Last March I went on a frantic, crafting dash. I grabbed my keys, and drove to Michaels Arts and Crafts, soaking in every moment of the drive, of normal life. Scanning every aisle from the very front to the back of the store, I grabbed acrylic paint, watercolors, paint brushes, embroidery thread, sewing needles — anything I thought would keep me occupied for the uncertain lockdown timeframe.
As a last addition to my crafting supply haul, I decided to check Amazon, where I was introduced to the surprisingly extensive world of miniatures and dollhouses. I browsed through coffeehouses with coffee-making appliances, the tiniest cups of coffee, and cozy, homey coffeehouse seating; green rooms filled with paper plants and flowers, gardening tools and birdhouses; and even holiday-themed kits.
I selected the kit I felt embodied my own future living room — that I personally envision set in a bright, modern themed studio apartment in bustling New York City — made a quick purchase and waited restlessly for its delivery. I was most excited for the blue, velvet statement couch that I would be creating, not knowing that it would be one of the most laboriously frustrating steps of the creation process — but one that proved well worth it in the end.
"It's something that is inherent within you — you just like small things," says Bobbi Jo (Barbara) Krakenberg, miniature hobbyist and owner of Bobbi Jo's Miniatures and Dollhouses in Spokane Valley. "They just catch your attention, and you go from there."
Unlike crafting hobbies that are short-term projects, miniatures take time, creativity and searching to achieve the perfect theme or look that is the desired vision. Krakenberg, who has been an avid miniature hobbyist since receiving her first dollhouse as a child, personally designs and searches for specific pieces to enhance each of her prolonged projects — unlike the rapid, pre-organized online Amazon purchase I had made.
Her 22-year-old store is mostly found by fellow miniature hobbyists through word of mouth. Miniatures, she says, is a lifetime hobby.
Krakenberg believes that websites like Amazon have helped spark interest in the miniature world by giving people easy access to pre-assembled kits that provide a simple introduction to the niche, unique, often unheard of craft.
For beginners, Krakenberg and her close friend Marilee Goldthorpe, treasurer of the Spokane Miniature Society, recommend starting off small with beginner kits. From there, you can let your new crafting skills and creativity guide you to a larger, more intricate, more personal project.
Krakenberg says building miniatures is a hobby that depends on opportunity, as you never know what miniature surprises you will run into along the way in life. As you search for the perfect furniture and accessories, she advises asking yourself questions like: "What am I going to be putting in that corner?" or "What can I find to make this house a home?"
"Maybe you're going shopping or in a candy shop, and all of a sudden here's this tiny small chest — your eyes go right to it," Krakenberg says.
Goldthorpe says the hobby has taken her as far as Europe. Her boulangerie/patisserie, which incorporates finds from France, and other travel-themed projects remind her of times with friends — those met abroad and those at the Spokane Miniature Society — who share her passion for creating miniatures.
"It just has broadened [my] horizons, not just with miniatures, but worldwide and with people who are also supportive of each other," Goldthorpe says.
When my kit arrived, I immediately opened its packaging, took in its extensive instruction manual — took a few deep breaths and reminded myself in a dramatic whisper, "You can do this, Natalie" — and began to sort all the needed supplies into piles.
At one end of my crafting-dedicated table were paper materials for decorative plants and accessories and fabric to cover furniture — like that lovely yet painstaking velvet statement couch — and at the other were beads, wire, pre-cut pieces for furniture and the structure of the scene that I hand-painted before assembly.
As someone who cannot bear to stop when beginning a project like this — I mean days of sitting in the same chair with sticky Gorilla Glue fingers, tired eyes and countless mugs of coffee to fuel me — I finally finished after about a week of work. And even though the process was difficult and extremely frustrating at times, just the sight of my creation gave me happiness amid the chaos of the world. I just sat and admired it.
My completed creation included a statement wall of bright framed prints, a coffee table with magazines and a vase of flowers, a bookshelf with the most charming record player on top, potted plants, a guitar in the corner, and in the center, that dreaded, lovely navy blue statement couch.
"It's something that you dream about, you think about at night," says Krakenberg. "It's just life in miniature."
But it feels so much bigger somehow. ♦