Every month, Darlene Patrick sets a special table to reflect any upcoming holidays or occasions. No one ever dines at the table, because it's made out of a plastic foam soup container.
It's part of a miniature centerpiece she created for her dining room table during a class at Just Miniature Scale, a dollhouse store near her home in Greensburg, Penn.
February's table features roses and chocolates made of clay resting on a red tablecloth with white hearts. The March display celebrates St. Patrick's Day and includes tiny steins filled with green beer made from colored resin. She displays the tables on a glass cake stand.
For Patrick, the tables are a creative outlet for her interest in miniatures.
"I've always liked doing craft projects," she said. "I just like doing it on a smaller scale because you can complete more things."
Making miniatures attracts a variety of crafters because it incorporates so many different skills, said Gwen Campbell, first vice president of the Carmel, Ind.-based National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts, which holds classes and conventions for about 5,000 members.
Beyond assembling a dollhouse, many hobbyists make furniture, sew curtains or create tiny decorations, she said.
"If you're into any craft at all, you can do it in miniature," Campbell said from her home in Gainesville, Fla.
Over the years, Amy Rauch has incorporated a number of interests — basket weaving, cross stitching and painting — into her dollhouses.
"I always have lots of projects in progress," said Rauch, of Evans, Ga.
She made her first house when she was 17, and estimates that she has made more than 400 dollhouses in the 33 years since then.
"We don't have a formal living room in my house," said Rauch. "It's my dollhouse room."
She enjoys the challenge of getting the scale of objects right. The scale for most dollhouses is 1 foot to 1 inch. Rauch also takes pleasure in turning everyday items into dollhouse furnishings. She has used beads as miniature vases and lamps, for example.
Patrick has turned tiny binder clips into purses, and Tic Tac dispensers into hampers.
After she built her dollhouse 10 years ago, Patrick started making miniature displays as holiday decorations or to commemorate special occasions. She also bought each of her children a keepsake glass dome designed to hold miniatures.
"Every year I add something of significance that represents their interests," she said.
Miniatures are a good way to mark special events, said Judy Mizikar, owner of Just Miniature Scale. Her son-in-law proposed to her daughter by creating a miniature version of her college dorm room with the addition of a miniature engagement ring box.
The hobby often evokes sentimental feelings, Mizikar said; it's common for fathers and daughters or grandparents and grandchildren to bond while constructing a dollhouse.
Volunteers with the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts do projects with the Girl Scouts of America and at assisted living facilities, Campbell said.
"It definitely creates intergenerational relationships," she said.
Still, the organization tends to attract mainly older women, added Rauch, who serves as regional coordinator.
Startup costs for miniatures vary, she said. It's possible to buy a dollhouse for $100.
"You could spend $1,000," she said. "Some people spend almost nothing. They use all found objects."