The first room I began was the general sitting room containing a table, chair, stool, shield and a few assorted odds and ends. It also contains the Lord and Lady of the castle, for now at least. This room contains my first grave error, because I was so excited to begin that research over minor details seemed unnecessary.
The room has stone walls, wooden ceiling and tile floor. It has a wooden door, fireplace, three stained glass windows and a spiral staircase going up. I began by making the stone walls. Since stone was too heavy, I made the wooden frame and glopped on plaster, carving when needed and then whitewashing the whole thing. This worked fairly well, including the stonework on the stairway. Unfortunately, I made the stairway spiraling up counterclockwise instead of clockwise not realizing that would give the advantage to the attacker on the stairs, not the defender. (Think of clearing your sword and fighting up or down in either direction. Back in the day, everyone was trained to be right handed. The left was often thought to be the sign of the devil.) Oops. So, part of the story I created is that the Lord’s dear grandpapa was corrie fisted (left handed) and instilled the tradition of fighting either way to foil (so to speak) the enemies. He built the castle that way to confuse them, for that stair leads to the treasure room and the hideout for the non-combatants should war ever broach the land again.
Another mistake I made that involves the stairs and a window was that I made the stairs as if they were on the first floor (with a base, not open to any floor under it) and I made a huge window in this room as well. Now, this was done when I had no plans for further building, so I had not thought out the fact that this would be totally indefensible. Castles never ever had windows big enough for a person to fit through on the first floor and rarely on higher floors. On the other hand to make the room safe, how could I account for the first floor stairway? Eventually, I compromised and put it on the second floor and created the idea that the treasure tower only had access from the Lord’s private quarters for protection’s sake.
After creating the walls, I made a fairly simple wood ceiling and wooden door. The only thing to note about the door is that it has a rather ornate hinge based on one I saw in Waterford, Ireland on a very decrepit church. (I spend much of my travel time taking pictures of obscure architecture and items in castles. These are a huge resource.) The wood is just bass wood, and the hinges are made of black polymer clay. Since it would never open, real hinges were unnecessary.
The fireplace was a little more difficult to create, because I wanted it to look like stone. The mantle was fairly easy. I took a piece of balsa, covered it with gray, black and white acrylic paint, then smoothed saran wrap over it. A week or so later, I peeled off the wrap and had a smooth somewhat marbley mantle. I created the hearth from wood and painted it with that fake stone spray paint. The hearth is based on one in the kitchen at Bunratty castle outside Limerick, Ireland. I had to make it fairly sooty due to the fact that most Celts burned a lot of peat, not wood. I did end up deciding to use wood in most of the fireplaces, though, because most people would not recognize peat if they saw it. I made a fireplace reflector out of polymer clay and painted it copper. These metal backings were used to increase the heat output in a room. The tiles for the floor were bought at a dollhouse store (the only time I did this), but I ran out part way through and this gave me the opportunity to have to create my own matching ones out of polymer clay. Nobody seems to notice the difference.
The candelabra was an interesting effort. It has candles wired from the store, but I was rather stumped as to how to make a wood and metal candelabra hanging from the ceiling. Understandably, the dollhouse people have a tendency to stare at me gape mouthed when I ask questions about this kind of authenticity. So, my next best bet was the hardware store. A key element in miniature making is to think small. It’s contagious, I know, because my friends will bring me the most bizarre assortment of doodads that they think might have a use. Well, in this case, the washer and assorted whatnot section provided the metal parts. An extra dollhouse table leg drilled out for the wires works as a support.
My main criterion for furniture was that it be blocky and incredibly uncomfortable looking. So far, that’s what I’ve run across from castle life in the middle ages. The table and chair are plain wood. The stool is based on one I saw in some priest’s abode in Ireland, I’m not sure where, but I have the pics of it. It’s four-legged and looks made of wrought iron with gilt touches. I accomplished this with wire painted black and gold leaf paint. Also, various sized beads made up the fancy touches quite well. I took an ivory colored ribbon, sewed two sides together with a fringe sticking through and had a cushion. A similar cushion, without the fringe was created for the window seat, but this time the ribbon was more of a tapestry pattern.
I made a harp for this room. It’s based on O’Carolan’s harp that’s housed with the Book of Kells in Dublin, Ireland. The first time I made it, I made it with wire because I was trying so hard for accuracy. Unfortunately, I don’t have the skill level to make wire that small stay straight, etc., so I redid it with silver thread and it looks much better.
The people were my next challenge. When I figured that each doll would cost over twenty dollars to begin with and they were mostly terminally ugly, I decided that I had to do my polymer clay best at creating a castle full of people. I made wire armatures and put the clay over them. Actually, the women, unless otherwise needed are just people from the waist up, they’re wire spirals down below. Not only is it tons easier, but also they’re a lot more stable that way. The Lady’s dress is late period dark blue brocade over cloth of gold. Tight under sleeves of blue are ended in lace. She is wearing an under chemise in lace. Her snood is gold. It used to be part of a Malibu Ken’s tank top that I scoured a bunch of stores to find because my niece is not susceptible to bribery. Her crown is gold filigree pieces that were wired together from the jewelry department of the local beading store. Her outfit was fun and easy. The Lord’s was a nightmare. First of all, he is sitting. This means he had to be dressed in this position. He’s wearing maroon over a white silk shirt, with slashed sleeves. His tights are real tights cut up and glued to him. His boots are made of the thinnest buckskin I could find and were also glued because I couldn’t sew them that small. Once I completed a metalsmithing class, I had a number of crowns for the treasure room. His seems to change daily because my niece considers it her job to rearrange the castle continually. (She was around four at this point.) Unfortunately, she seems to think he looks best in tiaras, so some days his expression seems to look a little wearier than others. My preferred crown for him is gold and very plain, not to mention masculine looking.
This room has few knickknacks. Some goblets are made from earring backs, beads and upside-down-clabber-free bells. A skin for wine is made of ribbon around the edge of some very finely shaved rabbit skin. A piece of parchment has some illumination on it, thanks to a headache on my part. There is a map (which vaguely resembles Ireland) and some scrolls. There is a chess game set. The pieces were carved out of wood (very plain) that would normally be used as crib rails in a normal person’s dollhouse. I painted a picture of the Lord of the castle and framed it in an ornate gold leaf paint covered frame. There’s a rug needle-pointed before the fire as well. The shield above the fireplace is Ireland’s, as a nod to the inspiration.