nid_dabeille: bee (Default)
Honey and Bee ([personal profile] nid_dabeille) wrote2013-06-16 03:41 pm

crofter dollhouse

Once again, gasp, such a long time between posts! But I've been busy working away at things. I got distracted a bit from miniatures by quilting (my other great hobby love) and gardening (my OTHER great hobby love) and reading (ok, probably my greatest hobby love) and various other things.

But my mind is always stewing in miniature juices, even if only on a back burner, and this is a project that I've been thinking of for about 12 years, ever since I first visited the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, Lewis, Harris and also Skye. Oh, so beautiful!!! And a year later, I got to visit them again on a naturalist and historic cruise, including even St. Kilda (which is such a precious jewel of a place) and also Orkney, Fair Isle and Shetland! I fell in love with the history of those islands, and I dreamed that one day I would make a little Scottish islander's croft house, with stone walls and a thatched roof. In Lewis especially there were many old blackhouses that fascinated and enamored me.

And then this dollhouse kit came out, The Charming Cottage (by excellent Houseworks), and its hipped roof just instantly struck me as the perfect shape to adapt into a Scottish island crofter's cottage! Plus, it was on sale (such a bargain for such a nice kit!) AND it was the HBS miniatures "Creatin' Contest" for 2013, which I've never participated in before, so everything just seemed like the right timing.

The first thing I had to do was shorten the walls. As you can see in the photo of the blackhouse above, the door reaches all the way to the roof because the walls are so low. And even then, the doors are often short so that tall men have to duck. So, not without a little trepidation, I sawed off several inches from the bottom, making the walls only about 7" high (though from the outside, with the roof overhang, it will be more like 6". I would have liked to go even shorter, especially inside, but my door was going to be 5 1/4" as it was, and any shorter than that seemed a bit extreme. (I'm 5'1", and usually I can manage to get through the lowest doors.) I also had to change the door and window openings, walling them up on the two sides and shrinking them on the front. I also switched the position of the left side window and door. As much as I like the symmetry (as seen in the blackhouse above), I wanted to have the entrance through the byre.

The byre was a housing for animals on one side of the house, while the people lived in the other half, often in just one room. There would be a wall separating the byre and living area, but it would be open at the top. The smell from the animals must have been strong! Also, the family would burn a peat fire constantly, which would also make quite a smell. The floor (either clay/dirt or stone) would be on a slope so the animals were slightly downhill, meaning the air from the byre would rise up to the family, but the peat smoke would not rise to the byre. Thus the animals could avoid breathing dangerous smoke, and the people got the "benefit" of breathing the ammoniated smell of animal urine, which is believed to have had the unexpected benefit of preventing tuberculosis! With no chimney (unless added later) the peat smoke filtered straight through the thatch of the roof, protecting it from rot, and also enriching it to use later as fertilizer when it was time to remove it and thatch the roof anew. The walls of the house were a double skin of drystone with turf in between for insulation. Often there were no windows except maybe small skylights added later in the roof, but the blackhouses were still used up into the 20th century, and people would often add small windows in the thick walls. It must have been so dark without them! I visited a couple of blackhouses on Lewis, and they were indeed very dark and smoky, even with windows.

And by the way, one delightfully helpful source of info and inspiration and delight has been Alice Watterson at her blog Digital Dirt Virtual Pasts. She is an archaeological illustrator who has been making digital models of historic Scottish sites including a St. Kilda blackhouse! It's like she's doing with computer and art what I want to do in miniature - only better, because she doesn't have the limitations of size and shape that I do, trying to build my house from an existing kit, and also she holds herself to a higher standard than me. I'm just doing this for fun. (I've thought about changing the kit more, even doubling it in length, but I decided it would be too heavy with all the stone and I just didn't want such an enormous heavy house.)

So! Pictures. Here are the walls with their cobbled-togetherness, getting ready to be covered in stone. This is the exterior view, and I've painted them black in preparation for stone work. Since it's supposed to look like drystone, there won't be any mortar to hide the walls visible through the cracks, so I'm painting them black and using a black grout to adhere the stones so that any gaps will appear to be just shadows. I filled the windows with random scraps, mostly taken from the cut-offs of the lower walls. (About 4" were removed from the bottom.)

Oh, before that, this was a dry fit to see where a separation might work for a byre. The dollhouse kit is intended as one big room, and I had waivered between having a byre and just leaving it as one room, or maybe just having a separate bedroom but leaving the byre out. I felt guilty about that thought though, and felt sure that the dollhouse byre police would come to get me. This was before I switched the door and window position (because if there's a byre, the entrance really ought to be through it.) The dividing wall here is just some of the offcut scraps I used for the visual effect. The white thing is a placeholder for a bed, just to see how much floor space I would have for various pieces of furniture. Not much! Especially for big pieces that would go against the wall (which is another reason why I covered up the end windows).

Here it was without the dividing wall. In the background you can also see the roof (and my newest cat Lewis.) At the left in the middle are some of the offcuts, so you can see I cut off about a third of the height of the walls.

Now it was time for stone. I had been collecting pieces of just the right stones every day on my way home from work, walking through the park to get to where I park my car. It's full of gravel paths, and I've even figured out which parts of which paths have the most suitable stones. I walk through such beautiful gardens of flowers, forests and vistas, and I'm always staring at the ground. I have my stones separated into different categories for different purposes, and applying them is a lot of fun. It's like putting together a puzzle with no exact correct answer. I'm trying to make it as visually similar to real drystone construction as possible. In fact, my desktop wallpaper right now is a picture of Hadrian's wall, and I'm always staring at the stone.

I'm also incorporating a couple of pieces of stone I took from the beach at Mousa Broch in Shetland!

One interior byre wall finished! I decided to make this wall my first because it would be partly hidden inside, just in case I wasn't happy with it. I'm not 100% satisfied, but eh, it's good enough, and I learned from my mistakes. I've become so much less a perfectionist these days!

The other interior walls are not quite done, but they're on their way. I decided, for variety and for less stonework, to make the living area as if the inhabitants have plastered over the stones. Plus it will make it a bit brighter. I like the stonework better in my other byre wall, and I've also dirtied it up a bit, though there will be much more dirtying to come. Also, finding the perfect lintel stones for the door and windows has been difficult! I'm glad I made the door and windows narrow or I'd never find anything suitable!

And I ordered thatching material for the roof. I can't wait to do that! Here it is while the interior walls were still in progress, three bundles of it.