Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Master Thatcher to you.

This is our friend Lee Miller, a Master Thatcher and, actually, a World Champion Thatcher. The tall beaming bloke next to him is Andy Cowling, his right hand man on the job.

I love a good skill set and delving into processes which are nothing to do with my own, and Lee Miller’s work is not only incredibly specialist, it’s HIGHLY skilled and evolved through years of practice. He’s spent his entire post-university life thatching, after deciding he preferred working outdoors, starting with an apprenticeship with his uncle and eventually opening his own business in 2007.

His work is beautiful and mind-bending - it’s difficult to picture how such a material can be formed into the array of shapes and patterns shown on his website. If you think icing a cake with a fancy edge is tricky, have a go at doing it 2000% bigger out of reed or straw and 30 feet in the air.

Miller is re-thatching the roof of Hinckley’s only thatched building, the Framework Knitters' Cottages which are now Hinckley Museum. They’re a five minute walk from our studio, and are very old (though altered a little in the 1920s).

This thatch, says Miller, will last decades, and is attached to the roof via a sequence of time-consuming steps that can only be carried out in reasonable weather conditions - though on the day I gatecrashed their thatch party, the winds were terrific and thatch-dust blew in our eyes every few minutes.

I don’t know the first thing about thatching really - you’d have to ask the man himself if you wanted details - but there are certainly some marvellous processes and intriguing tools involved. Here is Miller attending to the underside of some recently-applied thatch:

He’s patting it into shape with a home-made tool, fashioned from a table leg for a handle with regular slices of copper pipe pinned to a board:

(That’s my knee and my winter tights you see next to it.)

This is the view down from the exact spot Miller was working in. Ooh!

The bundles of thatch are corried up the ladder to the roof, thus.

Then they’re laid in bundles, like this:

The T-shaped ‘pins’ that are holding the bundles in place are ordered in bulk, and are quite handsome objects in their own right:

View from the top of the roof:

Looking back toward our place, you can see the very neat rows of thatch that will be trimmed at the apex and formed into a ridge:

And a view looking back at the work in progress:

It doesn’t look that spectacular yet, but feast thine orbs dusty and windblown on these examples of Miller’s previous work. Absolutely beautiful.

Thanks for letting me on the roof Miller.

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