26 November 2013
There are lots of things you can do with a skeleton; one of which is to dress it and place it in the attic! ...
There are lots of things you can do with a skeleton; a part opened grave, a Halloween scene, or a semi-wrapped mummy, for example. This somewhat macabre idea came to me from my memories of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre horror movie of 1974, in which the mother had been dead for a while but was still wheeled out in her chair at mealtimes and interacted with as a viable member of that grotesque family. Our granny in the attic is a little less scary, thankfully! I hope you enjoy making her.
Distressing the chair
You will need:
• A chair with padded seat
• Paint – cream and brown
• Crackle Glaze
• Dust powder
• Cold tea
• Remove the existing seat from the chair and put to one side.
• With a commercially produced chair, you will need to sand back the finish to provide a key for the paint.
• Paint the piece with a light coat of cream acrylic.
• When dry, follow this with a coat of crackle glaze.
• Paint the chair brown again, and allow the cracks to form.
• Mix the dust powder with a little water and paint sparingly over the chair.
• Remove the fabric from the seat cushion, and using the original as a template, cover with a pale fabric.
• Stain the seat with cold tea or paint, and fray it a little, then replace the seat.
You will need:
• A cheap plastic skeleton
• Craft knife
• Fabrics & old Lace
• Needle & thread
• PVA/tacky glue & Super Glue gel
• Dressmakers pins
• Length of miniature pearls & tiny beads
• Grey wigging material
The plastic skeleton needs to sit in the chair, so cut her limbs with a craft knife so they bend into the correct position. I managed to accidentally sever her left arm completely at the elbow, but am not particularly worried as it will glue back together again later.
Her clothes are decayed and ragged. To make a full length granny skirt from waist to ankles, cut a rectangle of cotton fabric 3-1/2” x 6” (89mm x 152mm).
Glue or stitch a hem and the back seam.
With needle and thread put in gathering stitches around the waist, but don’t gather it up completely yet.
Tear some holes in the skirt and rip the hem, and then soak the skirt in a mixture of teabag water and PVA glue so it stains nicely.
Top tip: Save the PVA, water and tea (or coffee) staining mixture in a jam-jar, as you will need it again during this project.
Squeeze out the excess moisture but whilst still wet and crumpled gather up and fit to the skeleton around her waist, using the dampness of the fabric to drape and form to her skeleton figure in a sitting position.
For this it’s probably best to sit her on a plastic box, so the chair doesn’t get spoilt. A couple of pins will hold the fabric exactly where you want it. Leave to dry.
Use lace made from natural fibres, like cotton, as it drapes and glues more easily. If your lace is not old, give it the cold tea treatment to dull and dirty the colour.
Cut a small piece of faded old lace to fit across her chest to look like a blouse, and glue in place.
Glue two further pieces of lace round each arm from shoulder down to mid forearm to make her sleeves.
You will also note that I have re-glued the accidentally chopped off arm back into position!
Cut a necklace from the miniature pearls, and glue a single or double string around her neck.
Glue one or two tiny beads to her fingers for rings.
Cut a rectangle about 6” x 3-1/2” (152mm x 89mm) from a colourful cotton fabric for her shawl. I’ve used a bright paisley patterned material.
Take a moment to pull out the warp from the weft threads all around the shawl to make a tatty fringed border.
Give the shawl the PVA, water and tea treatment so it looks old and faded, before wrapping it still damp and gluey around the skeleton. You want it so that it covers the entire undressed back of the skeleton, up over her shoulders and down partially over her arms into her lap.
Tease out the pearls if they get obscured, and hold it all in place with dressmakers pins before leaving the ensemble to dry.
The wig is made in exactly the same way as you’d make one for a ‘live’ doll. First pull a piece of hair from the bundle about 1/2” (13mm) thick and cut into two lengths about 3-1/2” to 4” (89mm to 101mm) long.
Cover the skull with PVA/tacky glue up to the natural hairline.
For a long swept back hair style, take the first piece of hair and lay over the skull from front to back completely covering her face and longer at the front than at the back.
Spread it out and press into the glue.
Apply a little more tacky glue on top of the hair along the line of her forehead, and lay the second length of hair from side to side following the line of the forehead and down over the ears (or where her ears would have been).
The hair should now cover the entire head and face of the skeleton. Leave the glue to dry. Go and have a cuppa or watch your favourite TV programme so that you’re not tempted to work on it again until it’s set.
Top Tip: If you have a spare skeleton you can practice your wigging technique on this first before working on your dressed doll. However, a wig made in this way can, when the glue is dry, be peeled off leaving the skull no worse for wear. So even if you hate your first attempt on the real skeleton granny, you can always peel it off and try again.
When completely set the glue will be clear, not white. Draw the hair back away from the face and gently smooth into the desired style. It can be pulled into a bun at the back of her head or left loose.
Trim the hair or secure under a small piece of tatty old lace.
• Darken the sockets of her eyes with a bit of black/dark grey paint.
• When she’s ready, stick her into her chair.
• Accessorise with props as you think fit. I have made a little black cat from Polymer clay to fit on her lap.
• For dust and cobwebs, spray with a light coat of hairspray and sprinkle the entire ensemble with a layer of tumble drier fluff – it’s clean of course, and very effective!
• All she needs now is an attic to reside in.
Skeletons just like the one I've used are readily available on eBay.
This feature was originally published in Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine. If you like making miniatures, why not buy yourself a copy of the magazine. Or better still take out a subscription so you never miss an issue. For fans of Facebook and Twitter, or to email, print or comment on the feature, please use the buttons above to share with your friends.
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