Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Miniature Mouse House in one twelfth scale

What feels like hundreds of years ago -that's having three young kids for you - when I was a child myself, I remember seeing a story about a magical place called Brambly Hedge. I was entranced by the idea of little mice having fully furnished homes and little lives below ground, a theme which was also captured so beautifully in The Wind in the Willows. Fast forward thirty years and I found myself knitting - in full size for once - a selection of mice from a pattern by the wonderful Alan Dart. Cute, aren't they?

Of course as soon as I gave them faces they became, for me, little mouse people with personalities much larger than their diminutive size.They had feelings and needs like any of us. In short, they needed a home. I remembered those much-loved stories and immediately knew that the Mouse House had to appear to be underground and have a rustic higgledy piggledy charm where they could live cosily in their own mouse way.

Now I've seen envy-inducing pictures of miniature houses carved out of real tree stumps but due to my limited abilities with a chainsaw, I was starting out with a simple mdf box with zero character and a sterility that failed to inspire me for quite some time. How to turn it into an underground burrow was a question that kept me awake into the small hours on many a night.

Then, on a visit to a florists' wholesaler I came across some strips of Larch bark. Knobbly, wonky, rustic, it was perfect. I guesstimated how many packets I would need to cover the outside of my box and tried not to faint when the cashier rang up the total. I also bought some natural jute ribbon, pieces of natural cork bark and two different types of artificial ivy and felt even worse when VAT increased the final bill by 20%. This had better work!

I painted the whole exterior dark brown using emulsion to seal the mdf. Then I staple-gunned the jute ribbon all over the exterior, ensuring that I didn't make it too tidy around the front and side edges. Next, it was time to attach the bark strips. Simply nailing it on wasn't an option; the mdf would split. Glueing the foot -long lengths on as they were wouldn't work because they were bent and crooked. Eventually I decided to cut the strips into random shorter lengths so that the wrong side of each piece was as straight as possible. I used almost a pint of wood glue to glue the pieces all over the outside of the jute ribbon, staggering the joins. I had to work on one surface at a time, leaving it level for upto 48hrs to allow the great blobs of glue to dry where they were needed without running down the sides all over the dining table....I have learned that lesson the hard way.

Once covered, there were many gaps where the jute ribbon showed through. I used pieces of cork bark to fill these and soften the cut edges of the Larch bark. More glue and drying time!

Finally, I cut sprigs of the artificial ivy and glued them randomly between the two barks to further disguise any hard edges. I'm really quite pleased with the outside, which looks suitably hedge-like.

So, onto the interior. I had very fixed ideas about how the interior should look. I bought real slate (sadly at more great expense) cut into squares and rectangles and laid the tiles randomly using tacky glue. The walls were rendered using facial tissues stuck to the walls with pva glue and painted over using emulsion paint. I cut lengths of balsa wood to fit the ceiling and used a craft knife to distress them before painting them brown as beams.

I wanted an arched door for the false lobby that I constructed. The only one I could find on the internet was too wide for the false lobby I created. The solution was to cut the middle section out and butt the two remaining halves together. A cat (by Annie Willis) emerging from its cat flap added a bit of humour and irony to the scene.

I found pictures on the internet of mice dressed in clothes, so printed them off and framed them to hang on the walls to make the knitted mice appear more life-like.

I used whitewood furniture to furnish the Mouse House, painted green and slightly distressed. I wanted a cluttered effect, so filled shelves, dressers and plate racks with accessories. Glass jars, sold containing nail art materials, were emptied out and re-filled with herbs and spices out of my store-cupboard and topped with fabric covers and labels.

I knitted a baby mouse and wrapped it in a vintage crocheted doiley before placing it in a little wooden crib by Jane Harrop. Mice have large families, after all.

A rustic scene, this was a great project to cram all manner of miniatures into. Homemade and purchased miniatures merged seamlessly to create a busy, cluttered scene which I could really imagine my mouse people living in.

I'm pretty pleased with my little Mouse House. If only I could make like Alice and shrink small enough to visit.

Next time I will show you my 1/24th scale adventures...
Kathryn xx

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