in 1/144" Scale and N Scale












A news item left me tingling with joy:  Did you know that Sir Rod Stewart's hobby (other than beautiful women) is model railroads?  In fact, he's one of several celebrities obsessed with modelling.

Okay, time to stop daydreaming about Sir Rod playing with his models and admit I had to look up the definition of "blog." Wikipedia says most blogs are informative and interactive, but some are just online diaries.  Another site says posts have to be in reverse-chronological order.  Well, this blog may or may not be informative, depending on what you're looking for.  And I've never been a fan of reverse-chron because I get dizzy whenever I do anything backwards.  Finally, I kept having trouble typing the word "blog," so there was only one name for this journal that made sense:


Dollhouse Fling, late 1980's/early 1990's:  I built a few 1/12" scale dollhouses – Malcolm Forbes bought one as a Christmas present for his granddaughters.  Another was on display at a celebrity charity event at FAO Schwarz.  But lugging fully-furnished dollhouses around New York City was stressful, and ultimately, a recession persuaded me to give up dollhouses.

Year 2010:  My cousin Alan has a keen artistic eye.  While visiting one day, I espied an enchanting toothpick structure on his kitchen counter.  I wanted one!  I rashly hinted at his making one for me (which was rude), and then wondered if I could make one for myself.  Subconsciously, at that moment, my passion for miniatures was rekindling.  Cousin Alan's toothpick structure was the impetus for my discovering 1/144" scale dollhouse kits.



NOVEMBER, 2012:  Paint mixing and color coordination are challenging.  The process is educational (and frustrating) because mixing my own colors begets unexpected results.  A harmonious color palette becomes ever more elusive.  So I love the moment when Hubby Dan says, "I like it," which is my signal that it's okay to start painting.

I might build the same favored kits over and over, but no two miniature houses will ever be identical.  It's impossible to mix precisely the same color twice, and the landscaping will always be different.  Each house will be unique, just like the real homes that line a lovely, old street.  I like that.



DECEMBER, 2012:  I'm still procrastinating, but for good reason.  I'm trying to come up with a clever company name, for that day when I find myself in a booth at a crafts fair.  It'll be a while before I've stockpiled enough finished houses, so there's plenty of time to cogitate.

Doot-dee-doo.  I've finished cogitating.  Here are some runners-up:  Dollhouses To Go, Dollhouse Proud, and Mini Victorians.  And the winner is... Victorian Dollhouses.  I agree, it's not snappy, but it kinda says it all, doesn't it?



APRIL, 2013:  There's one more house to landscape, and then it's back to assembly mode.  Several kits in clamshell packaging are waiting to come to life.

Landscaping is enjoyable because it's so rewarding.  It completes a dollhouse.  It's more forgiving than assembly, and can be accomplished fairly quickly (usually, around two weeks).  As Hubby Dan would say, "You get a big bang for your buck."

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to assembling houses again.  Even though assembly can be a bit stressful (there's little room for error), it's a cherished activity because it takes me back in time.  I try to honor the Victorian aesthetic through my choices of exterior colors, interior wallpapers, and area rugs.  For many years, a passionate dream of mine was to live in a rambling Victorian mansion... but that's not going to happen.  At this point in my life, I don't feel up to maintaining an old house or pouring dollars into a possible money pit.  But with these Victorian dollhouse kits, I'm living the dream – without breaking my back or my bank account.



MAY, 2013:  Hubby Dan says I should stop trying to reproduce somber colors.  I agree.  Just because I love Victorian architecture and design doesn't mean I'm a fan of all things Victorian.  For instance, I'm glad I didn't live during that era... besides shocking wallpapers, it was a time of extreme social intolerance with oppressive rules governing behavior, especially for females.  Also, the attire was unbearably uncomfortable (there are no plans in my future for parting with my elastic-waist pants).  Maybe Dan's right, and I shouldn't lose sleep over not using historically accurate paint colors.



JUNE, 2013:  There comes a point during assembly when you must do nothing!  It's called, "Waiting for the glue to dry."  You must resist touching the dollhouse, even though every muscle in your body is straining to attach the next piece.  Experience warns that ignoring this cardinal rule will result in tears and anguish.

Reliable entertainment is needed to while away the drying time.  I surf the Internet for examples of fine Victorian architecture, which I've compiled into a large personal library for my color research and landscaping inspiration.  Abandoned houses are collected too, even though it's distressing to view them.

Earlier, while glue was drying, I decided to check out other aspects of grand Victorian homes, such as imposing staircases and impressive fireplace mantels.  Somehow, this led to viewing vintage photos of Victorian families, which then led to studying images of Victorian sartorial elegance, which naturally led to photos of corseted women.  A 15-inch waist was considered the height of feminine beauty, but today the very idea is grotesque.  Actually, only two types of women could afford to flaunt severely whittled waists:  the Wealthy (queens and princesses sported enviable "wasp" silhouettes), and Stage Actresses (on whom kings and princes often bestowed singular favors).

It took a world war to free women from corsets.  Wikipedia says that in 1917 the U.S. Government asked women to stop buying corsets to preserve metal for war production.  Some 28,000 tons were saved, enough to build two battleships!

Women's fashions are eye-opening when you investigate the theories behind them.  One premise is that men prefer women dressed in clothing that inhibits movement (it's hard to run from a man when you're wearing a hobble skirt and high heels).  And obviously, a man's wealth is paraded via his wife's attire. The restriction of the Victorian wife's movement by bone-breaking corsets and skin-tight kid gloves "proved" her incapacity for manual labor, meaning she was rich enough to have many servants.

All I can say is thank goodness for elastic-waist pants, and I think that glue has dried by now.



JULY, 2013:  Okay, I admit that while surfing for pictures of fashionable Victorian attire, I was thoroughly fascinated by early post-mortem photography.  You might deem the practice of photographing dead people as unacceptably morbid, but during the Victorian era it was a popular way to memorialize loved ones.  In the days before vaccines and antibiotics, death was common and indiscriminate in the Victorian household; children were especially vulnerable and died from a host of illnesses that are no longer a threat today.  For over a century, photographs – of both the living and the recently deceased – were rare and treasured mementos.

Initially, I thought post-mortem photography disturbing (especially when it took a while for the photographer to find his way to the home of the departed).  Well, the concept is still a tad unsettling, but the more I look at some of these photos, the more I find them poignant and even quite beautiful.

I promise to post jollier thoughts in future, just as soon as I stop procrastinating and get back to building miniature houses!



JULY, 2013:  It takes discipline and practice to use quick-tack craft glue.  My heart starts racing before each gluing session because it's vital to remember all of the preparatory steps:  Fill cup with water and dampen rag in case of mishaps; have cotton-tipped swabs nearby; ensure toothpicks are within reach; dab some glue onto a saucer; and wear comfortable shoes for long stretches of standing in my hobby area.  I think that's everything, so Full Speed Ahead!

In the excitement, the only thing I forgot was the dry run.  Darn, I glued the wrong pieces together, and it's too late to pry them apart because this glue dries fast.  At this point, it's best to walk away and go watch a kung fu movie with Hubby Dan.  Tomorrow, modifications will be necessary.



AUGUST, 2013:  I forgot to mention something learned several months ago:  Not all foam boards are alike.  Did you know that rigid foam can be open-cell or closed-cell?  And why is it important to know the difference?  Well, if you plan on having a water feature in a foam base, pay attention!

Closed-cell foam is difficult to carve with precision, but it doesn't need to be primed before pouring artificial water onto it.  This type of foam is commonly used in shipping (molded to fit around precious gadgets such as flat-screen TVs and appliances), but it's hard to find vendors who sell it in convenient sizes for crafts.

Open-cell foam carves like butter, and it's easily found in craft stores and online, but it "gasses."  Before pouring artificial water on it, you must prime the area with Flex Paste by Woodland Scenics®.  Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way.  One of my miniature lakes started out pretty and placid, but over time large, stiff bubbles erupted.  Now the lake looks like a geothermal system.  One silver lining is that if I ever decide to create a miniature of Yellowstone National Park, I know some tips and tricks!



JANUARY, 2014:  I apologize for such a long stretch between globbings, and the fact that you have not seen any dollhouse updates for ever so long, but there's a relatively good excuse.  Hubby Dan and I will be moving soon.  We plan on returning to the heartland (Missouri, to be more precise).

Prepping for a move, after you've been living someplace for almost 20 years, is a lot of work.  And all of the real estate brochures say that "collections" should be put away so as not to distract potential buyers.  Therefore, the contents of my hobby area were packed up and stowed away months ago.  It was a sad day for me when I stretched packing tape across the top of the cardboard box containing treasured elements for building pint-size Victorian houses.

Unfortunately, it will be a while before I start building miniature houses again.  Hubby Dan and I are going to build a new home out in the boonies of Missouri, near dear relatives.  Why are we troubling to build?  To address my intense fear of tornadoes, of course.  Our new home will be made of concrete!  It's the only way to face the wicked weather of the Midwest.

In the meantime, I find myself daydreaming about Victorian colors, wallpapers, and gardens… it helps to have something pleasant to think about while packing.

Until next time, best wishes for a wonderful 2014 to all miniatures fans!



MARCH, 2014:  Before leaving the Northeast forever and settling in the Midwest, Hubby Dan and I took a train to Boston to visit a relative.  The mid-March landscape was bleak, presenting only dull shades of gray and tan.  Nevertheless, some of the scenery grabbed my attention:  Pure white snow nestled in the crevices of wet, rocky hillsides; bare trees swaying in the wind, resembling overwrought filigree sculptures; stiff, wheat-colored stalks rimming a misty lake in a lonely marsh....  Yes, even late winter has its charms.

I flopped back in my seat in disappointment, convinced I'd never be able to capture winter's solemn grandeur in miniature.  One problem is the lack of realistic leafless trees in 1/144" scale.  But to give up on an entire season, without even trying?  That's disgraceful.  If suitable material exists, I'll find it.

Update:  I'm getting warmer in my quest for wintertime trees.  Ngineering has photo-etched bare trees, which offer great potential.  Another contender might be ostrich feathers, but this option promises to be a time-consuming effort, one that conjures images of me in my hobby area with a stiff neck, sputtering obscenities.  Okay, feathers may not be practical as bare trees, but I have a feeling they'll have other, exquisite uses.  I'll play with some, and let you know.



SEPTEMBER, 2014:  Getting our new house built is taking more time and patience than anticipated.  I regret to report that we haven't even broken ground yet.  The good news is that busy builders signal an improving economy, something I can't complain about, but the delay is impeding the erection of miniature houses.

I sorely miss building and landscaping dollhouses, but I'm reluctant to unpack craft supplies while living in a rental.  Besides, I'd have to find the boxes first, which are stowed somewhere in the mountains of other unpacked boxes.  To appease my growing anxiety about the lack of "construction" in my life, I decided to order Model Power's N Scale Victorian House.  I've had my eye on this kit for some time.

It's a good thing I didn't postpone placating myself because, darn it, Model Power recently discontinued this product.  Several resellers display the kit on their websites, but they only tease you with a picture and then a warning in tiny letters, "Out of stock."  Uh-oh.  Thankfully, persistent Googling unearthed a few places that still had a kit or two in inventory.

All of the reviews that I've read about this kit are positive, even though it's 100% plastic.  I can't wait to give it a go, and show you
the results.



SEPTEMBER, 2014:  If I can't build dollhouses, I might as well glob.  Today might be a good time to give thanks to other members of the miniatures club who, deliberately or unwittingly, shared their wisdom.

Nancy Oriol of Northeastern Scale Models [closed February, 2016] wrote in an email, "Your work is so nice."  I doubt she realized how much encouragement I would draw from that simple compliment.

Boyd Newmant of Louisiana Railroad Company generously shipped the last two Model Power Victorian House kits in his inventory, to ensure that I would have one complete and perfect kit.

Back in the late 1980's, Margaret Kelly Trombly, curator at The Forbes Galleries, offered gentle guidance.  I never met Malcom Forbes, but I appreciated his purchasing my dollhouse, especially when he could have had his pick of exceptional dollhouses by well known craftspeople.

Over the years, friends and strangers have given practical advice and kind praise.  I look forward to continuing to learn, and to providing encouragement, deliberately or unwittingly, to others.



DECEMBER, 2014:  The year is almost at a close, which is a good time to take a quick glance backwards.  It was a year full of change, stress, excitement, challenges, love, adjustment, and gratitude.  A typical year for most, I guess.  Now it's time to gaze forward, with an intense focus on getting our new house built in rural Missouri.  The delays have been frustrating, but my outlook for the future remains positive.  I envision the scene, with Hubby Dan and our new rescue dog (name TBD) in our happy home... I'm in my hobby room, building and landscaping miniature houses, while Hubby Dan frolics with said rescue dog.  This is the life!



APRIL, 2015:  Optimism is in the air.  We may see a bulldozer next month!  The process of designing our Forever Home has been quite the learning experience.  Hubby Dan seized the architectural reins (with help from my cousin Phil, a licensed architect) and came up with a fabulous floor plan.  His office and my craft area are at opposite ends of the house, and everyone comments on the distance between our workspaces.  Yes, Hubby Dan is invaluable to me when it comes to designing Victorian Dollhouses, but the reason for the distance is because he's a TV guy and I'm a music gal.  In our new home, with a little extra insulation in the walls, we'll be able to blast our favorite modes of entertainment and not bother each other.  Hurray!  But I digress… I meant to say that I can't wait to get back to building tiny houses.  The suspension has been killing me.



MAY, 2015:  We broke ground on May 6!  We're thrilled, but life has been intense since that day.  Actually, it was intense before, but now poor Hubby Dan is running around like a headless chicken.  Meanwhile, I calmly maintain the plumbing, electrical, and appliance spreadsheets; fret over the budget; and try to douse small "stress" fires.

Building a new home is a serious undertaking.  It is not for the faint of heart.  Every single selection affects a myriad of other selections.  A decision once thought final is now dubious, all because of a last-minute substitution, a simple color change, or the discontinuance of a fixture that I fell in love with months ago.  Therefore, organization and flexibility are key.  Goodness, I just realized that the experience gained from building miniature houses has given me the skills to cope with the construction of our home.  Cool!



SEPTEMBER, 2015:  I apologize for another long stretch between globbings, but life happens.  Our new house is steadily nearing the finish line.  It's exciting, but mostly it's a relief to take a break from grueling decisions.  The pressure to choose colors I'm willing to live with for the rest of my life, to select a houseful of appliances that I hope will outlast the warranty period, and to understand the complexities of LED bulbs can be wearying.  On the other hand, these tasks surely have helped to keep my brain from becoming too dull.

Another discovery is that life simply is busier when relatives are nearby.  It's nice to spend more time with loved ones, something I missed while living in the Northeast.  Nieces and nephews grew up without me, but I'll be here to witness growth spurts of the next generation – and that's grand.



NOVEMBER, 2015:  I'm getting antsy to get back to building/landscaping miniature houses.  If I haven't said that before, I'm saying it now!



FEBRUARY, 2016:  We're moving into our new house this month, and I couldn't be more thrilled!  The only activity I'm not looking forward to is unpacking, mostly because it involves walking in circles.  If you've ever moved, you know what I'm talking about.  But on the bright side, I'll be burning lots of calories.  Also, most of my stuff has been in storage for two years, so it'll be exciting to unpack possessions I've missed or completely forgotten about.  And after we're settled, I can finally get back to assembling and landscaping miniature houses!

Now for the bad news... yesterday I spent some time online to update my address with various companies, when I learned some shocking news:  Northeastern Scale Models will be closing at the end of this month!  They are the manufacturers of some of the finest 1/144" scale dollhouse kits available.  I believe there's only one other manufacturer of 1/144" scale kits, but their product line is limited.  There is a possibility that another company may take over NESM's line, but if not, what then?  A truly distressing thought....



MAY, 2016:  I spent some time in my hobby area this month!  Like riding a bike, it's all coming back to me.  I decided to tackle Model Power's N Scale Victorian House, a fine plastic kit.

I kept another promise to you, which was to "play with feathers."  After several hours of playing, I decided I wasn't having any fun.  Trying to make 1/144" scale plants out of feathers is for the birds.  It just wasn't worth the time and frustration.  Frankly, I do believe it's possible – with a LOT of patience – to create amazing plants out of feathers, but another obstacle is color.  Feathers tend to be dyed in flashy hues because, well, folks who prance around in feathers prefer perky colors!




JULY, 2016:  I made a difficult decision: My miniature houses will not be electrified.  The LED wiring is delicate, sensitive, and vulnerable.  The lighting works well after installation, but it malfunctions after several years.  I've been struggling with an electrification verdict for a long time, and just last week I decided against it.  A miniature house without lights is dull, but darkness is better than flickering bulbs.  Can these tiny dollhouses still be charming after sunset?  I hope you think so.




NOVEMBER, 2016:  I changed my mind about not electrifying.  A dark house looks empty and cheerless, so lights are indispensable.  I started researching LED lighting from various manufacturers because from now on, my goal is to create the most enchanting night lights you've ever seen!




JANUARY, 2017:  Happy New Year!  I have plenty of resolutions for 2017, and I hope to keep a couple of them.  Besides exercising, I promise to do my very best to create exquisite miniature Victorian houses.  I've decided to concentrate on quality exteriors, credible landscapes, reliable lighting... and to stop decorating the interiors.  This decision pained me at first, but it was a necessary concession to ensure that interior lighting looks realistic from the outside (even pinpoint-sized holes must be "plugged up").  It's all about the illusion.

Unfortunately, chip LED bulbs have been problematic.  It's critical that lighting be dependable as well as easy to replace in the event of bulb failure, so I sent out an SOS to a couple of hobby companies.  John Thut of DCC Hobby Supply was kind enough to recommend a product by Woodland Scenics called the Just Plug® Lighting System.  It seems an easy solution... I'll let you know.



JANUARY, 2017:  Uh-oh, has another manufacturer of exquisite laser-cut house kits bitten the dust?  A few years ago, I bookmarked a website called Branchline Trains, which featured several styles of N scale houses, most notably (in my mind) The Dubois House and The Tower House.  Sadly, when I clicked on the link a few weeks ago, I was met with "Server Error: 404 - File or directory not found."  Alarmed, I immediately Googled several hobby retailers and found that many of them list Branchline houses as "Sold Out."  There are a few kits here and there, and I imagine there will be some available via eBay for months to come, but it's another sad day for fans of stylish microscale Victorian houses.

Alas, I never got around to trying a Branchline kit.  Instead, I stockpiled several Northeastern Scale Models kits just before NESM shut down, partly because theirs were more affordable.

Well, I got to thinking that it may be time to pursue seriously an idea Hubby Dan has for building our own microscale Victorian mansions using a 3D printer.  Hubby Dan joined a non-profit group of inventors, artists, and free thinkers in the area; they possess a 3D printer and have plenty of smart people to help us figure out how to use it.  As luck would have it, St. Louis boasts a superb assortment of Victorian, Edwardian, and other vintage-architecture homes.  Perhaps current homeowners would allow photography for 3D modelling?  Replicas of prominent homes in our city – nay, in our country! – could be a meaningful contribution to posterity.  Most mansions were built to last centuries, but you and I both know that Time marches on....  How many handsome homes have been razed to make room for Progress?  Anyway, these are notions to ponder as I look into the legality of creating miniatures of private homes.




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