Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Guide to Pleasant Company

Pleasant Company logo
When American Girl was still Pleasant Company, before Mattel bought them out (and ruined them IMO), there were six characters: Samantha Parkington 1904, Kirsten Larson 1854, Molly McIntire 1944 all three released 1986, Felicity Merriman 1774 released 1990, Addy Walker 1864 released 1993, and Josefina Montoya 1824* released 1997. Each one had a six-book series covering about two years in their lives: Meet ___ [An American Girl], ___ Learns A Lesson [A School Story], ___'s Surprise [A Christmas Story**], Happy Birthday, ___! [A Springtime Story], ___ Saves the Day [A Summer Story], and Changes for ___ [A Winter Story]. Their collections were closely linked to the stories, so much that each of them followed a predictable pattern (for instance, every character received a doll of their own in the Christmas book, and interacted with a pet in the Birthday book). I have created a chart showing the parallel format of the Original Six dolls and their collections.
Image result for pleasant company
*Every "Meet" book took place in late summer/early fall of a year ending in "4". School and Holiday books took place later that year, while Birthday and Summer books took place in Spring and Summer, respectively, of the next year, ending in "5". Winter books either took place near the end of the same "5" year (such as Changes for Addy in December 1865) or the beginning of the next year (like Changes for Molly in March 1946).

**All of the original six characters--plus the seventh, Kit, celebrated Christmas. With Julie (who celebrates Chinese New Year with her friend Ivy, as well as Christmas) and Rebecca (who celebrates Hanukkah), the third books were generally referred to as Holiday Books. However, all of this happened after the Mattel takeover in 1998.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Here we go again...

New year, new HSM from The Dreamstress! I totally failed to complete the challenge last year (honestly, I completely forgot about it!) but I'm trying again. Here's the list of challenges, as well as the basic rules spelled out more thoroughly than I could. January is "Dressed to the Nines" (something fancy OR something related to the number 9), but the most interesting one for me is "Out of a Portrait" in August. Any ideas of portraits to pick from?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Building the Little House in the Big Woods

So, I'm back. At this point all I can say is, don't expect me to keep a regular post schedule. As a senior in high school, I have so much to do that I can barely get anything done! But I can occasionally get a good project in. Like this. My grandparents gave me a dollhouse kit, the Oregon Trail by Dura-Craft, upon hearing that I was interested in miniatures. (Apparently, they had planned to build it and give it to me for Christmas when I was five, before finding out someone else had already bought me a bigger dollhouse).
The kit is for a log cabin, so it's constructed slightly differently than the Victorian dollhouse (which has found a new home now). Instead of large punch-out walls assembled like a gingerbread house, this kit has several lengths of pine wood (about 1 1/4" by 5/8" at the ends) with rounded edges on one side, and comes with instructions on how to assemble each flat wall, floor, and roof piece.
There was one punch-out wood sheet (visible on the left in above photo) that contained the pieces for the chimney, fireplace, and a cabinet.
But everything else had to be assembled board by board with wood glue. First up was the bottom floor. The directions suggested using wax paper to keep your project from sticking to your work surface, but I found out fast that it will stick to your project instead...and make a shredded mess when you try to remove it! I ended up switching to Saran wrap or other plastic, for which the bag that had held the little pieces of wood came in handy.
The clamps towards the top left of the above photo are holding together the decorative beams that will appear to hold the upper floor in place. I tried to maximize the number of pieces per gluing session so I wouldn't have to wait for as many pieces to dry...but the reality is that I only had room for one large piece at the time.
Next up was the top floor piece. It differs from the bottom floor (visible on the left in this picture) in that it has a hole to accommodate the ladder between floors. It's also slightly narrower, since this piece needs to fit underneath the cut-out back roof piece. In hindsight, I should have added the decorative beams at this stage before the floor was attached to anything--it would have made the angle so much friendlier for gluing.
The bottom floor was dry at this point but had decided to bow upward in the middle. Being in the garage, I had a ready supply of heavy paint cans at hand to discourage such behavior.
On to the side walls! I was running out of space, so I decided to assemble them in blocks, especially since each one had a peaked gable and a hole (one window and one fireplace). Below is the window wall ready for final assembly:
Good grief, this is blurry!
Those notched edges will allow the sides to mesh together in log cabin style. The other side wall has a lower and wider hole for a fireplace.
Of course, the gables couldn't be left looking like a small child's tower of blocks, so it was time to bring out the coping saw and the vise. I believe my brother took the following photo.
I had drawn guidelines for the gables beforehand, as the instructions said to do. In fact, I had re-drawn the guidelines several times before I got the darn things in the right place! Good thing I followed the old advice to 'measure twice and cut once".
The finished gables. (I am not a carpenter).
The front roof piece has two holes for dormers as well as a notch (top left) for the chimney.
Glued together now are the dormer front walls and the little comb-shaped rear walls, which will provide the log-cabin notching at the house's back corners without restricting interior access. More on that later.
All the walls, floors, and roofs except the dormer pieces are in this pile. The back roof piece, on top, has a notch for the chimney just like the one in the front roof, as well as a large cutout for interior access. (I say "cutout", but as it was assembled around the gap there was nothing to cut away.)
The two downstairs windows have external frames, pre-assembled, with nonfunctional shutters. These frames serve the double purpose of reinforcing the holes in the walls created by the windows. One finished dormer front (gable top completely sawed) is also pictured.
The chimney is assembled from the punch-out pieces. The fireplace facade is visible just above and to the right of the chimney. I used hot glue here, since I was using thinner wood that did not take as well to the wood glue.
While the glue gun was hot, I assembled the ladder. (Even the thick wood handles hot glue quite well...I hadn't used it for flat assemblies because I needed extra strength in the long seams. Hot glue can be that strong, but not when it's been squeezed along such a large distance that the beginning of the line starts to cool before you can add the next piece!) I had already added the floor supports to the side walls, so it was easy enough to judge the correct slope with a bit of dry-fitting, or temporarily assembling pieces without any glue.
Once I was ready to assemble the main house, I piled every large piece I wasn't using on a nearby chair.
Not sure how I got this far without taking any pieces of the front wall, but here it is, seen with window-side wall and floor supports. I only wanted to glue one intersection at a time, since I was using wood glue and wanted it sturdily dry before adding anything else. If I'd used hot glue, I would have run into the same problem I mentioned earlier, in which the first glue applied to a long seam cools before the pieces can be joined. Except this seam wasn't only long, it consisted of several little notches with glue in each one.
Installing the floors. Things do not want to hold still while being glued, so a clamp and some bungee cords held everything in place as the glue dried.
Now that I was able to lay the front roof atop the cabin and see the slope, I could finally cut the proper angles for the sides and roofs of the dormers, which had been assembled and set aside.
I glued the dormer walls in place...
...then set the back roof on top of the cabin while the front piece was drying. It needed a bit of encouragement to stay put. I also installed the ladder.
Next came the little back walls, shown in the previous photo and in blurry closeup here. At this point, I had begun hot-gluing little nubs of wood onto the latticed corners of the cabin, giving the impression of real interlocked logs while reinforcing the join at the same time.
Using watered-down brown acrylic paint, I stained the outside walls (but not the roof or anything inside) to simulate bark. The ends of the "logs" were stained as well, which hadn't been my intention but worked to create a weathered look. I did the same with the dormers:
I tried my best to mask the roof around it, since that would not have been made of logs with the bark on. As the stain dried, I began work on the functional door hinges. The idea is to cut notches out of the door brace and the hinge piece:
The edges of the protruding sections were rounded (I used an Xacto knife) and a nail was pounded through both layers to become the fulcrum, or pivot point, of the hinge.
Time to add the hinges to the door. The longer piece also serves as part of a "Z-brace" design that strengthens and decorates the door.
But I had to glue the straight pieces on first so I'd be sure of where to cut the diagonal piece. Next, I glued and nailed the hinges to what would eventually be part of the doorframe and tested them:



Looks like they work, so let's finish the doorframe and the front step (made from more small pieces of wood).

With the dormers completely assembled, I can finally add the front roof. I added trim above each dormer--not part of the original directions but a nice touch (that also hides the uneven ends of the dormer roof pieces!). I simply cut an extra 6" board in half.
The masking tape I was using for the above photo was not enough to stop the piece from sliding, so I brought in the reinforcements--more clamps!
I'm still holding off on the chimney at this point, mostly because I'm not sure how to use the stencil and "stone" grit the kit provides. But I can still cut the mitered eave trim, and add it to the window side and the dormers.

And as a bit of extra fun, I decided to add a latch on the door. The above photo shows the chunk of wood I added for an external handle, but the inside is still bare. So...
I was fortunate enough to find two spare chunks of wood with a curved portion missing due to an ill-placed knothole. Using the detailed door-latch description in Little House on the Prairie (the book, that is), I created a sliding latch with many similar components to their rotating one. The long flat piece slides left and right in the troughs of the curved pieces. The handle is a dowel that I nailed on for strength (glue just popped off when I tried to slide the latch) and it prevents the flat piece from sliding all the way in either direction. The leftmost piece stops the flat piece from moving even further and potentially breaking the handle, while the rightmost piece serves as a doorknob and prevents the right end of the flat piece from drooping.

Inside the house, a further chunk of wood stops the flat piece from sliding too far to the right. Since the nature of the hinges allows the door to open outward only, this sliding latch is effective at holding the door shut. I haven't tried to prove it, but I imagine the external doorknob would come off before the latch broke, if someone pulled on the door from outside while it was latched.

The background changed here because I moved the entire operation to my school art room. ("Little House in 1/12 Scale" is the title of this quarter's portfolio project.) I painted the outside of the chimney a mortar-like grey, then applied the stencil from the kit. (I also painted the inside of the chimney black.)
Then I mixed the "stone" powder from the kit with white glue to get this grayish paste with a texture similar to wet sand. What you're supposed to do is spread it onto the chimney like plaster, then remove the stencil when the paste isn't quite dry. You want it stiff enough not to ooze and ruin your stones as it drips, but not the way I did it, where I let it completely dry overnight and found myself the next day with an extremely stonelike substance that the stencil could not break. In fact, I had to use a chisel to remove the bits that had dripped onto the floor of the house! So I ended up leaving the stencil alone and drawing mortar lines with a Sharpie, letting the inconsistencies in the surface guide me to draw stones that almost looked 3D.
I also varied the color a bit with chalk pastels before gluing the chimney in place on the outside of the house. (Hot glue, especially the professional-grade glue guns in the high school art room, did the trick more than adequately!). The gaps between the wide fireplace section and the narrower chimney section are intended to be closed with two 2" wood pieces each.
I love the cute effect it gives! When I looked down the chimney from outside I saw a lot of light shining through minor gaps between chimney and house; gaps filled with translucent hot glue. So I got some thin wood sticks and applied them as trim, covering the gap in an attractive way.
The gaps between the top of the chimney and the roof, though not photographed here, were dealt with in the same way. At last, I could attach the mitered eave trim that had been sitting inside the cabin for literally months.
For some reason, this chimney is not much taller than the house...
The exterior of the chimney is finished at last! I added an extra piece of wood (24", I think) to the edge of the upper floor. The kit directs you to make a full-out railing, which is cute but improbable. The floor already extends almost to the edge of the cabin anyway, and there would actually be no room for a railing due to the slope of the roof (if this were a real house and fully enclosed). Besides, that railing would have made reaching into the upstairs area quite difficult.
Last came the fireplace piece, accompanied by a wooden mantel shelf and a hearth cut from the same egg carton material I used as a foundation for the Victorian dollhouse:
And the cabin according to the kit instructions is done! But I have more plans. Stay tuned for more Little House (1/12) content...I plan to add "glass" windows downstairs and functional windows upstairs, as in Little House in the Big Woods:
"The house was a comfortable house...The bedroom had a window that closed with a wooden shutter. The big room had two windows with glass in the panes...Every morning as soon as she was awake Laura ran to look out of the window..."