International Thatching Society Congress 2014 | Cape Town

This February South Africa was extremely lucky to have the International Thatching Society (ITS) hold their annual thatching fair and meeting in Cape Town, close to home! Which gave us the opportunity to be involved in the fair and in an extremely interesting conference day in Stellenbosch as well as to introduce ourselves in person to the Thatchers Association of South Africa (TASA) of which we have been full members since 2010 but have not yet had the opportunity to meet.

TASA organised a great program of events for the ITS who made the most of the hot Summer weather in SA and of sharing stories, tips and techniques with thatchers from around the world.

A Little Bit about the International Thatching Society

The ITS is made up of seven member countries: Denmark, Holland, South Africa, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and Japan. Each country has two board members who represent their national association of thatchers within ITS. The aim of the society is to 
"...establish a base of knowledge and techniques that will upgrade the status of the thatched roof from its historical image as a roof almost entirely used on old and listed buildings, to a modern and competitive roof..." practice the society is a forum for thatchers and thatching contractors around the world to share knowledge and information around materials, techniques, fire protection, challenges and opportunities for the industry as a whole.

ITS Thatching Fair

Our first day with the ITS on Wednesday 12th Feb was a little slow to start which gave us a chance to have a look around and get to know a few of the other South African contractors attending. The first aspects of the fair to start moving was the thatching of two panels at the entrance of the venue - one in a thatch dip treated with fire retardant and the other with a thatch fire blanket interwoven into the thatch. Once completed these two panels would be the conclusion to the fair in a fire retardancy demonstration.

Next a thatch lapa was begun by four SA thatching companies - the aim to complete the lapa that day and demonstrate SA techniques and practices to the international delegates.

Once in full swing the day moved along nicely with thatch throwing distance and accuracy competitions and a "hammer slaan" contest (hitting a nail into a block of wood as fast as possible!).
The field was set!

Distances recorded...

Delegates attempted to throw the bundle through
this hoop

The "hammer slaan" competition

There were also ongoing "interactive" thatch panels with an assortment of reed and thatch grass available for teams to get together and work on. A great way to share knowledge and techniques.
Interactive panels for the thatchers to work on together

Sharing insight into thatch types

Thatching team at work

An insight into the British technique
for thatching gable ends and corners

Insights into the "cladding" effect
that many European thatchers are
using now

The Japanese thatch their buildings
at least 2m thick!

Having a go at thatching with
water reed - the biggest reed available
on the day!

The UK team working on an
ornate thatch capping

The fair was a fun day for international and domestic delegates to spend a little time together informally and share their enthusiasm and knowledge of thatch. 

ITS Conference Day

The roof of Stellenbosch Lodge
conference centre
Thursday 13th Feb was spent in a stunning conference hall in the Stellenbosch Lodge (with a beautifully thatched roof - of course!). The conference involved presentations from all member countries with pictures and movies about thatching in their country, challenges that they face and an opportunity to ask questions. 

Points which stood out to us in particular:
  • The thatching industry in all European countries puts their thatchers through a 3-4 year apprenticeship and training course where, upon completion they are qualified and experienced enough to "go it alone" - they have experience of a variety of roofing methods, roof construction and thatching itself. There are no such training standards in South Africa where the industry contrasts greatly to those in Europe. The thatching industry elsewhere is a craft - the thatchers are artists
  • Some European thatchers are restricted by design and building guidelines which prevent a huge degree of creativity and experimentation with thatch - buildings have to be thatched in the style of old and listed buildings and cannot incorporate any new techniques or creativity in shape and style
  • Thatchers are often the owners of the thatching company and they do all the work themselves (in contrast to many South African thatching companies where the owner acts as manager/contractor and hires or employs thatchers to complete the work)
  • Thatching in some European countries is a very small industry - in Sweden only 10 houses are thatched per year!
  • In Japan the completion of a thatched roof is celebrated between thatcher and client with a ceremony where the final ridge pole is added to the building in partnership; the ceremony celebrates the completion of the home and the roof built in natural materials
The South African board members then presented their work and many of the styles of thatching that are done in South Africa plus reporting some in depth information about recent research into the efficiency of thatch as an insulator and the ideal thickness of thatch to insulate properly. 

Thatch fire protection was also high on the agenda and with several fire retardant sprays and fire blankets under ongoing testing over several stages of their life (and the life of the thatched  roof that they are installed in). There was a presentation about fire protection in the industry and the latest industry research and considerations.

Overall it was fantastic to be a part of the ITS Congress - to meet thatchers from around the world and discuss challenges and opportunities which all thatchers face around the globe. 

Coming away from the congress we feel that we as a part of the South African industry have a lot to learn from the thatchers in Europe - instead of seeing other contractors as a threat, unite to move the industry forward, communicate with each other, share knowledge - we are all representing the same thing and we all want to grow and move forward with the times. Typically here in South Africa contractors see each other as competition and there seems to be a big divide between TASA members and provinces. It is important to approach each other with an open mind and we feel it's worth taking a leaf out of the EU thatchers' book - if the job is too big for one company, join forces and both benefit, work together. We joked at the Fair that the lapa being built there was the first time ever that four South African thatching contractors had been seen thatching a roof together - and it's true. It doesn't happen often. Why not? 

Unfortunately the TASA AGM which was scheduled to take place on Saturday 15th Feb in Stellenbosch was postponed...

Find out more about the ITS on the website at


  1. Greetings from Hungary.

    1. Hi Varga!

      Thanks for reading our blog and sharing on your informative facebook page - it's great to get connected with the thatching industry internationally!

      Kind regards,


  2. Hi, you explained the topic very well.
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