Cobbing my cottage

Friday, 26 August 2016

Summer Rain

Summer rain is falling on the Finnish woods, sometimes accompanied by sunshine, at other times a bit of thunder and lightning. I don't remember such a wet August for several years, although it pales in comparison to what I am used to in wetness, i.e. English Summers...

I made an extra trip to my native country and cottage in early June, eager to apply the linseed oil onto the top layer of my earthen floor, so that I could finally stay in my cottage in August. Linseed oil takes a good while to cure and since I applied four coats to the floor, I gathered it would be several weeks until it was dry and hard enough. I knew I would still have to apply wax coat on the floor if I wanted it properly durable and water repellent but that could wait, until August.


Now it's August and I have been here for 1.5weeks, working in a very lazy way on my cottage. One of the first things I did, was to make a linseed oil/beeswax mix, which I applied to the now hardened floor with a brush and then rubbing it in with a large rubber kidney (the types one uses with ceramic clay). Two days later the floor was done but remained pretty tacky, so I ended rubbing some of it off with rags. A week later it is still a bit sticky but I have been able to walk on it nevertheless.

And whilst I was doing this:


 some other members of my family were doing this:

Afterwards, I would let the floor dry, hoping the tackiness would disappear (which eventually did), although very impatiently and after only few days, I already started planning on when to move in, by buying two foldable mattresses, a tea light lantern and dragging in some sparse furniture...

 So eventually, the space would change from this - to this (you have to start somewhere):



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Few more weeks passed, ever so quickly, in and around my cottage. I am now back in UK writing this and my head is slowly adjusting to the wetness of Britain and the beautiful forests of Finland have changed to a wide landscape of Yorkshire hills and moors. Good time for recapping and reminiscing.....

Two days ago I left Finland with so many emotions. I had this amazing feeling of thrill, excitement, deep appreciation, but also the notion of fear and anxiety. So much has happened, I had finished my cottage interior, fixed parts of the outside, mainly the primitive 'guttering' on the roof but also mended a tiny hole in the initial waterproofing layer (luckily near the edge and easy fix). We had been working on an outhouse with my father, using leftover materials, like pallets, roundwood, planks, straw. I worked on the building in a very lazy fashion, mindful of my children, who are growing up quickly but who still appreciate my company (mostly). Yet I wanted to have this artistic outhouse, or at least the beginnings of it, to complement my cottage. As what is a summer-house without an outhouse?

Whilst I did the impromptu designing, my father did majority of the work, apart from roof covering, which I did myself. I give you a few pictures of our progress...my mum's duties mainly consisted of babysitting my daughter Pinja, but of course she couldn't help herself and had to come and check the progress at times.

My mother handing plank to my father as he is building the roof of the outhouse.

Pinja (3) herself constantly offered to help (Can I help mummy?) and even though I said it was safer for her to stay away, she insisted on climbing the ladder up to the roof of the outhouse, which I have christened 'Huojuva Huussi' due to the way the wooden structure swung underneath us (without the support of walls). That is loosely translated as a 'Swinging Loo'...



 
So eventually the wooden frame was done, the roof was felted (I am intending to make it into a green roof but we had to waterproof it in the mean time for the harsh Finnish Winter) and the rain was guided to flow through a small opening at the bottom corner and along a chain to the ground (which I was happy to notice was functioning nicely).
I am hoping to collect this rainwater into a large container, to use with a solar powered shower which will be positioned at the bottom end of the outhouse, under the long eaves on the left.

Getting ready to work on the walls with Pinja...she has already smeared herself with clay in preparation.
I had thought about making the outhouse walls with leftover strawbales, sat on their sides (as otherwise they would take a massive chunk out of the floor area) but reading on a natural building forum one morning, I came across mention of light clay straw. I had heard about this technique but never tried it myself. But suddenly I thought this might be a more suitable thing for my walls. Light clay straw basically means coating loose straw with runny and sticky clay slip and then packing the coated straw into a wall cavity, built with temporary wooden supports, whilst the straw dries inside.


Since my walls didn't need to be very thick yet I had loads of clay available (in our clay pit) and loads of loosely baled strawbales left, I thought this technique would work well for my small outhouse space. I explained to my father that I needed a supporting structure to make the wall cavity, in which I would then add and compact the clay covered straw. Past fully revisited, I dipped into an icy clay pond (a perfect beginning for a natural pool) and started digging my gray gold aka clay. My brother came to help for few hours, although for some reason he left the muddy clay pond well alone...


Sister, brother and little critter
My brother compacting the light clay straw into the wall cavity.
Pinja came along and saw me with a wheelbarrow full of clay. She immediately took off her shoes and stepped inside a bucket full of clay. There is a real joy about getting muddy, at any age, at least for people who haven't lost touch with their inner child. Whilst I was mixing up the straw and clay and getting muddier and muddier, so did Pinja, smearing herself with the runny clay slip until her whole body was gray. Then she would happily potter about the 'building site' helping me to 'squish squish squish' the straw with her feet.

'I'm getting in mummy.'
Happy feet :)
I am working, whilst someone is watching..
Happy as a pig... in a bucket.

In the end I was so covered in mud, I couldn't operate the camera any longer (without having to constantly wash my hands), so I ended up working the next day too, trying to fill up the rest of the remaining cavity space. This time I worked by myself without my little assistant.

Busy at work.

My cottage with the outhouse framework at the background.
Alas, I ran out of time and the next thing I know is it is Sunday and I am having an Open Day. An article came out in a local paper, inviting people to come and see this wonderful weirdness that my cottage is and without expecting many people, I nevertheless started preparing for it. Since I am an artist, and my art is as much influenced by this landscape as is my actual cottage, I had brought a selection of my forest inspired art to Finland, to sell it in my cottage during the Open Day. Just a perfect setting for my soul art in my soul landscape!

Welcome, Open House - Eco cottage
After so much rain over the past weeks, on my Open House morning, the sun came out and cherished us with her presence almost all day long. So so many people came out to see my cottage, big guys, small guys, women in heels, women in bike suits, children, babies, elderly, friends, lost friends, artists, builders, regular folk. All of them said wonderful things and felt inspired. Some of them bought my art (thank you!) and many tasted my mother's wonderful baking on offer. After running an hour overtime, we finally closed our doors and said thank you - it was fantastic to witness the genuine interest towards natural building - and the way these materials can lend to one's unique ideas and imagination.

With few people I discussed my plans to run short, natural building workshops at my cottage in the future, during Summer-time when I visit. I already have a few people interested and on my mailing list. This is definitely something I will seriously consider doing, because inspiring people to learn new things and to make with their OWN hands is very rewarding, for them and for me as a creative individual.

On that Sunday night I felt tired but very happy. I fell asleep inside my cottage, hugged by Mother Nature, with weary eyes but warm heart....

In only few days I was to return to UK, and yet again, I realised that three weeks had passed so very quickly. I am already looking forward to next Summer, when I can finish the outhouse and start planning new things....hopefully weird and wonderful things.

Because one must always keep on planning, dreaming, wondering. Whether everything happens or comes to fruition is another matter. But that is part of the adventure.... the journey from dreaming to living. The reason to get out of bed, to see what/if/when happens. And life always does... :)

I leave you with few more happy photos. Until next time.... x

Talking to Mother Nature
With my daughter
Exploring the Happy House




Sunday, 15 May 2016

Where did the years disappear? (I am still here.)

I can't quite believe it has been so long since I last updated this blog - it's not like I have been asleep for two years, far from that - I suppose the opposite is true; so much has happened that I haven't had the clarity of mind to collect, reflect and write down coherent thoughts....
Not sure how many of you still follow the blog but in some ways I owe it to those who do, to keep the story going, because the story is ongoing - like with any living craft, natural building is not something with a definite end, the building lives and breathes and changes along with Nature and its seasons, so there will always be something to make, mend or figure out.


 In Winter of 2014 it became quite clear that the green roof had a leak in the plastic membrane somewhere along the top. Parts of timber looked wet and had some rot in them. It sunk my heart to watch this rot creep further down the roof, whilst I knew I had to tackle it head on the following Summer, rather than dream about building that wonderfully whimsical composting toilet with the left-over strawbales.



I had spent what I thought was a lot of money (over £100) on the plastic liner on the roof, under the soil. But of course that wasn't a lot of money compared to the money I subsequently had to spend on replacing it with a much more substantial EPDM rubber liner (about £400). If you are about to build a green roof, please bear that in mind. Mistakes can and will be done but sometimes it is good to learn from other people's mistakes, not your own.... Mind you, I could never find a puncture in the original liner but take it from me, it doesn't need to be a big hole to ruin your beautiful roof.

Me removing the soil off the leaking liner.

My father taking the rotten timber off the roof.
So we set to work and I am grateful for my dad for tackling this job, having to re-do some of his initial work. But hey, it meant we could spend some more time working together! And reminiscing all the events during previous summers - and cursing quietly once in a while. It was a bit of a mess, and partly a very frustrating job, but at least we knew that this time the job would get done properly.

My father taking a moment to inspect the situation.

I went and picked up the EPDM liner with my dad from a warehouse close-by and feeling its weight (you needed few people to lift it), I asked for my brother and our neighbour to come and help to install it on the roof. Luckily we were blessed with good and dry weather whilst doing this.


Taking the old roof liner off

Putting the new EPDM liner on

It's amazing how much soil was on that roof. I tried to roll it off the roof in larger pieces around the cottage as if that would somehow help to put it back on, but of course life is not a big fluffy fairytale. Something that comes down easily doesn't tend to go back up as easy. I made a slight effort to at least start refilling the roof that same day when we laid the new roof liner on. Just for moral support for myself if nothing else...



The next days were involved just putting all the soil/turf back on the roof, and getting some more, as it seemed the Earth had strangely swallowed a lot of it on its way down to the ground. I shifted some of the forest bed onto the roof and planted few flowers, as well as some wild strawberry plants, which were so abundant around the cottage. You need proof?
But were they worth planting on my roof? My daughter thought so.


It would take over a week to fill it fully but in the mean time, we were enjoying a lovely weather and I could finally hook up the solar panels I had bought several Summers before.


But really now I had to focus on what I had originally intended to do, which was to lay and finish the earthen floor inside the cottage. At the moment it had a rough base layer, made with the gray clay from the clay pit round the cottage. Since my son's work efforts had so far been limited to taking a few photos, I cajoled him to work for twenty more minutes by the promise of some sweeties. He set to work, dusting the place down.



That eagerness to work didn't last very long because pretty soon Eemil and my daughter managed to find something a bit more pleasurable to do....


and who can blame them? :)

So you see the round wooden discs on the floor in the last photo - these were something I had been cutting and sanding the previous summer to go into my earthen floor. My father had cut them roughly with a chainsaw and then I had to try to get them thinned and smoothed out (it's no fun getting toes full of splinters when walking on one's floor). Right, so I better get off to work.

Oh yes, just before that, I would of course need to check whether my dragon still breathes fire. My children particularly insisted on checking out. And making a couple of stone baked pizzas in her belly. I am afraid you will just have to guess whether they tasted nice or not. :)
Fire in the belly



yum yum


It's safe to say, I didn't start working on the earthen floor that night. The next day however, I had no more excuses. Here is the way the floor looked at that point:


Whilst I set to work, mixing a earthen plaster with fine bagged (powdered) clay I had bought and fine particle sand from last year, my mother did the important job of entertaining my two year old, who otherwise would have wanted to come and lay the floor with me. Which would have meant wet clay plaster all over everything, not just the floor. So the consolation prize was to play with my mound of building sand - and she seemed to be happy with that. Well...mainly...




'Mummy, what are you doing?'

'Pinja want to mix it.'

 I don't blame her for wanting to mix it; the feeling of having one's arms and hands deep in mud slurry is just fantastic. No wonder people have meditative and health replenishing mud baths. You really don't know what you have missed until you try. And one can make it pretty much for free!


 Mud, nature, sun - what more can a lady need? ;)

Anyway, the plaster was mixed (no straw in this mix) and I needed to start pouring it in place. I had some fairly level pieces of wood as a thickness guide and a few different trowels, to even out the layer. I figured I would need to do a couple of layers, as the mixture was quite runny and the slices of wood I wanted to incorporate into the floor were at least 5cm thick, maybe more. Few photos of the progress here - notice different colours in different batches of plaster, this is because I added varied amounts of iron oxides into the plaster mix, without measuring them out fully - but hey, I am always experimenting, so it doesn't really matter that much. To me that is.



Here I am starting to incorporate the wooden discs onto the floor in their places.
On my very optimistic mood some years before I had thought about filling pretty much the whole floor with these wooden discs but when it actually came to making the floor, i started thinking less is more. Less was definitely more in terms of sanity. The way I had chosen or forced to go about making them meant that every single wooden disc was differing thickness, size, roughness, they had funny wonky edges etc. which meant it was a total pain to get them level - in regards to each other and the general floor level. I also had to make sure my final floor level would reach up to the front foor step - somehow it's hard to work backwards from the farthest corner of the cottage to the front of the cottage and think further ahead. My brain must be funny that way but it doesn't do topsy turvy kind of stuff very well.

ANYWAY, I kept at it, swearing a lot, basking in the sun, mixing the plaster, buying more clay, spreading the floor, sanding the discs, watering the floor, wondering about the meaning of life, getting sore knees, back, arms. Watching dragonflies, digging up ground, finding caterpillars. The stuff life is made of.
This biggie turned out to be a caterpillar of a beautiful elephant hawk-moth




Right, in the mean time, I had moved onto laying the second top layer of the floor. This time I tried to get the colour fairly similar throughout the entire floor. Fairly, being the key point here. The linseed oil I would eventually use to seal the floor would change the final colour anyway.



So I am working backwards, trying to get to the front-door, whilst laying the wooden discs down. It would have been very tempting to decide 'argh, forget it, I am not laying any more of these stinking discs down' - (I mean they were properly doing my head in!) - but whenever I thought about it, I could see my father in my mind's eye sawing these gazillion pieces of wood at the back of the house, with all the love he had for me... and I had asked him to make me lots....LOTS! Surely I couldn't turn around and tell him I wasn't at least attempting to use some of them. So, defeat is not an option, and we plod on.... frustrated or not.


In the mean time my father had completed a wooden ladder for me, made from some beautifully wonky pieces and branches of rowan tree. I had placed a few wooden discs in the floor, so that the ladder feet would sit on these discs rather than press/dig into the earthen floor itself. Now I had to try whether I had calculated their placement correctly...


Fits like a ladder should. :)


Hey, I got a visitor! :) Pinja was obsessed about coming to see me and checking out the progress of my work.
Finally, all that working and reversing meant that I was almost at the front door. End in sight - am I dreaming or is this really happening? Am I able to stand back and never having to lay another wooden disc into this floor ever ever again?



It was surely looking that way. And I said a few grateful prayers to the goddess of the universe and looked up - didn't look too bad there either. :)

My floor. My not even almost level, handmade, earthen floor. And a little squirrel who came to say hello.



I closed the front door to my cottage, prayed for a nice weather and left the floor to dry. It would mean not using the cottage yet again this year, and waiting for another time to finally finish it. So, I ended up looking through the window at the work I had just finished inside. I do love the colour of the floor, even though I wasn't initially sure about it.

I think my Mother Nature sculpture looks happy enough with it.

So afterwards, we invited my mother along, took a few photos and did a bit of happy dancing.









This image is what I leave you with, until next month, when I will yet again be returning to the cottage, to finish and seal the earthen floor for good. So that in August I can actually - and finally - be able to spend some proper time there, on my bare feet, doing more of those little happy dances, with my loved ones. Until then,

Keep dreaming xx