The first step for creating this structure was gathering reeds. I had heard of a spot that had lots of cattails, so Emma and I went down there and slogged around through a swampy spot gathering armfuls. A lot of them we could pull up easily, many of them were waterlogged and rotting. We bundled them into Emma’s car and brought them home to dry.
On her way home from that excursion, Emma found another spot with many more reeds, taller ones. Next Sue was brave enough to join me on this mad errand. We gathered lots of reeds and brought them straight to the spot I was building at school. The bad news is that we found a frightening number of ticks on us after this. The good news is that they were all dog ticks and none had attached yet!
Other fun facts- reeds can give you lots of tiny cuts and splinters, and they may not fit well in your car.
These were a different species, phragmites. The stems are hollow like straws, and they are harder, taller and thinner than the cattails, which are not hollow and are much more dense.
In my thatch research, I learned a lot about roofs, which are apparently much better documented than thatch huts are. I had to turn to the internet because neither the school libraries or the public library system had any books on thatching. The closest I got was a book on historic preservation that had a chapter on repairing wattle & daub. It was actually interesting, but not terribly relevant.
The one book I had that did help tremendously with this structure and my entire project was Shelter, published by Shelter Publications. This is one of the best books ever. It is all over the place and not very well organized but still an amazing resource and full of exciting pictures and diagrams of shelters all over the world.
I found some resources on the internet about how to build thatch huts. They all said you needed a wood frame to thatch onto, but I don’t believe this to be true. I decided to go with a design based on tipi structure.
I started by sorting the reeds on site. I put the longest ones onto three bunches and bound them together tight, creating three reed “logs” for my frame.
I laid these together on the ground like this, one sandwiched between the other two,
and then bound the joint together, looping over and under to make sure each bunch was supported. I tied it tight and then stood the whole thing up, unfolding it tripod style. Voila!
Thatch needs something to be sewn onto, so the next step was to create crossbeams. I drove a reed crossways through each bunch, joining the sides and making a sweet looking triangle in the center.
I then bound these reeds in place so that they won’t slide up or down.
Then I started leaning the remaining reeds along either side to form walls. Some were tall and I had to trim them. I drove a few more short pieces through the three main supports to hold the wall reeds in place while I worked. When I had relatively solid walls on two sides I made a thatching needle out of a piece of reed and sewed the reeds in place. I used a simple in and out stitch like you would sewing cloth, only I went back across stitching so that the reeds were held in place on both sides, matching every in with an out, so to speak.
On the front side I used shorter reeds to create the wall around the door. After that it was a matter of just adding and adding and adding reeds, tucking them into the stitches to fill in gaps and strengthen weak spots.
The whole process went a lot faster than I expected- once I gathered the reeds, I built the structure in one afternoon!