Kathy Holden, co-founder of Delph Miniatures, tells us how her love for the world around her fuelled her imagination & got her creative juices flowing.
On a family day out when I was 11, we stumbled across a miniature fair in Ripley. Mum’s friend collected tiny china animals and we thought we might be able to buy her something inside. Well, we were hooked! The Borwell family were running the fair, and had their room box displays on show, which sparked off all sorts of ideas. My first project came a year or so later.
I was & still am inspired by my surroundings. When we first started collecting dolls houses, we visited museums for ideas, but I longed to make miniatures of MY world, not the past. So I started to model the modern Bradford that we lived in. I used to visit an Asian fabric shop with my Mum and Gran who were both keen sewers so I made a mini one. Then I made a modern room box shop full of hardware, cleaning products etc, like the ones in town near the market.
Then I created a bridal shop which was inspired by the fact that Mum used to do the washing for the local bridal hire shop. Our washing line looked like no other, with wedding gowns and bridesmaid’s dresses swinging in the wind like huge bells! Back then hooped skirts were all the rage.
When I was growing up, Mum went back to work as a Dental Receptionist and then studied and qualified as a Dental Surgery Assistant. In the school holidays I used to go to work with her, as I was wondering if Dentistry might be a good career for me. This meant I had loads of up close study of the Dental Surgery, which was later the inspiration for our Dental range.
Then, when I was studying for my A Levels, I had a job as a shampoo girl in our local hair salon and it was while I was working in the salon that I created the basis of our Hairdressing items. I’d stand there massaging shampoo on someone’s head and think how I’d make various fittings and fixtures. The first items were for my own miniature collection and I made a very true replica of ‘Hair Design’, including the Sunbed room and even the loo.
What started as a hobby then became a job. Delph Miniatures was born in 1991. I was 15 and at school studying for my GCSE’s. Mum was still working at the Dentist’s. I went on to study A Levels in Design Communication, Physics, and Applied Maths, thinking that I might go to university to do something with design or architecture. At this point Delph Miniatures was doing well. Mum went full time and there was a job there waiting for me, so I concentrated on the Design Communication and when I left the sixth form I officially joined Mum as a Partner in Delph Miniatures.
My teachers were horrified, asking if this was just a year out before uni. (I have kept going back to open evenings for several years to say we were still going strong. I even attended a careers event at school as an example of successful self-employment).
Most of my modelling skills are self-taught and honed over time, but some times I’ve had a nudge or two from various people, Rus Wellard taught me and Mum (Margaret) how to make our first fimo fruits, and my husband Lawrence has introduced me to resin casting, which has released a lot of time for me to create other miniatures and has allowed me to make things I couldn’t do any other way. The main skill needed is patience. You very rarely get things right on the first attempt, a lot of trial and error goes on first.
After we had turned our hobby in to a business, I started adding modern twists to the items we already made, like making printed cartons for the fruit and veg which mum made, then came shop fridges to display the meat and fish. I had expert advice on the modelling of the fridges as Dad was a Refrigeration Engineer, and later inspired our air-conditioning range of products, which bear his name A R SHAW as their ‘brandname’.
These days I don’t usually have time for making new item on my own whim, so my inspiration comes from my customers and the items they commission from me. We have always believed that if one person is looking for an item, others are too. Our range has steadily increased in this way for many years and we’ve not been wrong so far, including our Mortuary Fridge.
The essence of an item is the feel, the right look. Sometimes I feel that we can get too hooked up on whether something opens or works.
Scale is important too. I’m not talking about 1:12 or 1:24, I mean the scale of the materials used in the build. If a large grained wood is used in a miniature table I feel that it can look wrong even if it’s the wood used in making the real full-sized original. If a fabric is too coarse in the upholstery of a chair, it doesn’t matter if the chair is perfect, to me it can be ruined by the fabric covering the seat. Usually if it looks right, it’s right.
Most of the time I work at home in Colne in my studio, but for two days a week I work at Delph’s HQ in Bradford where we have a workshop for the messier parts of my job. I also help Mum process orders.
Creating new things is sometimes harder than people think, I know how it’s made in real life, but I have to work out how I can make it twelve times smaller. What materials to use, what order I need to make things in, which bits need painting separately and assembling later. Most of the hard work is unseen in my head, it can take anything from a few minutes to work out to months of thinking it over, and my brain doesn’t switch off at 5pm.
The satisfaction in having made a good miniature, it might be something small and quite simple, or the biggest and most complicated item I’ve ever made. There’s the personal satisfaction that I’ve done a good job, but seeing people’s reactions is absolutely priceless! I love the feeling that I made that person smile, made them gasp or laugh, I did that. I’m missing that just now with no shows.
My biggest and longest challenge was the creation of our bathroom range. My customer was soooo patient, the development took two years from her original commission, but everyone who has bought a bathroom from Delph has this customer to thank.
I’m most proud of my entries in the Perfection in Miniature Awards. The PIMA’s are about pushing yourself, so I did. I was so excited making my Multi-Gym for the first PIMA’s in 2015, I only completed it and got it working in the early hours of the day we were going to travel to the show. I could have burst at the feeling of what I had achieved, so many moving parts, weights that could be added by moving the locking pins just like the real thing. It felt like my baby and I don’t want to let go. I only had an hour or so to appreciate it myself before it went in to a box to travel. The next time I saw it, was in the display case at Kensington Dollshouse Festival. I didn’t win a prize, but I did sell it to someone I knew really appreciated the work that I had put in to it’s creation, and that was like a prize in itself.
My entry in the 2016 won 3rd Prize. It was my Working School Projector, no moving parts this time but still an ‘early hours of the morning’ finish. Inspired by my friend and customer Julie asking for a non-working model for her school hall scene, this sparked the idea for the working model for the PIMA’s, Dad helped me source the Fresnel lens and I disassembled a tiny torch to light it. It was fun to do and it actually worked. It took me straight back to my school classroom. I still have it, love it and wouldn’t want sell it either.
In my own collection I’m currently putting my art gallery together, which is on a shelf above my desk in my studio. I’ve also been collecting items towards a homeware and gift shop, which I’m going to call Bunting and Bows. It was going to be one shelf in a bookcase in my studio but it’s sort of expanded, so will probably be three shelves and might include a celebration cake department, and/or a coffee shop. I do have five shelves if necessary!
In 2018 a short film was made about Kathy & Margaret which you can watch below.