Building on a Budget
By Holly Parker
Many of you who live close to the belt have by now discovered that this hobby can get a tad pricey. Heck, it's downright expensive! I have my standard answer for this problem: DO IT YOURSELF!!! What? You say you checked the price of plywood at Lowes and those little pieces of basswood at the hobby shop are causing you to feel woozy? Guess what? You've built a dollhouse kit; you have resources literally at your fingertips!
You want to add a wall? You have the BOX the kit came in, corrugated cardboard. Seal each side with clear sealer and let each side dry flat and you can prime it, paint it, glue the excess siding strips on it, reinforce it with strips of scrap plywood from the sheets you punched the kit pieces out of. You want to make a tin or barrel-tile roof? Moisten one side of the cardboard and peel off the flat piece; seal & paint the rippled side with silvery paint for a tin roof and glue it to your roof pieces. Paint the rippled side a terra-cotta color and turn it over and moisten and remove the other flat piece and then paint the other rippled side, cut it into strips across the ripples and glue the strips onto your roof pieces, letting each row lap over the one below just a little bit; when the glue's dry give the tiles one last coat of paint.
You like foam core better? Check with your child's school or the local library to see if they have any old displays they no longer want to use (the end of the school year is a wonderful time to help teachers purge this last year's projects) and carefully pick off the items stuck to the foam core. You're going to cover it up anyway. Prime/ paint each side like for the cardboard. I have used foam core to make furniture and appliances. You want it not to look boxy? Spackling compound can be sanded when dry, covered with gesso or paint, textured and have things glued to it, and it'll stick to either foam core or corrugated cardboard.
You want fabric that looks in scale and will drape in mini? Natural fibers work best and silk is best of all for drapes and doll clothing. Yes, I said silk, 100 % silk. Soie. The stuff the little silkworms spin. You have no idea how many silk ladies and MEN's shirts wind up at Good Will & other thrift stores (skirts, too, for that matter).
Oooh, look, an old brocade cosmetics bag! And the embroidery isn't picked at all! Wow, does that ever look good on the dining room walls!
Look really close at all those ghastly polyester ties with the woven designs that look like mini tapestry or upholstery fabric, because that is precisely what I do with them! I can upholster a settee and a wing chair with the fabric in one tie. Oh, and a 100% silk tie yields enough fabric for a doll lady's dress.
The coupons for the big hobby/ craft stores are nice if you can find them, but check out the boxes & bins of scrap jewelry, buttons and craft supplies at the thrift stores and flea markets.
Next time you look at that pile of window and porch railing punch outs from your kit and think, "That looks sort of like a chair back", fiddle around with it and some bits of cardboard and old ties. You'll surprise yourself with what you can make, and it won't cost you as much as the artisan-made item that looks only slightly better.
I mentioned buttons because you can use a pretty button for all sorts of nifty items, from making a mold to cast copies in plaster for architectural details to using it for the top decorated layer of a fancy cake. The button from a military uniform with the shank cut off and painted can look like something completely different when mounted over a fireplace mantel above a couple of crossed painted plastic "sword" party-picks.
Oh, and did I hear you mention carpet? Some of the places that periodically throw out their wallpaper sample books also throw out their upholstery swatch books, and some of them have wonderful small patterns that work for rugs.
The best thing is that with a little practice (or a LOT, if you're like me) you wind up with a little house FULL of OOAK minis, looking at least as good as anything you'll find in a store, and the BEST part, aside from not spending a fortune, is that you made it yourself!
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