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Only The Scale Matters

Miniatures are small versions of real-life things, such as people, animals, objects, and buildings. People use them for different reasons, such as art, education, games, hobbies, and display. The size and scale of miniatures vary, depending on what they are and what they are used for. Many common scales for miniatures range from 1:6 to 1:1300. In this post, I will only talk about the scale I work with, which is 1:12.

A tiny history of the scaled dollhouse.

The scales of dollhouses have changed over the time. The baby houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the toy dollhouses of the nineteenth and early twentieth century were not to a strict scale.

Children’s toy houses in the 20th century were mostly two third scale or 1:18 while in Germany, 1/10th scale was popular in the mid-20th century based on the metric system.

The 1:12 scale is very popular and well-known for dollhouse miniatures, especially among adult collectors from 1970's.

What is the 1:12 scale?

In this scale, one inch on the scale model or miniature is equal to twelve inches on the original object being copied. It's also called one-scale since 1 inch equals 1 foot.

Why is it so widely used for dollhouses, model cars, action figures, and other miniature hobbies?

1:12 scale is popular for several reasons. One of them is historical.

photographs from Project Gutenberg's Gulliver's Travels into Various Remote Regions of the World by Jonathan Swift (d.d.), published by Thomas M. Balliet, 1900.
Gulliver in Lilliput. Published by Thomas M. Balliet, 1900.

One of the earliest appearances of the 1:12 scale is in the classic novel Gulliver’s Travels from 1726 by Jonathan Swift, the 1:12 scale showed the difference in size between Gulliver and the Lilliputians, who were only 6 inches tall.

However, the scale was established as the ratio for Queen Mary’s Dollhouse by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century.

Dining Room
QUEEN MARY'S DOLLS' HOUSE - Dining Room (1921-1924)

The famous "Queen Mary's Dolls' House was created as a 1:12 scale miniature royal palace or town house as a gift from the nation to Queen Mary.

The House, with a façade in the style of Sir Christopher Wren or Inigo Jones, is operated by a mechanism in the basement and lifts up entirely to reveal the house within, visible in the round. The House incorporates running water, electric lighting and working lifts. The idea behind the model was that it would be as true to life as possible, recreating every facet of modern-day life from the 1920s. It contains around 1000 miniature works of art. This dollhouse was a gift for Queen Mary of England and was a masterpiece of craftsmanship and detail. It featured miniature replicas of paintings, books, furniture, and even working plumbing and electricity. The scale was chosen because it was easy to use when inches were commonly divided into twelfths on most rulers.

As the House was intended to be shown at the Empire Exhibition in 1924 the committee realised that the model could become a show-case for British workmanship and the contents of the House were created by craftsmen from all over the country to show off the best arts and crafts of the day. Many of those who contributed were royal warrant holders. The contents of the House include not only furniture, silver, ceramics and textiles but also real items of food, soap, miniature Christmas crackers and a working bicycle. Every detail was recreated - the joints in the furniture are dovetailed, the sheets embroidered with the royal cipher, the chairs properly upholstered and the beds are sprung." (Royal Collection Trust)

Another reason for the popularity of 1:12 scale is that it offers a good balance between realism and practicality. The scale is large enough to allow for intricate details and accessories, but small enough to fit in most spaces and budgets. The scale is also compatible with a wide range of materials and techniques, such as wood, metal, plastic, clay, paper, and fabric also suitable for different types of miniatures, such as dollhouses, model cars, etc.

For example, if you have a 1:12 scale dollhouse, the doors would be 7 1/2 inches tall, which is equivalent to 7 1/2 feet in real life. Similarly, if you have a 1:12 scale model car, the tires would be 1 inch in diameter, which is equivalent to 12 inches in real life.

Scale is the key factor for miniatures, not realism.

Scale is the cornerstone of miniature crafting, particularly for dollhouses. It ensures a harmonious and proportional representation of objects, which is crucial for creating a believable miniature world.

While realism focuses on the lifelike appearance of each item, scale is about the relative size of objects in relation to each other. A consistent scale is vital because it allows for the seamless integration of various pieces from different creators. Without a uniform scale, the illusion of a miniature world is broken, as objects will appear jarringly out of place next to one another.

Moreover, maintaining a precise scale is essential for the educational aspect of miniatures. They can serve as accurate historical or architectural models, providing insights into the design and lifestyle of a particular era.

In conclusion, while realism adds detail and authenticity to miniatures, it is the adherence to scale that truly brings a dollhouse to life. It is what makes the miniature world internally consistent and visually coherent, which is why scale takes precedence over realism in the art of miniature crafting.

Unfortunately, nowadays, scale can often be inconsistent and inaccurate. Some manufacturers and hobbyists do not adhere to the exact ratio or standards, particularly on platforms like Etsy, where sellers may label their pieces as 1:12 scale without actually following any scale.

But scale matters. I’ve often heard from collectors that they hesitate to purchase miniatures on Etsy due to the prevalence of items that aren’t true to scale. This practice is misleading and detracts from the integrity of the miniature community. It’s a habit that should be corrected to maintain the trust and quality within the craft. Most of us try to highlight that our work is made precisely to 1:12th the scale, but it becomes challenging when the term ‘scale’ has been loosely used for non-scaled miniatures as well.

However, getting the scale spot-on is not rocket science.

How to calculate a 1:12 scale in practice

  1. Measure the Real Object: Begin by measuring the actual size of the object you want to replicate in inches or centimeters.

  2. Divide by 12: Take the measurement from step one and divide it by 12. This will give you the scaled-down size of the object for a 1:12 miniature.

  3. Convert the Result: If necessary, convert the result into a more manageable unit (e.g., from inches to fractions of an inch) for precision in crafting.

  4. Apply the Scale to All Dimensions: Ensure that you apply the scale to all dimensions of the object (length, width, height) to maintain proportionality.

By following these steps, you can create miniatures that accurately reflect the 1:12 scale, ensuring a cohesive and realistic miniature world. Remember, precision is key in maintaining the illusion of a scaled-down reality.

My personal method to calculate 1:12 scale

When the actual size of an object is beyond my reach, I turn to the internet to find its precise dimensions. Google is an ideal resource when you’re on the hunt for the average dimensions of objects. Just remember, we’re after the actual size of the object, not the dimensions of a scaled-down miniature.

My preference for the metric system stems from two factors: it was the norm in Eastern Europe where I spent my childhood, making it more intuitive for me, and the millimeter serves as a sufficiently small unit to ensure precision in miniatures, eliminating the need for conversion to an even smaller unit.

So, let's say I want to make an egg.

Egg's diameter
Measuring up for accurate scale calculations.

I’ve measured a real egg myself: its diameter at the widest point is 43.34mm. To calculate its 1:12 scale, I divide 43.34 by 12, resulting in 3.61166666667


The diameter of my scaled-down egg would be approx. 3.6mm.

I’ve measured the real egg's height as well, which is 55.96mm.

Egg's height
Measuring up for accurate scale calculations.

To calculate its 1:12 scale, I divide 55.96 by 12, resulting in 4.66.


The height of my scaled-down egg would be approx. 4.6mm.

Scaled miniature
1:12 Scale Miniature Egg

It’s a straightforward process.

A calculator is all you need

Calculating scale is a task that requires nothing more than a trusty calculator. But I’ve got to give props to my miniatures Facebook group for pointing me towards some specialized scale calculators they swear by. You might find them handy too.

There’s this app called  Model Scale Calculator - that you can grab from the Play Store for Android or for your iPhone.

And then there’s this website, the Small Stuff's Print Mini that not only offers a bunch of cool printable miniatures but also has its own scale calculator.

In conclusion, maintaining accurate scale is essential for creating authentic miniatures that truly capture the essence of their full-sized counterparts. The realism of miniatures is not as important as their scale. Whether you’re a seasoned miniaturist or just starting out, the tools and calculators I’ve shared can help ensure your creations are proportionally perfect.

Eggs in ceramic bowl.
1:12 scale miniature eggs.

Remember, the term 1:12 scale should be used precisely to reflect its actual application in your work. Embrace the meticulous art of scaling, and let’s continue to bring the miniature world to life with the utmost attention to detail.

If you find the information shared in my posts useful, a simple ‘like’ would be a wonderful way to acknowledge the time and effort put into creating it. And remember, your thoughts and feedback are always welcome in the comments section.

Take Care & Keep Creating!


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