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Recycled Miniatures: A Little Something From Next to Nothing

Updated on January 30, 2014

When I was a kid, I didn't necessarily make a lot of miniatures. I appropriated them. I observed that rectangular magnets removed from the refrigerator and turned onto their underside looked like pans of brownies. Domed pencil sharpeners could make a passable pet carrier. The pegs from a Lite Brite set could masquerade as bottled beverages and (inspired by Stuart Little) be referred to as 'sarsaparilla'.

Onward to adulthood and more appropriate pastimes. But then...

About the time I graduated from college, I discovered a book called Making Dolls' House Furniture by Patricia King. Here was a woman making dollhouse furnishings from random little household objects -- and showing them at shows. I discovered that miniatures were not solely for 1) children or 2) the bourgeois.

Soon after, I made a miniature shelf from a piece of molding from a broken picture frame. I stuck it to the wall above my real-life shelf. I put some items on it and under it. I made the beginnings of a little room there on my shelf.

Images by the author except where otherwise noted

An Upcycled Dollhouse Counter

The old wood jewelry box was given to me by my aunt when I was still a child. It served as a miniature chest of drawers, or bureau. Many years later, I got the idea of placing it backwards and upside-down and turning into a kitchen counter. I painted it to match the kitchen items I had, and glued tiny glass tiles to what is now the top. It fit perfectly into the space I wanted it.

The vase is the top from a trial size bottle of conditioner or other toiletry. The little cake (sold as part of an embellishment kit) is sitting on a piece that broke off of a drum-shaped Christmas ornament. (If you click on the thumbnail, you get a behind-the-scenes look.)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Here is the miniature cabinet in its current incarnation, sporting an antiqued blue finish.Here is a peak behind the scenes.
Here is the miniature cabinet in its current incarnation, sporting an antiqued blue finish.
Here is the miniature cabinet in its current incarnation, sporting an antiqued blue finish.
Here is a peak behind the scenes.
Here is a peak behind the scenes.

Miniature Tiles

Miniature tiles can be handy for turning things like wooden blocks and jewelry boxes into counters and architectural details.

This looks like the brand I have. They're easy to work with. You can glue them right side up or upside down to create different looks.

Miniature School Furnishings

Mount Rainier Primary -- a very tiny school -- is in a bit of disarray at the moment. But here are a couple of the furnishings. Some of the items, you might guess, are cut from a teaching catalog. The blue plastic on the pocket charts was cut from a slightly crumpled three-ring pencil holder. (You can see it in the background).

Miniature Bed Covering

The covering on this miniature bed may qualify, on two accounts, as a miniature made from recycled items. I made the quilt square, but it wasn't intended as a covering for a dollhouse bed. I was planning on making a quilt. That was a lot of years ago! The quilt didn't happen, but the quilt block found a home.

The floral material was bought. The solid dusty rose fabric, though, was cut from a pair of pants. The pants had tapestry belt buckle loops -- the makings of miniature pillows.

Books on Making Dollhouse Furniture Furniture - By Patricia King

Here is the book that put me back on the path to miniature making (plus two others by the same author). I notice that, while the books about bathroom and kitchen furniture have five star ratings, the general dollhouse furniture book is lower. Hmm...

A couple thoughts: 1) People are apt to like the book better if it's the thing they are actually looking for. The title doesn't necessarily clue you in to what you'll find inside. These aren't furnishings that fit in a modern house. They're mostly Victorian -- and a rather over-the-top Victorian at that! They aren't photo-realistic, but they are realistic enough for people to ooh and aah and be confounded you made it.

If this isn't the era, or look, you're going for, you probably won't actually carry out the step-by-step projects. I didn't -- but I did learn a lot from it. One lesson was to look beyond the surface color -- if you stick a lot of unrelated objects together and then paint them, they're more likely to look like they belong together.

Dolls' House Bathrooms: Lots of Little Loos
Dolls' House Bathrooms: Lots of Little Loos

Bathroom items aren't so readily available in the dollar store -- so this book may prove inspiring.!


Objects to Make Minis From

Here is a look at some of the things that can be promising for making recycled miniatures. Some are found objects. I have had that too-big cloisonne bracelet for years, and haven't managed to find or fashion anything the right size and shape to make a table. A friend gave me an idea. He is using pourable varnish to make decorative tiles to display pressed flowers. A miniature tabletop could easily be created by pouring.

About some of the other items: Miniaturists generally tell people to save jewelry findings, but they seldom mention pencil sharpener components. Is it because fewer people have them? Pencil sharpeners come in some nifty shapes. The one makes me think of a small kitchen appliance like a bread machine. It would have to be repainted, of course. Unfortunately, it's too big for 1:12 scale, and my nieces don't have Barbies.

I can imagine the other sharpener dome as a fish tank. It sits flush against the wall. (And speaking of 'flush', imagine it painted white...)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Here is traditional fare: jewelry components, charms, a small shell, a piece of a Christmas ornament.Here are things that work in a children's room: party favors, ornaments, small toys... The flip flops were once the decoration on a ponytail holder.Doesn't it look like it should be making Barbie-size bread loaves?This could be part of an aquarium or watercooler.
Here is traditional fare: jewelry components, charms, a small shell, a piece of a Christmas ornament.
Here is traditional fare: jewelry components, charms, a small shell, a piece of a Christmas ornament.
Here are things that work in a children's room: party favors, ornaments, small toys... The flip flops were once the decoration on a ponytail holder.
Here are things that work in a children's room: party favors, ornaments, small toys... The flip flops were once the decoration on a ponytail holder.
Doesn't it look like it should be making Barbie-size bread loaves?
Doesn't it look like it should be making Barbie-size bread loaves?
This could be part of an aquarium or watercooler.
This could be part of an aquarium or watercooler.

A Friend in the Tool Department - Miniature Drill

If you're working with a lot of found objects, your priorities may be different when it comes to tools. But chances are, before too long you'll want some! You'll find charms that would look just lovely in a miniature setting, but that have... well, whatever you call those little loopy things that you hang charms by. You'll want to be able to clip wire.

You'll find things that could be assembled if only you could drill some holes in them. You'll want to make than single crystal earring into a crystal doorknob or turn other bitty earrings into door knockers or drawer pulls.

Making holes has been a challenge, and waylaid some projects. I am not about to get a Dremel tool. I rather fancy this little manual drill.

More Easy to Make Recycled Miniatures

Here are some tutorials for simple minis, using items you very likely do have in a drawer somewhere.

Any Items You Recognize?

Here is a miniaturist to be aware of. Many of the items in the miniature setting are purchased and some are made from scratch. But if you look closely, you tend to find some upcycled or appropriated little objects.

I noticed the little bead creating the vase, and the scrapbook embellishments on the wall. I am curious about the items used to create the chair. That wouldn't be duck tape, would it?

I believe the metal pitcher here is actually a bought piece, but little playing pieces from Monopoly sets and other games can be incorporated into miniature settings.

Image: The Shopping Sherpa, Flickr Creative Commons

Among the treasures here, we find a lost earring, a bitty candle... Some items have been repainted.

Image: The Shopping Sherpa, Flickr Creative Commons

Common Household Items and What They Become

  • Bottle caps become pie pans.
  • The white liners inside some lids (Sobo?) become plates.
  • Lids from small or sample-sized toiletries become canisters or pots for potted plants.
  • Pizza toppers become small tables or (when stacked) shelving units.
  • Beads become perfume bottles, ornaments, or vases.
  • Caps (from small markers or small glue containers) become cups. Components used in electrical work may serve in this capacity as well.
  • Single earrings become drawer pulls, door knockers, or door knobs.
  • The center portion of a ballpoint pen becomes a tin/ metal can (which can be used to store miniature pencils or paint brushes).
  • Hooks (from hook-and-eye sets) become clothing hooks. They can be attached to strips of balsa.

Storing Tiny Treasures

Bitty found objects don't necessarily take up a lot of space, but they can overrun a place if not organized. I don't have this storage system, but I rather fancy it. You can keep most of the items covered while you work with a few. The cases are rather pretty and can be hung on a hook or stored in plain view on a shelf.

Plus... the right storage makes recyclable tidbits look less like trash and more like the little treasures they are.

Any Little Thoughts to Share?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Bery inspiring maam,I think I am in right place in a right time!!

    • wyzeguru profile image


      5 years ago

      Awesome, you are a genious & talented. This is inspiring.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This would be a great way to teach kids about repurposing and recycling on the "small scale." Neat!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      What great creative fun for children. I can see them seeking out things all over the house and turning them into functional pieces.

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      5 years ago

      Love these ideas. I keep all sorts of tiny things for years and eventually often use them in my artwork.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      5 years ago from Colorado

      I love any crafts or creative ventures that repurpose, reimagine, reinvent, renew, or recycle common items. Nice to know we don't have to be constrained by age. If it is fun, enjoyable, or stimulating, I say go for it. Congrats on making the reel! Nicely done.


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