Monday, 22 July 2013

Can't escape it!

We have just been on a five day break in Lincolnshire and 'all things mini' was pretty much banned.... I can attest that going 'cold turkey' like this does make you a bit twitchy.

On our way home we visited Nostell Priory, an NT place near Wakefield, for lunch and a bit of a mooch in the sun.  I had a sore foot so declined the hike round the lake with my companions and retired to the house for a tour of that.  Guess what they have an eighteenth century Dolls house.

This has led me to seek out other doll's houses in NT properties - I'll let you know

Sunday, 21 July 2013

How I ‘do’ Versi-bricks

I mentioned doing the brickwork in a previous post but it occurred to me that you might like to see it being done......

This is Bentleys where I used Richard Stacey Versi-bricks for the first time.  Bit of a cheat bringing it into the Chocolat Blog but I wanted you to see the alternative colour scheme and a finished wall.  This was in their red brick.  Chocolat is in their buff.

When I was about to start Chocolat’s bricks I went back to my Bentleys blog to remind me about any ‘wrinkles’ and discovered I hadn't really ‘recorded’ how I went about it, so I thought I would remedy that here.

As usual the first thing is not to get put off even starting the job.  The sight of a couple of thousand bricks and tiles is a bit overwhelming.  I even minimise this (possible) deterrent by just taking a few out of the bag at a time and pushing the big bag ‘out of sight’.  It seems so much better to have a little heap of bricks that seem to disappear quite quickly when you are working than to be faced with a bag containing hundreds of them which never seems to diminish.

Each project will bring its own challenges depending on the areas to be worked around.  Bentleys had recessed windows.  I had to brick around them and so needed to cut and fold bricks for the internal and external edges.  Chocolat has windows with exterior frames, much simpler.

When I did Bentleys I quickly realised how much easier it would have been if I hadn't added the shop front, door and trims before applying the bricks.  I was smart this time and wrote myself a note not to add any trim to the front until I had done the brickwork.  Just as in real life my property would be built of brick and the windows, door, shop fronts and even quoins would be added on top of that.  Clever is as clever does!  Guess who forgot the note and guess who has spent at least double the necessary time on the brickwork because she had to work around the completed shop front?  Yup, c’est moi.

So when you look at any of the following pictures try to imagine it as a slab of wood with holes cut in it, not an elaborately finished front!

When I began Bentleys I carefully calculated and measured the space needed for ‘x’ number of rows of bricks (and slates) and drew horizontal guide lines.  I quickly abandoned this idea when I discovered that you never seem to quite ‘hit’ the target line and this just frustrated me.

On Chocolat I have gone with a pick-and-mix of occasional horizontal and vertical markers depending on what I thought I needed where to bring me back on track.

Here, for instance I have marked a couple of front edges of bricks in the third row to make sure I don’t wander slightly left or right as I travel across.  This ‘wandering off’ is a very gradual process and is easy to do; by row seven or eight you can be way off line.

I began the whole process in the middle and under the trim at the top of the wall.  It is important that each side finishes in (roughly) the same way: preferably on a whole brick at the end of a row thereby alternating with a half brick on the row below.  Remarkably on both my projects it actually did this. This probably won’t happen if you work from a side edge.  So that’s the side to side spaces determined for the whole project.

To get the rows evenly spaced, but fitting between boundaries such as the top of wall and the top of the windows, is the hardest part.  I do this by working over the centre of a window and dropping a small section of the wall in place, adjusting the spaces between rows very slightly if I have to.  This way if I don’t manage it very well I will only have a few bricks to prise off for a retry, not rows and rows of them.   I then complete the rows by working from each side of the ‘fixing’ block of bricks.  I  frequently check the position for the front edge of the brick with the rows above as I go.

I repeated this method for the bottom of the trim to the top of the shop front . This time I was additionally constrained by the rows already in place alongside the windows.  All rows have to meet each other at some point.

Sadly dolls houses are not cut to the nth degree accurately and/or we humans don’t assemble them using a micrometer.  In O’Rourke’s case the windows were (a nice) slightly wonky so there was no way they were going to have a neat matching line of bricks running beneath them all.  This was another moment where if I had done the brickwork first (without the windows in place) my life would have been so much simpler.  I ended up having to shape as many as eight pieces per window to get them sorted.

When I had enough bricks in place above this line to be confident of being able to mark positions of the rows I completed the line of bricks across the front of the shop.  This acted as a visual guide when I was filling in the rest of the space. 

You might have noticed as I have gone along that the paintwork looks a bit like camouflage.  That is kind of what it is.

I started Bentleys with nice mortar-coloured paint under the bricks and after just a couple of rows I realised this showed through like neatly drawn, uniform, pencil lines and looked totally unreal.  I now splodge various dirty coloured washes around the place after applying the mortar coloured undercoat.  This shows patchily between the bricks and looks much more like mortar in real life brickwork.

I keep the spacing between the rows fairly uniform by sliding a plastic card across while the last three or four are still wet enough to move (if needs be).  It is harder to do this vertically as each row of bricks is offset so I must admit to leaving those gaps to judgement of the ‘eye’ and the occasional pencil mark.


Here I am pressing the bricks down with a pencil at the same time as checking the gap.  Nothing if not talented!

Depending on the amount of glue you apply they can want to curl up at the ends.  This is not a major a problem, just keep an eye out as you go and persuade the more recalcitrant ones to do as they are bid.  The rubber at the end of the pencil is also good for tamping down the odd nuisance. 

Here you can see the various ‘markers’ I have put in place to work from and towards.  There's the between trim and shop front rows and the between window bottom and sip front rows and the level line row going right the way across. I do a lot of infilling of bricks rather than row on row of building. 

I don’t have any tips for speeding up the process other than I thought it might be quicker to cover a small area in glue and then apply the bricks.  I am concerned that you would end up with ‘shiny’ mortar when the PVA glue dried in the cracks.  I can’t really afford to test the theory with a large enough amount of bricks on scrap wood but you might want to do that.  As it stands I butter each brick (carefully) one at a time.  I try to avoid any excess glue squeezing out and generally do well at that but now and then some does appear. I get rid of it immediately with a toothpick.  Don’t leave it with the intention of coming back to it – (a) you won’t find it easily (b) it will have turned into the consistency of a rubber hot water bottle.  Try removing that with a toothpick.

If like me you are a twerp and are putting the bricks around all the fancy stuff, here is a photo to prove it can be done.  The L-shaped piece is being ‘dry-fitted’ before I glue it in place.  Many rows needed as many as eight ‘special’ shapes cut to complete the row….. a bit of a nightmare and it must have doubled the time it took me to complete the upper floor which is where I am up to right now.

After two days work, including real life interruptions, I have the upper floor finished.  This has taken about five hundred bricks.  I now have to do the slab of a front otherwise known as the lower floor and a couple of chimneys and I will be brick-free until the next project.  Oh, I forgot, I do have to tile the roof.

Tools needed: 
  • Small sharp scissors or a fine craft knife to cut bricks to size (and shape!)
  • All-purpose, water-based, PVA glue.  I use Aleene’s because that’s what I have got.
  • Plastic card – old credit card or shop card anything stiff, easy to keep clean as you go and the right thickness will do.
  • I love my little right-angled metal rule and my twelve and six-inch metal rules, but I am sure any ruler will do
  • Toothpick for cleaning out glue between bricks
  • Toothpick for applying glue to your bricks.  I did my ‘buttering’ with a micro-brush this time but I am not sure it was any better than my usual toothpick.
  • Sharp pencil – cannot emphasise the word sharp enough when it comes to minis
  • Tweezers can be useful
  • Loads of patience and maybe something to listen to – for me, radio four (i-player on my computer) What could be nicer than gluing bricks with Sandi Tosvig, Rumpole or Book at bedtime?

PS:  I love all things ‘Versi.  They suit my budget and my way of working and give a really great finish.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

If you want a bolt..

If you want a bolt like the one I showed you in the previous post there are some on EBay right now but I haven't found another source:

Saturday, 13 July 2013

A zillion bricks

This is two days' work - five hundred (ish) bricks.

The camouflage paint is so you get a more realistic/patchy show through between the bricks - like real mortar.

If you don't know about these bricks they are Richard Stacey's versi-bricks and I love them (and the roof slates).  Go and have a look at my Bentleys blog for the finished version in red brick and grey slate.  

This time I went for a change and took the buff mixed brick and a red tile for the roof, so we'll see how that looks when I have finished.

If you are a total eejit like me you will take care to write a reminder to yourself not to stick the windows,  doors and trims in place before you do the bricks and then you forget to read it!!!  It makes for exceedingly slow progress when you have to make a zillion little cut-outs to go around all kinds of shapes..... as many as eight per window!!  This is an L-shaped one being fitted around a quoin.

One niggly problem was that the two shop doors continually swing open in both directions so I fitted a real working sliding bolt.... don't you just love it!

Don't worry about the wonky handle - they are wonky because one of them snapped in two when gluing it in place and I didn't notice!! They are going to be replaced.

The new glazing is all in place stuck in with nigh on invisible 'rocket glue'.  An easy - sorry if it is obvious - way to cut out glazing is to make a cardboard or paper template - fit it a few times to be sure it is just right, put it under the perspex and cut the plastic with a sharp knife.  

You are also left with great templates should you wish/need to replace the windows further down the line - assuming you have somewhere to keep them and be able to remember you have them.... I am saying nothing!

On a different theme - I am running little snippets for the magazine about favourite tools, storage, bargains, mistakes and favourite kit; this is what we got this week which seems to flit between storage and kit. 

I bought the Expedit trolley a while ago and at the time also bought the casters which we duly took back when I discovered they had cost me £16!!  This is from Ikea, so was unexpected to say the least.  I know, I know why didn't I look at the price in the store .... well I sort of did and thought they were £8 - that turned out that was the price for two and Ken quite rightly picked up the four needed, hence £16.

So time goes on and I am working on Chocolat and I get very frustrated by the endless tugging the house about to get to various aspects of it.  I finally broke down and thought if I do put wheels on the trolley I can shift that round rather than the house or pull it into the centre of the room and work around it if needs be before putting it back away against the wall.  It will be especially good for the wiring, yet to come, and the building of the false rooms at the back.  Probably worth stumping up the extra in terms of long-term building trolley.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Support small shows

On Sunday I went to Brentwood Fair's show at the Mecure Hotel in Blackrod, Bolton.  This is pretty much on my doorstep being only half an hour away, well worth 'checking it out'.  I had been to the previous two so I knew it was a small show (maybe 20 vendors?).  I needed a couple of 'practical' things and thought I would pootle along again and pick those up.  I am so glad I did.  It was a gem of a show.  There was loads of things to look at for inspiration and just sheer pleasure.  I never managed to find either of the things I wanted but I did get three things I love and I have found someone who can make my chocolates at a price I can afford.  All of this was totally unplanned and unexpected.  

I already own the basics for Fimo chocolate making - three blocks of the stuff plus tools, so I might still have a go and see what I make of it but it is a relief to know I have a ton of chocolates on the way.  The other thing I wanted when I was doing Bentleys was a string bag - the same vendor had those.  Hers were stuffed with groceries so I have ordered an empty bag. This means I am now working umpteen projects ahead!  I think, somewhere down the line,  I want to do the house of my birth/childhood set in 1955 and the string bag is for that!  talk about be prepared....

I found some lovely stalls to write about for the magazine so forgive me if I don't go through that again.  Suffice it to say.  If you CAN get to any show, even if you don't want anything, go along to it - shops and shows need support or they will disappear.  At this one I spoke to my nearest/only shop lady who told me she had closed the shop and would only be doing another three or four shows to offload stock and then she'll be finished.

Here is my Chocolat purchase, you need to visit Starfish Cottage for the other two:

This is a new Vianne who badly needs a repaint, so that should be interesting.  At £3.50 I can afford to make a ham's hock of it.  

I was recycling 'me' from Wentworth for that role but she is blonde, pale and miserable looking (perfect as me!).  I am hoping this one has the potential to be a sexy Juliette Binoche.

Friday, 5 July 2013

My tiling friend

The same lady who sent me the wonderful floor tiling has just sent me a sheet of green tiles for the front of the shop.

I saw these green tiles on EBay and they immediately reminded me of several Birmingham pub fronts of my youth.  I made a bid on the five sheets knowing I only wanted one so eventually I wasn't prepared to go up to the finish price.  When I knew I had lost the bid, I emailed Maureen to see if I could order just one sheet and bob's your whiskers she had sent me a single sheet, no charge again.  She is sooo kind.

If I hadn't been doing Chocolat I would have smothered the shop front with all the lovely patterns, but sadly it needed to look like an ex pub not a fishmongers and it did this job perfectly.  I am now plotting and scheming all kinds of art nouveau type shop fronts in the future so I can use her stuff.  It really is the best I've ever seen.

Find her here:  mm miniatures