For the past week I’ve been having a grand old time working on a smaller-than-usual commission: a 2/3-scale baker’s cabinet based on one I built a few years ago that Popular Woodworking turned into a video. That earlier cabinet was made for a client in Chicago; she recently commissioned the miniature version as a gift for her mother’s 75th birthday.
It’s so little! I thought, charmed by the unfamiliar proportions. When I texted my client a snapshot of the tip-out bin (which is all of 11″ tall), I couldn’t help commenting “Squeee!!!!”
A bit dusty, but you get the idea
That was before today. At lunchtime I opened my email to find a message from Althea Crome, queen of tiny knitting. We’d never met, but her reputation preceded her; Althea’s the one who knitted the star sweater and striped gloves for the main character in the movie Coraline. (Well, to be precise, she didn’t just knit one sweater and one pair of gloves. It was more like 14 sweaters and six pairs of gloves, thanks to the demands of stop motion filming. “I’d get these little body parts in the mail so I could fit them,” she said, calling to mind a bit of distinctly Tim Burton-esque imagery.)
“Why I am really writing,” went her missive, following a friendly preamble, “is because I was recently made aware of your work and it just so happens that a dear friend of mine is in town for a few days who I would love to introduce you to. I think you may have a lot in common and would truly enjoy meeting each other.
“His name is Bill Robertson (A.K.A. Wm. R. Robertson) and [he is] one of the finest miniaturists working in wood and metal in the world. He is also an avid collector and self-made scholar of antique tools and techniques. In 2015 he won the Joe Martin Craftsman of the Year award: http://www.craftsmanshipmuseum.com/Robertson.htm
She happened to include a link to an image of a miniature tool box, the same image that a friend had posted on Facebook a mere few days before, tagging my husband and me. The tool box was completely out of control: so tiny. And so perfect. When I see such things, my mind feels ready to explode – first with How?, then WHY?, followed by “OK, this person is a god.”
Obviously I was not going to say no to a chance to meet that guy, not to mention Althea herself. The two of them showed up just before 5 and sat down for a cup of tea in our kitchen.
Althea is holding one of a pair of earrings. Inside the glass ball is a hand-knitted sweater at 1:80 scale, with about 80 stitches to the inch. No, you can’t really see it, especially in this picture, but even in person. It’s that tiny. The sweater is fitted on an armature made of malleable plastic that she eased into the glass while the plastic was still soft. How? Why? This person is definitely some kind of god.
Bill brought over a miniature table. The frame is dovetailed together. All of the parts function just as they do in the full-scale version. He even selects wood that has the same relative number of growth rings per inch (in miniature scale) as the original piece.
I know what you’re thinking. “OK, that top, at the very least, is plastic.” Nope. Each one of those 35 porcelain tiles was handmade and hand-painted (each with its own biblical motif) by Bill’s friend LeeAnn ChellisWessel of DemiTasse Miniatures. (http://leeannchelliswessel.com)
Here’s a glimpse of the table’s underside.
Althea, a former respiratory therapist, has been knitting miniatures since the turn of the millennium. You can see her work here
. Bill, who built race cars in his youth, has been supporting himself as a world-renowned builder and teacher of miniature furniture making for 40 years. And no matter how successful he becomes, he continues to push himself. “You can’t just float,” he says. “Each piece has to be better in some way than the one before.”
All of which was more than enough to blow my mind. Needless to say, my 2/3-scale baker’s cabinet seems positively elephantine.
If you’re going to Handworks
later this May you’ll find Bill at his friend Chris Vesper’s booth.