The Astrologium

How kind people can be.

Mrs S, like Shakespeare’s Autolycus, is ‘a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’.  Not, we hasten to add, that she is a petty thief.  Quite the reverse, in fact.  Friends and acquaintances approach her, proffering handfuls of strange, broken or discarded trinkets in the hope that we will be able to upcycle them and produced new miniature wonders.

“Ah,” she said, spreading one of the latest collections on the desk.  “We appear to have an astrological theme emerging here. Could someone send for Evadne?”

The tall and haughty figure of Miss Capricornius was seen hurrying along the corridor moments later.  For a millisecond her eyes travelled to the items on the desk, but she quickly re-fixed her gaze upon the middle distance and trilled, “I came as soon as I was summoned, my dear.  I have no idea why I was called, of course, but Jupiter’s aspect in my chart today suggests a gift or opportunity of some kind.  Not that I would presume to suggest the two facts are in any way connected…”

“Quite,” said Mrs S, shortly.  “However, by chance, a few objects have come into our possession which may be of use to you.”

Evadne continued to stare ahead, waving a hand dramatically before her face, as if trying to remove a cobweb.

“I see the sun!” she exclaimed.  “Yet how could I receive the sun?  How strange these visions are!  And – could it be the constellation of libra?  Surely not!  Why and now the planets are showing me -”

“Yes, yes.  No doubt they’re indicating an amber pointer,” Mrs S sighed, glancing down at the desk.  “If you can make something interesting with these, Evadne, then take them.  I’m sure the brothers will be on hand to help with construction, should they be needed.”

She then left hastily, before Miss Capricornius could feign amazement at ‘discovering’ the trinkets.

Needless to say, my brother and myself were commanded to construct all manner of working parts for the ‘Astrologium’ she had decided to create.

“A rotating disc, darlings, about so big … no, not like that!  Tilted but roughly horizontal, obviously!  And this bead to turn it.  Why, it so clearly resembles a galaxy, don’t you think?  The holographic clock will require two more hands, in addition to this stunning pointer.  They must be huge and magnificent.  Bronze, perhaps and silver.  Oh, and a decorative but sturdy set of railings across the front.  Children can be so irritatingly curious!”IMG_20220530_145039_resized_20220530_025129821

So it went on for days, but I have to say, Charles and I are very impressed with the result.   To be honest, we did all the work.  ‘Her majesty’, as she’s come to be known, simply handed out the orders and then settled to write a book about her creation.  And do we get a mention in it?  Well I’m sure you can guess the answer to that.

Molly informs us that Miss Capricornius has been ordering more astrology-related items.  It sounds as if she’s decided to create a whole series of astrologiums.

Maybe mercury will go retrograde and her order won’t arrive…

Mechanical Miniatures

“It’s been a while since we turned our hands to anything mechanical,” my brother Henry said, rather wistfully.

We started exploring piles of promising-looking items in the workshop.

“Wheels?” I suggested, holding up some circular wooden blanks.  “Hard to get the hole for the axle right in the centre though.”

“Cams!” he replied jubilantly.  “Drill the holes off-centre and we can make some cam-operated wind-ups.”

IMG_20220221_094042_742_resized_20220303_101756693 (1)And that was all it took.  He started to put some sturdy little boxes together, the ladies decorated them and I (Charles) got to work on the cam mechanisms and handles.

The first was a multicoloured dancing tree, made from twisted wires, sequins, beads and charms.  Next we raided the vintage watch parts for some springs and gears to put together with coiled copper wire.  Then we became more ambitious and produced a tiny hot-air balloon, complete with top-hatted magnificent men to fly it.  100% upcycled junk!  An old Christmas tree bauble was covered in plastic mesh which held Mrs S’s garlic, a few beads and jewellery bits added for the basket and the gents were fashioned from cotton bud stalks with tiny shoe eyelets for their hats!  Many hours of exacting work, of course, but we’re very happy with the finished result and now planning a series of dancing birds, octopuses and who knows what…

Proud to say that this week they have been the most viewed item in our Etsy shop.  Here’s a quick link, in case you’d like to take a look.

Heart, Flag, Ukraine, Kyiv, NationalOh, and while you’re on Etsy, we’d recommend searching for printable items produced in Ukraine.  Our fellow sellers there have been forced to shut their regular shops, due to the war, but still receive money direct to their PayPal accounts if we buy their digital artwork.

On the Road Again!

There are just a handful of people left here at Steampunk-Shrunk Towers who remember the touring days.  The rest of us listen with a mixture of respect, envy and terror as they tell us tales of being bubble-wrapped, boxed and thrust into Mrs S’s trusty old wheelie suitcase, then trundled away on journeys lasting many hours.

SITC21.jpg WEB (1)“Ah,” they say, “but when you finally arrive and are unpacked – then it’s all worth it!  You’ll be placed ever so carefully in just the right spot to display your fine costumes and intricate details.  Fairy lights and spotlights will illuminate the stall and people will come to stare, to gasp, to admire… and sometimes to buy and take you off to a new home.”

IMG_20210928_153101_resized_20210928_033607222We had almost given up hope of experiencing a fair ourselves, but now we have FOUR to look forward to before the end of the year!

The months of lockdown in the Towers have been pleasant enough.  The visits from the plague doctors and others were diverting, but to see Mrs S dusting off the suitcase and searching out her stocks of bags and boxes…  Well we can’t deny that we are more than a little excited.

Bootiful Miniature Upcycling

Here at Steampunk-Shrunk Towers, we love recycling.  Mrs S is, to quote Shakespeare, ‘a snapper up of unconsidered trifles’.  Junk packaging, broken dolls and furniture, charity shop finds… all are squirrelled away and lovingly upcycled when inspiration arrives.

img_20210920_165032_469IMG_20210916_105712_resized_20210921_110939915Some of our favourite finds are the little packs of boot and shoe eyelets we pick up for a fairly modest price (and an excellent cause) from the local children’s hospice charity shop.  They are leftover stock given to the charity by Clarks – the famous shoe manufacturers a mile or two down the road.

As you can see, the plain round ones make quite perfect camera lenses at 12th scale.

img_20210919_102222_981_resized_20210921_110659377There are all manner of fancy designs, though. It didn’t take us long to realise that they would be ideal as miniature candlesticks.

We hand-roll wax around a length of sewing thread, place them in the eyelets and light them just for a moment to blacken the wick and (if we’re lucky) create a drip.

Holographic Reflections

20161230_192628-1Professor Laszlo Erazmus here.  Delighted to see you all again.

I felt it was high time I updated you on the comings and goings at Steampunk-Shrunk Towers, now the plague doctors have departed and life has returned to what passes for normal hereabouts.

Mrs S has survived the strange times and is currently hunting in various attics and cobweb-coated cupboards for the last few items to be restored to our virtual shop.  The stock room is full to bursting and our resident tinkers are bearing the thoughtful expression which presages a burst of frenetic activity, usually resulting in more interesting gizmos and gadgets for sale.

12th scale Holographic Hand Mirror  Steampunk Dollhouse gold without ringI am kept busy producing my holographic hand mirrors – a modest contribution to the SteampunkDollsHouse‘s stock, but definitely a best seller, with many five star reviews to their credit.  Miniature Photographic Studio  Model Photographer and Shop in image 0However I did permit myself a brief respite to visit the photographic studio of one of our newest residents – Mr Harold Wallington.  I’m sure you’ll agree that his photographic portrait (above) captures my likeness rather well and I would earnestly recommend his services should you wish to procure an image for yourself.  Mr Wallington and his shop can be found at this link.

We look forward to welcoming many of our patrons back to the shop in the ensuing months and indeed to take Steampunk-Shrunk out into the wider world once again as long as the plague continues to subside.

Clueless in Clockwork

for bird automatonsI’ve written before about the day I answered a strange advert on a local noticeboard, offering ‘a flock of clockwork birds’.  It was several years ago but I clearly recall the vendor reaching into a box of mouse-shredded newspapers and pulling out one of the little mechanisms for my inspection.  It seemed to be composed of brass, steel and rust, in more or less equal quantities, with a plastic section to one side which housed a rubber diaphragm.  With the sort of smile a favourite uncle gives at children’s parties before performing magic tricks, he took a brass key from his pocket, began to wind the motor and with a loud snap, the spring broke.

“Oh dear,” he said, carelessly tossing it back into the box and removing another, “They have been kicking around an attic for about 40 years,  Not surprising, really.  Let’s try this one.”

The next purred into life perfectly.  Metal arms moved to and fro, a blue steel lever pumped the rubber bellows and a tiny Swanee whistle twittered its modulated tune.  The whole thing, he explained, was controlled by a complex steel cam just visible amongst the whirring brass cogs and gears.

I was smitten.

“And how many are there?” I asked eagerly.

“God!  No idea!  Hundreds – at least,”  he grinned.  “Do you have a van?  No?  I’ll drop them round to you tonight, then.”

I’d been expecting a dozen, or maybe twenty, for the money he was asking.  As my hallway filled up with an endless stack of  mouldering cardboard boxes and a musty smell I wondered whether any of the mice whose handiwork I’d witnessed earlier remained.  The boxes were stacked in the shed.

In the days that followed, I gingerly investigated.  Countless clockwork motors ranging from pristine to utterly wrecked, a huge box of small plastic birds and yellowing waxed envelopes with the precious brass keys and parts to join the birds to the mechanisms.  There was also a sheet of rodent-nibbled instructions for putting them together and a hobbies annual from the early 1960s where I found the sets advertised for 9 shillings and sixpence each, for fixing into novelty cigarette boxes.  It seemed I had inadvertently bought up the entire remaining stock.

I grew up in a different age.  I’m female.  When I asked (every year) for a Meccano set for Christmas, my parents smiled and gave me a dolls’ pram or toy iron and ironing board.  When I put down woodwork and metalwork as my preferred technology options at school, I was allocated to domestic science (aka cooking and housework) and needlework classes. 

for sale on Etsy at SteampunkDollsHouse

Can I blame this background for my almost total ineptitude with anything mechanical?  Maybe not, but still it took me many, many weeks of fruitless and frustrating experimenting to begin producing chirping and twirling birds, perched on little boxes of clockwork wonders.

I sold dozens of them, and dozens more of the motor sets (with shredded newspaper and mouse droppings removed).  However the number of broken mechanisms gradually began to outnumber the remaining working sets and I started to wonder how they could be used.  In most cases the motors worked fine, but the rubber diaphragms that created the bellows had perished, which meant they were silent.  Putting my woefully limited technological skills to work, I examined them.  Two metal bars moved irregularly backwards and forwards.  An offset lump on a wheel turned round and round quite fast when detached from the broken bellows. Three moving parts, then.  What could I do with them?

Idea 1 came from a miniature butterfly net I’d bought in a job lot of dolls’ house furniture.  Two dismembered arms move up and down – one waving the net, the other grasping a magnifying glass while a small metal bug whizzes around and others perch nearby.  I called it The Clockwork Entomologist and am now making some more of them.  They’re my sort of crazy.


Idea 2 is a silent version of the bird model, but with a seahorse emerging from glittery weeds to search left and right.  It went too fast and smoothly at first, so I added some shell charms to the whizzing wheel to slow it down a bit.

Idea 3 is probably the most ambitious – an evil octopus kicks a small hapless jellyfish, who turns the machine that works the robot angler fish above the undersea lair.  This creature hunts for tiny fishes in the weeds to provide supper for the octopus.   That one is off the wall, even for me! 

Finally (for now) there is another angler fish – simpler but more deadly with gaping mouth, huge teeth a battery-operated light-up lure, chasing her prey as it swiftly darts about and changes direction.

I can imagine readers of this post shaking their heads sadly at my lack of skill in fully utilising the intricacies of these amazing little motors.  In my defense, I can only say that they all do what I had intended them to do, they are all constructed almost exclusively from upcycled junk and cast-offs and I had tremendous fun making them.

A few of them are for sale in my Etsy shop.  More will be available when I replenish supplies in the New Year.  They’re incredibly fiddly to make for one this clueless!

 

 

The Theatres of Clockton

“What Clockton-upon-Teas needs is some culture,” announced Lucy Larks-Thrustington.

Steampunk 12th scale Porcelain Jointed Dollhouse Doll Lady LucyLucy is one of our newest arrivals at Steampunk-Shrunk towers.  She is, by profession, a dancer of some sort.  By Jove, she certainly has the legs for it… Ahem.  Anyway, she was looking at me and my brother Charles as she spoke, as if she expected us to conjure up some kind of performance.

“Not quite our forte, Madam,” I told her.  “Now if it’s a nice device or gadget you’re after – a portable time machine or flux capacitor or something, look no further.  And anyway, theatres are closing down everywhere – all this confounded anti-sociable distancing malarkey.”

All the more reason for us to open a few, then,” she smiled cheerfully.  “Let’s make miniature theatres – with cardboard cut-out characters.  Then we can put on shows for the good people of Clockton; cheer them up a bit, you know?  I’m sure you clever gentlemen would be able to make the performers move around the stage.  You are so gifted.”

Oh, that smile!  Gracious, she is a very persuasive young lady.  Charles was clearly all too keen to help.

“What scale were you thinking of, dear lady?” he asked, eagerly grabbing a notepad and pencil.  “After all, we are already what most would consider to be – ah – miniature.”

(This was said with an accusatory glance at me.  Will I never live down that unfortunate space-time fluctuation which might have been partly due to the malfunction of an early device I built?  I know it led to our population shrinking to one twelfth of our original size and I have apologised repeatedly.  However we are very comfortable here in Steampunk-Shrunk Towers and have what many would call an excellent life. thanks to dear Mrs Steampunkle – a normal-sized lady who has opened her home to us.)

“No, darling! Far smaller than us!” exclaimed Lucy.  “Tiny people – about this big?” She indicated approximately an inch with her hands.  “I see them on little stages dancing and perhaps a few trapeze artistes, a tumbler or two and ballet, of course…”

“Well,” I said, slowly, “there’s a pile of box lids in the corner of the workshop, left over from the clockwork bird cases.  They might do for stages.  About the right size…”

“Splendid!” she cried.  “I knew you would be the gentlemen to ask!  I’ll go and cut out some suitable characters and leave the construction work to you.”

Tiny theatre  miniature stage with dancers  moving ballet image 3Charles decorated the stages, creating backdrops, curtains, wings and so forth.  I set to work with copper wire, coffee stirrers, cocktail sticks and pins to create the movement.  Soon we had several little theatres with beechwood sliders to move Lucy’s figures across the stage, rocking swings and even a metal balancing beam for a tumbler to turn around on.

Theatre Model  Mini Stage  Dancing Diorama  OOAK Miniature image 7The good people of Clockton-upon-Teas and all the inhabitants of the Towers came to watch our performances.  Ava found some splendid musical renditions to play on her phonograph and while Charles and I moved the sliders back and forth and twiddled the knobs, the audience gasped and applauded in a most gratifying manner.

 

Should you wish to choreograph your own miniature ballet or create a circus performance of your own, do head across to the SteampunkDollsHouse, where our creations can be purchased.  You will discover there that Lucy, too, has her price.  I suspect she is that sort of dancer…

 

Letter From America

The shimmering airship positively purred as it landed in the grounds of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers. Airship, Floating Islands, Sails, Castle

Charles and Henry – the resident tinkers – were almost tripping over one another to reach it first and see it at close quarters.

With a faint hiss of air from a piston somewhere, a ladder descended and a young lady who (Henry later remarked) shimmered almost as beautifully as her ship, climbed down.

She laughed at their expressions and said, “Well, I reckon y’all must be Mister Charles and Mister Henry, from what I’ve heard.”

The brothers looked – if possible – even more astonished.  It was Charles who remembered his manners first.
“Charles Fortescue at your service, Madame,” he said, “And may I introduce my brother Henry?  To what do we owe this honour?”

“Delighted to meet you both, I’m sure,” the pilot smiled. “My name is Leticia. We have a mutual friend, gentlemen – a charming young man called Jasper Coggleford.  He told me that if I flew Bluejay here it would be you who came out to take a closer look.”

“Little Jasper?” spluttered Henry.  “Jeremiah’s boy?  But how…?”

“Jasper and his father have recently moved to my neighbourhood,”  Leticia explained.  “We struck up a conversation and when I mentioned that I was about to fly across to the West of England, Jasper was most insistent that I should come and make your acquaintance.  He said your eyes would pop out of your heads when you saw Bluejay!  Oh, and he also asked me to hand deliver this letter to you.”

To be honest, the Fortescues were so enchanted with both the airship and its pilot, that it was only several hours after Leticia had finally declined any more tea and biscuits and reluctantly headed off to her appointment in Bristol that Charles remembered Jasper’s envelope.  With a pang of guilt, they sat down to read his letter.

Dear Mister Charles and Mister Henry,

I hope you like Miss Leticia and her airship.  I bet you will!

Me and Pa are nicely settled in at our new home in America.  So are Mr Augustus and Mr Bjørn.  The people here are real nice, as they say around here.

There is one problem, though.  It seems part of our work over here involves battling with a Kraken or two.  Pa is being ever so brave, but I can tell he’s nervous and I am terrified.  I mean, we have some woodworking tools, but what we need are proper weapons.  I don’t know anyone as good as you gents at inventing and tinkering, so I thought maybe you could have a try at making some monster-maiming gizmos.

Miss Leticia is coming back at the end of the month, so if you had anything prepared by then, I know she’d be happy to pick it up.

I know you won’t let us down.

Please say hi to everyone there.

Kindest regards,

Jasper Coggleford

“Hi?” muttered Charles.  “The boy is certainly settling in over there.”

“Yes, yes, but the weapons!” exclaimed Henry.  “They need our help.  Let’s make a start at once!”

There was a marked reluctance on Charles’ part, Henry noticed.  He’d rummaged around and found some swords in an attic, so had set about making armoured leather scabbards.  However he spent rather too long admiring himself in the mirror, whilst brandishing one sword after another and shouting things like, “Have at ye!” and “Take that, vile sea dog!”

“Swords!” grumbled Henry.  “You might slice off a leg or two, but the mouth will still be coming at you.  We need something more, ah, mechanical.  Something to blow the creatures to kingdom come.”

He stood for most of the first day surrounded by what you or I might think of as junk, carefully trying out different combinations and attachments.  By the end of the third day there was a veritable arsenal surrounding him.

“Is that one of Mrs S’s Christmas tree baubles?” asked Charles, suspiciously eyeing the end of one of the largest guns.

“That’s tinkering for you,” was all Henry would reply.

“And that thing with the rotary saw -”

“The Sawful. Yes, isn’t she a beauty?”

“Try walking around with that dangling from your shoulder and you’ll slice your own leg off!” Charles snorted.  “Hand it over – carefully, man.  I’ll make it a protective carrying case.”

“Then they’ll need small pistols,” mused Henry.  “They won’t be able to carry these things about all the time.  Young Jasper probably couldn’t even lift one.”

Charles didn’t speak.
Henry looked long and hard at his brother. “You don’t like weapons much, do you, old boy?”

Charles shrugged. “Not a great fan, if I’m honest,” he said quietly.  “I mean the swords are fine, man-to-man combat, fair enough.  But blasting some dumb creature out of existence with one of those – things…  Hardly cricket, is it?”

Henry grinned.  He clapped his brother gently on the back and nodded.  “I do see your point.  The thing is, I don’t think monsters play by MCC Laws.  How would we feel if we heard little Jasper had had his head torn off by some ravaging beast?  We need to give the poor lad a sporting chance.  Suppose you work on making some belts and holsters, if I work out how to make the pistols?”

“Thanks, old chap.  Appreciate it,” nodded Charles and he headed off to find some more leather.

And when everything was finished and safely packaged, ready for its long journey over the ocean, Charles had one final item prepared – a peacock blue pistol with matching holster as a gift for the pilot of the Bluejay,  because, as Charles explained, you just never know when you might need to protect yourself against an attack from some dreadful creature of the skies.

 

The Black Door

It’s possible that the ancient black wooden door at the front of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers is as old as the building itself.  Certainly there is a huge iron key that looks to be many centuries old.

What comings and goings that door must have seen.  And certainly there have been plenty in the present month.

Just imagine our amazement when the infamous Dr Oskar Kopp and his ‘enhanced’ assistant Bjørn arrived.  They had left us several years ago to accompany a reknowned storyteller and share their tales with her audiences.  Now, it seems, the good lady is moving to another continent and asked whether she could return these gentlemen and their laboratory to us.

If you are unfamiliar with their story, you could go to this link and its successor and read about them.

The doctor, we noticed, looked somewhat older and perhaps slightly frail.  Bjørn, on the other hand, appears to be thriving with his mechanically enhanced brain and strong clockwork heart.  We look forward to hearing about his research into alchemy, when Dr Kopp is out of earshot.

However there have also been some departures.

Augustus Robottom has clearly become disillusioned with the little robots he has been creating.  He grabbed a copy of The Time Traveller’s Companion and announced that he was relocating to Alabama.

“But what about these small, er, devices of yours?”  Mrs S enquired.

“Confound the things!” he said gruffly.  “I suggest sending them over to the Magpie.  I think they would fit in well there.”

“Ah yes.  Excellent idea,” agreed Mrs S, and she began packing them up to take to the rather wonderful Vintage and Curiosities shop she supplies in Midsomer Norton.

The very next day, Mr Coggleford the furniture restorer and young Jasper, his son and apprentice, told us that they intended to follow in Gus’s footsteps and would be taking one of the time machines as well as one of their finest cabinets with them.

All three will be sorely missed here, but we applaud their ambition and hope that their life in the New World will be most successful.

Now we hear rumours that more ladies and gentlemen will be joining us to once again swell the ranks of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers’ inhabitants.  Today, though, with storms raging outside, the massive black door remains firmly shut.

 

Professor Erazmus’s Gifts

For sale at the SteampunkDollsHouseHigh in one of the attic rooms of the famed Steampunk-Shrunk Towers, Professor Erazmus keeps himself very much to himself.  This is partly because he prefers his own company, but mostly because he does not wish anyone to interfere with his Scrying Machine – a contraption of such sophistication and complexity that its clockwork mechanisms are built into the very walls of the building.

With this astonishing device, the professor is able to peer into the homes and lives of any of his acquaintances and – more especially – those of his many wards.  These young people have now left the safety of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers and moved on to make new lives for themselves in all corners of this world and a few others.

However Erazmus still keeps a keen, fatherly eye on each of them and uses his machine to check that all is well in their new homes.

At the approach of the festive season, the professor begins to prowl around the many workshops, inventing rooms and creative corners of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers in search of the perfect gifts for these much-loved young people to whom he has been guardian for so long.  It is with great care and delight that he selects the perfect gift for each of them.

Of course, because of the clever construction of the scrying machine, Erazmus has the added pleasure of being able to watch the reactions of his wards as they open their parcels, no matter how far away they are now living.

Here is Ruby, who moved away long ago.  For her the Professor has chosen one of these delicate holographic scrying mirrors.

He hopes that this will encourage her to keep in touch and let him know what she is up to these days, but he’s not sure that his plan will succeed.

 

 

 

a young showmanThis is young Rufus, who moved away to begin a career as an inventor and travelling showman and was a great favourite of Erazmus’s.

To this enterprising young man, Professor Erasmus has chosen to give this time machine, as soon as it’s finished.

 

Milly, the steampunk housekeeper robotYoung Henry, here, travelled to the East Coast of the United States some time ago and promptly changed his name.

The professor has decided to send him a robot to assist with the routine jobs involved in working the time machine.

 

Lost in a bookLittle Molly has, he knows, gone to an excellent new home in North Wales.  However he has decided to send her some more books, as she can never have enough.

 

 

 

 

 

The content of this post is now on sale in miniature book format in the SteampunkDollsHouse, with even more illustrations.  It can be bought either as a finished book or as a downloadable DIY page, which can be printed out and made up, with full instructions.

The Professor and his Scrying Room are also available there, at this link.