Two very different quilts


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When I asked my grandmother what she wanted to be represented by in the house, she said a quilt, or “If that was too much trouble, a pillow.” I was game for that, since Hawaii developed their own type of quilt when cottons made their way across the Pacific.

What I didn’t realize was she was referring to a specific quilt:

quilt1My great grandmother Maggie stitched this many moons ago in the mountains of North Carolina, and though loveworn, it is still in use. Apparently, both of my great grandmothers on my mom’s side of the family quilted, and one was a meticulous planner, while the other (the one who made this quilt) preferred spontaneity in her craft. One of the things I love about this one is it is a classic scrap quilt, with bits of flannel next to loud calicos, and a lot of it looks like feedsack cotton. My mom and I promptly went to a quilt shop and left with a plethora of pleasantly tiny patterns.

There was no way I’d be able to replicate Maggie’s churn dash, but I did borrow her navy blue border. Since I had 36 squares to make, I used twelve fabrics and made three squares of each. For fun, I arranged them Sudoku-style, where each of the three rows had all twelve fabrics, but there was no repeat of that fabric in the same row or column.

squares1Each square is 1/4” with an 1/8” seam allowance, and though there’s a beautiful tutorial where someone has paper-pieced a dollhouse quilt, I took the low road of marking the backsides.

quiltsquaresI kept to the pencil lines as I settled in for a lot of handstitching, but the results were worth it.

finished2I also did it while it was snowing outside (which almost never happens in central North Carolina), and it made me ponder my great grandmother living in the mountains, and how back then quilts were first and foremost functional items to keep the family warm in the days before electric heating. The batting is no-scrim cotton that feels so yummy it makes me want to stitch another quilt just to play with it more :-). Better keep me away from cotton fields…

I’m of a mind that a house should have two quilts, and I made the Hawaiian one a wall hanging with a breadfruit pattern. I’d been looking for an alternative to my Setasilk paints, because while they work well, the idea of trying to apply the resist in a perfect pattern (to fence in the dye so it doesn’t run everywhere) made me cry a little inside. But Pebeo came through for me yet again, when I found out they have an all-purpose fabric paint called Setacolor. It doesn’t run at all and I was able to get a 12-color set of their opaques for $30 from the UK (yay for birthday money, but boo on the US for not stocking many Pebeo products).
hawaiianquilt1The paints smell a little funky when wet (like Sharpies doused in caramel and I kept wondering if I was going to get a buzz from them), but they are a dream. And I actually had a squee of joy at work when I realized I’d finally be able to paint a tiny Hawaiian shirt too!


Happy Bunny


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Hanna had to be included in the Hawaiian house, and while she was not overly pleased at the time of her portrayal (she’d been a naughty rabbit and had been put back in her cage early), I think I captured her essence pretty well.


If the Disapproving Rabbits site was still taking submissions, she would have been a shoe-in. This Pinterest link is the best I can do to show you their former awesomeness.

I went to a Chinese New Year festival last year and there was a kind calligraphy artist who did requests and explained them as she painted. The original “Happy Bunny” is framed in my office, but I copied the text.

finishedbunnyWhat I didn’t know is half of the characters denote the parts of speech. Starting at the top, this one says “Happy” “Adjective for” “Upcoming noun” “Rabbit” and “End of sentence.”

I have a tendency to overdo things (surprise) and so it’s a good exercise to do something minimalistic. As you can see, it took a lot of practice before I got an appropriately Hanna-esque result.


The one complete bunny and the thirty-something partial bunnies chilling in the ether.

More posts to come!

To the best Mom ever


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I know things have been quiet here on the blog (because I’ve been pouring my free time into the bungalow), but get ready for a peppering of posts because there’s only a month until the Undersized Urbanite’s deadline! To keep some amount of surprise between now and then, I’ll mostly be showing individual pieces. Several of the items were made to represent a specific person, and I’ll start with the crown jewel.

My Mother was the one who got me started on my path in art, and as a toddler I would sit next to her on the floor with my colored pencils and crayons and do my best to mimic her beautiful watercolor paintings. For a good part of my childhood, she did still lifes of flowers for a company called Wildwood. It was common in our home for her to have her painting nook, with her giant palette of colors and Mason jar of brush water, and live or fresh-cut flowers poised under lamps as her reference. Her paintings would go on to China and be painted on (quite expensive) lamps. You can find a few of her prints today, but many more designs appeared on the lamps.

wildwoodlamp3As a tiny tribute, I made a watercolor easel with all the trimmings. It is assembled from 35 pieces of cherry wood with a tung oil finish and brass and gold-plated fittings. I did make it a little bigger than a standard fold-n-go easel, because she tapes her paper directly to a drafting-style table. It was also the first time I made a functioning drawer, and it works so well that I’ve had to restore its contents no less than five times already.


easel1She uses Winsor & Newton paints, and I shrank one of their labels to put on the tubes, which were made using a great tutorial. These things are so small that you can’t tell what brand they are anymore, but trust me :-P. The palette is lasercut cardboard that I painted white, and the watercolor smudges are actually heavy-bodied acrylics.


I had one tube of Winsor & Newton, and by golly I was going to use it for a size comparison photo.

The brushes are carved from mahogany, walnut, and cherry, and are a mix of Japanese and European-style brushes, including a big wash brush. Some of my older paint-pushers sacrificed their bristles to don the tiny handles.

brush2Lastly, I took one of my Mom’s paintings and shrank it. She’s done numerous orchid studies and you can bet we looked at the ones growing in Hawaii. I plan to put at least one more of her paintings in the house.

Thank you Mom! HUG!

A little aloha spirit


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The Hawaiian bungalow has come a good way, but since some of its parts are doing double duty as Christmas gifts, I can’t post them here yet, so here’s a merry distraction I made earlier this year as a belated Christmas gift.

pairTo explain what the heck these are, I work for a large collaborative (a group of universities and regulatory agencies) that does research, education, and outreach for foodborne viruses. Most of what we do is about norovirus (the “stomach flu”), and we make ample use of the cuteness that comes in the form of GIANTMicrobes plushies. One of the things we did last year was a social media campaign where I got to make tiny Halloween costumes for the little grey goobers and we paired the photos with educational quips about the virus. Here was the spooky set:

Norovirus plushies

Don't let #noroviruses suck the life out of you. An estimated 1 in every 15 Americans will experience the virus each year. Help you and your friends avoid the curse (and a lot of quality time in the bathroom) by practicing good #handwashing and #foodsafety.

Don’t let noroviruses suck the life out of you. An estimated 1 in every 15 Americans will experience the virus each year. Help you and your friends avoid the curse (and a lot of quality time in the bathroom) by practicing good handwashing and foodsafety.

Seriously, I got paid to do this :-P. They were even featured on the local news station!

Well, my boss and leader of the collaborative wanted a bedecked beastie of her own, and since she was heading to Hawaii, I chose that as the theme.

UkuleleOne is a ukulele player (surprise) with a real koa ukulele, and the other is a buxom hula dancer. Her skirt is made of some vintage crepe paper, and I made molds of a grocery store bouncy ball to make sure her Sculpey coconuts were appropriately perky.

leiThe leis were made from lots of silk flowers and since kukui nuts would have been too big, I used tagua nuts instead.

We’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled programming soon!

Going meta


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Sometimes I can take it slow with creating my minis, and sometimes I’ve given a piece away moments after declaring it “finished.” At least twice I have put on the last details for a gift in the passenger seat of my husband’s car on a dark winter night en route to a holiday function.

Well, this Monday night wasn’t the closest I’ve cut things, but it was pretty close.

Monday was the annual Christmas party for my miniatures club, and in addition to eating lots of tasty potluck dishes, we have a gift exchange. Last year I gave a bunny toy (also finished in the nick of time and his bow was still drying on his tiny body in his gift box at the party), and this year I had a whopping six spare hours before the festivities!

The gift had an Asian feel thanks to my UU project, and I made a bonsai tree. Being a bit impetuous and on a 7-hour deadline, I went with my gut on shaping the tree and didn’t look much at the styles and composition of bonsai until I was almost finished. Mine turned out to be a pretty masculine (jagged and angular, with a sturdy trunk) moyogi (informal upright) juniper in a masculine (rectangular and deep) pot.

BonsaitreeThe tree is made of some of my dad’s copper wire leftover from his electrician business. I spent an evening with some pliers and my parents watching murder mysteries on Netflix and shaped the body. The cardboard bon (“shallow dish”) took a good deal of my allotted time to shape and paint, such that I was gluing green tufts on the sai (“planted tree”) during my lunch break at work.

I included a couple of glass Buddhas (in normal and fun size) since Buddha gained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, and it is not uncommon to have a small Buddha statue near a bonsai.

My art teacher in high school would always ask us if something was life imitating art or art imitating life. I guess I’ve gone meta, since I’ve got art (a dollhouse miniature) imitating life (a live bonsai), which is imitating both life and art since bonsais are art pieces, shaped to mimic full-grown trees in nature. Perhaps I’ve gone doubly meta, since I made a miniature thing of a miniature thing?

Happy Holidays ya’ll. 😛

“I see a red door and I want it painted white”


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I’d hoped to avoid a big jump in the progress posts on the U.U. bungalow, but honestly, 90% of the work these past few weeks has been painting. One weekend was devoted to whitewashing, because even though it’s a glorified roombox, the house has a goodly amount of white trim. If anyone ever makes this house in the future, I certainly won’t begrudge them just getting a can of white spray paint. It took a layer of gesso (thanks again GOLDEN) and two layers of paint to get a crisp white.

So much white...

So much white…

The color theorists must be right about hues and moods, because I could paint white for extended periods and feel sort of meditative or vacant, but if I spent more than an hour layering red paint on the front door I became noticeably testy. I wanted a strong red because of the Asian elements I plan to put in the house, and because a red front door signifies welcome and hospitality in many cultures. Part of why I picked the title is the red also likes to rub off on things, and even under a layer of polyurethane, it has turned the inside of my nice white doorframe pink. C’est la vie.

The next weekend I got to move on to colors in earnest. I fought a lot with the inside wall color, adding more and more white until I was sure it was just shy of pure white, but every time I put it on the walls it was still darker and stronger than expected. At about three coats I had to call it done, and aqua is my favorite color, so I was going to be like it regardless.

beforeassemblyWhile it looks like Santa’s after-Christmas vacation home, I did have a reason for the deep green exterior. The original Hawaiian plantation cottages, while inhabited by the workers, still belonged to the plantation owners. Not surprisingly, they looked for what was available on the islands or could be sourced cheaply from the mainland. During WWII, “battleship grey” was plentiful surplus from the military bases and found its way to these houses (which I’m guessing looked a bit drab in the tropical landscape). Dark green was also a common color, and a couple of sources I found described the workers making the paint themselves with linseed oil or tar and “shingle stain green.” As we near yule, mine is an appropriately festive mix of holly and evergreen acrylics.


Insert sound of jingle bells.

I kept coming to the question of how weathered the house should look, and my final answer was “a little bit.” Since I’ve imagined it on a beach, the salt spray would be rusting the nails. The green has some age on it thanks to pastel dust, but the trim received a fresh coat when the current owner moved in.

floor1I also did the floor, which I think turned out pretty spiffy. The porch is bedecked (tehe) in unfinished teak wood, since teak is a classic choice for surfaces that see the elements. The inside area is covered in real Hawaiian koa with a natural tung oil finish, and while my iPhone pic didn’t do it justice, it is a very pretty wood.

The walls are actually vertical now, but that’s another story and shall be told another time :-).

Also, you may have noticed some changes with the site, like actual header images and some widgets moved around. If you see something you like or don’t like about the new look, please tell me.

Bonnie’s House, Part 3: Entering warp drive


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I’m trying to catch my blog up to the crafty mayhem that’s reigned in my apartment these past several weeks, and here is an update on the to-be-donated house. It went from slabs of splintery wood to sections of colorful space!

I think I’m in the “wallpaper first” camp of miniaturists, at least for basic houses like this one, because I just couldn’t bring myself to squeeze elbows and paint brushes into little rooms, when the walls were much more accessible as flat pieces. May the “wallpaper second” camp lay their grievances in my comments box :-P.

The wallpaper is scrapbooking paper, and I followed some sage advice and used dollhouse wallpaper mucilage to attach it and the bathroom floor. It’s bizarre, sticky stuff, but it worked great. I also used scrapbooking paper for the kitchen floor, and protected it with a $1 layer of clear adhesive vinyl. After years of not caring which brand of cheap craft store acrylics I bought, I read how people like Ceramcoat for its better coverage. It’s usually more expensive, but when my friend and I found it on super sale, I stocked up and went crazy with it. Like interior-design-caution-to-the-wind crazy.

bonniecolor2bonniecolor3kitchenSo…I was going to sponge-paint the kitchen walls a warm yellow, but when the thought of monotonous sponging made me cry a little inside, I got out the masking tape…and went a little bonkers. I hope whoever inherits this house likes a retro-trying-to-be-futuristic kitchen.

bonniebathroomMy mom picked the beachy bathroom wallpaper and beadboard color, and I think she did a great job! Instead of expensive miniature beadboard, I used corrugated scrapbooking paper. A good friend of mine picked the green paper for the living room. And I had been planning to make this a very gender-neutral house and avoid the “pretty pretty princess” pink, but the teal fabrics I want to use in the bedroom just go best with pink, and it’s not pink’s fault we associate it with girly-ness.

The floors are wood veneer, and its future owners will never know it, but they got a teak bedroom floor. I had just enough left over for my Undersized Urbanite project :-).

colorbonnie2The suspense was getting to me once the walls were ready, and I only mildly followed the directions as I assembled the house in an hour. I knew some of the pieces had warped over their couple of decades in storage at the ebay seller’s house, and for fear of not being able to maneuver the parts in a solidly-glued house, I did everything at once, with still-wet glue. Hence the literary blockade as a drying jig.

bonnieglued1bonnieglued2Making a dollhouse this quickly is quite freeing. I’ve been working on the mill cottage for two years and it’s still not finished yet! Prepping the insides first made for a little magic once the walls were up.

Bonnie’s house is a bit further along now (baseboards and moulding up, roof glued on), but I took a long break from it to work on the Hawaiian bungalow.

Frickin’ laser beams!


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(Sorry, that was the only pop culture reference to lasers in existence.)

I’m trying laser cutting for this year’s Undersized Urbanite, and my goal by the end of September was to have the design sent off for cutting, which I barely met (well, sort of). It was a change for me, since last time I made up a lot of the house as I went, whereas this time it’s processed all at once. I’m keeping the build small for cost, time (we’ve only got about five months for the contest), storage purposes (7″ square), and because I plan to cut more as kits for my miniatures club or other miniaturists.

Several days of measuring, researching, and sketching led to this:

Obligatory pencil and ruler to indicate I was being industrious.

Obligatory pencil and ruler to indicate industriousness.

This old handbook of Hawaiian architecture was a superb reference, and I never realized they had planned Lahaina (one of the major towns on Maui) so thoroughly. Plotting the funky angled roof just about did me in, but Pythagoras helped me out.

Several evenings with Illustrator and it turned into this:


Well, this is actually version 2.0, but you get the idea.

A couple of weeks later, it turned into this:

Those sharks at Ponoko have good aim.

Those sharks at Ponoko have good aim.

Unable to stand the suspense, I enthusiastically peeled off the protective masking tape like a kid at Christmas (it keeps the laser from burning the wood as much, and you can see the difference it makes in the photo). The bungalow fit together like a dream, but some blue tape helped:

Fuzzy “top secret” photo.

Here’s what she’ll look like, minus the door, window frames, etc., which will be part of the final kit. The walls are 1/8” birch plywood and the finer parts are 1/16”. Since the plantation bungalow has a basic style, my hope is people can take the kit and without too much work, turn it into a beach house, a Japanese tea house, etc.

I did meet my original deadline, but decided to make some improvements on the design (steeper roof pitch, more interlocking pieces, moved windows, etc.) and I just put in the new order today. So instead of building the house first, I’m working on the furniture for the time being.

Aloha and Mahalo!

And They’re Off!


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I’m participating in the Undersized Urbanite again this year and am honored to be sharing the starting gate with an impressive line-up of miniaturists. (You should go check them out!) I quite doubt that I’ll place this year, but I’m using the contest as a fervent nudge to start a project I’ve wanted to do for quite a while.


I think I’m both #4 (a step behind and short) and #3 (tongue hanging out in crazed crafty frenzy).

Just like in a horse race, I’m putting a lot of hope into one entry, and it doesn’t even exist yet.

What I’m trying to build and decorate is one of these:

PlantationHouseMy family has been to Hawaii a couple of times, and I’ve long admired the look of the old plantation cottages. They were built from the late 1800’s into the mid-1900’s as residences for the workers on the sugar plantations. To keep up with the demand for sugar, people from China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and several other nations were brought to Hawaii to work the fields and processing plants. A basic cottage, passage to the islands, and a set of clothes for each family member were often provided in the company contract, but things were not very rosy or easy for the workers once they arrived. Case in point, the wages for their 10-hour days were in tokens that were only accepted at the expensive company store and each worker had a numbered ID tag that they often wore for decades. While I wouldn’t exactly condone much of the treatment these people received, their presence shaped Hawaii and made it the unique amalgamation of cultures it is today. The architecture of these plantation homes has proven so timeless that many new homes in Hawaii emulate them (like the photo above). In mine, I want to incorporate some old Hawaiiana, parts of my family, and bits of those different cultures.

I dug up every photo I could find on the internet of these homes, and found some shared traits:

  • They are not unlike bungalows you’d find on the mainland, but have some Asian and native Hawaiian influences.
  • One common trait is a Dutch gable or a double-pitched (Polynesian) roof, where the center is steeper than the sides, but the main roof is always shallow.
  • They are single-walled (no insulation) and squat little houses, sometimes raised on pilings.
  • They had simple windows and a Mission or Colonial-style door, since these were often brought by ship.
  • They almost always had a lanai (porch) at the front, and the X-style railings were classic.
  • Paint colors for these buildings were chosen by the plantation owner, from whatever could be sourced on the islands or shipped from the mainland. Dark green was common (more on that later) and the trim was always white. Red-dyed cedar roof shingles were the norm (since Hawaii’s famous red soil dyes everything red anyway) but many have been up-fitted with metal roofs.

I’ve been busting my backside on the project these past couple of weeks but will save that for next time when my packages arrive. 🙂

Bonnie’s House, Part 2: Or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love the splinter


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I’ll preface by saying I’ve never watched Dr. Strangelove (which my husband says I should rectify), but the phrase got stuck in my head and had to come out of my fingers. Said fingers have also been dodging slivers of wood lately, since the dollhouse kit is full of them. Not wanting to give them to whatever child one day owns this, I have been waging a war, with a sandpaper arsenal at my command.

My first officer is one of these:

Ryobi1My dad and I have a secret soft spot for Ryobi palm sanders, and I went with the quarter-sheet model so I could use any sandpaper I wanted. Ryobi probably saved me five hours of sanding, between all of the furniture and house parts, and that was just sanding the flat surfaces.

I don’t have many photos of this part because 1. Sanding Dust + Camera = Bad and 2. It is a boring step. I did do the obligatory taped mockup to get an idea of the Tudor’s size.

Tudor4The irony is that in the instructions, it says sanding the dollhouse is optional…Perhaps if you don’t like your fingers, or children very much. I guess that’s what we do for children. We soften up the world’s rough edges.

Next time, a splash of color!