Sitting Pretty in Surrey!
At the begining of the year the entire WonderWood team was reunited and we all headed down to Surrey to weave 116 metres of willow fencing around the outside boundary of a 5 acre plot - soon to be a gorgeous home for a lucky somebody! A day spent in the willows the Friday before saw three entire trailers filled with willow- as well as 260 hazel zales.
On the morning we started the job, a 4am wake up call preceded the drive down to Shamley Green, Surrey. The team were buzzing to be back together; the boys all work in Cambridge and little old me (Immy) is based alone in Oxfordshire. When you get a big job request like this one, we all get a little excited; it's a chance to work solidly and efficiently, like a well oiled machine, and to see how much we can get done each day.
The setting up of a job always takes the longest. You have to dig and then concrete in the wooden posts at the start and end of the fence, bar out the holes for the fence line, hammer the hazel zales into each hole, ram steel bars into every 5th hole for extra strength and longevity and finally pun the earth down around each zale. These jobs require a great deal of upper body strength, so by the end of setting up the top of your back, your forearms, elbows, biceps and pecs are burning...! It is crucial that set up is done well and that the fence line flows nicely, and that there are no areas where the fence could kick out or kink.
When the line is set it is important to assess the fence line. We stand back and see if there are any undulations in the ground, or any awkward areas which may make the fence line dip or raise up in a unnatural way. If there is, we fill in the dips with willow. This way, when you look along the fence, the lines made by the weave flow in a uniformed way, with the distance between each woven row the same.
When set up is complete, it's time for the fun bit... time to get our weave on!
When working as a team of four on a big fence like this, the first row is started with two of us weaving together - this way, the first row can get a head start. Once it's 10m in front, the second row can begin to follow along on top, then the third, then the fourth and so on. This way, each of us are weaving to our maximum capacity and the fence is developing as efficiently as possible. By the end of the first day we had four out of the seven rows completed, and two half rows coming along. Not bad progress! Light began to fade at 3:30pm, so we tidied up and headed to the pub (naturally). If you are weaving solidly all day with no sit down breaks, by 3pm your body is starting to cry out for you to stop. Your elbows and wrists are creaking and your fingers are clicking. We allow ourselves to have two minute breather breaks and we eat on the go, because if you stop for too long your muscles cool down and then you begin to feel the pain - and you slow waaaaay down. It's not worth it! Better to keep moving until you can't move anymore!
On day two, Tim had some ambitious goals. He always likes to push us as a team and see how much we can achieve. He wanted us to have the fence finished by the end of the day, but this meant finishing three more rows, weaving a 116m long roll top, cutting all 2,600 backs off on the working side, cutting 260 hazel tops off, banging down, filling in and tidying away all waste material and tools - all before dark... To say you have to be determined and full of grit to do this job is an understatement. That was a lot to acheive but we all knew what we had to do and all wanted to give it a good go, so we set off. By midday, Leo had started the roll top and the last row was being finished. By 1pm the last row was finally complete and Tim had taken over from Leo, so Leo could start his most favorite job of all - cutting the backs off. It's weird how much joy this job brings Leo. For any other person, cutting that many backs is soul destroying, overwhelming and back breaking, but Leo LOVES it! He turns the agonising, throbbing pain in his elbows into adrenaline and is seriously OCD about the uniformity of each cut, which is great for us and the finished fence! However, much to Leo's disappointment and frustration, Jacob was also tasked with cutting the backs off. He's a skilled cutter in his own right, but maybe not as enthusiastic!
By 4pm we had done it. The fence was banged down, the tops had been cut off - the fence was complete and all 166 metres of it was looking fantastic. Time for a beer (or two!)
The next morning, in the daylight, we stood back with our client and marvelled at the willowy lines and chunky plaits. The fence was a natural reflection of the rolling ground it had been built upon. It flowed around the edges of the boundary beautifully, wrapping around mighty oaks and sweeping off into the distance. We were thrilled with the result and so was the client. We are always thankful to be given the opportunity to weave such a length of fence, and it is always such a great opportunity to show off the real potential of continuously woven willow.
Hmm what am I talking about?...
*Barring: Using a long heavy bar, we bore 1-2 inch sized holes in the ground. To give the hazel good strong placement it's ideal if the bar makes a hole which is at least 20cm deep.
*Cup hammering: A cup hammer is a tool which cups over the top of zale and is heavy like a hammer. It allows you to hammer a zale into the ground further.
*Ramming: A post rammer is used to bang posts into a hole.
*Punning: Using the top of a digging bar, we beat down the earth around the zale to give the hazel even more stability.
*Roll top: The woven plait that sits along the top of the fence
*Backs: the back of the fence, the working side where you can see each weaver come through the fence. Each weaver is cut nicely once the fence is finished so all the backs look uniform and beautiful in their own right.
*Cut tops off: Cutting the top off each hazel upright so that they are all at the same height along the fence line.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post