Dirty Dancing

Hey folks! I’m guest posting with Lauren this week to fill you in on all of our dirty (or as we all like to say, “dare-tee”) work since Spring Break.

Our fist day back we installed windows, tied up some loose end projects, and prepared for our initial coat of exterior mud. Within a few days into plaster, the house looked like one of those real houses you see in the movies. After this, we moved onto the interior straw walls and are currently finishing up the lath walls. Each step has lead to variations of mud recipes, tools, and techniques as we overcome obstacles (e.g., mudding on the exterior or on the interior, sculpting around windows and doors, and mudding on straw or mudding on lath).

Here are some basics, though:

Tools: floats of various sizes (in general we start with larger floats and move to smaller floats), hands, margin trowels for baby details, and the devil trowel (spooookkky) to create a scratch surface for our next coat to stick to.

Mixing mud: My favorite was when Matt rolls in with a wheelbarrow of mud and acts like our waiter. Here is a recipe from the server, cook, and genius, Matt Racette:

Ingredients list:

40- heaping shovels of sifted dirt (this stuff is straight off the front lawn, kids!)

5- to 6- medium light packed buckets of thick straw (no tid bits for first coat, please)

1 to 2- 5 gallon buckets of water (less for straw walls, more for lath walls)

Start with one 5-gallon bucket of water in the mixer, 2 and a ½ to 3 buckets of straw, and dirt. Turn on the mixer and slowly add the rest of the straw and water until correct consistency.

Mixing slip: We use extra sifted dirt and water mixed until we get the right consistency (pudding for the straw and soup for the lath).

The overall process: tape up windows, slip, mud, remove tape, then retouch mistakes. That sounds too simple. It isn’t, I promise. We’ve each had to deal with a chunk of mud fall in our lap, a dark corner for three days, or loosing our minds to obnoxious pockets in the wall.

What has been a refreshing change of pace, and appropriate considering our material is earth, is the organic work environment that evolves. Before we started, Kelly gave us a talk on how to do the “mud dance”. At first I was scared, because I’m not really into hippy performance art, but then I got it: the plastering process is collaborative. We all have one main goal, but no one has a specific job. It’s so important to look at what you are doing, but even more important to look at the big picture. I feel like a deviant construction worker following these guidelines. We aren’t taught to hustle and bustle. We are instead taught to take a break, get a new perspective on a wall, step away from a situation rather than overworking it, look at what other people are working on, fill in where there is a need, make some more mud or slip, sift more dirt, clean up a mess, do the dance.

– Alyssa

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