Friday, April 24, 2009

A little seduction never hurt anyone

I have a theory that one of the things miniaturists find so appealing about dollhouses is that we can create our fantasy worlds in miniature. Things that we may not be able to do or have in real life become possible in dollhouses and room boxes. Actually, that's not just a theory. I know a lot of miniaturists and I've asked around. They all agree. It may not be the primary reason for why we do what we do, but it ranks up there in the top ten. That's why there are so many dollhouses featuring witches, wizards and fairies. We love to exercise our fantasies in miniature.

So, why is it that mainstream miniatures are all so traditional? Are manufacturers missing a huge demographic? I mean, it's not like they don't ask around about what miniaturists like. If I can find out about the fantasy thing, I'm sure they know about it too. So why is it that all we see is the same victorian, mahogany, white upholstered, cabriole legged, brass handled furniture? Oh, there are examples of modern furniture and the occasional side trip into rustic country or shabby chic but who made the rule that all dollhouse furniture has to fit into a stereotypical form? I'm pretty sure that not all our fantasies have to do with victorian houses and Queen Anne furniture.

I know, I know, it's all about mass appeal and manufacturers and retailers are always going to cater to the mainstream. Believe me, I'm not complaining because it's that mainstream philosophy that gives us artisans a place in the miniature world.

I've made so many of the furnishings in my houses because I couldn't find retail miniatures that fit the themes. I built kimono chests and tatami mats and futon frames for my samurai's house. I ventured into the world of paperclay because I wanted leaf shaped furniture for my fairy's house. It's been more fun than the law should allow.

When I started dressing furniture for sale I began with the traditional styles. After all, according to the retailers, that's what people wanted. It didn't take long before my Muse insisted that traditional is just not what we do and pretty soon there were four-poster beds with enough sequins to make a mirrored disco ball feel inadequate and other four-poster beds made of leather and lace that came with accessories like a little leather whip.

I'm a very sensory person (a handy thing for a textile artist to be) so when I create miniatures I like to use a lot of textures so the owner will enjoy handling them as much as looking at them. I still make mainstream miniatures that fit into victorian or country decor and but they use vivid colors, textures and patterns that put a sparkle into small rooms. But more than anything else, I love using sensuous fabrics like silks and velvets. I love seeing a rumpled silk bed that makes one wonder what the little person of the house has been up to!

Sometimes it's a touch of virginal innocence and sometimes it's the steamy passion of heavy velvet and animal prints, but isn't it all delightful to see a hint of seduction or a touch of sensual expression showing up where you least expect it!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Return of the Willowcrest!

I'm so excited! One of my very favorite dollhouses is the Willowcrest. It has so much character and a unique design that makes it stand out from all the other dollhouses. The wonderful news is that Greenleaf is re-releasing this gem! The news was announced in Dollhouse Miniatures Magazine and the release date is scheduled for May or June. Wooooooooohooooooooo!!!

This house has been out of production for quite awhile and it's one of the most coveted dollhouse kits out there. I was lucky to get mine from Tracy Topps (Minis On the Edge) Tracy is a dear friend which would explain why she parted with her very last Willowcrest kit just so I could build one. Greater love hath no friend than one who will give up her last Willowcrest!!

It took about four months for me to build it, but the entire process was a labor of love. It turns out that the Willowcrest is a bit of a Diva and oh, the things that she wanted!! Every tiny detail was planned and executed with great care. There are ornate touches in this house that can't even be seen, like the spiral staircase with the velvet rope hidden away in the front foyer. It took weeks and weeks of research just to find the perfect art work to go on the walls.

My Willowcrest is a Second Empire Social Salon. I took just a teeny bit of liberty with the authenticity of the house since the story line occurs about 40 years before mansard roofs came into vogue, but I simply considered Lady Emma to be slightly ahead of her time.

Let me tell you about WillowFaire and it's slightly scandalous story.

WillowFaire is an establishment for the entertainment and delight of London's ton. Unlike establishments such as Whites and Almack's, Willowfaire maintains a discrete atmosphere and caters to a more elite clientele. Among it's patrons are Beau Brummel, Lord Byron and the Prince of Wales (or Prinny as he is known to those closest to him).

The proprietess of Willowfaire is Lady Emma Vanderburg. Lady Emma is the daughter of Charles James Fox and was raised up in the world of gambling, politics and the outrageous behavior of society's most outspoken demireps. As a child, she spent much time with the Duchess of Devonshire and her "Dearest Bess". Lady Emma became an intimate of the ton at an early age and her coming out was the social event of the year.

Not long after her d├ębut, Lady Emma met Lord Albert Vanderburg. Dashing and debonair, Lord Albert was most enamored of Lady Emma........and even more taken with her family fortune. He convinced Lady Emma to elope with him to Gretna Green, thereby putting an end to her father's protests about the suitability of the marriage.

Lord Albert quickly commissioned the construction of WillowFaire, the magnificent home for his new bride. A patron of the arts, he filled their home with beautiful paintings and sculptures. The works of art chosen by Lord Albert reflected his lust for life and sensuality. Less than a year after their marriage, Lord Albert was challenged to a duel after besmirching the reputation of the young Duchess Ellsworth. Sadly, Lord Albert was more adept as a flirt than as a swordsman and before the sun had fully risen, Lady Emma had become a widow.

Born with a strong spirit and raised with a sense of the unconventional, Lady Emma did not spend her year of mourning bewailing her bad luck. She knew that Lord Albert had squandered his fortune as well as her dowry. All that was left to her was WillowFaire and it's contents. Drawing upon her father's influences and advice from the Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Emma began the conversion of her home into London's newest and most daring social salon. One year to the date after the death of Lord Albert, Lady Emma opened the doors of WillowFaire as the newest and most fashionable entertainment establishment for the demireps, scoundrels and rakehells of London's high society.

WillowFaire quickly became en vogue with the ton as a gathering spot when it became known that it is the after hours meeting place for Prinny and his Je Ne Se Quois club. When not populated by Prinny, the Beau and others of their select friends, WillowFaire offers diversions such as discrete gambling tables, formal dinners and elegant balls. Less obvious but much discussed is that WillowFaire is often used for romantic rendezvous' and secret trysts between lovers. Parlor gossip often centers around who has been seen entering WillowFaire by the back door or who's carriage has been parked down the street.

Today, Lady Emma would be honored with your presence in her home. Please, come in and meet the Lady of the house. She'll be pleased to give you a tour of WillowFaire and requests your company for tea afterwards. If she offers you sherry, be sure to accept. Lady Emma has been known to openly discuss all manner of things when she's in her cups.

You can also sit back and enjoy a slideshow of WillowFaire.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Search for Historical Accuracy

Napoleon woke up long enough to say thank you to everyone who commented about his posts. He also asked me to tell the cats who might be reading this that he'll have more tips about getting the most out of miniatures later. I think he's working on a plan for hiding catnip under the doll's skirts.

While he was sleeping off that 'nip buzz today I got a chance to get back into the studio and work on some new things. Mainly I was excited because I got fabric in the mail this week. I get excited about fabric in the mail anyway, but this order is really special. You see, I have this endless search to find replicas of historic fabric in minature scale. This is not an easy task!!! Actually, finding any fabric in miniature scale isn't easy unless you want to take out a second mortgage. I know I could copy jpegs of old fabric patterns and print them on muslin but that's not quite the look I want.

Have I mentioned that I'm a Virgo? LOL! I have a real obsession with realisim in miniatures and when I want to use a fabric with authentic designs, I want it to be real fabric. Reproductions are fine, but it has to be as close to real as it can get. Even with my Cadillac printer it's just not the same.

So when I found a store carrying repro fabrics I wasn't especially excited. I mean, repros are pretty common but I thought I'd browse anyway. A few minutes later I was dancing around the room and couldn't get my credit card out of my wallet fast enough!!! I found some seriously *gorgeous* prints of 1800's fabric AND some of it was in small enough scale to work for upholstery. Wooooooooooohooooooooooooo!!

While I often take off on trips of fantasy and imagination with my miniatures, there are certain things that I just insist upon when I'm doing a period piece. I'll spend a lot of time researching the era and end up with a notebook full of facts and trivia before I even start on the project. Not that I don't take a few liberties here and there (like putting a bathroom in a Second Empire house..........but I blame that on a divine Ruetters bathroom set that I just *had* to have!) But overall, I like historical accuracy whenever possible.

When I started dressing living room furniture, I set aside the Victorian pieces until I could find fabric that would actually be in keeping with the era. Yes, I know that they could have been antiques that were reupholstered as they were passed down from generation to generation and I'm sure I'll do plenty of those as time goes by, but I felt like I had to at least begin with an authentic look. That's why I was so happy about finding repro fabrics in smaller scale. There just isn't a lot of mini living room furniture on the market that steps outside of the white or solid pastel upholstery and I've been dying to do something about that! Miniaturists deserve to have color choices in their living rooms and parlors!!

I finished the first set today and was delighted with the results. The fabric is a delicate yellow stripe with pink roses vining over it. I think I sat there for an hour after it was finished just admiring how it came out. I need to get it boxed up and ready to post in my Etsy store but I may spend a couple of days just admiring it. One of the best things about being a miniaturist is getting a kick out of the little things in life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Speaking of Napoleon......

You may have noticed that my demented little furry friend occasionally takes over my computer and writes his own articles. I've given some thought of how to break him of the habit and then decided to leave him alone coz he really can be funny sometimes.

So I thought that since you've met Napoleon, I would share a little story about him and his introduction to rolling plastic storage drawers. If you're a miniaturist or a quilter you're familiar with those things. This is what happened when I bought my first one for fabric several years ago:

I came home all excited from shopping today because I found a great stash holder. It's a three drawer unit on wheels......white plastic frame and big, deep transparent drawers. Okay, so little things make me happy but it's perfect for being able to see the stash in the drawers, big enough to hold yards and yards of fabric, and it will roll around the studio easily. So far so good, right?

Wrong. What I forgot is that I share a life with a demented siamese. So, I was happily getting ready to sort thru my stash and start organizing what I wanted to go into the drawers. I pulled out the drawers and set one of them on the floor beside me. It immediately became occupied by the head of a cat. Apparently he also appreciates that he can see thru the plastic so he leaned over the side of it, almost standing on his head so he could look at his own feet. That was so much fun that he had to investigate further.

First one paw, then another made their way into the drawer. That was where he discovered that plastic is slippery and soft paws will slide upon it but claws will not dig in. Since claws are the only brakes a cat has, that sent him flopping into the drawer in a rather undignified manner but he made it.

Have I mentioned that Napoleon gets really upset when we laugh at him? In normal cat fashion, his proper response to humans laughing at his folly is to shred something. Now that he was in the drawer, he realized he could see the carpet under him. Giving me one of those wicked-cat looks, he extended his claws, stretched out his feet and got ready to shred the carpet.........only to find out his claws slipped and slide on the plastic.

For a moment, he was disconcerted at this failure to rip up fiber, but then he realized that it felt good on his feet so he did it again.

At this point, I had a cat doing a demented tango in a plastic drawer, a pile of fabric sitting beside me and was no closer to an organized stash. Ten minutes later, he finally got tired enough to stop dancing around inside the drawer and get out. He put his right paw over the edge on the outside of the drawer and discovered he could see it. Being a cross-eyed little siamese, he doesn't often believe what he sees until he touches it, so he lifted his left paw to bat at it.

Napoleon sometimes forgets that gravity works and if one removes both front paws from the ground at the same time, one will fall down.

With perfect cat attitude he decided as long as he was laying down, he'd just take a nap in this nifty drawer.

Okay, let's start this story all over again. I came home from shopping today all excited coz I got a really cool stash holder. It's got two drawers. I also got a really cool cat bed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Letter to Cats

Dear Fellow Felines,

My name is Napoleon and my human plays with dollhouses. If you’re reading this, chances are that your human does the same. Not only do they play with them, but they build entire houses and fill them with tiny things that look as if they might be Cat toys, but we’re told we can’t play with them. This is a gross insult to felines everywhere.

It’s not our nature to be overtly aggressive in our protests, because Cats are subtle creatures. However, it is our birthright to be the center of every human’s universe and this obsession with miniatures is depriving us of quality time that should be spent rubbing ears or filling our dinner dishes. Therefore, we must consider a full scale movement to bring the human’s attention back where it rightfully belongs…… the Cat.

I often read over my human’s shoulder as she writes articles for the Greenleaf Gazette and have noticed that the content is usually focused on ‘how-to’ types of things. (With the exception of the Critter Corner which I consider to be a sign of higher intelligence.) However, these how-to articles encourage the humans to spend more time with miniatures and less time with Cats, so I’ve taken it upon myself to remedy that with my own ‘How to gain your human’s attention” article.

When the human is working on miniatures, they tend to become oblivious to the presence of the Cat. It then becomes our responsibility to return their focus to us.

The first step is to announce your presence. While it can be effective to let out a loud ‘yeeoooooooooooooow’ and pretend that you are in the throes of anguish from an undetermined source of pain, this is far from subtle and not the preferred Cat method. In any event, the human will return to her miniatures as soon as they have determined that you are not sick or injured. It is best to take a bit more time in your approach to ensure that her attention will remain on you until you lose interest or need to take a nap. Step back from the human’s chair and observe the best potential landing place. Bear in mind that the human may have glue, paint or sharp objects on the table in front of her and avoid those locations. A sudden leap to the arm of the chair………or the arm of the human…….is usually best. Be sure that you have recently sharpened your claws and have them fully extended to assist in holding your position once you have landed. If you choose to land on the human’s arm rather than the chair, be prepared for her loud scream. Humans have little tolerance for pain and can be annoyingly loud in their expression of it.

Now that you have the human’s attention, act aloof. Pretend that you are satisfied with remaining on her arm and allow her to return her attention to the miniatures. Our strategy is that when the human becomes complacent that we simply want to sit on their arm, she will not be in a defensive mode prepared to ward off further advances. This is to our advantage as the next step is to integrate ourselves between the humans and the miniatures.

Slowly and subtly, begin to move yourself up the human’s arm and toward her shoulder. If your human is the female variety with a soft and fluffy front, you can use your back claws to brace your body weight against the fluffy parts. When you have centered yourself in the middle of her chest, shift your body weight and throw yourself against her throat as you lay down. For some reason, this makes the human sound as if she's hacking up a hairball, but this can be ignored. Once you’re in the correct position, lock your claws into her shoulder and begin purring.

The human may continue to ignore you in favor of the miniatures, so you may want to show a bit more affection. Purring is always a nice start but may not gain the human’s attention as much as you would like. A good technique at this point is to rub your nose against her chin or pat her nose with your paw. If the human still ignores you, dig your claws into her chest and stand up, positioning your body between her face and the miniatures. Humans find it almost impossible to ignore us in this position and will pay attention to you.

Now that you’ve been placed on the floor by an ungrateful human who does not properly understand the meaning of attention, it’s time to take things to the next level. Back up and center yourself, then leap with an acrobatic flair to the top of the human’s work surface. Objects may slide off the table and the human may use words of profanity, but as with all human behavior, this can be ignored.

Now it’s time for a round or two of ‘Kitty Golf’. As you know, the object of Kitty Golf is to fling as many objects off the table as possible. Humans are fun participants in this game because she’ll become so involved in retrieving her possessions that she’ll forget about moving you off the table. Take great care with your form…..choose your object and gently tap or push it into place for a direct line of trajectory from the table to the floor. You can work your way up to tricky rail shots and ricochets later. Lift your paw and draw it back six inches, then give the object a good strong “WHACK!” It’s acceptable to admire the results as the object flies thru the air and lands on the floor. If the item is covered with glue or wet paint, that’s even better. Your human will get up to retrieve the object and put it back on the table where you can resume play. For most humans, you can repeat the cycle several times before she tires of retrieving.

Finding yourself on the floor once again, you can lull the human into a false sense of security by turning your back to her and appearing disinterested. When she resumes her work, rapidly leap back onto the table and quickly move out of their reach. If you move to a remote section of the table, quietly lie down and pretend to be asleep, the human will probably forget that you’re there. When you are sure that the human does not notice you, quietly move into the house that the human is building, preferably in a section where she cannot see you. Waiting patiently is something Cats do well, so take advantage of the time and indulge in a power nap.

Sooner or later, the human will place her hand within your reach. With a sense of gaiety and jocularity, smack her hand with your paw. The shrieking sound the human makes is an expression of hilarity and does not indicate that you have startled her into throwing a glue smeared window frame into the next room where it sticks to the carpet.

Back on the floor, assume a prone position and stare at the human with a piercing gaze. The ‘Siamese Mind Meld’ does have an impact on some humans, but not all of them are intelligent enough to receive the transcendental messages you are sending. If the Mind Meld doesn’t achieve results, leap back onto the table, out of arm’s reach of the human of course. Gracefully sit down and tidily wrap your tail around your feet and look serene. The human will be flattered that you are ready to watch her work and become absorbed in her miniatures again. With deliberate care and slowness, move your tail in a casual manner to the right, gently dragging it across the top of the open paint container. Equally casual, move it back to the left, dragging it across the surface of the wood floor the human has just carefully stained. Continue this procedure until the human notices you.

As you sit on the floor yet again, it becomes obvious that the time has come for more aggressive measures. Stand on your back feet and put your front paws on your human’s leg. Raise your eyes up and with a pitiful look on your face, give a plaintive ‘mew’ in your best poor-little-kitten voice. The human will look down and spontaneously say ‘Aaawwww’ and then gather you in her arms for a cuddle and kiss. Of course, you will immediately lose all interest in being cuddled by the human and struggle from her arms, walk thru the wet paint on the table and continue on your way, leaving wet paint paw prints over her wallpaper (which you consider to be an artistic improvement). Jumping from the table, race down the hallway in search of more exciting things to do. Maybe you can take a nap on the clean laundry after drying your paws on her favorite towels first.

As Cats, it is our responsibility to teach the humans their proper role in life no matter how time consuming and tiresome it is for the Cat. Take great pride in your work when you’re training your human to devote more attention to The Cat. Sadly, statistics have proven that humans who are involved in miniatures cannot be completely dissuaded from pursuing that hobby, so don’t despair when your human continues to devote her attention to miniatures. Be diligent my friends, and content yourself with the knowledge that when the house is finished, you can play Kitty Golf with all the furnishings, sharpen your claws on the shingles and bury the doll in the litter box.

Hugs and purrs,