A-Z of miniatures crafts: H for hemp

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10 September 2020
Miniature woodman's cottage Miniature woodman's cottage with thatched roof.
Learn how to make a thatched roof for your dolls house or miniature scene using plumber’s hemp, ideal for thatching 1/24th and smaller scale. 

Plumber’s hemp is a soft and slightly silky material that looks like a skein of dark blonde human hair, but at the smaller scales emulates straw thatch very well. In this tutorial by Ann Sutcliffe you’ll learn how to make a miniature thatched roof in just six steps!

Thatching with plumber’s hemp – a miniature roof tutorial 

By Ann Sutcliffe.

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You will need

  • A picture of the real thatched roof (this will give you a design to follow, a colour palette to copy, and ideas for the ligging designs on the finished thatch)
  • PVA glue
  • Pencil and ruler
  • An old flat paintbrush
  • 2 packs of hemp for a cottage roof
  • 1 pair of large strong scissors
  • 1 pair of small sharp trimming scissors
  • Ordinary hair comb
  • Paint and inclusions as required

Plumbers hemp

How to make a miniature thatched roof

1. Cut your roof piece or pieces to size and check they fit the building. Paint or decorate
the inside of the roof and any exposed edges. Take a moment to paint the side you’re going to thatch especially if you’re using white coloured card or board, in case it shows through. Draw pencil lines horizontally across the roof half an inch apart. The closer together, the more thatch, and the thicker and more realistic the finished effect.

Miniature roof piece

2. Starting at the bottom, spread a good thick layer of PVA on and below the first line. Cut approximately 3cm or 1.5in length from the bundle of hemp. Cut as you need it, not all at once – it’s much easier to use when still tightly bundled together. Spread the hemp along the line, bundle by bundle until the whole row is completed.

Gluing plumbers hemp to miniature roof

3. Take your flat glue brush, well loaded with glue, and while holding the loose ends with your free hand gently glue over all the top edges, extending the glue upwards towards the second pencil line.

Gluing plumbers hemp upwards

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4. Lay the next row onto this gluey line and continue up the roof until you reach the top. Don’t worry if the rows look uneven as the whole roof will be trimmed later.

Plumbers hemp miniature thatched roof

5. For the ridge on a lift-off roof (not if you’re hinging the roof) lay longer lengths of hemp over the ridge, building up to a thickness which can be trimmed straight or into a pattern when dry. If your roof is made of a material prone to warping, i.e. card or foam core, place under a heavy weight or book to prevent warping and leave the glue to dry overnight.

Only when the glue is thoroughly dry, trim the thatch with a small pair of sharp scissors. Cutting up the roof rather like a barber cuts a ‘short back and sides’, helps to eliminate too many straight lines.

Finished miniature thatched roof

6. Comb the thatch down the roof, removing any loose hairs and re-trim where necessary. If required, paint the thatch to subdue the colour and add any 'moss', 'bird poo', 'plants' or inclusions you desire to age the roof.

Add rope detail (liggers) from fine string or embroidery floss and glue in place, or hold the thatch down with wooden planks or ropes with small pebbles attached to weigh down the thatch. This decoration depends entirely on the era and prosperity of your house. 

Rumplestiltskin's house in miniature

Rumplestiltskin's house in miniature.

Now you’ve mastered the art of thatching a miniature roof, don’t miss more techniques from our A-Z of miniature crafts series... Go back to 'G for glass painting' and learn how to create a miniature stained glass window or skip to 'I for inlay' where you'll learn how to make a miniature table top!

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