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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Making of Mill Cottage

Mill Cottage is built from DHE's "Cabin" kit.  This kit is very basic and a lot of other people have said it's also boring, disappointing and a copy of the Garden Pavillion with different doors and windows.  I have to agree with a lot of that, but being so plain also made it a blank slate and thus easy to impose a range of wild ideas onto it and as such perfect for use in a competition.  So far I've only seen one other person's competition entry and it is completely different to anything I had considered (although the bookcases are slightly familiar to one of my earlier ideas).  You can see Things' entry here : DHE Forum.  Isn't it just lovely?

Getting back to Mill Cottage.  I started by dry building the kit and playing with some sample furniture to see what would fit and what worked and what didn't.  From this I learned that the door would be best if moved from the side around to the front and that I would need to raise the height of the walls to have the headroom to add a mezzanine bedroom.  The walls were raised two inches by adding a strip of balsa wood around the bottom of the kit walls.  The balsa is thicker than the MDF walls so the walls step out a little at the join. With the extra pieces attached to the walls and the hole cut for the new door position, the kit was permanently re-assembled.  I altered the roof in the same way as I did for the Steampunk Inventor's Workshop so that the front section hooks over the apex and is removable, but the back section is permanently fixed.

To provide space for the mill wheel and a small garden, the kit was glued onto a plywood base.  Balsa wood was used to create a porch over the front door and walls around what would become the mill wheel and culvert.  The chimney was built using blocks of corrugated cardboard.  The inside of the bottom was hollowed out for the fireplace.  Once all the extra bits were built, the next step was to create the stone effect on the walls.  As a lot of people have asked how the walls were done, here's a mini tutorial:

You'll need some spakfilla (designed to fill holes in plasterboard), a flat spatula, a ball point stylus (or toothpick), sandpaper and some stone coloured paints.  Work in sections of about 20x20cm or (9x9") so that you have time to work with the filler before it dries out.  Put a dollop of the filler onto your surface and spread with the spatula until you have a layer about 2-3mm deep.  If you have trouble spreading the filler, mix in some water just a drop at a time then try spreading it again.  You just need enough water to help it spread easily but be careful not to add too much water as this will render the filler useless.  Spread the filler as evenly and smoothly as you can, but don't worry if it's still uneven, you can sand it once it's dried.  If you want a rough texture finish, you can try tapping it very gently with a ball of damp kitchen paper or a stiff brush.

 Take a ball pointed stylus, toothpick, blunt pencil or other object with a dull point and drag it through the layer of filler to mark out lines.  At the end of each line you'll need to wipe you stylus on a damp cloth or scrape the excess filler that will cling to it back into the jar.  Continue to make lines to form a random stone or brick pattern in the filler.  If you make a mistake, just use your spatula to smooth a little extra filler over the area and start again.  Don't worry about any blobs of filler that cling at the edges of the stones, these will probably fall away when dry or can be sanded off when dry.

Once you are happy with the pattern of your stones, leave them to dry totally.  Once the filler it completely dry, sand it gently until you are happy with the texture of your stones.

Paint the stones in you choice of colours.  For Mill Cottage I used about three soft greys and a light brown.  I like to start with a darker colour first and then dry brush successively lighter tones over the top.  However, if you want a pale grout colour use a pale colour first, then dry brush your darkest tone and then successively lighter tones over the top.  Basically, just play until you are happy with the final effect, if something doesn't work, you can always paint over it and start again.  When you're happy with the look, apply a coat of clear sealer to protect the finish.

Once the walls were finished, the door and windows were installed.  These were stained and the glass panes were given a leaded look using faux lead lighting products.  A black outliner creates the pattern of diamond shaped panes and a clear paint was used to fill in the panes to give them a more textured, hand made look.  The final step to make the house weather proof was to thatch the roof.  To do this I used some cheap fur fabric and glued a single piece of the fur over each section of roof, curling the edges around the edges of the MDF.  For the ridge, I took a strip of the fur fabric and cut the fur down to a short fuzzy stubble and glued this over the peak of the roof.  I added some decorative stitching using some cotton twine and a honking big needle.  All this was then covered with some layers of paint until it looked suitably thatchy.

With the basics finished outside, I next started work on the interior.  The walls were papered in a scrapbooking paper from the local craft store and the lower section of wall was panelled in balsa painted purple up to the height of the raised extension to cover the fact that the join was a little uneven in places.  More balsa wood made the frame for the mezzanine level and a piece of foam core board covered in floorboard paper makes it's floor.  The rails were salvaged from an earlier kit I had transformed into something that didn't need rails.  The stairs are also salvaged, coming out of Dawncrest castle when I renovated it last year.

Most of the furniture used in the cottage are items from my stash.  Only the bed was made from scratch and the two arm chairs were made from a cheap flat pack kit.  Once I had decided exactly what would fit where, I gave some pieces a fresh coat of paint and others some new upholstery.

 A hoard of accessories were the final addition for the inside giving the space a cluttered and homey feel.

With the inside decorated, it was time to finish up the outside by adding the mill wheel and garden.

The wheel structure is all balsa wood.  The wheel is made of two rings of balsa with flat "rungs" sandwiched between them and a toothpick for the central axle.

The culvert or stream was lined with fish tank pebbles and then some Scenic Water was poured over both wheel and culvert.  The weight of the water made the wheel spin, proving that my wheel really could have run a mill!  I wedged a skewer through the spokes of the wheel to hold it steady until the water dried so that I ended up with water running down the wheel rather than one great blob on the bottom of the wheel.

For the garden, I first covered the exposed base board with a grass sheet from a model railway shop.  This grass goes under the front porch and wall so that when the front is removed you see a neat finish.  I then covered a piece of balsa in more of the grass and attached this to the front wall and side of the porch.  It was on this that I made the garden so that when the front of the cottage is removed up, the garden is removed too.

The garden path was made from a piece of vinyl floor tile cut into a curvy S shape.  The look of individual stones was made by carefully carving grooves in the surface of the tile.  A little brown paint was rubbed over the surface to dull the tile's shine.  The climbing vine is cotton twine, dipped in watered brown paint and allowed to dry.  Lengths of this dyed twine were twisted together and allowed to branch out into individual strands as they climbed higher up the wall.  Once the glue holding them on the wall was dry, polymer clay leaves and flowers were glued onto the vines.

The birdbath was made out of air dry clay years ago for a project I decided not to use it for.  The rest of the garden was filled with lichen moss "bushes", more polymer clay flowers and assorted accessories.  The gnomes I found at the local doll, bear and miniature fair earlier this year, the rake is from a table-top Zen garden kit and Dexter the digging dog is one of the few items I bought especially for this project.  I'll put a Dexter into every garden I do as he's just so cute!

 Last of all came Florie, the cottage's resident.  As you can tell from her hideous hands, she's handmade from polymer clay.  (Why are hands so hard to make, even with a mould?)  Her hair is black and grey felting wool.  She wears a green striped dress I saved from a bought doll I redressed.  Her apron is handmade from a printed cotton with lace trim.

The History of Mill Cottage

Mill Cottage began life as a working medieval mill almost a thousand years ago. Farmers from the local area would bring their grain there to be ground before taking it back home to their wives who used it to bake the bread they ate daily. The original mill was repaired and rebuilt many times over the years until finally the coming of the industrial revolution rendered it unable to compete with the larger, more modern mills and it was forced to close.

The old mill then saw a number of fleeting and increasingly ignoble uses such as a trading post, a storehouse, a barn and finally and animal pen before the old building was finally abandoned altogether.    

 As a child Florence was enchanted by the now ruins of the old mill and would make up stories about the people who had once lived and worked there. As an adult, Florie moved away from her home town and soon forgot the ruins of the mill that stood just beyond it.

Florie returned to her old home many years later and again came upon the ruined mill. She immediately fell in love with the romantic ruin (if a structure filled with the remains of decayed straw and animal dung can be described as romantic) and begged the mill's owners to sell it to her. With her children grown and her husband sadly deceased, she set about restoring the mill and creating a cozy cottage for one . . . . well, one human and a number of cats.


  1. The scenic water was a great success. Thanks for sharing your idea to use spakfilla. I had never thought of using it before.

  2. Hehehehe..one human and a number of cats *sounds like something I would do*
    I love the Mill house thank you for sharing how you did it


  3. I like the stone walls.
    I don't know spakfilla.....
    The interior is wonderful.
    Bye, Faby