Why Straw Millinery?

A month ago or so, I said I would write about why I prefer straw millinery over the many other historical crafts/arts I’ve dabbled in. Since WordPress alerted me the other day that I had written my 1,000th post, I thought this would be appropriate for my 1,001st post.  

Why Straw Millinery?

To me, a plait of straw is simultaneously three things. It is the plant. It is employment and opportunity for women. It is art in a potential state.

The straw itself.

The plant, though most commonly rye for millinery purposes, symbolizes wheat for me. Wheat is a combination of fine lines and stunning curves when you look at a single blade with its shaft and seed. In mass, wheat has this most beautiful golden color mixing its many shades. At certain times of year, when the sun is just right, it glows, shifting the rays of sun in a way that is almost surreal. The effect is calming, centering and helps me feel connected to the earth around me.

The meaning of wheat goes far deeper for me though. Blades of wheat can be found on my Grandparent’s headstone as well as on Grandpa’s coffin. For as long as I remember, Grandpa had a thing for wheat. He had a small field on the south side of the farm house when I was little. After Grandpa died, wheat became a symbol though Grandma of Grandpa. Grandpa wheat and Grandma daisies.

The employment of women.

Every time I look at a plait of straw, be it an extant piece or a new piece, I can not help but wonder about the hands who plaited the straw. One would think with all our mechanical advances, that straw would be plaited all by machine now. The plait shows that is not the case as every so often I find a woman’s hair braided into the plait. Some hairs are thick and black, some are fine and light brown. These findings just reinforce the connection between straw and women’s employment for centuries now.

William Holman Hunt, Tuscan girl plaiting straw, 1869

Women in New England through New York, as well as in England and elsewhere in Europe, plaited straw, often with the aid of their young children, then sewed plait into bonnets and hats. This cottage industry brought money into rural and small town homes. In some cases, it was additional money, while in other cases it was survival money.

The employment of women follows up the straw industry from plant to plait to bonnet. In the millinery shops, we find both female proprietors and female apprentices. In each proprietor and apprentice we find hope; hope for independence, hope for security.

Ah, the art of it.

Curves of strawThere is something about how natural straw can be manipulated that fascinates me. Each plait, whether whole or split, narrow or wide, has its own rules on how it will curve, bend, and hold its shape. If you have followed my work recently, you know I love curves. With straw plait a curve isn’t simply a single curve, it is multiple curves and a single curve all at once, developed with each length of plait curving and each strand of straw inside the plait curving as well. With these curves the earth plant becomes fluid, almost water like. Yes, that is what I see when I really get into a straw piece.

I may tweak this in the future. But, this is why in a nut shell. 

Published in: on July 22, 2015 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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