This is the home of my blog about small scale dollhouse miniatures. The blog will record efforts to problem solve for current (and past, if they ever are finished) projects and will offer the occasional tutorial.
Click on a category across the top or along the side to view blogs associated with a particular project.
Come back and look for new posts and new topics. Or visit my website displaying miniatures by Fran Sussman at www.somelikeitsmall.com
things are fun to make in 1/144, using clever fixes.
You can make books in different ways. You can cut pieces of mat board or construction paper into the right sizes and line them up on a shelf. You can buy, and then paint, laser cut book inserts (made for shelves) that SDK Miniatures and others supply. You can take a class with Miniature Bookbinder and IGMA Artisan Tine Krijnen, who teaches you how to make wonderful twelfth scale books, but will also give you tips on (and sometimes teaches) how to make tiny leather covered books, with real pages, in 1/144.
miniature workshop I taught in 2019 at the Guild Show, I used a variant of Tine’s
method to make modern, inexpensive books that don’t open (or have individual
pages). These will be very tiny, so you
won’t be able to read the covers easily! Some will look good, some will not. If
you have a bunch, you can pick and choose.
You will need to search your personal library and also the internet (being mindful of copyright considerations) for images of book jackets and print them on thin paper. You will also need:
Watercolor paper or card stock that is about the thickness of a 1/144 book (less than 1/32” thick, i.e., less than about 4” in R.L.)
Thin white glue (such as Elmer’s or a PH-neutral book binders adhesive)
Lighter weight printer paper, preferably acid free for more longevity for printing covers on
Construction or colored paper, for alternative book covers
A thin (in terms of thickness, not width) metal ruler for folding the paper to create book spines
Step 1. Create a Word File
Put together a digital collection of dust jacket images. Be sure to use those that have the back and front cover (they may also have the material on the flap—you will cut this off later (sorry, authors!).
images into a MSWord document. Initially, size them individually so they are
about the size of a book in twelfth scale. E.g., size them all so they are 1”
tall, or 1” wide.
Select them as a group, then copy and paste them all. Size the copied files so they are about ¾” tall. Repeat this process a few times, making them different sizes, height and width, so you have a variety of books.
When you are done, you should have about 30 to 50 book jackets, of different styles and sizes.
Change the page layout to “columns” and choose 4 columns. Also choose “centered” for the layout, so all the books will line up with the spines one above the other. Make sure there is a carriage return (Oops! Showing my age), or a “paragraph mark” (enter) after each book. This will help to ensure that the images line up one above the other, and the center spines of the books align.
Select all the images, then copy and paste repeatedly until you have filled up 16 pages of your document with books. This is what a sample page looks like.
Step 2. Size and Print
Each printer will be different, and different versions of word operate differently, so you will have to hunt around to find the features you want in your print settings and the options for your printer.
Choose 16 pages per sheet. This will print all of your pages on one sheet. Each picture will be about the quarter of its current size; so if you want 1:48 scale, you can stop now.
Look at how your printed sheet looks, and the height of most of the books. Depending on whether these are coffee table books, hardcovers, or softcovers, you may want the books to be different sizes. In general, a good rule of thumb is that you want a large number of the books to be about 2 mm (or about 3/32”) tall when printed. This would be relatively tall (about 1 foot in R.L.) but then you want them to be visible in 1:144! If you want smaller books that are better to scale, they should be shorter than this.
To get to the right size, you will have to reduce them further. Find the feature for your printer that reduces the printed page (it might be called “zoom”). I reduced mine to 50 % of its size. In other words, when I printed my page at 16 pages / sheet, my books initially came out to about 6/32” tall. I want them to be half of that, or 3/32” tall, so I printed at 50% (still at 16 pages/sheet).
Be sure to
seal the printed paper with Krylon or Plaid matte or glossy sealer, depending
on your preferences.
Step 3. Make the Book Strips
Find different thicknesses of cardstock or watercolor paper in your stash, so you can make books of different thickness. From each type of cardstock, cut a few strips that are 2″ to 3” long (at least as long as your columns are when printed at the appropriate size) and about ¼” to ½” wide (for ease of handling).
Cut one of your printed columns. Mark the center of the spine of the books, at the top and bottom edges of the paper column with a pencil, and then cut through a little with your knife. Flip over and use the knife mark to align a ruler, and then score along the ruler with the back of your craft knife. Fold the paper up along the ruler, tight to the side of the ruler; push the edge of the ruler hard onto your table or mat, to create the book spine.
If you have colored paper you like for the book covers, you can also cut a few strips that are about the width and length of the book columns and take the same steps to fold the paper.
[If you want
to be really fussy, you can move the line (before scoring) over by an amount
that is equal to the thickness of your ruler or piece of card stock, so the
spine is truly centered on the book cover. But … most likely no one will know
white glue—preferably a bookbinders glue—lightly along the long edge and the
sides of your cardstock strips (you do not need to go the full width). Push the
edge of the card stock into the fold of your printed column. Press down—the
edge of the card stock will be the spine of your book. Then press flat on each
Put a weight
on the glued strip to keep it flat. Let dry.
Step 4. Cut Out Your Books
When your books are dry, cut the strip horizontally between each book. Then trim each book individually to width.
have lots of
books. Choose the ones you like and glue in place!
It comes up occasionally that you need a dollhouse for the dollhouse inside your dollhouse. I like to make–and occasionally teach a class where students make–workshops for a 1/144 miniaturist, who of course is making dollhouses (what a shocker). But you might have a 1/144 scale miniature shop, or just a nursery or child’s room in 1/144.
There are lots of different ways you can make a tiny house. Some folks cut them out of wood and paint them. Others make a small printie and wrap it around a block of wood. There are also some etched brass versions from Severn Models, and tiny wooden models by Arnold Volker that you can assemble.
But I like to miniaturize card models and then cut them out and assemble them using tweezers, glue, and a bit of profanity. Fiddler’s Green is a wonderful site with card models for everything from buildings to airplanes to ships to airstreams. Over the years, they have been very generous about letting me use their models for my classes, and suggested I put together a tutorial for the home schooler. You can find that tutorial here: Making Dollhouse houses from Fiddler’s Green. And it comes with thanks not only to Scott Fyn of Fiddler’s Green, but Roger Pattenden, the Illinois State government, and many others for sharing their knowledge and card models over the years.
In small scale, assembly can be one of the most challenging steps. A crooked leg or stile can easily destroy the illusion that you have worked so hard to create. Assembling this chair had two particularly challenging aspects: (1) making sure the various pieces were cut to length correctly so that there were no visible gaps between the pieces and (2) getting the legs at the same angle–about 10 degrees off the vertical from the front and side.
Oh yes–by far the biggest challenge came from pieces trying to fly away/ A pair of tweezers with ridges helped there.
Use tweezers with ridges
The two stiles for the back were attached first. A small bur in the shape of a ball, held in a pin vise, made small indentations on the seat where the stiles would go. These indentations served several purposes: hiding some of the glue, covering any raw ends of the stiles, and making sure the stiles are attached in the right place.
A side view, showing the angle back of the stiles.
The seat is held on a little pedestal with double stick tape, to aid in assembly.
The legs were next. I was aiming for a 10 degree angle. The legs were rounded on one end, and sanded lightly to an angle where they would hit the seat.
The angle of the legs
Two of the spindles for the legs
As it turned out, the easiest approach was just to flip the chair over and attach the legs by eye, rotating frequently as it dried to make sure the legs were in the right place.
A bit of sticky tape holds the chair in place while the legs are attached
When everything was dry, the last steps were to attach the rail on the back, the additional spindles on the back, and the spindles between the legs.
I would try to improve on one or two things if I make it again, but overall I’m pleased. I hope the person I made it for is, too!
The first step was to find some pictures on the internet and pull together measurements. Lots of websites have useful information, including these: for photos of simple windsor chairs, for dimensions, or for detailed drawings and tips on construction.
After testing a few different woods, I settled on boxwood–it has a fine grain, is flexible and strong enough to withstand turning to small diameters, and the color is neutral but not bland (in case the chair is not stained).
The final pieces:
The most challenging part of the chair were the various spindles–for the legs, the stiles on the back, the spindles connecting the legs… you get the idea.
The spindles were formed on a lathe using a combination of roughing down to about 2 mm, using a graver as a scraper to thin it another half millimeter, and then sanding with 180 grit sandpaper and fine files to get the spindle down to a mm or less, depending on the piece.
The drawplate was used to get the spindles down to their final diameters.
I’ve worked in various micro scales most of my life. Recently, I’ve become intrigued by the potential for added detail that 1/48 scale (quarter inch scale) offers. After all, it’s absolutely huge in comparison to 1/144! The challenge, though, is how to bound that potential. Should drawers open? Cabinet doors have working hinges? Should the lumber be to scale in thickness?
When I was asked to contribute a 1/48 scale chair to an exhibit about dollhouse scale at the recent IGMA show in Teaneck, NJ, I decided to see just how detailed I could get. This is the result. To learn more about the process of making the parts and assembling this chair, stay tuned for my next post.
As LEDs become smaller and smaller, it becomes more fun—and feasible—to add fireplace lights to a dollhouse-for-dollhouse roombox or vignettes. Even unlighted, fireplaces are a staple in living rooms of all time periods. While a few metal minis, laser cut wood fireplace mantels, and cast resin pieces are available, not a lot of choice exists. What I wanted was a way to make fireplaces for roomboxes in different styles—traditional, art deco, ornate, and so on.
This was my first foray into molding and casting–and began back in January of 2013. As I learned in a wonderful course taught by Judy Andraka (Acorns by Oak) at Philadelphia Miniaturia a few years ago, molding and casting allows you build a “matrix” or object to be reproduced using a variety of materials. Molding and casting is the great equalizer; whether you use paper, styrene, metal, fabric, or braid, ultimately everything looks like plastic when it comes out—and has the same level of permanence. And if one happily spends 10 hours designing a single fireplace, all that work ends up embodied in not only one roombox—but can be used again and again.
Of course designing, building, molding, and casting is not an easy task, and getting from here—an idea—to there—a fireplace in 1/144 scale–took time.
Working in small scale often requires making your own tools (or doing without). After a lot of searching on the internet, I found a few, nice quality, small palm-held gouges from Two Cherries and Pfeil. Two Cherries makes three that are 1 mm in width and various shapes (sweeps #3, #6, #11)–the number refers to how deep the “U” of the gouge is. Pfeil makes #11 sweep gouges in both 1 mm and 0.5 mm.
You can find these and other tools at some online stores, such as Chipping Away. For the Pfeil tools, search for Palm Block cutters, and for the Two Cherries tools, look for their Palm Micro series.
But no one makes anything smaller than 0.5mm. And I just wasn’t getting the scales on the 1/48th scale dragon right!
Getting ready to make the groove in the gouge
My friend Tom is a wonderful turner (both full size, small, and dollhouse miniature) and loves to innovate (and share those innovations). He gave me a few tips on how to make my own gouge. After a few false starts and many hours of trial and error, I produced a gouge that was about 0.3 mm in diameter, smooth in shape, and shaped about like the #11 gouges I had been working with, in terms of the depth of the U.
Marks made by new gouge and commercially available gouge
We’re getting close to the end! Just painting and assembly to go.
Painting. UGH. Have I said before how little I enjoy painting? Here it was particularly difficult, because it was important to get some variation in the surface so it looked like wood, make the background a little darker, and not create a blotchy mess. The idea was to try to match the pear-wood being used on the remainder of the piece.
The piece was painted with successive thin layers of paint. The background was painted a little darker than the surface. The raised dragon on the finished piece was drybrushed with a lighter color. The final piece was washed with a thin coat of dark gray water color (using a water color pencil) to get the color a little closer to the stained pear wood.
If you’re interested in learning how to simulate wood with paint (and know as little as I do)–there are a few videos on YouTube that should be helpful, both those by model builders and real life “faux bois” painters. The colors used consistently–whether full size or miniature–seem to be burnt and raw umber, burnt and raw sienna, black, and alizarin crimson. In this scale, the main messages are: use very thin coats, bringing out the different tones in real wood–from pinks to browns to grays–with each layer. A few drops of glazing helps thin the layers.
The finished painted resin piece
The finished piece turned out reasonably well. It could look more like wood, and the scales on the tail could show up better, but it’s not bad for a first effort, and hopefully future versions of this chest will turn out better, as I learn more about painting!
The pear wood was also coated with a thin coat of paint, to create a more uniform surface and tone closer to the painted resin piece.
The cast piece is ready to be turned into a chest!
Once the cast piece was ready, it went through a few steps:
Sand the surface–from 320 down through 1500 to create a hint of wood grain and get rid of the texture from the bristol board. Smooth as the board was, the mold picked up whatever texture there was, and it doesn’t look like wood!
Add detail–to the fins, tail, wings, eyes, ears, and reinforcing some of the detail (e.g., the lines), etc. This was done using the carving techniques taught by Ann High in her dragon chest class at IGMA school in Castine in 2013. Details were added to the dragon using small gouges, gravers, and different scalpel blades and chisels. (For a tutorial on making a small carving gouge, see this post.)
Sand the outside to the right size. Since the piece is a little thicker than the 1/32″ wood that will be used for the remainder of the chest, the right and left edges need to be thinned a bit on the back. so the chest could be assembled.
Spray the piece with a good quality primer–this is light gray from Testors
Complete the final detail on the tail–using a gouge made just for this purpose.
Cast piece with detail added, sprayed with gray primer, and the beginnings of the scales on the tail added.