Papillon is a traditional, family run business in the heart of the countryside. Hurdle-making is a craft which requires precise skills, using methods which haven’t changed in hundreds of years. The expertise required to construct the high-quality hurdles available from Papillon are passed down through the generations, preserving tradition while allowing room for more modern approaches and innovations.
When sourcing materials, Papillon only uses the best, locally sourced hazel and willow to ensure strength and durability. Not only is it important to make sure that the wood is of high enough quality, it also has to be aesthetically exceptional – while it’s virtually impossible to match natural materials identically, those at Papillon try to make sure that all rods and sails are as similar as possible.
The subtle, natural differences that are found within each hurdle mean that each one is a unique and beautiful piece, bringing an organic feel to your garden. The slight colour variations, the millimetre size differences and the different bends and twists of each rod add to the natural flow of your garden, making it feel truly alive.
After the best willow and hazel has been selected and sent to the Papillon workshop, the rods are soaked in water to make the wood pliable for the weaving process. It is important to ensure that the rods are as supple as possible to avoid damage during the weaving process.
Constructing even one hazel or willow hurdle is a laborious task for only the most skilled craftsmen. A single hurdle maker at Papillon will make just two and a half hurdles a day – a demonstration of their determination to ensure that each hurdle is the best it can be. After construction, all hurdles are inspected, and those which are deemed unsuitable are not shipped out.
The starting point for any hurdle is the mouldboard – a thick wooden board with holes drilled through it. The mould board is placed on the ground and thick, straight branches are placed in the holes. These become the sails of the hurdle and form the skeleton.
Once the sails are in place, the weaving can begin. The hurdle maker chooses a branch – called a rod – and begins to weave it in and out between the sails. After a few rods have been woven into place, the structure needs to be secured. This is done by taking a longer rod which after being woven is wrapped into place around the first and final sails. This is done in two different ways, depending on what the hurdle is made of.
For hazel hurdles, the rod needs to be twisted in order to crack the wood and make it more fibrous. Hazel is a very strong wood so is likely to snap if handled indelicately, and this process avoids that. The twisting motion makes the wood rope-like, strengthening it but also making it easier to wrap into place. Once bent around the final sail, the rod is tucked into the hurdle, securing it. For willow hurdles, the process is easier and doesn’t require twisting as the wood is naturally springier.
Wrapping is done at intervals up the hurdle, notably at the top and bottom to secure the rest of the rods in place. Once the height of the hurdle has been woven, one final wrap will be put in place to secure it and any protruding rods are trimmed into place. After the hurdle is secured and trimmed it can be lifted from the mould board.
The final step for Papillon hurdles is the rigorous inspection process. The hurdles are examined for quality of wood, strength of the weave and wraps, colour uniformity and general durability. Papillon is very strict with their quality control, meaning that only the very best hurdles are provided for Primrose. Once a hurdle has passed quality control, it has one final step – being shipped to you.
Hazel and willow hurdles have been used in Europe for thousands of years. These durable, long-lasting constructions have been excavated from archaeological digs and removed from peat bogs, giving us a glimpse into their popularity in the past. For hundreds of years these hurdles’ main use was to create a portable pen or fence for livestock, particularly sheep, but today you’re more likely to find them giving your garden a delightful, rustic look.
The longevity of willow and hazel hurdles is undoubtedly one of the reasons why they were so popular thousands of years ago. This is not only because of their durable materials, but because of the care and meticulous skill that went into making them.