won't fit all the way in.  After you jab the pencil in enough to stop the vase from moving around on you, color in the rest.

The final step (yes, it's that easy), is to seal it with a high-gloss, oil-based sealer.  Time for my spiel on sealer.  I seal almost EVERYTHING I make to the point of insanity.  Most of the time I use matte, water-based sealer or matte, spray sealer.  For this project, I highly recommend an oil-based sealer in high gloss because, let's be honest, the oil-based makes it shiner than a greasy baby's bottom.  You need to seal in a ventilated area and be careful of breathing it in, but it's worth it:

Eventually I will post a tutorial on making these bouquets, but here are what the finished vases look like with flowers in them:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

This Is What A South Jersey Snowstorm Looks Like

View from my 3rd floor a.k.a. workshop

I was SO excited about finally getting snow.  We hadn't received any all winter, and that's what we got.  Woot. 

...Back to re-runs of Little Britain.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Time Is it?! Time To Make A Mini Clock

Now, I previously posted about one of my miniature-making OCD behaviors/confessions ("eyeballing" everything; look in previous posts to refresh your memories), and it's time for another.  This is a stranger one, but I build my houses according to what I feel should be built next.  For example, I currently feel the next step in my build is to install the windows.  So until I do that, I can't continue forward.  It's all mental, and there are a bunch of other things I could do.  But I won't be completely satisfied until I install the glass windows, which I can't do until my dad brings over his glass cutter (frustration!).

That's enough of a trip into the odd recesses of my mind.  Don't be scared.  Anywayyy, I was super bored today, so I forced myself to work on something for the interior even though I keep looking at the bare windows and shaking my fist like an oldster on a porch.   It's rare that I buy anything pre-made for my dollhouse, but Tim Holtz's Idea-Ology has a line of industrial chic scrap booking pieces that are amazing for modern, steam punk, and/or industrial style miniatures.  One of their products are a bunch of metal clock faces (JoAnn's has some here for $4.99, but I'm sure you can do a search for cheaper ones) that I've had in my stash for some time.

First I had to make the hands for the clock.  I used to make jewelery (for about 2 months), but the wire-working skills I learned have been extremely handy for dollhouse/miniature-making.  I'll probably post some tips/tricks for working with wire in the future.  To make the hands, I took some basic sewing pins and flattened them using a regular hammer and jewelery anvil (paid about $10, and I've used it much more than I thought).  The anvil is extremely necessary for flattening metal.  Trust me; I've tried almost every other, less expensive technique (including using a brick), and the anvil's the way to go.

I chose the pin because of its sharp end, which would become an arrow shape when flattened.

I flattened 2 pins, and also flattened a crimp bead that makes a mini washer to put in the gap at the center of the clock face (this is also mentioned in the post about making the red door for the studio).  Here's what all 3 pieces look like inserted:
Now, you could be satisfied with the look of the clock as is, but not I.  The finish was too monochromatic for my taste, so I slapped on some DecoArt Metallic Acrylic Paint in "Dark Patina", highlighted the numbers and hands with a wood stain pen, and here you go:

As a disclaimer, this picture sucks, and the clock actually looks much better in person.  Also, I chose the time at random.  I guess it's always going to be 5:32 in my studio, and that's PM because it's wine time.  Speaking of wine time, here's your daily dose of crazy ferret:

His cup runneth dry

Don't worry, the cup was completely empty before he mistook it for the portal to Narnia.

Also, Peabody feels much better and a sincere thank you to all the funny comments I received. 

Oh, and a BIG congrats to Lyssa from for winning 1st place in the HBS Creatin' Contest. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

They Can't All Be Winners: Whine And Wine

I can't believe it was butter.
I had a terrible weekend.  I didn't get to see Mama because I wasted too much time goofing off, got sick Friday night which continued until yesterday afternoon.  It may have been, as one of my old professors used to say, the "wine flu," so please no pity, but it was absolutely no fun.

Literally the second I felt better, my dog Peabody (photo above) decided to break into the fridge and eat a stick of butter.  I found the greasy paper in his dog bed, but not in time.  So then he got sick (the ol' "butter flu") and I spent the entire night either taking him outside every 1.5 hours, or scrubbing the carpet.  Needless to say, I wasn't able to make much progress on my house.  But here's what the roof ended up looking after painting:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Finishing The Roof

It's time to get back to work on the structure of my house.  I want to finish the roof to at least have some progress, and the next step was to construct the part under the lip of the roof.  The seam between the roof and the brick wall looks like a mess because I knew I would eventually add  a strip of wood and some roof beams.  Note to readers: if something looks like a crap job, it's most likely because I know it's going to be eventually covered/fixed, or it's just because I did a crap job, but would neverrrr happen (yeah, right).

Anyway, I FINALLY got my butt into gear yesterday and made a trip to the craft store for strips of balsa wood.  It's been raining here for the past 4 days, and yesterday it was raining and sleeting, yay.  So I have had no motivation to do anything.  Also, I have an annoying habit of not buying more hobby wood than I need, which turned into a whole trip for $1.68 worth of 3 strips of balsa.  Regardless, I bought the wood and now could work on the roof.  The first step was to cut the wood strips to line the seam.  I then traced the strips while they were on the seam so I could carve out the clay bricks to make room for the strips.  I've tried to skip this step, and the wood always lies wonky because the bricks all stick out differently.  Plus, when it becomes inlaid, it gives it a much more professional look.  And I'm nothing else if not professional (yeah, right...again).  I painted the cut strips Raw Umber by Americana to match the rest of the roof.

Yup, that's a real Burberry box.  Turns out I'm only selectively cheap.

Laying the house on its sides was terrifying, but I carved out the spaces for the wood and glued it in using wood glue:

I let it dry over night, and now it was time to add the little beams.  Back to Cheap Town.  I bought a 1000-count box of America's Choice wooden matches at the grocery store for $3.00 to use for lighting candles and my stove top.  Needless to say, I have a lot of matches, and they're the perfect width for the roof beams.

If I thought putting the dollhouse on its sides was terrifying, flipping it upside down was epically worse:

I wanted to get a shot with Dorothy Zbornak in it.

But it was the only way to make sure the matches wood (I just noticed that typo and I'm leaving it on purpose) dry in place without having to tape piece-by-piece.  I cut the matches into pieces, got 3 per match, and glued them into place:

Get an eyeful of my fancy electrical work.

It's drying now, and then I can paint and age when I come back from seeing Mama.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Much Needed Lampshade Make Over

The Reza Floor Lamp I ordered from has been in my dollhouse for a while now, and I've always disliked the shade.  Why it’s named after my favorite person from Shahs of Sunset, I don’t know, but the shade is a cube with an unfinished wooden base, which just doesn't work for me or my project.  Seriously, when have you seen a lamp in real life with an unfinished wooden base?  Argh.  So, while I wait to buy square wooden blocks from the craft store for the exterior of the building (more on that in the future), I finally got around to making a new one.  

Before, bleh.  This is a stock photo so you can't see the wooden base.

First, I took off the yucky lampshade.  The only thing I needed to salvage was the tiny brass screw cylinder thingy (I'm sure it has a technical name but that’s the best I got).  Without it, I would have difficulty installing my newly updated shade and replacing the bulb in the future.  The shade was remarkably easy to break apart with my hands and a flat-nose plier, but now I had to decide what my new one was going to look like.  Originally I was thinking about making it torchiere-style (yup, I don’t know what the screw thingy’s called but a “torchiere’s” no problem); however, I looked through my miscellaneous supplies and found the removable base of an insulin needle that would be perfect for a cylindrical shade.  Now for the explanation.  I have a close friend whose grandparent has diabetes.  I had never seen an insulin needle before, and when I was helping her out one day, I noticed that the orange parts that cap the needle and base might be useful materials for future projects.  So, like the thrifty pack rat that I am, I asked her to save me some, and it finally paid off.  That's a winded explanation; I just thought it needed a little clarification on why I have random medical supplies lying around.  

Anyway...I wanted to match the cylindrical shape of the plastic cap.  I could have just used the orange plastic as-is, but it would look a little too retro mod for my project, so I bought a sheet of pearl vellum (which also happened to be 50% off at Hobby Lobby, bam!).  

50% off $0.59 = a happy me

I cut the base of the cap to use as the base of my shade and poked a hole in the middle to place the screw part.  The plastic was very soft, and all I needed to use was a needle tool.  Also, the cap already had a hole indented in the center so I didn't even have to measure (not that I would have anyway). 

The next step was to insert the screw portion and cut a small, rectangular strip of the vellum and glue it around the base.  I left the base orange to see what it would look like all lit up, and the results were just what I was looking for.

The Sharpie's only used to hold the glued paper together because I couldn't find a clip.  
So much for my resolution to stay organized.

What was once a weird, blockhead floor lamp is now a weird, cylindrical floor lamp.   

 Off / On

Note: If you don't have insulin needle parts hanging around, look for plastic pieces from household products.  Hair styling sprayers have great little caps.  Or just cut a round piece of mat board and paint it.  You can do anything with mat board.   

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gettin' Sticky: A Guide To Hobby Glue

Writing is like a muscle: you have to exercise it for improvement.  I haven't written routinely since graduate school, and I'm trying to keep to a daily  writing schedule in order to make myself better (and hopefully be able to one day freelance).  One of my self-proposed projects is creating a humorous but useful beginner's guide to building dollhouses, so the following is the start of a segment on choosing glue.  Please be gentle on me, I certainly don't use materials or do things the way most people would... 

There may be no other material that you will use more in miniature-making than glue.  It may seem simple, but the type and brand of glue you use is extremely important and can determine the longevity of your project.  The following is my unbiased opinion of different types of glue.

Tacky Glue

Perhaps the glue that I use most often is tacky glue.  There are so many pros for tacky glue that make it almost perfect.  First, it lasts a long time…well, sort of.  I’ve had projects pasted with tacky glue that have survived over a decade, while other projects seem to need regluing on a regular basis, BUT usually only because they hit something as opposed to just falling off by themselves.  With that being said, another pro for tacky glue is that for most pieces, the adhesion is very strong, but not strong enough to resist pulling apart if slight force is applied.  This is especially helpful if, a few days later, your project needs “editing.”  The other key pro for tacky glue is the price.  Most major craft stores carry generic tacky glues, and even my favorite name-brand (Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue) is only about $4 - $6.
Pros:  Adhesion, price, non-toxicity
Cons:  Sheen (most dry glossy which is okay for some projects but not for others), dry time (allow at least 2 hours to dry)

 Mod Podge

The glue I use second most often is Mod Podge.  The popularity of Mod Podge exploded in the 1960s and its packaging label has barely changed since then.  The best thing about this glue is its versatility: it’s a glue, it’s a sealer, it’s matte, it’s glossy, it’s awesome!  Likewise, the popularity of Mod Podge makes it available in almost any shop: from craft to big box stores.  However, Mod Podge doesn’t come without cons.  One of the main cons of this glue is its long dry time.  Mod Podge is runny, thin, and takes a while to dry completely.  It also doesn’t hold pieces together very well, which is why I primarily use it as a sealer versus an adhesive agent. 
Pros:  Versatility, availability, application color (it goes on cloudy white, but dries clear which allows for an even application), non-toxicity
Cons:  Dry time, texture (it’s difficult to achieve a non-textured finish with this glue, but adding texture is great for certain projects)

Wood Glue
When gluing wood (even finished wood), this glue is perfect.  The adhesion lasts a very long time and creates a strong seal.  Likewise, it can usually be sanded and/or stained; however, this is also a con since you never truly get a matching finish to the project you’re gluing.  It’s been my experience that even if I stain the wood glue seam the same color as the actual wood it’s bonding, the stain comes out much lighter on the glued portion.  Similarly, wood glue is very runny and bleeds/leaks easily before drying.
Pros: Adhesion strength, finishing ability, availability (wood glue comes in many brands and prices grades  especially when buying from a home improvement store)
Cons:  Finishing ability, watery consistency, dry time, toxicity   

Gorilla Glue
Gorilla brand makes a variety of glues including wood glue, super glue, and epoxy; however, my review pertains to the classic, light brown version (Gorilla also makes this type in a white, faster drying formula though I have yet to try it).  The best thing about this glue is its adhesion strength.  This stuff is strong (like a gorilla!) so don’t expect to be able to change your mind after it dries.  It can also be used on a variety of surfaces including wood, metal, and glass.  Although I frequently use Gorilla Glue, it has many drawbacks and you need to be very careful when using it on smaller pieces.  Gorilla Glue expands 2-3x its original size while drying.  So that little dot of glue you put on your piece may become the size of a quarter the next morning.  Also, Gorilla Glue recommends a step-by-step process for gluing that is more time consuming than complicated.  This process includes wetting the surfaces and tightly clamping the two pieces together.  Personally, I have never dampened the surfaces I've needed gluing and rarely clamp, and I've achieved the same strong results.
Pros: Strength
Cons: Expansion when dry, suggested gluing steps

Hot Glue

Hot glue has been a favorite adhesive of crafters for many years, but when it comes to building dollhouses, I absolutely hate this glue.  Okay, hate is a strong word, but I refuse to use a hot glue gun in any of my projects for many reasons.  First, the strength of the bond is the biggest con for hot glue and also its biggest pro (stay with me).  Hot glue does not last.  It just doesn't.  Ask any miniaturist who has rehabilitated a pre-made dollhouse, and he or she will tell you that it's the easiest process when the original builder used hot glue because everything can be taken apart without much effort. To be fair to hot glue, the other pro besides the ability to refurbish projects over time is its dry time. Hot glue dries very quickly (probably why it has become a favorite).  Once that liquid glue hits your piece, you only have a few seconds before it hardens again.  As for more cons, I guarantee you that anyone who has used a hot glue gun can gladly reminisce about the time he or she burned the living heck out of his or her finger...or hand or arm or any combination thereof.  Hot glue is literally molten liquid glue coming out of a scolding metal point.  It's like crafting with a baby volcano.  Plus, preschool has hardwired me into thinking I'm able to manipulate the glue with my fingers when it's on the surface, which I do especially when trying to wipe away glue that has leaked or bled.  So not only have I personally burned myself on a hot glue gun, but also on the hot glue itself.  That's a lot of pain to endure for something that will break apart a few days later.

Pros:  Weak strength, dry time
Cons: Weak strength, burn scars, smell (it has the odor of a tire fire)

Of course, there are a multitude of other glues out there, but these are the ones I use most often or heavily dislike.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Making A Corrugated Metal Roof: Part 3

Since my project is supposed to be a very abandoned brick building, I wanted to add a lot of debris and greenery on the roof.  However, this whole process can be skipped if your project isn't as (pleasantly) dilapidated as mine.

The first thing I wanted to do is add the greenery so I bought a bag of Forest Natural Sheet Moss and a plastic stem plant that I don't know the exact name/brand of.  Here's the thing with natural moss: it looks amazing...for about 2 days.  Eventually the green begins to turn brown and the fluffy bits begin to become thin and twig-like.  Which is fine for my roof.  This is what it looked like after adding just the moss:
Oops, wrong Moss.


To adhere the moss, I squeezed some Tacky Glue onto my fingers and rolled a piece of moss until it became mushy.  Then I pasted it into the corners of my roof.  Since it was mushy, it almost went on like clay. Most people over the age of 4 wouldn't do it this way, but I wanted big lumps of condensed moss because, as I mentioned, the moss will shrivel. 

My next step was to add some dirt and debris, so naturally, the best way to do this is to add actual dirt and debris.  You can experiment with different types of stuff you find outside.  I looked for materials that I knew wouldn't age, so stay away from any live plants.

For this specific roof, I went into my driveway and scooped a cup of dirt and rocks, officially making me the neighborhood crazy lady.  I then sifted the dirt with a colander that had holes big enough to separate the dirt and little rocks from the bigger rocks.  Here's what I ended up with after sifting:

Perfectly-sized pebbles!  And dirt.  Next, I added some Matte Mod Podge sporadically onto the roof and sprinkled the dirt mixture.

After sprinkling, I took a soft brush and brushed away the extra dirt.  If you've ever made glitter crafts, you should have no problem here (although the dirt isn't as sparkly or fun as glitter).

Finally, to combat the brown moss, I still wanted some greenery so I bought this fake stem plant:


And then cut it into smaller pieces: 

 I glued the pieces onto the moss sections to fill up the greenery:

And there you go!  Spray seal with matte finish and done.  All that work to make a crusty, old roof.  Yay!

Some extra tips I would suggest are to stay conscientious about what glue finish you use, which is why I make sure to specify "matte" in my descriptions.  You don't want gloss where gloss doesn't belong.  Also, be warned that my method for this roof, similar to my method in living, is MESSY.  Don't be afraid to make a mess especially when your project calls for it.

The following pictures are of the finished roof.  See how the moss bits began to change?