Anne here. A few weeks ago, Christina blogged about Tiny Things, which I also enjoy. Recently I've been watching one of those "reality" TV shows where people compete to be the best at something — you know, like those cooking shows. In general I don't like that kind of show — putting people under time stress to make stuff and every week someone is a loser until finally only one "winner" is left. But despite my misgivings, I watched this one because it was all about miniatures and dolls' houses. It was a UK show called The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge and you can see a bit of it here.
I had to admit, I found it fascinating — I've loved miniatures and dolls houses since I was a little girl. But in the end, I found the show frustrating. I would have liked less frantic competitive making, and a slower program that really showed you what each person was doing — perhaps sharing and explaining some techniques. But I suppose that would only appeal to people interested in making miniatures themselves, whereas a competition with winners and losers is no doubt more appealing to a wider audience.
As far as I know, dolls' houses have only been around since the 17th century and then, in Europe, they were originally made not as play objects, but as teaching tools, intended for mothers to instruct their young daughters in how to run households. It was also to show off wealth, as the girls learning these lessons were practicing to be the lady of the house — not the cook or one of the servants.
In the 19th century, the concept of childhood changed (at least for the children of the rich) where play came to be regarded as natural and desirable for children. (The children of the poor kept working for a living, just like children in poor countries today.) The 19th century, particularly the Victorian era, is when dolls' houses came into their own. As well, industrialization meant that they became more affordable for more people. This period is still one of the most popular for miniature makers and dolls' house creators.
In the 1920's hundreds of craftsmen collaborated to create superb miniatures for The Queen Mary's Dolls' House, a dolls' house designed by one of the leading architects of the day. The level of skill there is amazing. That's a miniature treadle sewing machine on the left! Isn't the detail extraordinary?
For me, ever since I was a child, the fun of dolls' houses was in making the things that went in them. I was never much interested in playing with dolls as such — just the houses, and I didn't even have a dolls' house. I made houses and rooms out of shoe boxes, and made furniture out of whatever bits and pieces I could find. My first piece was a chest of drawers made by sticking match boxes together.
I think my initial interest in dolls' houses came from reading Rumer Godden's books, The Dolls House, and her Japanese dolls' stories, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum. In those stories, there was quite a bit of detail about making what the houses and the dolls needed. The Dolls' House was about renovating an old dolls' house, and the dolls were characters in the story. The Japanese stories were about creating a proper Japanese house for the dolls, as well as making what they needed. Wonderful books, and I still have a yen to make a Japanese dolls' house.
But I didn't get my first dolls' house until I was quite old, and one of my adult students, learning I babysat a friend's little girl every week, gave me an old dolls' house — and that's what started it. We had very little to put in the dolls house, so clearly it was up to me to fill it.
I'm no craftsperson, not like the people on that TV show, but I do like making stuff, and I still stuck with the notion of making the furniture out of bits and pieces — whatever I had. So I made chairs out of champagne wires, and reused bottle tops and tiny jars, and made lots of things out of polymer clay that I had for making beads.
Each week, we'd get out the dolls' house, and set up the rooms, changing the layout each time. And at the end of the day, the little girl would decide what new thing we needed next for the dolls house. "I think the dolls house needs . . . a dolls house." And so, during the week I made one.
We bought a couple of cheap, tiny dolls and made clothes for them — especially hats. After one Melbourne Cup race day, my little friend had become fascinated by the big hats worn by women at the races, so it was, "I think the dolls need to go to the races… They'll need hats."
Quite a few authors enjoy making miniatures and playing with dolls houses. Jennifer Ashley is one that I know of and you can see some of hers here.
I had a lot of fun making the various things, but my efforts were always a bit slapdash and very amateur, whereas the things made by the craftspeople on The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge were amazing in their detail. But I hated that they had to rush-rush-rush to get everything done. I know they could have presented even more brilliant work had they been given more time. But then, that's the nature of that sort of reality show, isn't it? The stress and the rush are the source of the drama.
Are you interested in miniatures or dolls' houses? Do you own any, or make any yourself? What about "reality" shows — do you watch them or not? Any favorites?