Nimble fingers stitch away
30 July 2013
Lewes Castle, just across the road from The Dolls' House magazine office, is a regular haunt. It's been the perfect venue in the last couple of weeks for a spot of shade and a picnic lunch. While I've been outside enjoying the fresh air, tucked away upstairs in the adjoining Barbican House Museum, a team of embroiderers has been busy stitching away creating the Lewes Tapestry.
The tapestry project is part of the celebrations planned for 2014 to celebrate the Battle of Lewes' 750th anniversary. The battle pitched rebellious barons under Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester against the royal troops under Henry III. Montfort was victorious, and initiated many reforms and can be credited with beginning the process of Parliamentary representative government. But, the 'Barons War' as the conflict became known, was not over. Prince Edward escaped from his captivity and raised the royal standard again. He killed Montfort at The Battle of Evesham in 1265.
Time zone tapestry
Local artist, Tom Walker drew up the design for the three metre long anniversary tapestry. In his drawings (used as a cartoon for the embroiderers to follow) he depicts some of the key phases of the seven-hour long battle. He begins by showing de Montfort's men climbing Black Cap hill by the light of a full moon. The next 'time zone' provides the background landscape, in muted, early morning tones, with the two armies approaching each other. Then comes the scene to the right of the town in which the impetuous Prince Edward, Henry's son, whose cavalry was based in the castle, attacks de Montfort's Londoners. This central scene blazes out in full colour by contrast to the earlier morning scenes. The last scene represents the signing of the Mise of Lewes, a kind of peace settlement. The tapestry's borders bring the wildlife of the area into the rural setting.
Some compromises have had to be made to keep the project on track for completion in 2014. For example, commercially woven linen cloth has been used and yarns have been bought from Rennaissance Dyeing, a company in France specialising in plant dyed crewel wool yarns. Renaissance Dyeing has also advised on the colours that would have been available in the 13th century.
An additional group of embroiderers is embarking on a smaller piece of tapestry, designed by one of them, which is to be made entirely from handwoven linen. The yarn will also be spun and dyed by hand.
Anyone can pop in and see the team at work as I did earlier this week. In total sixty people are involved in the stitching and up to three embroiderers at a time can work in the small light-filled room at the museum. The design is being stitched using appropriate 13th century techniques; crewel embroidery stitches in a fine woolen thread, similar to the famous Bayeux Tapestry (which is 70 metres long, depicting 58 scenes from the Battle of Hastings). The embroiderers started work in July 2011, after a selection process that involved them stitching a sample piece to check their ability. When finished the five panels that make up the tapestry will hang in the Town Model room at the Barbican House Museum.
As I've never tackled embroidery myself I am in awe of the meticulous stitching of the tapestry team. I think it's also a winner as a community project combining as it does local history and local people. But wouldn't such an endeavor make a lovely subject for miniature depiction; could your dolls be similarly engaged? After all, those tapestries in baronial halls have to come from somewhere?
You can see the embroiderers at work at Barbican House Museum, Lewes, most weekdays. Call 01273 486290 for detailed information on times.
You can find out more details about the Lewes Tapestry project at
17 July 2013
When the days are as hot as they are at present the kids just want to be in the garden, though not necessarily in the sun. So, while you're sitting in the shade why not play house? Here's a great idea.
I love the idea of a dolls' house in a box, viewed from above rather than the side as we are used to. I also think that this inexpensive toy would work for those long car journies to the grandparents house - as well as offering something to do when you get there...and granny will almost certainly join in!
It's also occured to me that any child confined to bed through illness might also enjoy this style of dolls' house to help while away the hours. It's got to be good for imaginative play. And anything that kindles a love of miniatures in the young has my vote, afterall, hopefully it will become a lifelong devotion!
By royal appointment
16 July 2013
I've been to London to visit the Queen! Her Majesty threw open her garden gate to welcome me (and thousands more visitors) to the Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace at the weekend. Hosted by The Royal Warrant Holders Association, this was a celebration of quality products and services that have been used by the Queen.
My radar for all things miniatures-related was well attuned and I spotted fabulous antique minis and a restored dolls' house, as well as finding plenty of inspiration for future projects. There was lots of sampling to be done and I wandered happily among the exhibitors, sipping this and nibbling that.
Some of the miniature bottles of wines and spirits that were created for Queen Mary's famous dolls' house at Windsor Castle were displayed by Berry Bros & Rudd. I enjoyed seeing these close up while tasting The King's Ginger, which was specifically formulated by Berry Bros in 1903 for King Edward VII. Rich and zesty, the liqueur was created to stimulate and revivify His Majesty during morning rides in his new horseless carriage - a Daimler. Read more about the dolls' house wine collection in the October issue of The Dolls' House magazine.
Here I am (in the red dress and hat) photographing my reflection in The Mirrored House. This quirky construction is almost invisible in the palace grounds as it reflects its surroundings entirely. The crowds are a giveaway, but otherwise you would just see grass, trees and sky… and yourself! Inside were four rooms designed by different organisations. Perhaps they will be the starting point for a new roombox.
Edward Griffiths, deputy master of the royal household, created a sitting room to a suite, decorated in a classical and more formal country house style and set in a royal residence. The aim was to show how restoration and interior schemes are produced within the royal household. Tiny tip: take an old sofa and recover it in silk for a fresh look!
Apart from the risk of waking up and thinking you were in a padded cell, this luxurious bedroom does have a magical quality. It was created by KLC School of Design to celebrate the beauty of reclaimed, recycled and environmentally friendly materials. Tiny tip: use a romantic card to create a view from the bedroom window.
I loved these antlers used to hang jewellery. We don't often see 'reclaimed' materials used in this way in miniature. Why not?
Also within The Mirrored House was The Royal Potting Shed, an idealistic representation of the potting shed in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. This beautifully rustic yet practical space houses products from Royal Warrant holders and Highgrove Enterprises. Tiny tip: for a quick project, create your own cosy hideaway in a roombox or miniature shed. As well as flower pots and tools, be sure to include a comfy armchair and weathered chest of drawers.
We all love a stylish dining room, like this elegant affair created by John Lewis. Tiny tip: before buying your dining table, consider how much space your collection of china and glassware is likely to need (more than you might at first imagine)!
After The Mirrored House there was more to see in the Homes and Gardens area. Full marks to Brewers for its stand with a wall like a giant colour chart…
…and this one covered in butterflies made from folded wallpaper. Tiny tip: use scraps of wrapping paper to make modern 3D models for your dolls' house walls.
A final treat was the Summer House, which had been renovated by members of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. This was a celebration of craftsmanship rather than industry. The stunning trompe l'oeil is a lasting legacy to be enjoyed for years to come.
Inside I was delighted to see this restored Triang dolls' house. Read all about it in the September issue of The Dolls' House magazine, on sale 1 August.
Naturally, a visit to the palace would be incomplete without sight of a corgi. This one, made of willow, was also in the Summer House. Take a bow wow!
Meeting Mr Mackintosh
15 July 2013
I've just spent a very enjoyable 10 days in Scotland; the first time that I have visited the country and luckily coinciding with the most amazing sunny weather! Staying in a beautiful rural cottage I was not only able to make the most of the countryside (and what stunning views there were; forests, lochs, coves, and castles) but I was also within a reasonable distance of Glasgow.
Now I am a huge fan of the work of architect, artist and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 - 1928), and Glasgow has a lot of examples of what he produced; most famously the Glasgow School of Art. Here is a picture of the man himself, and I think he looks very dashing with matinee idol good looks! You'd doubtless mark him out as an artist given the fabulous cravat that he is sporting.
At the Huntarian Museum his home has been recreated (the original sadly was knocked down), and seeing the rooms and the furniture for real was, for me, something of finding the holy grail. The contrast to what was the norm for Victorian houses was stunning. I'm sure at the time there must have been those who thought he was very radical. I think he was ahead of him time, and not suprised that his work found more favour in Europe where his designs were very influential. I only wish more of his work had filtered down south.
Mackintosh's real house has steps going up to the front, but look at that door with the trademark squares. Photographs were not allowed so I can't show you the interior but any book or internet search will show you what the house contains. And The Dolls House Emporium does a minature range of some of his signature pieces, so you can have a miniature version. The rooms were all instantly calming - and the influence of his equally talented wife Margaret, evident. And I so loved her gesso panels, and her designs on some of Mackintosh's designs. What a most creative pair they were, oh the conversations that they must have had!
A trip to the Willow Tea Rooms (another CRM hotspot) was essential - and they were as every bit as delightful as I'd hoped. I enjoyed a pot of tea, and the most sinful giant meringue! I'm sad to say that the surrounding shopfronts (this was right in the heart of the modern shopping district) were not nearly as tasteful.
I booked a tour around the Gasgow School of Art, which was excellently led by one of the MA students. Again, sadly no photos allowed but what an incredible building outside and in, with great attention to detail (no wonder it went over budget). I have lots of photographs of the exterior in my collection now, this one is of the main entrance.
Everything from the colours of the walls, the numbers on the studio doors, the light fittings, and metail railings, all shout 'Mackintosh'; you can see the Art Nouveau style (of which Mackintosh was one of the main representatives in the UK), but retrained not overtly flowery, the Japanese influence is there too, espcially in the tapering columns and lantern shapes. The gift shops had books galore (and Mackintosh merchandising of course) but it really is the designs in the real that stole my heart. Lucky students who study here.
Glasow isn't totally Mackintosh, there were so many indredible buildings - huge imposing edifices with fancy stonework, and Art Deco too. But another one that you could visit (and ideal inspiration for the miniaturist) was The Tenement House (owned by the Scottish National Trust).
This was a stark contrast to the light filled interiors of the Mackintosh House. Dark, and fussily Victorian, it told the story of tenement living, which would have been the norm for many families in Glasgow (not the home of the rich elite - Mackintosh was an alien world for them). The room stewards were all very friendly and knowledgeable on the recent occupants of this house. The rooms were easily imaginable inside a dolls' house.
Sadly my overnight stop in Glasgow didn't give me enough time to go to Hill House in Helensburgh, another Mackintosh marvel, so I'll just have to go back. But then there are more castles, museums, and places of interest that are still on my Scottish ' to visit' list. But whether I'll get the weather again remains to be seen!
Thinking outside the box
11 July 2013
What I love most about miniaturists is their originality. I've been writing about dolls' houses for (ahem) nearly 20 years (gulp) and yet I'm still frequently surprised by some of the unique ideas that I see.
In our world, opportunism is thriving. Stuck with an unwanted dolls' house? Turn it into a bird feeder. Got a broken flower pot? That will make a cute miniature garden. Champagne cages? It only takes a few twists to turn them into café chairs.
We are the original up-cyclers! Why recycle a detergent bottle when you can create a little laundry inside it? And an empty Pringles tube simply cries out to be a fairy tower.
Non-miniaturist friends wonder how I can still be writing about dolls' houses after all these years. All I can say is that as long as creative ideas like these continue to excite me, I'll keep writing.
Check out pictures of the innovations mentioned here (and a great many more) on our Pinterest board http://pinterest.com/dollshousemag/we-love-it/
And don't forget to tell us about your creative ideas too!
Meet Daisy and Maud
1 July 2013
I am so enjoying Stephanie Richards' fictional correspondence between the ladies maids, Daisy and her Aunt Maud. I've just received the latest batch for our October issue so I'm already engrossed in their lifestyles. Aunt Maud is a wise old bird but she has her secrets. And I feel for young Daisy, so nieve but so eager to learn. But will she find the love that she is looking for to give her a life beyond the kitchen sink?
The series of letters started in our June issue and I've just decided to put it up on this website too so that more of you can enjoy the goings-on. Author Stephanie and I have already mapped out a few possibilties for Daisy and Maud, and we'll be meeting some other keen correspondents who enter their lives. If you have servants in your dolls' house, or if you enjoy a period drama, this one is for you!