TOP TIPS for all makers of DIY dolls houses, miniatures and accessories
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WORKING WITH WOOD & MDF
- Always experiment with wood finishes and colours on off-cuts before tackling your project.
- During a project, try to keep to the same type of wood for the best results.
- For safety and accuracy it is important to use the correct tools when working with wood.
- If you are panelling a room with wainscoting, always put the half boards at the inside corner where they are less noticeable rather than at the end.
- Thin wood and MDF can warp when you paint or plaster it. To prevent warping, apply paint, PVA or plaster to both sides which should even it out.
- If your wood does warp, a spell under heavy books should flatten it out again.
- Sanding is laborious, start with 320 grit and work through to 600 grit to get a smooth finish.
- Fine grade wire wool 'OOOOO' can be used instead of sandpaper to get a really smooth finish on your miniatures.
- Finish off your wooden pieces with 2-3 coats of wax and polish to give a natural sheen.
- When drilling a hole into wood, always make a pilot hole first with an awl or strong pin.
- When you need lots of pieces of stained wood to complete a project, stain or wax a complete length, then cut the pieces from the pre-stained length as required.
- Gluey wood will not take a stain. Either stain before gluing or remove excess glue with a damp q-tip.
- If you have an unavoidable glue mark that will not take a wood stain, sand back to the bare wood and stain that part again.
- When sanding kit components to remove the little burrs, take care not to distort the shapes with excessive sanding.
- Applying a coat of sanding sealer (shellac) to MDF edges allows them to be sanded, and prevents paint being absorbed into the MDF.
- Avoiding breathing dust when working with MDF.
- It is easier to hammer or screw in nails or hooks into shelves or beams etc., before you glue them in place in the dolls house.
- When cutting pieces of circular wood from a length of dowel it is best to roll the wood back and forth under the blade of a craft knife to obtain a nice clean cut.
GLAZING AND WINDOWS
- Use a swirl of 'Glue n Glaze by Deluxe Mateirals to create a bottle glass effect on your Georgian/Victorian tiny paned windows. When dry it gives a great effect. Test on spare acrylic first to get your technique right.
- If your perspex or acylic window 'glass' or mirror has protective film, don't peel this off until you have finished the project to prevent paint splashes or the mirrors and windows getting scratched.
- If you are using shrink plastic, you can create a stained glass window design using a rubber stamp and black ink. You can colour the rubber stamped design with felt tip pens before shrinking the plastic in a domestic oven.
- The best glue I've found to glaze windows is Glue 'n' Glaze by Deluxe Materials.
- Always wallpaper/paint first before putting the windows in, as the frames will cover up any little imperfections giving a perfect finish around the window frames.
WORKING WITH POLYMER CLAY
- Hanging tiny items upside down from a metal clip to bake means that you don't get a flat shiny side where it sits on the tile.
- Paint a dolls head with acrylic paint onto the polymer clay, then bake in the oven for a couple of minutes to stop the paint scratching off.
- If you want to texture the surface of the clay e.g. for oranges, use sandpaper to create a nice uneven realistic texture.
- Rubbing alcohol is useful to get any clay off your hands if you need to change colours, as well as cleaning hands and tools before your work with pale clay.
- Did you know that you can store polymer clay in Ziploc baggies? There are some plastics that raw polymer clay likes to eat – especially the nice, hard clear stuff - but plastic baggies aren't one of those kinds.
- Baking soda also works for keeping cutters from sticking. It also makes a good substitute for 'flour' dusted on pie crust being rolled out before baking.
- Clean your baking tile with a small piece of unbaked white clay. Rub it over the surface and it will pick up any residue from old projects. Take a single sided blade and scrape off any stubborn bits, and use the clay to remove all residue. Throw the cleaning clay away, or work it into other colours where the dirt won't matter! The resulting clean tile will be perfect for making clean new miniatures.
- Use wet wipes to keep your hands clean.
- If the clay gets too sticky, spread a little talc on your hands.
- Experiment with different mixes of colour to get the exact shade you require.
- When making flowers, add at least 1/4 part translucent to give delicacy to the finish.
- When working with pale, white or flesh coloured clay, it is essential that you have thoroughly clean hands and equipment. This way you will avoid little specks of dirt and fluff spoiling your hard work.
- Take care when handling tiny and thin petals, leaves and other items, as they can break and distort easily. It is better to make them on the baking tile/sheet to avoid damage before they are baked.
- Wash hands throughly when changing between colours of clay, as the pigment/colour does adhere to the skin.
- An old ceramic plate or tile is useful for placing clay on, as it tends to stay put when appling coloured chalks to unbaked clay.
- Clay does not become fully hardened until it has cooled after baking. It is easier to cut whilst still warm.
- To avoid shiny patches where pieces touch the baking tile, bake them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment instead.
- Another way of keeping clay clean is to roll it out and work it on a sheet of A4 white paper, using a different sheet for each colour to prevent cross contamination of colours on your work.
- When cutting slices from unbaked prepared clay e.g. cake or bread slices, put the canes in the fridge for a while first, this firms up the clay and will help retain a neat slice without distorting the patterns when cutting.
- The most helpful thing of all is to have an actual real life picture or the real item in front of you to work from.
FABRICS & EMBROIDERY
- When cutting a fringe, on a carpet for example, first stick to sellotape or masking tape, so that the fringe doesn't move away from the scissor blades as you cut.
- If you are lengthening or shortening an embroidery pattern, work it out on paper first and adjust the measurements.
- If your fabric has a selvedge, this can be used for the top (unseen) edge of curtains or skirts and won't need turning.
- Fray Check is an irritant to some people. Wear protective gloves or finger sling if affected.
- Working with silk? Use Fray Stay from Deluxe Materials, it is non-staining and can be applied direct from the bottle or using a tiny brush.
- Apply Fray Stay around your pattern, and allow to dry before cutting out.
- Beading with tiny seed beads - put the beads into a small bowl and scoop the needle through the beads. As you do this it will pick up a few beads each scoop - much less time consuming than threading each bead individually.
- When turning a curved edge, always sew a row of tiny running stitches near the edge so the curve can be turned neatly.
- When embroidering, don't jump from area to area, work methodically through the pattern top to bottom, left to right, otherwise it is very easy to miscount your stitches.
- Attaching interfacing only to the actual part of the miniature garment which requires stiffening whilst leaving the seams free will ensure a neater seam and more effective finish.
- When making a dress or gown for doll or a mannequin, always begin with the skirt.
- The advantage of glued seams is that they are very 'flat' when ironed and don't have the 'bulk' of a thread sewn seam.
- A little spray of water will help a skirt to drape nicely.
- Spray starch can be used to stiffen fabrics so they stick out as you wish them to.
- Spray water or starch onto your fabrics over a sink.
- Use the airing cupboard for drying any draping. I put mine on top of the radiator!
- Look out for odd leather gloves in charity shops, the leather is usally very thin and perfect for miniature work.
- When embroidering work with lengths of thread no longer than 50 or 60 cms. This will prevent fraying, knotting and the threads thinning at the end of each piece creating uneven work.
- An embroidery thread will spiral and twist as you work, which can cause it to knot. Every few stitches, drop your needle and allow it to unspin naturally before continuing with your embroidery.
- If you do get a knot, there is often a loop into which you can insert the needle tip and gently work the knot loose.
- Silk fabrics fray easily, to help, run a fine line of tacky glue to the edge or along your cutting line and allow to dry before cutting out the pattern.
- To get tablecloths to hang niceley on small tables, glue tin foil on the wrong side of the material, then when it is placed on the tables the sides can be shaped to hang perfectly.
WORKING WITH SPRAYS, PAINTS & OTHER INTERESTING SUBSTANCES
- Use spray glue to fix carpets in place in the dolls house. If you are very careful, the spray glue will hold the fringed ends of a rug perfectly flat.
- Scenic water is brilliant, but can look a little yellow....add a TINY drop of blue from the Scenic Water colour kit to get that classic pale greeny tap water look.
- Try to work outside when using spray paint, glue or varnish.
- Grip wax or blu-tack the item to be sprayed into a cardboard box and contain the spray paint etc within the box.
- Always use in a well ventilated room if you have to work indoors.
- Children under 12 should always be supervised when using sprays.
GLUES & THEIR USES
- To prevent your work sticking to your work surface when gluing, cover the surface with cling film.
- If you want to keep glitter in place on tiny miniatures, spray with hair spray to keep it in position.
- When gluing timber onto a painted surface, score the painted surface with a sharp blade, so that the new piece sticks to the timber beneath and not just to the painted surface.
- If you need something to stay in place, but it is too awkward or delicate to clamp whilst the glue dries, use a combination of super glue gel and tacky/PVA glue. The former will stick the thing on, whilst the latter will slowly dry to form a lasting bond.
- If you don't have any tacky glue - make your own. Put PVA into a film canister and cover - leave for a couple of weeks, and hey-presto, thicker, tacky glue!
- Use spray glue to keep carpets and rugs permanently in place on the floor of the dolls house.
- Super Glue gel is preferable to the normal stuff which can run all over the place.
- For attaching leaves and flowers to stems, tacky glue is the best product to use.
- Use PVA wood glue for wood to wood gluing.
- For plastic or metal use a good clear drying contact adhesive e.g. Speed Epoxy
- For fine and precision gluing, use a Fine Tip applicator bottle with your PVA or tacky glue. Or keep different ones filled with each type of glue.
- To glaze windows, the best glue I've found is Glue 'n' Glaze by Deluxe Materials.
- Hot glue guns are useful if you need a glue that dries almost instantly, but you have to be very careful as they do get very hot and are not suitable for really fine work.
- NEVER use any kind of cyanoacrylate glue (i.e. super glue, Roket glues, Zap-a-gap etc) for gluing wires in the dolls house as it may eat into the wire insulation.
- LED strip lights are available in bright white to give the effect of daylight, or warm white to give the effect of candle lights. These add to the illusion of reality in your dolls house.
- Always test lights are working BEFORE fixing them into your dolls house.
EXTERIORS, STONE, BRICKS AND FILLER
- Easy stepping stones or stone flags can be made from the thin foam circles from supermarket pizzas. Easy to cut and can be scored etc., to give a stone like appearance.
- If you want a thatched roof, consider carefully how and if it will open before you start - thatching is difficult with hinged roofs, but works much better with lift-off and static ones.
- When rolling out sheets of air drying clay for roofing or paving models, it is easier to roll the clay out in-between pieces of greaseproof paper.
- Brick stencils are available with a special compound from Bromley Craft Products to make miniature brick walls, chimney breasts, etc inside and outside your dolls house. These stencils can also be used to succcessfully stencil bricks with paint.
- Plastering or bricking the outside of the house wall may cause it to warp. This can be equalled out by painting the inside at the same time.
- When grouting bricks or tiles, add paint to the normally white filler to take the brightness out it.
- Mixing sand with paint will create a rough texture for external walls etc.
- When plastering the exterior of a house or roof with polyfilla or similiar, and you need to remove the marks of the spatular, use a latex glove on your hand, dip it in water, and glide the hand over to leave a smooth finish.
STAIRCASES AND BANISTERS
- For traditional banisters with wooden spindles, pre-drill the spindle holes into each tread before assembling the staircase.
- Fit spindles and bannisters where possible before gluing the staircase into the dolls house.
FIXING WALLPAPERS AND FLOORS
- A tiny rubbing of Vaseline around the edges of the flooring will help prevent glue from sticking on the floor, wipe off after everything is in place and fixed.
- Make a thin card template of a wall or floor, glue the required paper or wooden finish to the template, allow to dry flat under weights/books, and then glue this into the room for ease of working outside a confined space, and a perfect fit.
- Remember that skirtings, coving and other mouldings will often cover any little discrepances between wall and floor or wall and ceiling.
- To avoid printed paper buckling, stretching or warping, try using double sided sticky tape instead of glue.
BUILDING MINIATURES & DOLLS HOUSES FROM KITS
- If your house has dormer windows, it is best to decorate them inside before gluing to the roof of the house.
- Always do a dry run before reaching for the glue bottle.
- Use masking tape and/or rubber bands to hold the kit together so you are familiar with the order of assembly.
- After final assembly, and whilst the glue is setting, it is important to ensure that the house or piece of furniture is sitting on a flat level surface and that all parts are correctly located and square.
- If you are going to be doing a lot of miniature creations, then needle nosed tweezers are worth their weight in gold.
- For cutting small pieces of wood straight or with accurate angles, a pair of wood clippers is the favourite tool.
- One of the best sanding devices I've ever found for miniature work is an emery board!
- Using a soft paint brush will reduce brush marks on your work.
- Keep your scalpel or craft knife blade pushed into an old wine bottle cork for safety in the tool box.
FLOWERS AND GARDENS
- When making the stems of flowers and trees, glue wrap to add strength and bulk. Smear with PVA and wrap the ribbon, tape or paper around - messsy but it works!
- When painting paper covered wire, use 1/2 and 1/2 PVA and paint to prevent the paper unravelling.
- The contents of dried used tea bags mixed with white PVA or tacky glue to a stiff consistency makes very good potting compost.
- When using scenic scatter or sprinkles of any description, work over a sheet of paper, and to avoid wastage, tip any excess back into the container.
- When gluing scatter or other foliage onto a circular or domed bush or tree shaped former, put it into an egg cup to prevent it rocking around whilst applying glue and foliage.
- For a great source of tiny jewels and other little bits and pieces, try the cosmetic department for decorative nail art accessories.
DOLLS HOUSE DOLLS
- Wigging is usually the last thing you do, to protect the clothing etc., cover the doll with clingfilm before you start to wig.
- Paint a clay dolls head with acrylic paint onto the polymer clay, then bake in the oven for a couple of minutes at the same temperature you baked the clay to stop the paint from scratching off.
- Getting eyes right - if you are right handed, start with the left eye as you see it, then you can see the shape you've made and copy it for the right eye.
- Gloves, shoes and stockings can all be painted onto your dolls rather than made with fabric. Apply 2 coats of acrylic paint and finish with a tin coat of matt acrylic varnish.
- Painted-on accessories and facial features are better done before you wig or dress your doll.
- When wigging a doll - if you need ringlets, take wet viscose and curl around knitting needles. Allow to dry and cut to length.
- Make spare ringlets and store with your hair for future wigs.
- You need really clean hands and equipment when making polymer clay doll parts. Try babywipes to get the last traces of grime off your fingers before working flesh coloured clay.
- Dry brushing involves putting paint onto your brush then wiping most of it off onto a cloth/tissue. This way only a very little paint is applied to the model.
- To age and remove shine on metal, paint over with a medium brown wood stain.
- Rubbing graphite (pencil lead) over black painted surfaces creates a metallic finish and also highlights any embossed areas.
- When using a new material or product, always test it first to make sure you know how to use it, and see that it doesn't react adversley to another product you have used.
- Carefully select your colour pallette for each room in your dolls house - fewer colours add more impact!
- When cutting out card or paper, try to use a new sharp blade in your knife for crisp, clean lines.
- Cocktail sticks are available in different lengths, the cheaper ones tend to be shorter and more crudely cut and are ideal for gluing, paint mixing etc. Try to select the more expensive ones for a longer stick and more uniform round shape when you want to use them to make miniatures.
- Create visual interest and depth to a dolls house by adding partitions, alcoves and false doors.
- Sight lines make rooms more interesting by creating sight lines throughout the scene.
- A flash of colour at the back will draw your eye into the room.
- Think about creating movement, make people want to to look around the room, not just at it!
- Make sure that all the details on your peices look good from all angles. When closely inspected, you do not want the viewer to be disappointed by unpainted or unfinished areas.
- Grip wax/tacky wax is an essential tool for any miniaturist.
These tips and hints have come from the DIY articles in Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine and Dolls House Projects as well as from other sources. If you like making miniatures why not buy yourself a copy of the magazine, or better still take out a subscription so you never miss an issue. If you are a fan of facebook or twitter, please use the buttons at the top of this page to share with your like minded friends.
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