Sonia Bethwaite is always up for a challenge to see how small she can go while still retaining that fine detail.
Do not adjust your eyes – this is not an optical illusion. These fabulously detailed miniatures really are 1/288th scale – designed to fit in a 1/24th scale dolls house.
This beautiful workmanship is created by Sonia Brethwaite, originally from Haverfordwest in South Wales, and who now lives in Horwich near Manchester with her husband Eddy, their youngest son Joshua, daughter Shannon and two dogs, Henry and Peppa. Many Miniaturists will know her as Little Miss Miniature – or Sonia with the nails!
Sonia has always been interested in anything in miniature form. She says: “As a child I loved miniatures and used to collect silver miniature items. As a little girl I would make miniature people out of tin foil and give them names and expressions. I still collect miniature pieces from some my favourite artisans.”
Sonia who is completely self-taught, loves anything to do with arts and crafts, from painting to knitting. She began making miniatures about ten years ago. She started off crocheting tiny teddy bears and mice which she used to give away as presents, or sell on ebay. She then went on to try her hand at sculpting babies out of polymer clay.
“Sculpting really is a labour of love,” she says. “My head would be making one thing and my hands were making something completely different. I spent years practicing and I didn’t think I’d ever get the hang of it. Perseverance really is the key. You just have to have fun with the clay and learn something from each piece.”
Her perseverance eventually paid off as her sculptures started to resemble people. She also began to sculpt animals. “I just kept working at it. It really is about determination and desire to succeed. My love for working with clay grew and my desire to create realism in my work kept me hooked on the craft.”
Sonia heartily recommends keeping all of the sculpture pieces to look back on. “It’s amazing when you look back on your old attempts and compare them to your most recent pieces. It’s a good indicator of how far you have come. I have a bag with my rejects in. If I ever need a good laugh, I’ll get them out and have a giggle.”
Her hobby developed into something more after attending a miniature exhibition at the Birmingham NEC. “I’d been making animals and little people, but when I went to the miniature exhibition, I was like a child in a sweetie shop! I had never considered making miniature houses or furniture.
“When I first looked at all the different scales available, I didn’t know which one to choose. It was close to Christmas, so I treated myself to a 1:48th scale house kit. That was it. I was totally hooked! After that I just wanted to work in a smaller scale, so I moved onto 1:144th scale and my love for 1:144th houses and furniture was born.”
From 1:144th Sonia moved to 1:288th scale houses with furniture. She adds: “My main goal is to make them as detailed as possible. In 1:12th scale you can really capture all the detail of the furniture and accessories. When you downscale it’s easy to lose the detail and intricacy of the piece. So, I really work hard on each piece in order to bring it to life and create the realism into something so tiny. I still seem to be going smaller. Who knows where I’ll end up!”
Around 11 years ago, when Sonia was selling her teddy bears and dolls on ebay, her daughter said to her, “Mummy you should change your name to Little Miss Miniature, so she did.
She says that it’s her customers who have driven her to creating smaller and smaller designs.
“My customers are my biggest motivators. I receive many requests from miniature collectors who will ask me to make something so complex that my initial reaction is, ‘That’s not possible!’ I’ll then sit and think about how it can be done, and then have a go at making one. My customers really are my best teachers. They believe that I can make things before I’ve even considered the possibility.”
She says the hardest thing about working in 1:288th scale is not dropping what you’re working on, and she admits to spending too much time on hands and knees looking for pieces she’s spent hours on. But, she says, it’s all part of the fun!
Tweezers are a vital part of her toolkit and she uses an applicator for applying the tiny amounts of glue into the precise places needed. Toothpicks are another really useful tool. Generally, she works on her knee with a lamp and a magnifying glass. This enables her to work in close proximity to each piece and add as much detail as possible.
The materials she uses depend upon what she is making, what scale and what finish she wants to produce. She mainly works with 0.6mm wood which is very thin but quite sturdy as a finished furniture piece. She also works with thick quality card.
“When I’m working on a commission piece for a customer’s pet, it’s so important to me that their personality is captured. It can take weeks to complete a pet replica. I’ll spend time looking at the photos, researching the breed and paying attention to characteristics and fine details.
“I tend to work on several pieces at any given time. I have an ideas book which I use regularly to spark my imagination. I will always have a custom order on the go, and also be working on furniture pieces for my Etsy Shop. It’s good to have lots of pieces taking shape at different times. It keeps the variety of work constantly changing, ensuring that customer deadlines are being met, and stock levels stay healthy in the shop.”
Sonia’s latest venture is producing kits, which is something she is always being asked for by customers. Her aim is to provide a comprehensive kit and clear instructions with all the elements required to produce a finished product.
She explains, “There are a lot of miniature enthusiasts who love my work but want to personalise their own pieces. I’m really excited about providing these kits and can’t wait to see what people create from them. I love receiving photos from customers showing me their houses and furniture. It’s such a wonderful hobby!”
Sonia adds that she would love to hear what scale kits people would be interested in and what sort of furniture they would like to see on the market.
“I make custom orders for people all over the world. If there is something a customer would like creating I’m always happy to have a go. I love a challenge!”
This article was written by Ann Evans and first appeared in Dolls House & Miniature Scene Magazine