Making Dolls House Plants and Foliage
by Arabella Ramsay
I first decided to ‘grow’ some climbing foliage onto the frontage of my dolls house when I was a child nearly 30 years ago. I glued on clumps of the sort of fake, rubber moss you can use to create bushes and trees on train sets. This looked quite good, and the uneven shapes and sizes of the pieces made it look fairly realistic. However, I recently set about trying to improve on this by creating plants with more discernible, individual leaves. I decided to have wisteria climbing up one side of the frontage and something loosely modelled on a climbing hydrangea on the other, so I printed off pictures of the plants and stuck them on my wall to refer to.
I researched paper stamps online and purchased two different mini stamps from online retailer The Glitter Pot. Both are manufactured by L-Em – I think that is a US-based company. The smaller of the two stamps I purchased has the advantage of having a number of different leaf and flower shapes on the same stamp, so I have been able to use it for a number of different projects – although positioning the paper so that it only punches one of the hole-shapes at a time takes some practice!
I pulled off the rubber foliage stuck to the front of my house, but then re-shaped it and, along with new lumps, stuck it back on over one side, ready to form the base for my hydrangea. On the wisteria side residual small pieces of the rubber moss I couldn’t get off have been turned into ivy, but I will come to that later!
For the hydrangea I punched off batches of leaves using green paper. I then varnished each leaf individually using crafter’s gloss varnish. I worked on a piece of aluminium tin foil – this way the leaves can easily be peeled off the foil when they are dry, without ripping. I only varnished what would be the top side of each leaf. When the leaves were dry I lifted them individually from the foil using tweezers and trimmed off unwanted ‘stems’ with small scissors. I dipped the back of each in PVA glue, and used tweezers to stick them onto the rubber moss, using a cocktail stick to ease the leaves into position. When I was happy with a section of the hydrangea I painted the leaves using gouache and acrylic paints and a very fine brush. I used a mixture of shades of greens and browns and yellow accents at random, in order to give the plant a sense of depth. This process has taken hours, and I still haven’t finished yet, but I have found the results pleasing and making this plant relaxing!
For the wisteria I started by making the trunk and branches. The base for these was a mixture of string and some straw-like rope – see the picture. I have had a load of it in my bits and bobs box for years which I originally used to make a large doll’s hat, but I don’t know what it was actually intended to be used for! I then covered the rope with tissue paper and PVA, in order to create a thin papier-mâché coating. I also used the papier-mâché to attach string branches to the rope.
To make the overall shape look more like wisteria, I wound some branches around others and then painted them using gouache. To make the leaves I again used one of my paper punches. However, this time I painted the leaves first and then varnished them, before sticking them onto the branches. The wisteria flowers have been created using lavender coloured Flower Soft stuck onto green coloured cotton thread, and then suspended from the branches.
I discovered that the rubbery ‘branches’ of the rubber moss make an excellent basis for the tendrils of ivy branches. I again punched the ivy leaf shapes from green paper, but as per the photo, trimmed each leaf to give it a more accurate shape. I then painted each leaf, edging them in a yellowy-white line, and adding veins in the same colour. After varnishing, these were stuck on in the same manner as the other leaves.
To make this geranium-type plant I used two different paper punch shapes; one for the leaves and one for the flowers.
To start, I painted a strip of paper with a mauve/purple wash using gouache. It doesn’t matter if the colour is uneven – this just makes the resultant flowers look more realistic. When the paper was dry I punched a group of flower shapes, and then cut into the edge of each petal, as per the picture - this means that the petals of each flower shape can be pushed inward creating more of a bowl shape.
I again used gouache paint to add the detail at the centre of each flower head – an area of darker purple, and then a black centre. Groups of flowers were varnished before being glued, in clusters, onto Flower Soft wire stems. These wires are paper covered, so can easily be painted green.
To create the leaves I punched a leaf shape from the same paper punch as the flower. I used green paper, but also over-painted each shape using black and green, before painting on the veins in white paint and varnishing them on the top side only. I glued the stems of the leaves together in pairs, and then stuck them across Flower Soft wires, painted green.
The plant is potted in a wooden flowerpot, made by Lara’s Crafts, which I bought from Hobbycraft. I have painted it using crafter’s acrylic paint to make it look like slightly grubby terracotta. I filled the pot with cotton wool and balls of tissue paper, covered with a flat layer of brown painted tissue paper, glued on with PVA.
To make the roses and other flowers with petals, I used the same flower petal shape and technique as above. The thistle was created using the same Flower Soft granules as the wisteria, stuck onto balls of tissue paper.
I have always enjoyed painting metal kits for a wide range of items in my dolls house. Phoenix Model Developments produce a great range of items with super period detail, for a reasonable price. All you have to do is assemble, paint and varnish, which as a crafty type, I enjoy doing. This balloon back chair is my latest project, and I am really pleased with the results. It was a tricky one to paint, and still needs a bit of touching up. Covering the solid metal seat with fabric, and getting the French knot studs in the right place, was also a real challenge!
However, I have also bought some brass plant kits from Phoenix. This isn’t something I have tried before, so I will have to let you know how I get on!