Plastics
These can be very useful if you know how to glue them together.  (You use a solvent which dissolves the plastic.)  Again, the model railroad store has a good selection, strips and sheets of plastic in a wide range of sizes down to a rod as thin as a thread.  I use that one, dipped in glue and flocking, for flowers like delphiniums.

It's possible to carve this plastic with a knife or Dremel tool, though it will melt if you use a fast speed tool.  You can use hollow rods to make chairs (diagram to come) without having to stick on any legs.  When you've got the knack of handling this material, you can make quick modern furniture suitable for a miniature child's dollhouse.

The same plastic is good for jigs too.  You can buy it with a tile pattern in which each tile is 1/12 of an inch, so it's very useful for 1/144 scale.  See Tools for an example.

Very useful: a new scrubbing brush or dishwashing brush with white bristles.  (Cut a few dozen bristles off next time you buy one, and then use the rest of the brush for its proper purpose.)
To choose wood for 1/144 work
For anyone new to the miniatures hobby and also new to any kind of woodwork, wood can be intimidating.  Unfortunately wood is often the best material to use, especially to make things like tables that are usually of wood in real life.  Unfortunately, too, soft wood like balsa or even bass wood are not usually satisfactory for tiny tables because they have very little strength when cut into slivers.

Balsa may help you get confidence, and is always good for underneath upholstered furniture.
Bass wood is great for 1/12 miniatures, but not strong enough for 1/144 chair legs.  It is available in lots of sizes and in ready-cut small-scale clapboard, floorboard, and other patterns
Cherry is one of the best for our purposes, with a lovely fine grain that almost always looks in scale.  It's harder than a toothpick, but can easily be cut with a sharp knife.
Walnut can be good, but is sometimes too grainy.
Holly is fairly hard to cut by hand, but holds detail very well indeed.
Boxwood is also very good for details, but very hard to cut.
Pine (depending on the variety) can be a joy to cut, but sometimes has conspicuous large grain marks.
Cedar (aromatic cedar used for closet linings) cuts beautifully and allows quite a lot of detail when carved.  It may be purple or pink when cut,  but will turn brown in time.

Many exotic woods are worth trying, though they are often hard to cut.  A simple power tool like the Dremel Minimite will easily sand them down, though, especially in the tiny sizes we need.

Two possible problems: where to get wood cut to miniature size, and where to get exotic woods.  There are companies that supply miniature exotic woods that are ready to use even for 1/144 scale (list to follow), and model railroad stores carry lots of thin strips of bass wood.  If you don't want to spend any money, try to find an expert woodworker who will give you some scraps and maybe even cut or sand them down to a size you can handle.

Experiment with whatever you have: check Tools and Techniques for help with woodworking techniques.  With a lot of care you can do very well with any kind of wood.  If you find you enjoy woodworking in microminiature, a Dremel tool and small power tools--table saw, cut-off (mitre) saw, sander, lathe and jigsaw--will be worth saving up for and will give you a wider choice of woods that you can handle.
Toys in Miniature: Frances Armstrong
Wood
Leather
To choose wood for 1/144 work
For anyone new to the miniatures hobby and also new to any kind of woodwork, wood can be intimidating.  Unfortunately wood is often the best material to use, especially to make things like tables that are usually of wood in real life.  Unfortunately, too, soft wood like balsa or even bass wood are not usually satisfactory for tiny tables because they have very little strength when cut into slivers.

Balsa may help you get confidence, and is always good for underneath upholstered furniture.
Bass wood is great for 1/12 miniatures, but not strong enough for 1/144 chair legs.  It is available in lots of sizes and in ready-cut small-scale clapboard, floorboard, and other patterns
Cherry is one of the best for our purposes, with a lovely fine grain that almost always looks in scale.  It's harder than a toothpick, but can easily be cut with a sharp knife.
Walnut can be good, but is sometimes too grainy.
Holly is fairly hard to cut by hand, but holds detail very well indeed.
Boxwood is also very good for details, but very hard to cut.
Pine (depending on the variety) can be a joy to cut, but sometimes has conspicuous large grain marks.
Cedar (aromatic cedar used for closet linings) cuts beautifully and allows quite a lot of detail when carved.  It may be purple or pink when cut,  but will turn brown in time.

Many exotic woods are worth trying, though they are often hard to cut.  A simple power tool like the Dremel Minimite will easily sand them down, though, especially in the tiny sizes we need.

Two possible problems: where to get wood cut to miniature size, and where to get exotic woods.  There are companies that supply miniature exotic woods that are ready to use even for 1/144 scale (list to follow), and model railroad stores carry lots of thin strips of bass wood.  If you don't want to spend any money, try to find an expert woodworker who will give you some scraps and maybe even cut or sand them down to a size you can handle.

Experiment with whatever you have: check Tools and Techniques for help with woodworking techniques.  With a lot of care you can do very well with any kind of wood.  If you find you enjoy woodworking in microminiature, a Dremel tool and small power tools--table saw, cut-off (mitre) saw, sander, lathe and jigsaw--will be worth saving up for and will give you a wider choice of woods that you can handle.
Fabrics
As we all know if we think about it, even spider web would be too thick to make perfectly scaled fabric for a 1/144 scene.  So a compromise is called for.  If you really want your 1/144 scale model to look, when photographed, exactly like its real life original, you can't use real fabric.  Skilful painting over a carved surface with give the best results.

Model railroaders and collectors of model soldiers settle for painted clothes.  But, perhaps because most dollhouse miniaturists think in the relatively large 1/12 scale, or perhaps because many of them are women, they often choose to use "real" fabric, or knitting yarn, or embroidery cloth, though the finest they can obtain.  If, like me, you choose the '"real" material over perfect miniaturization, there will probably be a toylike, playful look to your scenes.  The incongruity, and the near-impossibility, of a miniature is drawing attention to itself.

I find it's very effective to combine paint and clothes.  Paint the trousers on and make a vest of leather; paint the bodice of a blouse and use real lace for the sleeves.

Here are some of the materials I use:

Silk ribbon: for fancy clothing, brides, evening wear; for clothes for dolls less than 1/4 inch high; for hinges on boxes; for upholstery where a shiny look is needed.  Glue with care, as glue easily seeps through.
Lace:  Always out of scale, but very easy to use.  You can glue a shapeless scrap of lace around a doll and the raw edges will disappear.  Try cutting lace into pieces, using only part of the width.
Bunka: For doll's hair, and occasionally for trim to clothes or for flowers.  Unravel it and use only part of the thickness.
Silk thread: For dolls' hair: dampen the thread, wind it around a pin and let dry.  Unravel to make curls.
Fine cotton fabric: Likely to look slightly comic, but you may want that effect.  Be very careful about fraying (which probably means coating the back of the fabric with a smear of tacky glue, or ironing on a bonding material).  Both of these methods will stiffen the fabric, unfortunately.

Leather and paper can also be used to make clothes--see below.
Leather
If you can find a skin of very thin leather, you may find parts round the edges thin enough for 1/144 scale.  If you do, it makes a good substitute for fabric: curtains and tablecloths of leather hang quite well.  I'm referring to leather that is tissue-thin.

Slightly thicker leather (but still thinner than most garment leather) can be used for suitcases and so on, even in this scale, though paper may work better.  I've tried making leather shoes, but I can't claim to  be very successful.  Leather works well for upholstery in this scale, though.

It's hard to make realistic leather covers for books, no matter how fine the leather, and if you want "effect" I'd suggest ordinary acylic paint, in this scale.   But if you like the idea of real leather-bound books, be patient, thin the leather as much as possible, and go ahead.

Paper 
With some practice paper clothing can look quite effective.  Experiment with  damping it and rubbing off some of the back layers.  Use something like Mod Podge to help form it into drapes.  You can print designs with your computer, but be careful the ink doesn't run.  Use a spay fixative.
          Some very good velvet papers are available, and they make good carpets.  Again, some of the paper backing can be rubbed off so the paper will drape.  It works well for men's clothes.

Yarn
What I've said about other fabrics applies even more to crocheting or knitting.  Anything remotely near the right scale would be invisible even to a magnifying glass.  But for fun, if you want a character doing his or her knitting, try to cast on a few stitches with the thinnest thread you can find, and make knitting needles out of yarn.

It is just possible to knit clothes for dolls half an inch high, using woolly nylon that shrinks together as you knit it.  The trouble is that the hat or sweater will be extremely bulky.  If you don't
mind a sweater that looks like a down-filled coat, go ahead.

The same woolly nylon (available in large cones at sewing stores) can work well wrapped
around wire  bodies to look like stockings or sweaters.
Plastics
These can be very useful if you know how to glue them together.  (You use a solvent which dissolves the plastic.)  Again, the model railroad store has a good selection, strips and sheets of plastic in a wide range of sizes down to a rod as thin as a thread.  I use that one, dipped in glue and flocking, for flowers like delphiniums.

It's possible to carve this plastic with a knife or Dremel tool, though it will melt if you use a fast speed tool.  You can use hollow rods to make chairs (diagram to come) without having to stick on any legs.  When you've got the knack of handling this material, you can make quick modern furniture suitable for a miniature child's dollhouse.

The same plastic is good for jigs too.  You can buy it with a tile pattern in which each tile is 1/12 of an inch, so it's very useful for 1/144 scale.  See Tools for an example.

Very useful: a new scrubbing brush or dishwashing brush with white bristles.  (Cut a few dozen bristles off next time you buy one, and then use the rest of the brush for its proper purpose.)
Metal
I'm a long way from being expert with metals either, but I do enjoy experimenting.  It's easy to start, with a disposable aluminum pie plate that cuts easily with scissors.  Small sheets of brass and copper are available in hobby stores in various thicknesses, and the jewellery department of a big craft store has lots of wire and jewellery findings to experiment with.  If you only want items like pots that will be glued in place, not handled much, you can often manage without solder, by cutting the handles all in one with the pot sides, for instance.  "Super" glue in a gel form can work too, but guard against using too much, or it will show.

Metallic tape or sheets with sticky backs are also available, but they may peel off.  Check your hardware store for stuff that looks like duct tape but is shiny aluminum.

There are now very good metallic markers and paints on the market, and to make something tricky like a kettle I sometimes use wood and paint it with a copper marker.  Handles can  be made of thread.  You should coat the whole kettle with a sealer first, to make sure the copper shines nicely.

Big craft stores have alll kinds of gilding products including real gold leaf, but sometimes a bit of old Christmas card or candy wrapper is all you need.

Clays.
Here I admit my ignorance.  I just don't enjoy working with Fimo and Sculpey; I'd rather carve than mould.  If you are familiar with polymer clays, you should have no difficulty making plates and cups and bowls, and even furniture and certainly people.  I find they keep on getting squished up.  I'm a bit more successful with a tissue-paper-and-glue mix, and I'm planning to try ready-made paper clay.
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Knitted sweater, leather pants

This page was last updated on: May 15, 2010

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Materials
specially suited to miniature work in 1/144 scale