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Thursday, March 3, 2011

How To Make A Really Authentic Dollhouse Miniature Thatched Roof

Warning: this tutorial isn't for sissies.  It's a little bit tedious, and a little bit difficult, and very messy.  Be prepared to look like one of Hagrid's creatures has shed all over you.

However, the results are completely, 100% worth it.  If you're like me, you love the look of a thatched roof, but have been disappointed with conventional attempts at reproducing one in miniature.  So, although this tutorial isn't the quickest, or easiest, it represents literally months' worth of experimentation.  I've been at this, off and on, since I was a little girl.  A few of my most recent attempts--which led directly to the creation of this tutorial--ended in disaster.  One ended with a piece of faux fur more or less permanently affixed to my left hand.  I'm saving you that pain and frustration!

Another way in which this tutorial is different is, my husband helped create it.  Several of the ideas and techniques are his.  He and I produced the Wizard's Eyrie roof together, over the period of a few days.  We started it one night, and finished it the next.

You will need:
  1. Faux fur.  Get more than you think you'll need, to allow for mistakes.  I purchased my faux fur on  If you're interested in reproducing this look exactly, my specific order was for "dyed fox gold" fur.  But, really, almost any faux fur will do.  Remember, real thatched roof houses vary dramatically.  Individuality is encouraged!
  2. Some wood for the end cap.  I purchased scalloped gingerbread trim from, and added a second piece of 1" wide trim to it, to create a deeper piece of trim.  But, you can use whatever you like.
  3. Epoxy; I favor Quick Grip, but, again, you can use whatever you like.  
  4. Matte varnish.  It's really important, here, that the varnish be matte.  Satin and semi-gloss won't cut it.
  5. A hair or beard trimmer.
  6. Sharp scissors.  In fact, I'd seriously consider buying a new pair just for this project--and keeping them to use exclusively for fabric.  Here, I used two pairs of scissors (both Fiskars brand; that's my personal favorite): a pair of regular scissors, and a pair of smaller, very dainty pinking shears.  I bought both at the local craft store.
Here's a picture of a real thatched roof cottage for reference.

The first step is to make your ridge cap.  I like to make the individual trim pieces first, and then glue them together while they're placed against the roof.  That way, I can make sure that the angle of the ridge cap, and the angle of the roofline, are the same angle.  Here, I just glued two pieces end to end.  Then, after they dried, I added two little triangles, one on each side, capping it off.

NOTE: remember to leave about 1/4" of extra space!!!  You want the ridge cap just about 1/4" LONGER than the actual roofline.  This is because you'll need that extra space later--it'll be filled with fur!

Now, cut a piece of faux fur slightly larger than necessary to completely cover the outside of the ridge cap.

Now, start shaving it.  This step was actually my husband's idea.  At first, I was extremely dubious.  After I started trying to shave the fur, I got even more dubious.  Even worse, we'd actually bought this shaving contraption especially for the purpose.  I discovered, after awhile, that the secret to successful fur shaving is to use a light hand on the shaver.  Don't press down; glide forward.

My husband said, at this point, that it looked like the binding of Hagrid's Monster Book of Monsters.

A few passes later (well, actually, more than a few) and it looked more like, you know, a shaved pelt.  For awhile there, I was really despairing--it looked like something with horrible mange.  So, if and when this happens to you, don't despair!

Patience makes perfect.  Here, we're simulating a real ridge cap, which was usually made of very tough fibers bound together, and shorn.  You can see the texture difference between the ridge cap and the actual thatch in the sample photo.

Now, very carefully trace the shape of the ridge cap--not forgetting the ends--onto the back of your newly shorn pelt.  Be careful, though, to leave at least 1/2" of extra material on each end.

The end cap.

Here I am, gluing it on.

Now, start cutting out the actual ridge cap piece.  I generally cut along the outside of my lines; I want to make sure I have complete coverage.  Owing to the direction of the fabric--faux fur always "grows" in a specific direction--one side will be furrier and more indistinct than the other.  You can solve the problem (again, this was my husband's inspiration) by using a very fine pair of pinking shears to cut away any excess.  Use a light hand, here...and plenty of patience!

I actually recommend holding off on this step until after you've glued your shorn pelt onto the ridge cap. I just wanted to show you, now, so you'd see that I wasn't going to leave it looking this way.  But, onward and upward...

Here, I've glued my shorn pelt onto the ridge cap--and, as you can see, left just about 1" of extra fabric on either side.

Here it is, hanging off.  The reason I like to cut the edges after I glue the fabric on is to prevent gaps--and to make sure I get rid of that awful white sew line.  I used my pinking shears (there they are, sitting on the table) to very slowly and carefully trim away the extra fabric.

NOTE: it's important, here, to cut on an angle.  I cut angling down toward the backside of the fabric, so there's more of a fur overhang left.  It's easier, then, to disguise the fact that it's fabric, and not thatch.

If there are gaps--and there will be--you can cover them by running a bead of craft glue around the apex of the corner, and stuffing in a few extra shreds of shorn pelt.  That's what I did, here.  If you enlarge the picture (click on any of these pictures to see a larger version), you can see what I mean a little better.  This isn't, like, the most sturdy solution, but it doesn't matter--later on, you'll be gluing this piece into place and varnishing it.

Here's the (almost) finished ridge cap.

Here's a close-up of the (almost) finished ridge cap.

Isn't it cute?

Here, I'm testing it on the roof, with the fabric (it's not cut yet; it's just hanging there), to make sure everything fits.

Right now, everything's just being "dry fitted", as it were.

As you can see, the wood is still faintly visible--and that's no good.

So, pick up some appropriately colored water-based paint, and touch it up!

Here it is, all touched up.

Now, you're done with the end cap!  Hallelujah!  On to the actual roof...

Make a pattern, and make sure that pattern takes into account the width of the actual roof piece.  When we glue the fur on, we'll wrap it around the sides.  Remember, you can always trim away--but it's hard to add back on!

When you're cutting the fabric piece out, make sure, once again, that you cut on an angle.  See how there's a huge overhang along the bottom?  It's a little tricky to cut things out this way, yes, but the results are absolutely worth it.  The more care you take now, cutting out these pieces, the more natural your finished piece will look.

Here I am, dry fitting the pieces.

I very carefully trim away any excess, so the overhang is even.  Remember, though, that thatch is a natural product, and thatched roofs are never "perfect".  That's part of their charm!

You might want to use a straight edge--here, I'm using the pattern piece--to help you.

Very, very gently comb your fingers along the edges, and down the front, of each piece.  You won't believe how much extra fur comes off--or how much you already have all over you, your work surface, and everything you've touched.  This stuff sheds like crazy!

Now, using your trusty Quick Grip, glue both pieces in place.

See how the edges fold down to wrap the sides of the roof panels?

Press gently, but firmly.

Here I am, still pulling off excess fur!

Now, glue on the ridge cap...and breathe a sigh of relief!  The hard part is behind you!  The rest of this project is really just a bad case of hurry up and wait.

Here we are--almost there!

Here's another close-up.  It looks good, but not great.  Additionally, it's not very sturdy.  Which means it's time for...

Varnish!  You'll use a lot of this stuff, way more than you think, so make sure you have plenty.  I like Delta products: they're cheap, and they work.  Whatever you use, though, make sure it's water based.

Start varnishing.  I like to start on the edges, work across the ridge line, and then work my way down toward the front.  In my experience, this sequence produces the most natural results.

Here, I'm using my brush to "ruck up" the ridge cap a bit.

Now, we're going to shape the bottom of the roof.  Make sure there's plenty of varnish along the bottom. You don't want it dripping, but you do want it fairly saturated.  Keep in mind, though, that the varnish--no matter how much you apply--won't penetrate down to the undercoat, and that's OK; you don't want it to.  The fact that there's still movement and bounce under the dried varnish is part of what makes this roof look so realistic.

Take a straight piece of wood, wrap it in Reynolds Wrap, and use clamps to hold it in place.  Basically, you want the furry ends to dry in a curved shape.  Or, if you're going for a really bohemian look, you can leave them hanging down.

This is what I'm talking about.

A close-up of the drying fur.

Don't worry about the ends sticking out; you can glue them into place, or trim them, after your roof is completely dry.

Make sure, too, that you like the way your roof looks before it dries.  If there are hairs out of place, now's the time to smooth them down--or you'll be stuck with them forever.  At the same time, though, you don't want your piece looking overworked.  Remember, we're simulating natural material.

Now, leave it to dry, ideally overnight.  "Dry to the touch" and "really dry" aren't the same thing.  Especially if you want your thatch to hold its shape, it's really vital that you leave it alone for as long as possible.

I let this dry, while I worked on the Tudor Bakery.

A close-up of the ridge cap.

Another close-up of the ridge cap, this one with some thatch included.

Then, after 12 to 24 hours have passed, it's time to remove the drying supports.  Be gentle with this step! It won't be terribly easy--expect a little pull--but the Reynolds Wrap should remove with a little coaxing. Then...

You're done!!!

Here it is!  I glued the pokey-outy edges carefully back into place.  You can, if you want to...or you can leave them.  It's really up to you (and your doll's skill as a thatcher!)

A close-up of the ridge cap.

I haven't done the roof of the lean-to yet, because I haven't bricked the chimney yet.  I got an email from Richard Stacey a few days ago, informing me that my order is delayed, on account of their need to make more corner slips.  However, once I've had a chance to brick the chimney, I'll "thatch" the lean-to the same way.

What do you think?

I, personally, like the turned-under edges, although a more bohemian look would work well, too.

I especially like how the matte varnish helps the fur catch the light.

A close-up of the underside.

So there you have it: a really authentic dollhouse miniature thatched roof.  I've tried a lot of techniques, and this is my favorite.  What do you think?


Daydreamer said...

WOW! A Lot of work, but it looks as though it is worth it! I think it looks great! Thanks for sharing this! I don't have a project that needs a thatched roof at the moment.... but I am sure I will try this someday!

Norma said...

Awesome tutorial, thanks! One day when I feel vry brave... :)

Les Miniatures de Béatrice said...

Awesome tutorial.Thank you!

Sierra said...

My favorite picture is the one with J in the back posing :-) Ha ha

Santo Caridine said...

Great work! You managed to copy the thatched roofing perfectly. You would do well to display it in one of the rooms of your house. It would also look fine in an office.

MarciaB said...

This is wonderful! I want to do a replica of the house in Denmark where my great-grandfather was born. It has a metal roof now, but would have had a thatched roof then. I've been wracking my brain, trying to come up with some way to simulate thatch and never once thought of faux fur. Your instructions are clear and the pictures are really good. If you're interested, you can see my latest project at It's a photo history museum.

Kristopher said...

Looks like it took a lot of time to finish the roof of this adorable doll house. Good job! I love the house you used as a reference. The thatched roof looked really smooth and properly fixed. The actual thatched roof installation is really a long process. It takes focus and attentiveness to properly install this type of roof.

Kristopher Diss

Sandra Ponsoby said...

Thatch roofing is looking awesome that you for shring this useful post. These roofs are strong as well as look incredible in homes or any other property.