Mermaid Moon (forthcoming in spring 2020) is set in a nordic territory known as the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands. A girl named Sanna, who has been living as a mermaid, goes ashore to look for her mother, a landish girl. The sea witch Sjældent cast a spell on everyone concerned with Sanna's birth, and no one knows where to find her mother ...
Meanwhile, Sanna appears to work a miracle during a feast at the castle of Baroness Thyrla, herself a land witch, and she stays on not only to look for her elusive mother--whom Sjældent has warned may not take the form she expects--but also to help the people of the islands.
Olla is an elderly woman who lives in the forest and raises bees. I've had a great time figuring out what sort of house she'd have and how to make it. I wanted to use the simplest materials. So I bought a very cheap kit (the Greenleaf Primrose, which is meant to be an addition to another house) and experimented with materials.
To make the "stone" walls, I spray-painted the plywood walls, then put down a layer of glue-soaked paper towels to look like mortar. I tore up cardboard egg cartons and used a hot glue gun to attach the pieces to the walls (once the walls had dried, of course).
Inside, I decided to make stucco, which would have been true to the Middle Ages. If you were very fancy back then, you colored your plaster and stucco with sheep's urine, so I mixed paint in a light yellow. The textured effect came from California sand--a bit of my natal state (bought on the internet, though).
I've been toying with several ideas for the floors. The egg-carton stone is too spongey and "big," so I've started with giving an effect of aged painted wood. There's more to be done there; I trust inspiration to show me the way.
And then will come furnishings. I know Olla has a chair, which would be rare at the time for a cottage--especially a chair made for monks in a cathedral. And buckets and pots for her honey, of course ... An owl in the little window to keep the mice out of the food in the rafters ...
Olla's stone hut
from Mermaid Moon
I started around Christmas 2018 with the Primrose kit by Greenleaf--it makes a very tiny house, as you can see, and it's super-cheap! (Downside: the plywood splinters a lot and requires hours of sanding.) I knew I wouldn't use a number of the original bits, such as the shingles and the shutters--or at least, I wouldn't use them in the same way as the original design.
It's April 4, 2019, and I think I'm done--for now. You can consider the story of its making here, or starting by taking a tour of the hut inside and out here: Olla's stone hut tour. Huzzah!!
1. Crafting stonework on the cheap
Olla would have had stone walls, I was sure. I wanted to make them inexpensively and in a way that nodded to her humble background. So I stole an egg carton from my husband (I don't eat eggs--allergic) and shredded it to bits.
To make the "mortar," I soaked paper towels in glue and water, then laid them onto the plywood of the kit. I cut the little window up top because back in the day, people encouraged owls to come inside and eat the vermin.
I laid out the biggest pieces of egg carton over the dried paper towels, then stuck them down with a hot glue gun.
Once the big pieces were in place, I filled in the gaps with smaller ones. (You'll be happy to note that I was working on a recycled-paper pizza box--they turn out to be a great work surface.) Here's the house front all filled in.
The peacock came by every day to watch me. Quality control?
I colored the individual "stones" with pastel chalks, thinking about where moss and lichen might grow in a damp setting. I used mostly dark green, dark brown, light brown, and various shades of gray.
I blended in the pastels with my finger.
IThis picture shows the contrast between a dried wall (below) and one that's just been colored but not yet sealed (top).
When it was all done, I sealed the colors and the surface. I experimented with a simple poly acrylic seal vs. Mod Podge, which is both a glue and a sealant. Both gave good results. At first, though, the colors looked very garish!
The Mod Podge version--it looks cloudier while drying.
Tove the Cat insisted on sitting in my lap for the next part--making stucco. Her tail became lightly feathered with yellow.
Stucco would have been the way to go in the Middle Ages. In fact, it would have been pretty posh for someone living in a hut.
Even posher: using sheep's urine to color your plaster and paint. Not knowing any sheep well enough to ask for a sample, I used latex house paint and regular craft paint.
The texture comes from beach sand, which added a greenish tinge, so in the end I spray-painted the pieces Navajo White, which reads as yellow.
My materials: California beach sand (bought online, as I didn't have enough left in my wetsuit and bikinis), sample-size latex house paint, and acrylic craft paint.
Maybe too much sand--it got quite thick. I'd read you should use 1/3 sand to 2/3 paint, but perhaps the ratio should be lighter.
I worked on getting nice swirly effects, knowing some of the sand would brush away when the stucco dried. Except ... it didn't! The paint was enough to hold all the sand in place.
I used a regular craft paintbrush, but I've read that some people use putty knives for a smoother effect.
windows and door
I upgraded the kit with a Houseworks brand door-- I had to cut the opening a bit taller to accommodate it--and a square window. I also added an eight-paned window on the side. I thought it was fancy enough to make these additions, as a peasant beekeeper wouldn't likely have had them--but see below ... I got more ambitious for Olla.
In the square window's case, the hole was too big, so I built it up with more framing made from scraps of the kit wood.
4. Assembling walls, floors, and rafters
Time to add the front! Here I discovered a major flaw in my choice of the Primrose kit: The front wall has no tabs or slots for guidance. You're simply supposed to glue it on the structure.--and it's hard to fit.
Second, flaw: my fault--stucco and glue of any sort are unfriendly bedfellows. My first attempts left me with burned fingers and a very slanted floor.
I was thrilled to reach this stage: outer walls, floor, and rafters glued together. The "rafters" are from the kit's second floor; I used a coping saw to cut out holes. The character Olla needs lots of air circulation to store her honey, and using rafters instead of a solid floor will make the house lighter and airier to look at.
Note where I added more egg carton bits to complete the stone foundation.
Masking tape is the miniaturist's friend. After using the hot-glue gun and finger-pressing everything to about where it should be, I wrapped it in masking tape to hold it square. I also filled the inside with boxes and books to keep the square shape and hold the walls up while the glue cured. And I put a box of heavy stuff on top to press the seams together. Whew! New Year's Day.
At right is the roof on for a fitting. It has odd notches because the kit is intended as an add-on to another house. I planted to thatch the roof, so I painted it brown. I also cut off about an inch of the bottom because I didn't want it to hang over the door and window.
And that is what worked. I had the basic structure together now--and on a crowded kitchen counter ... I still need to finish off the edges and the roof, of course.
I love pickles (jar in foreground).
I wanted to go crafts-crazy and make the thatch out of coir (coconut husk) unraveled from a $2 roll of jute.
It made a mess.
So I spent $10 buying a roll of coconut husk (aka coir, too) on eBay. Nice and straight--but redder than expected.
Not sure I did this right, though I followed instructions from a youtube video and what came with the package. Lots of glue (almost a full bottle of Aileen's tacky glue), spreading the thatch upward ...
Greg tried the back roof on at the same time as the house did. He looks good in Pippi, right?
Too red? Orangutan? I started dyeing it with walnut furniture stain.
Mr. Speckles got sort of bored with this part.
What finally got me the color I wanted: a mixture of brown craft paint, tinted with a bit of white and burnt umber and yellow, mixed with a like amount of Mod Podge (a glue and glaze in one) and applied with a foam brush.
In places, the thatch is over 1/2 inch thick. Pretty sure that's not supposed to be the case, but it's what happens when you add yet another layer to get the strands to lie flat. Flattish, I should say.
Thatch dyed, roof hot-glue-gunned into place. I found the thatch was so thick and stiff from the coloring that it was easier to cut with a saw than scissors.
Here are the basic instructions I used:
Working in 4-inch increments, lay three strips of hot glue: on the ridgeline, then about 2 inches down either side. NOT on your thumb, or you will get a big blister (noted).
Then spread the coir along and use a bit of plywood to press it into the roof. Again: not into your thumb.
What's needed to finish off the ridge believably: more coir, nails, and supple twigs. I got the twigs from some kind of sapling springing up in our wintry yard.
Use fresh and flexible twigs to create this finishing element, which both looks nice and holds the dang thatch down. First nail the two longer pieces down (I used two nails in each spot, criss-crossed to hold the twig). For a roof of this size, anchoring the big twigs in three places each seems enough.
Then use smaller twigs to make the criss-cross effect, which also holds the thatch in place.
And then, of course, use the stain mixture to make the new thatch match the rest of it. One big advantage to staining/painting: You can get a variegated effect that seems natural. And the Mod Podge component holds the strands in place. TWO advantages.
In the end, though I probably made a bunch of mistakes along the way, I LOVE the result.
6. Windows, revisited
(I did this before the roof went on, but for flow of ideas, I'm putting it as a separate step here.)
I decided I wanted more flair for the windows. They were already a bit fancier than a poor beekeeper in the Middle Ages would have had. I thought they'd look nice with different shades and styles of glass in the panes. Whoops. I discovered I do *not* like cutting plexiglass.
It is much better and cheaper, even, to buy pre-cut squares of different kinds of glass. Some here are an inch square, some half an inch.
So I just chose pieces that fit well into the panes (the sizes of the glass varied a little), put tacky glue on the sides, and went on my way rejoicing.
I did use the two red panes I managed to cut out of the plexi, so the tools and such weren't entirely wasted.
I really like the result. Let Olla have something pretty in her windows--and protection from the cold winds in the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands. Maybe she picked up the bits at the church construction site or collected materials from a shipwreck.
The octagonal window was an addition from another Greenleaf kit. I have a porcelain owl who's going to live in it; such little windows were often included to let owls fly in and take care of the vermin eating the stores.
By now what is technically our living room is kind of ... messy. I've been working on the Nelly house and the Olla hut at the same time, and stuff kind of spreads around. The cats love it. Greg is a very patient man.
I do actually sort of know where everything is in here--this is organized chaos.
This adorable kitty is named Ludmilla. She is very squeaky and very timid, but she gives the overall impression that if a vampire were to choose her as prey, she would say, "Yes, please." She likes to pee on things; this box became a toilet pretty soon. But she's so cute!
7. Fireplace and chimney
The hut would have needed a fireplace for warmth, cooking, brewing, etc. And I get sort of anxious when I look at dollhouses that have chimneys but no structure leading up to them.
So I made an external chimney and firewall using discarded bits of plywood, then added "stonework." In this picture, I don't have the colors right.
This was my first time using Sculpey, a polymer clay (meaning it's plastic-y). First I fashioned a shape for the inside fireplace, which would have been massive. Then I rolled the clay (on a glass pane from an old frame, using a Pepsi can) and draped it over the shape.
I had to do that three times before I got an acceptable fireplace. I played with using pastel dust to create a smoked effect, and it worked great. But then I decided I had to stucco over the fireplace and paint it to match the walls, so the ash work was lost.
Rolling Sculpey around to make a fireplace on top of the scrap-wood shell. This was not the greatest way to do it, as removing the fireplace from the shell tore the clay. I ended up making another shell out of aluminum foil and building the clay over that. Sculpey is actually easy to work with; I made it harder for myself.
Here's the external apparatus. And the chimney top is sort of fantastical--as I was playing with it, one of the lumps looked as if it had a face. So I went with that and made faces in several spots.
I colored the finished, baked, stuccoed, and spray-painted fireplace with pastels again. I rubbed some of the dust into the paint and left some on the surface. Then I sprayed the piece with a matte finish. Some of the dust blew away, but overall the effect worked.
Making the fireplace back was easy: I rolled out some air-dry clay (not Sculpey; I was experimenting) and scored it to look like brick, dried it, then spray-painted it black. And then I dribbled glue over it to hold the bricks in place and give more texture.
Fireplace, chimney, and fire back.
Closeup of the chimney, showing some faces.
8. Furnishings for a Beekeeper
This might be the most complicated part of the project so far. A humble person might have had a stool, a bed on the floor rolled up during the day, a table for working, a spinning wheel ... Olla has these things and a little more--for example, a chair with arms (which I made from a kit), which would have been a luxury.
Most important are the things she needs for tending bees and harvesting honey.
Below is a picture of hives from a medieval manuscript. That should be easy enough to reproduce, right? Hahahahahahahahahahmeh.
Fireplace in its place.
This is from marketplace.secondlife.com, which has some instructions for getting honey from the combs. Very useful when writing about how Old Olla manages to get a sample for three youthful visitors on the spot.
I made these beehives out of lumps of Sculpey wrapped with twine, then glazed with Mod Podge.
The well was a birthday present from my oldest and dearest chum.
Lots of jugs and pots for honey go into the attic. Also a personal gargoyle.
Here's the whole interior already on its base.
The fireplace glows, thanks to a red bulb attached to a small battery I've hidden to the side. The table (actually a bench I made from a kit) holds bowls and wooden goblets, as well as a jar for honey. The chair is much nicer than what a beekeeping peasant would normally have--it's of a kind that a monk might use during a ceremony--the explanation for which is in the novel.
There's a spinning wheel behind the ladder; a woman would pretty much always need to spin in those days.
9. Making a Base and a Hood
Olla's hut needs the context that a landscape provides. It also needs protection from cat paws, hair, and occasional desire to pee on stuff.
I got a plywood square and made dirt out of California sand (it's organic!), brown paint, and Mod Podge mixed together. I sprinkled assorted shades of flocking over the dirt to represent little flowers. And I made a pine tree out of some craft branches, etc.
When I saw this effect, I was glad I used stained glass for the windows.
The little grace notes are everything.
Close-up of the base with its flocking still being glazed on. I like the textures. It took effort not to go crazy with flocking everywhere.
At left is a view of the base with a stone path just added. I thought the walkway would have less moss and algae than the walls, so I had to try a couple of things to make it look realistic and yet not all green.
Making a plexiglass box to protect when completed. Turns out all you need is some precision-cut plexiglass (meaning edges are smooth), super blue, and some painter's tape and books to hold things square when the glue melts the plastic together ... but ... it sort of fell apart a month afterward, and I'm still trying to figure out what's best. The plexiglass is messed up from the glue, but it will prevent kitties from peeing on my house.