Chitchat on Straw

Chitchat Upon New York and Philadelphia Fashions, For April 25, 2013

At this season, when every one is wearing straw bonnets and everybody buying them, the expense of Leghorns and the so-called Tuscans, our English and French straws, is often a matter of wonder and questioning. We are sure our readers will be interested in an account of their manufacture, be for we go on to chat about their shapes and styles. Leghorns come, as, perhaps our readers know, in the shape of a flat, round mat, and from it are cut and pressed into any prevailing shape. April 61

“It is chiefly in the neighborhood of Florence, Pisa, the district of Sienna, and the upper part of the Valley of the Arno, that the best mats are for straw hats. In these countries, whole families, old and young may be seen occupied at this kind of work; and it is certain that this branch of industry brings in a very large sum annually to the country. The cost of the raw material is inconsiderable; but the value of the work is so great that the women of the Valley of the Arno commit their domestic affairs to people of the mountains, that they may be able to devote all their time to the lucrative manufacture of straw plait. The following is the information which the author of this notice has obtained relative to this kind of industry. The straw used in working these mates is grown in districts mountainous and sterile. It is produced from a kind of wheat, of which the grain is very small. The straw, though slender, has much consistency, and the upper part of the stalk being perfectly hollow, is easily dried, It is pulled out of the earth before the grain begins to form. After being freed from the soil which adheres to the root, it is formed into small sheaves to be winnowed; the part above the last joint of the stem is then plucked off, which is from four to six inches long, the ear remaining attached to it. This being done, it is bleached alternately by the dew and the sunshine. Rain is very injurious to it, and destroys much of its whiteness. When a sudden shower comes on, every one is in motion gathering up the straw. The lower parts of the straw are treated in the same manner, and employed in forming mats of an inferior quality. The upper parts, torn off just to the knot, are sorted according to their degree of fineness. This sampling is made with much care, and usually  affords straw of three different prices. A quantity of straw worth three-quarters of a paoli (4 1/2d.), after having undergone this process, is sold for ten paoli (4s. 7d.). The tress is formed of seven or nine straws , which are begun at the lower end, and are consumed, in plaiting, to within an inch and a half of the upper extremity, including the ear. All the ends of the straws that have been consumed are left out, so that the ears shall be on the other side of the tress. As fast as it is worked it is rolled on a cylinder of wood. When it is finished, the projecting ends and ears are cut off; it is then passed with force between the hand and a piece of wood, cut with a sharp edge to press and polish it. The tresses thus prepared, are used so that a complete hat shall be formed of one piece. They are sewed together with raw silk. The diameter of the hat is in general the same, the only difference consists of the degree of fineness, and consequentaly, the number of turns which the tress has made in completing the hat. These hats have from twenty to eighty such turns, the number regulating the price, which varies from 20 paoli (9s.2d) to 100 piastres (upwards of L20). Those of the first quality have no fixed price. A hat which sells for 100 piatres affords a profit of 40 to the merchant; the straw and silk costing 20 piastres, and the labor 40 piastres. The workers gain about three to five paoli (1s.4d or 2s. 3d) per day. Several mercantile houses at Florence and Leghorn buy these hats on the spots where they worked. There is one of these houses which annually exports them to the value of 400,000 florins (L3,500). French speculators have tried to cultivate this sort of straw, but they have not been able to obtain so fine a quality as that of Tuscany.”

Many of the Leghorns this season are simply and gracefully trimmed with a plume of feathers on one side, and on the inside is a roll of velvet, with a small feather or bouquet of flowers. Tabs are not so much worn this spring; they are replaced by the roll or bandeay of velvet and the full inside lining described in the last chat [March, 1861 See below], but this style is not generally as soft as the lace tabs. Clusters of cherries make a pretty trimming, as shown in Fig. 6 of our fashion-plate [sorry, I have a different illustration]

For travelling bonnets we notice at Mrs. Scofield’s May plain-colored silks trimmed with silk, forming great contrast. The shapes are not so drooping over the face as they have been during the past winter, but stand high on the head, and are of medium size. English split straws and thin lace straws will be much worn, the fronts being bound with a wide ribbon, violet, apple gree, havanne, and lilac being the favorite colors

Hats, not so universally worn by ladies at watering places, and also much liked for travelling, are of great variety this season; they are trimmed with pheasants’ and other game birds’ feathers; the graceful Coque plume is also much worn. We see a number of the turban-shaped hats for children, handsomely trimmed with plumes.  (Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1861)

This concludes the section on bonnets.

 The reference to March:

March 61The shape of bonnets is much less of a poke than last year; flatter on top, and more open at the ears. A drawn lining for straws of crape, silk, or satin, with the edge projecting a little to form a tiny ruff of the material, when seen from the outside. The tendency is to discard blonde ruches all together for bands, rolls and plaitings of ribbon, plain blonde, and flowers. There is a great variety of braids, mixtures of gray and brown orin prevailing, and some delicately-fine Dunstables and split French straws; chip is also seen with rice straw. Leghorns are the only straw bonnets on the street, as yet.

Published in: on April 25, 2013 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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