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Published: 26 February 2013

By Andy Ross

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The art and craft of thatching

The first day of our trip to South Africa, we were very pleased to stay overnight in Johannesburg at a beautiful thatched guest house with a wonderful garden. (Close to the airport, Safari Club is a good stopover if you are heading that way.) While we were there, we watched, fascinated, as the roof of the building was re-thatched. It was amazing to see and I think regular readers of this blog would like to see how it is done in Africa.

The cut reeds are dried in the sun before being bundled ready for use.

First the long reeds are cut and bundled to be dried in the sun.

The thatching starts with lengths of plank tied to the underside of the roof tresses on which the thatchers walk... in bare feet... with no support. Not for me, I am afraid!

The thatch is literally stitched into the existing reed roof using a long wire needle and thin wire which secures the bundles to the roof trusses. The roof is made up of three or four overlapping bundles which makes the roof rainproof, rather like tiling.This is a picture of the underside of the roof, showing the trusses and reed roof.

The thatching reeds are bent over the peak of the roof and secured on the other side. A second set of reeds has been fastened on the other side and is bent back over to make a double layer in the middle of the peak.

While this is going on, wire mesh is pinned and stitched onto the thatch to secure it into place. On the ends, the thatch and the wire mesh has to be bent around the corners.

The final touch is to comb the roof to remove any loose reeds and to push up the edges of the tatch to make a clean, straight, even line at the bottom. The men we were watching used a special tool - a thick piece of ridged wood with nails in it to comb and beat, and a wrist strap of leather.

The new thatch is golden and smells herby and rich. As it ages, it darkens in the sun until it is a deep grey colour. The thatch looks wonderful in the sunshine in this beautiful garden.