Cobbing my cottage

Monday, 28 July 2014

Icing on the Cake

I landed in Finland on Tuesday night, during a heat-wave. This beautiful Northern landscape which enjoys long daylight hours in any case, is now a hot, sunny haven. Well, not a haven for everyone (are we ever totally happy about the weather?) but I personally would choose hot sun over cold rain any day. And apart from a pretty dry and barren green roof, my little cottage seemed to enjoy the sun as much as I do.

My cottage hadn't been touched for almost a year. I did what I could in the three weeks I was there a year before, with a newborn in tow, but had to admit my defeat when it came to dreams about finishing the cottage.

This year I am truly and finally hoping to make my dream come true. I have about six weeks. Yes, I also have surplus dreams about building other natural dwellings, including composting toilet, sauna, large cob oven/bench and natural swimming pool but I think it's safe to say this time around my biggest dream is to be able to spend even just one night inside my cottage, before I have to leave Finland again in the end of August.

Not a lot to ask, one may say and it is definitely doable but I have a lot to do. I am obviously prioritising the internal work and leaving the external work for a later time. My baby daughter is now just over 1 year old and she toddles about, fairly content in the company of my parents, although often wants my cuddles, even when my clothes are covered in clay. But, in many ways it is a good introduction to her about what mummy does and loves doing, with her Hands and Heart in mud.

I bought English fine china clay i.e. kaolin from a ceramic store here in Finland. 50 kilos of it. It is just a number as I have no idea how much clay I will need. I have all the walls to plaster and a floor to pour. I am using plaster made with kaolin as it's very smooth, plastic and white. I mean there is nothing wrong with its Finnish common cousin, the grey lumpy stuff I have dug from the backyard and used for everything in the building so far - but to be honest, even a simple forest girl like me, does appreciate some finesse in things at times....

I also ordered fine sand, 3m3 of it. Again, it is just an abstract number, as I have no idea of the amount needed. Plus the truck that delivered it, could only hold three cubic metres. And then I boiled some wheat paste, some random amount, to add into the mix. So there, I have my ingredients for the perfect coat of plaster. Just in time to remind myself there is no perfection. Only perception (as one of my friends puts it).

Every day I have plastered a bit of the walls, occasionally with the help of my son. Once even my brother showed up for an hour. Mostly I am on my own though, mixing the plaster putty with my fingers, in my own little elven hut. I can only say that it is one of the most pleasurable things, mixing that putty. Feeling the lumps of sand dissolve into the clay slurry, the creaminess of the mix coating my fingers, getting slightly stuck on my palms. Then taking a lump and smearing it onto the rough wall. I could keep on doing this forever I think, if only my skin didn't fall off at the contact of numerous little stones in the wall. My palms are somewhat sore to touch after five days of barehand plastering but my heart is full and I love the work. I LOVE it.

I feel totally connected to my humanness while working on this cottage, with these basic materials, in this natural way - it is my own personal meditation. I find it amusing that I am smearing very fine English clay over the very rough Finnish one. It almost feels like I am making a full circle with this cottage, including the materials I am using, about who I am, my identity as a Finnish person, who is no longer just Finnish but has some English layers. I am icing the Finnish forest cake with English cream. Maybe these are all layers of myself emerging inside and outside this cottage.

I bought three different kinds of trowels for this job, but I do not want to use them, even if I could (the walls are way too uneven and sculptural, ha!), because I would miss out on the feeling and touching and smearing and smelling and pulling and pushing - and loving. I suppose I am a bit nuts about the white stuff but it will definitely help me to finish this job.

After five days I have done most of it. I will have to keep re-misting the plastered walls so I can eventually burnish them smoother when I am ready. My plan is to make a coloured kaolin paint and paint the walls in more natural tone after the burnishing. And then I am hoping to apply linseed oil to the finished surface. And only then I can start thinking about the the moment my head is definitely in the walls, most certainly also the clouds :)

I leave you with few progress photos and hope to write again soon. It is hard to find the time and concentration to do this but I know it's good for me to try to share the journey in smaller bits.

Oh, in the mean time, please remember to dream - because dreams do have the tendency to come true.