Cover image for Mudgirls manifesto : handbuilt homes, handcrafted lives / the Mudgirls Natural Building Collective.
Mudgirls manifesto : handbuilt homes, handcrafted lives / the Mudgirls Natural Building Collective.
Publication Information:
Gabriola, British Columbia : New Society Publishers, 2018.

Physical Description:
xiii, 177 pages : colour illustrations ; 23 cm
Added Corporate Author:


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728.047 MUD Book Adult General Collection

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Building a Revolution, one handful at a time.

In the face of widespread burnout and a world gone crazy, how do we find things to say "yes" to, rather than a resounding "no"?

On North America's West Coast, there's a group of rebel women who ten years ago chose to break free from a rigged economic and social system. They didn't take to the streets to lobby banks and governments to change their ways - they didn't have time for that. They had babies to feed and house. They reckoned that if nobody else was going to change the rules to support basic human needs and respect the biosphere, then we are all free to make our own rules.

They chose action. They decided to teach themselves how to build houses using the most abundant material on earth - mud. They'd learn by building, gathering skills and allies. They'd have fun, sharing whatever they learned with whoever wanted to come along for the ride. The Mudgirls revolution was born.

Part story of rebel women, grassroots self-governance, and community-building, part incendiary political and economic tract, and part practical guide to building natural homes for real people. Mudgirls Manifesto is about respecting the earth, each other, and crafting meaningful lives.

A powerful, positive antidote to troubled times.

Author Notes

The Mudgirls is an all-women's natural building collective that formed in 2007 in coastal British Columbia. Founded on the principle of self-empowerment, they champion the use of natural, local, and salvaged materials, human-scaled DIY solutions, inclusiveness, support for mothers, care for children, and fun. They build things and offer workshops that empower people to take back the right to provide themselves with shelter. The Mudgirls have collaborated with over 50 clients and more than 600 workshop participants from all over the world, forging alliances and honing the skills to build homes. Find out more at



Mudgirl Guiding Principle #1: We work mostly with unprocessed natural and recycled materials to create and decorate beautiful and healthy structures that are earth-friendly Mudgirl Guiding Principle #2: We believe this work to be so important that we cannot wait until we are all experts. No matter the level of experience, we value each individual for their contribution and abilities and believe strongly in skill building on the worksite   Chapter 1 : Our Ways of Building We Went for It When this whole thing got started about 10 years ago, as a group of twenty or so women, we pretty much had no idea what we were doing. Sure, certain members had had some previous natural building experience - our founder, Jen Gobby had taken a comprehensive course, another had studied drafting. We also had a carpenter, some herbalists, a tree sitter, a lawyer, and a circus acrobat. The rest of us, let's just say we were very very keen on learning. We were a bunch of young women, some of us mothers with babes at the breast, with little money and a few survival skills, fundamentally dissatisfied with the options on offer for addressing our basic needs in a way that didn't just contribute to the mess we were making in the world, or enslave us in a exploitative economy based on debt and credit, mortgages and ever-increasing rents. It was real: we needed shelter, and we needed meaningful work. We realized that if we wanted to provide homes for ourselves and for our families in a way that made any sense to us, we were going to have to come up with something that didn't exist yet, as far as we knew. Building things is a very direct route to satisfying basic needs. Natural building was a revelation: a direct connection to materials and innate knowledge, with the laser focus of necessity, and the realization that people have always provided themselves with shelter using what was at hand. Having given ourselves the permission to build shelters out of the materials around us, both natural and recycled, we also gave ourselves permission to design our group and our way of working around our needs, as opposed to around some imagined legitimacy or marketplace. In essence, our idea was to build homes for each other, and to teach others while we were doing it. We were going to keep it very affordable so people like ourselves could come, and we could share the knowledge as quickly as possible. Genius. So simple; so beautiful. This is what Jen Gobby and her partner Pachiel had been doing already at their place - offering workshops that taught people how to build a cob house - her cob house. This is where the women that became the Mudgirls first met - at Jen's ridiculously cheap, ridiculously fun and inspiring series of workshops. At the very beginning, we valued our inexperience as an asset to creativity and built it into the way we work and teach. We wanted to emphasize skill building as one of the most important aspects of our collective. If we waited for everyone to be an expert we would never get this great idea off the ground. This radically simple, fun, smart, beautiful, empowering, new/old way of building was something more people needed to know about, and fast. We knew that what had attracted us would attract others. There were a lot of people like us out there, feeling the disillusionment and lack of alternatives. This was turning out to be about way more than providing shelter. Our hand-sculpted houses were real, but they were also symbols of a new way of being and a new spirit. We sought to incorporate the skills each of us already had that didn't necessarily relate directly to building. Our workshops would feature one of us, guest speakers from the community, or workshop participants themselves on things like bike repair, pirate radio, medicinal herbs, communication skills, whatever. We wanted to get a revolution brewing. We shared the belief that there was so much to do and face in the world, it was coming down quick, and we needed to forge communities. Luckily for us, we had each other, a direction, a passion and even the possibility to create fairly paid work for ourselves so we could sustain this amazing thing we had found. We went for it. Looking back, it seems kind of amazing. Not just the idea that we were going to build anything, let alone houses, but that we were going to organize this ragtag band of impassioned idealists into a thing. We decided we could do this. We ran workshops where people camped together, ate together, and cared for each other's children - even taking on wet nurse duty here and there. We built together - teeny tiny spaces and whole houses, ovens, walls, benches. We traveled and met people and were part of their dreams for their lives. We learned more that first season than we have at any other point along our journey. Not just about building, but about working and living together, the reality and pressure of client expectations, and looking after the health of our collective, all while trying to uphold our grand social and environmental morality and vision. It has not always been an easy balance to find, but easy gets boring real quick. Somewhere in the last 10 years, the worry that all the oil in the world was going to run out turned inside out and became something a lot more scary. Now we can't just surf the apocalypse by mastering caveman technologies. Climate change threatens to destroy the actual systems that support life on earth, and the world needs Mudgirls more than ever. The Measuring Tape: Who hasn't played in mud, sand, or clay before? Somewhere in our ancestral memories we deeply feel it is right, it's healthy and we connect to it innately. So alright, fine, great, there's a pile of sand, some clay, some straw, and a hose - yay! We can build a wall outta mud. Okay, what about the roof, and the digging, and the cutting, and the height and the slope, and the sawing and the can seem overwhelming, or worse - boring. Building a wall out of mud with your bare hands is primal and monumental. Thinking about gutter systems...not so primal. It helps if you stop thinking about the things that go into a house as hoops you have to jump through for the building inspector, and more about treating your building resources as precious. Water is precious, that's why we're going to figure out how to collect it. Wood is precious, that's why we're going to figure out how not to burn too much of it. Your life is precious, that's why we're going to build well for safety and warmth. When you think of it that way, that your house is going to be part of your life and can help you and support you, then your little house becomes an ecosystem, full of relationships, and insulation doesn't seem so boring anymore! Gutters will have you throwing your head back and laughing like a decadent millionaire as water rockets off your roof and into your cistern. Once you get stoked thinking about gutters, go back to the beginning and just take it one step at a time. Without the bigger picture, it's easy to get the steps out of order and create a whole new set of puzzles to solve. If you approach it like an ecosystem, the puzzle pieces start talking to each other. Mistakes are going to get made, but this is where the best learning takes place. The grasp, the feel for how something could have gone better only comes when you look back on what you have done and see how changing the order, or taking more care in this or that thing would make your life so much easier right now. You feel that knowledge muscling its way into your blood. We experienced that gross feeling of being wrong together, we worked out solutions together, and sometimes it felt like our fingers were growing their own brains. It doesn't feel good to have messed up, but it feels amazing to work your way through to the eureka moment where you figure out how to make it okay again. This experience has definitely strengthened our confidence and resilience, but it also keeps us grounded. It's why when we work with other people we prefer to keep it collaborative, as opposed to imposing our expertise on a situation. It's more fun for both sides and you keep the learning opportunities alive when you aren't making like a puffy chest expert. Unless of course there's another self-proclaimed puffy chest expert on the scene. Then we take them down! (As women, we have to stake out space & boundaries now and then, but more on that later!)   Fast, Cheap, and Out Of Control: Permits = Limits Where we live on the south coast of British Columbia, each district has different regulations. Municipal bylaws dictate where and how and when you can build something on your own land. These rules make sense when applied to large contracting companies that are building for profit in a market where land and houses are commodities. This reality dictates that things are going get done the cheap and fast way. This is where regulations come in handy. If left to themselves, these contractors might build less than safe, dry, warm homes in the name of cost savings. The capitalist system and its players thrive on this. The rules are meant to protect the future buyer from being taken advantage of, purchasing a lemon or something that will not stand the test of time. Many modern building products are not tested beyond a 25-year life expectancy, which happens to be the length of your average mortgage. Many of the products required to build homes to code are extremely toxic, their very production carries a heavy carbon footprint, and they aren't even the ideal materials in the first place. The building codes are sometimes in place not because they represent best practices or the most suitable materials - they represent a secure chain of production of things that can be provided consistently and efficiently, so nobody has to strain themselves thinking too hard about what they're actually doing, what they are building with, and why. To build anything outside the conventional regulations requires an engineer to approve the house designs, which adds a significant extra cost to an already pricey endeavour. Many people are interested in building homes out of more local and natural materials, but are scared away by all the red tape and added expenses. All the environmental and health considerations aside, jumping through the code hoops obscures the glaring fact that using locally-sourced natural and recycled building materials is a cheaper way to go. Clay is basically free, sand is cheap, and straw is a waste product from the grain industry. A lack of understanding of the way these materials perform over time, in wet cold weather has put the brakes on progressive acceptance of these ways of building, despite the proof of 500+ year old mud buildings in very very wet parts of England and many other ancient earthen structures in Mexico, Japan, Africa, and the Middle East. In current mainstream building, the trend is to create airtight dwellings in the name of energy conservation. Completely wrapped in plastic, they require expensive air circulation units to cycle out the stale inside air with fresh air from outside. This is necessary because we humans are mostly made of water and we release quite a bit through just breathing, let alone cooking and having sex. If the building can't breathe, the moisture will condense on the walls, ceiling, and windows, and the house will begin to disintegrate. Mold takes over, the home becomes unhealthy. Here on the wet coast, people deal with this issue every winter when the hot steamy humans are cooped up inside. So good, great, wrap us in plastic, give us vents and we'll be happy as a bicycle commuter in a "waterproof yet breathable" raincoat. Yup, sure, for a while. But what about after that 25-year warranty expires, or say if the builder was hung over while she taped the seams of your plastic wrap and missed a bit. Soon there is water seeping under the siding onto the plywood, into the insulation, into the stud frame and because it's all encased in plastic, it can't dry out. It stays invisibly damp all fall, winter, spring, and boom! You have joined the leaky condo circus, you're under the big top, living the tarp life. Now, if the natural builder was hung over and missed plastering that spot over the window, it can be fixed easily and cheaply, and will dry out evenly with the breeze. Any problems can be seen right away and dealt with promptly, instead of an insidious internal degradation that won't be noticed until it's too late and will be very expensive to repair. Breathability is the key to a building's long life. In practice, our healthy suspicion of building codes means we know enough to avoid things that will definitely prompt the building inspector to come calling. As it happens, they are things you should do anyway: keep it small, and make sure your neighbors aren't going to give you a hard time about it. Most inspections are complaint-driven, and even the most code-perfect house can get held up by someone who thinks your mud hut is ugly. Yes, neighbors are part of natural building, so start getting along. Deep in the forest on wee little islands, we have built and are building small breathable dwellings. Some of these have been built with only the permission of the landowners, the workshop participants, and us of course. Could it be possible that that's enough? On land not owned by the banks in any part; land on which the owners are planning to live and to die. Instead, the land is thought of as worthwhile only if it's a profitable commodity to be resold. Our freedom to choose how we live our lives is wrapped up in this plastic capitalist mindset and summarily thrown out, regarded as irresponsible and a little bit crazy. When you decide to build yourself a house with non-conventional materials, using natural building principles, your motives are obviously very different from those of a large contracting company. You're willing to risk guaranteed sales potential in favour of a safe, healthy, enduring home for you and your family. Are you going to cut dangerous corners, are you going to make something that will fall apart before your grandchildren are born? Or are you are going to build well, with thought and consideration for the future of both the land and the people on it? It's in these cases that we believe the building permit bylaws are extremely limiting, in part because they are based on the assumption that people don't actually want homes, they want "real estate". While we fully realize that the philosophy of "real estate" is a fact of modern life, it is also the very concept that must be unpacked if any of what we're proposing here is going to make sense. It pretty much demarcates the philosophical Great Divide of building things at all. If you're worried about resale values, maybe a house that lasts 600 years isn't your thing. A house that lasts 600 years is a liability. So once you work that out with yourself, you can proceed to the next order of logic: on your own land, you should be able to submit your designs to the local council, have them deemed structurally sound (if they are), sign something giving you full responsibility for your actions, and be sent merrily on your way. By freeing up the individual to build their dreams we are opening up the possibility of grand new innovations that will revolutionize the way we live. Not just in our homes but in our neighbourhoods, our communities. We can develop precedents that others can reference, and last but not least we can have the freedom and opportunity to learn from our mistakes.   Messages From Mud: It's not about how much you know, but about how much you believe in what you're doing. When you walk into a mud house, there's a feeling you get. It is relief intertwined with wonder at the forms and textures that surround you. It is ancestral fibers stretching out into modern lights and suddenly reminding you of something you had forgotten for a really long time. It is a place that holds you just right, makes you lower your shoulders from your ears and breathe deeply. The air is clean and dry and you feel sheltered. Perhaps this arresting impression is one of echoing empowerments of all the human beings who put their laughter and tears into those walls with each handful of barefoot mixed earth. People come from all over the world to participate in the creation of such dwellings with us. And when we are finished the owner gets to feel all those feels. To the person who had travelled from near or far to help build and to learn, they don't quite see the same picture, at least not at first. They work hard, dig, peel logs, move wheelbarrows donkey-style up steep rooted forest paths, they stomp, pull, drag and carry bucket load after bucket load of homemade mud and place it exactly here it needs to go. Handful by handful. They laugh, play, eat, and make connections over the walls they build. Those connections are woven in the earth just as the straw is, both equally holding the whole thing together. The connections made over the cob wall go forward from there. They continue on in the world after the workshop is over. After the house is finished relationships are formed. Just as the walls go up between them in the real world they start to crumble in their hearts and minds. We are doing so much more than building a wall higher - we are making our worlds bigger, better, and more alive. Excerpted from Mudgirls Manifesto: Handbuilt Homes, Handcrafted Lives by Null The Mudgirls Natural Building Collective All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
Part I A History Written in Mud
Chapter 1 Our Ways of Buildingp. 9
Guiding Principle: We mostly work with unprocessed natural and recycled materials to create and decorate beautiful and healthy structures that are earth friendly.
Guiding Principle: We believe this work is so important that we cannot wait until we are all experts. No matter the level of experience, we value each individual for their contribution and abilities and believe strongly in skill-building on the worksite.
We Went for It: Creating the World We Wanted to Live Inp. 9
The Measuring Tape: Skill-Building as a Priority. A Non-intimidating Approach to Buildingp. 14
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control: Permits = Limitsp. 19
Messages from Mud: It's Not About How Much You Know, But How Much You Believe in What You're Doingp. 26
Case Studies: Ray and Soozie's Place; Measure Twice, Think Three Times, Cut Once, Because Chainsaws Are Foreverp. 29
Chapter 2 Women's Workp. 33
Guiding Principle: We are a women's collective and seek to empower ourselves with employment and the skills to build homes.
No Boys Allowed: Why We Chose (and Still Choose) An All-woman Crewp. 33
We Play With Dollies: Work Smarter Not Harderp. 42
Our Heroines: Other Women that Are Rockin' the Natural Building World and Shattering the Status Quo: Athena Steen, Liz Johndrow, and Becky Beep. 45
We Love Dudes: And Dudes Love Usp. 49
Case Studies: Chris's Contribution; Set the Men Free; No, Really, She's Doing It; Contribution from Todd Turik (One Man Among Many Women)p. 52
Chapter 3 Rethinking Workp. 59
Guiding Principle: We are a collective that is human friendly: we recreate our concepts of work to prioritize respect and care for our hearts, our bodies, and our children while we work together. We create a work environment that nurtures us.
Large and in Charge: The Empowerment Inherent in Working for Oneselfp. 59
It's Our Worksite, and We'll Cry If We Want To: Allowing Space for Emotions, Needs, and Limitations on the Worksitep. 62
Bigger Isn't Always Better: Dealing with the Expectations of of Conventional "Efficiency" Versus the Efficiencies Long-term Learning, Safety, Skill-sharing, and Community-buildingp. 65
Baby, I Like It Raw: Maintaining the Connection with Raw Materials and Raw Powerp. 66
Case Studies: Ode to the Old: Hand Tools and Handy Eldersp. 69
Soul Food: Nurturing Our Bodiesp. 72
Recipies: Smoked Tofu Potato Salad; Bethany's Rice Pudding; Coconut Curried Lentils; Energy Ballsp. 73
Chapter 4 Caring for the Childrenp. 77
Guiding Principle: All our events are child and parent-friendly with quality childcare always provided.
Our Kids Are Your Kids: A Better Model for the Greater Goodp. 77
Take Your Child to Work Day, Every Day: Why Mandatory, Built-in Childcare Makes Sense, and Why It's Not Always Perfectp. 79
The Children of the Revolution: Children as Active Members of the Communityp. 81
Case Studies: How the Inner Child Schooled the Adult Attitude: Youth Facilitation as a Non-parent; That One Time I Almost Lost My Kids and My Mind, and the Silly Play That Saved Us All; Life After Motherhood; Participant/Mother Contributionp. 84
Chapter 5 Rethinking "Business"p. 89
Guiding Principle: We seek to do our business in a non-capitalist spirit. We keep the cost of natural building affordable by keeping our wages low, offering our workshops for barter, building for low-income people as much as we can.
Ménage à Trois: The Breakdown of Our Workshop Structurep. 89
How Much Is Too Much?: The Quest to Practice Sustainable Idealismp. 92
Who Needs Money When There's Mud Everywhere?: A Low Income Plus Resourcefulness Equals Creative Powerp. 95
Client-friends and Friend-clients: Keeping a Healthy Building Relationship Without Contractsp. 98
Case Studies: Molly's House; Trade Ya a Small House for a Website?p. 101
Chapter 6 Who's the Boss?p. 107
Guiding Principle: We are structured non-hierarchically. Each member is equally valued and has equal say in decision-making.
Guiding Principle: We use the teachings of Compassionate Communication to create a peaceful, mutually respectful and revolutionarily harmonious group process.
The Internal Workings of The Mudgirls: How We Make Decisionsp. 107
Don't Tell Me What to Dop. 110
Mycorrhiza: A Symbiosis Inspired by Nature Keeps the Collective Rollin'p. 113
Case Studies: The Voice of Dissent, and How We Hate to Love It; A Model of Our (Ideal) Steps to Resolve Conflictp. 116
Chapter 7 Building a Revolutionp. 119
Guiding Principle: We work together to create this collective as we go, nurturing the creative and inventive and courageously open to the process of transformation.
Build It and They Will Come: The Search for Other Ways of Livingp. 119
Don't Muddy the Waters: Trying to Live by Examplep. 123
Case Studies: Our Collective's Babies: Mudmob in Australia and The Good Earth Buildersp. 125
Part II Thnaks Tips! (Practical Building Matters)
Chapter 8 Materials and Toolsp. 131
Clay Sourcing Tipsp. 131
How to Test Your Clayp. 132
Sand, Sand, and Sandp. 135
Fiberp. 136
Lumberp. 137
Mud Toolsp. 139
Woodworking Toolsp. 139
What Trowel to Use and Whyp. 140
Chapter 9 Recipesp. 143
Clay Pain Recipes That Workp. 143
Paint #1p. 143
Paint #2p. 144
Pigmentp. 144
Adhesion Coatsp. 144
Lime Water, Lime Washp. 145
Starch Paste (Wheat Paste)p. 145
Plastersp. 145
Manure Plasterp. 146
Clay Plasterp. 147
Lime Plasterp. 147
Chapter 10 Tips to Success (We Screwed Up and Learned Stuff)p. 149
Dry Stack Rock Foundation Tipsp. 149
Dry Stack Rock Foundations for Straw Bale Wallsp. 151
How to Fix Cracksp. 152
Why Cob Walls Fallp. 154
Wall Systems Pros and Consp. 156
Build Your House in Ten Steps!p. 161
Endnotesp. 169
Indexp. 173
About the Authorp. 177
A Note about the Publisherp. 178