Meet the Mudgirls

I’m always intrigued by people who are able to take the more complicated aspects of modern life into their own hands. Maybe that’s because outside of your basic paring knife and garden trowel, my own hands are pretty fumbly. The realm of natural building just amazes me.

Round Cob House Built by the Mudgirls

Round cob house built by the Mudgirls

Natural building involves using materials occurring in nature (and sometimes recycled materials) to construct homes and outbuildings. For example, back in Too Many Tons I posted a video featuring a DIY builder from Indiana making bricks from mud. Materials are sourced locally—perhaps clay from a neighbor who’s digging a pond, sand from a nearby excavation, straw from a local farmer.

Recently I discovered a British Columbia-based women’s collective specializing in cob building (using a mix of clay and straw). Meet the Mudgirls.

The Mudgirls are a collective of women builders on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada

The Mudgirls are a collective of women builders on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada

For the past seven years they’ve worked together as independent builders, doing seasonal work throughout the Vancouver Island area. Though they started with only about 10 days of work in the early years, many now make their main summer income from this work.

They’ve build cob ovens, cabins, sheds, fences, and outhouses. They also take their craft into conventional homes, using earthen plaster with beautiful results.

Interior of a Mudgirl-built home.

Interior of a Mudgirl-built home.

As a consensus-run group, they are trailblazing in other ways as well, showing a more egalitarian way to operate than the dominant paradigm’s business-as-usual. And they offer workshops at the most affordable rates in North America ($200 or less).

Mudgirl Rose Dickson, one of the founding members, was drawn to the collective because of her outlook as a feminist/environmentalist/artist. From the photos,* it’s clear that the Mudgirls’ work offers a creative outlet.

Cob Oven Made by Mudgirls

Cob oven made by Mudgirls

And these round structures are built to last, as witnessed by many such homes in England, still standing hundreds of years after their construction.

Not too long ago, a four-ton tree fell on a Mudgirl-built cob house—crashing through a bump-up of windows and earthen plaster and stopping at the cob wall. Rose reports, “No cracks in the wall from impact, and the guy who came to clear it off said a wooden house would have been crushed by the tree.”

A four-ton tree fell on this Mudgirl-built cob home, stopping at the cob wall

A tree fell on this Mudgirl-built cob home, stopping at the cob wall

Cob building is physically demanding and sometimes uncomfortable work (imagine a chilly spring day when you’re working in cold mud from sunup to sundown). But Rose relishes the chance to be outside, away from a desk, making something with her hands in the company of her dearest friends.

Mudgirls at work

Mudgirls at work

“If the weather’s cold, it can be kind of miserable,” she admits. “But if you’ve got a couple friends there who you’ve known for years and you’re joking and laughing, it makes it. That’s actually one key with natural building is the community. It takes more time, so the labor is a factor. But that’s part of why people do it together.”

This strikes me as the ultimate in do-it-with-others (DIWO). Has anyone out there had experience with communal natural building? I’d love to hear about it.

*Photos provided by Mudgirls.

15 thoughts on “Meet the Mudgirls

  1. What a fairy-tale look for a house! I researched straw buildings for our current house but eventually decided against it. Still appreciate the crafting that goes into natural building, though!

  2. Pingback: Meet the Mudgirls | alchemyandart

  3. Pingback: Building with the Mudgirls | Shawndra Miller

  4. Thanks Shawna, this is a well written article and especially appreciated coming from someone who was a participant at the most recent Mudgirls workshop.


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