Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Thatchers at Work
As I have mentioned, we are in a long slow process of moving to the Western Cape, where we'll be so lucky as to be living and working on an exquisite farm in Franschhoek. Old farm dwellings have been beautifully remodelled, as well as some new ones built, as guest cottages.
The original French Hugenot farmhouse and outbuildings are now in the process of being restored according to heritage requirements into a hotel, dining areas and more accommodation. I spent a blissful autumn morning on a visit there last month, surrounded by mountains and vineyards, watching and sketching a team of thatchers giving the old water mill a new hat.
I spoke to the foreman, who told me that this team comes mainly from the small town of Macassar, which has its own fascinating history. The craft of thatching has been passed down from father to son, as his father and grandfather did to him - he doesn't know how long his family has done this work, but I wouldn't be surprised if it goes back to the late 1600's, as do Macassar and the Hugenots in the Cape.
Here they were busy with 'toumaak' ...rolling and looping twine by hand, after which the bundles of grass were rhythmically tossed to the roof, where they were lined up and stitched into place with long needles. By this time I was - shamefully having watched the much harder work going on before me - exhausted from sitting in the shade and sketching and had to go in for some tea and a rest... but I checked at intervals as the roof was quickly and expertly layered, combed and knocked into shape and, with a long weekend of well deserved rest in between, finished off with a cap of cement to hold everything in place.
I sat outside again as they completed the finishing touches, and did a final sketch before they packed up and moved on to the next finely crafted job - let's hope the sons of these fathers carry on the good work for years to come.