is a method of manufacturing textiles
by braiding straw
and the industry that surrounds the craft of producing these straw manufactures. Straw is plaited to produce products including hats and ornaments, and the process is undertaken in a number of locations worldwide.
Straw can be plaited for a number of purposes, including: the thatching
of roofs, to create a paper-making material, for ornamenting small surfaces as a "straw-mosaic", for plaiting into door and table mats, mattresses and for weaving and plaiting into light baskets and to create artificial flowers. Straw is also plaited to produce bonnets and hats
The most valuable straw for plaits is grown in Tuscany
, and from it the well-known Tuscan plaits and Leghorn hats are made. The straw of Tuscany, specially grown for plaiting, is distinguished into three qualities. Pontederas Semone being the finest, Mazzuolo the second quality, from which the bulk of the plaits are made, while from the third quality, Santa Fioro, only "Tuscan pedals" and braids are plaited.
The wheat-seed for these straws is sown very thickly on comparatively elevated and arid land, and it sends up long attenuated stalks. When the grain in the ear is about half developed the straw is pulled up by the roots, dried in the sun, and subsequently spread out for several successive days to be bleached under the influence of alternate sunlight and night-dews. The pipe of the upper joint alone is selected for plaiting, the remainder of the straw being used for other purposes. These pipes are made up in small bundles, bleached in sulfur fumes in a closed chest; assorted into sizes, and so prepared for the plaiters. Straw-plaiting is a domestic industry among the women and young children of Tuscany and some parts of Emilia. Tuscan plaits and hats vary enormously in quality and value; the plait of a hat of good quality may represent the work of four or five days, while hats of the highest quality may each occupy six to nine months in making. The finest work is excessively trying to the eyes of the plaiters, who can at most give to it two or three hours' labor daily.
The districts around Luton
and the neighboring counties have, since the beginning of the 17th century, been the British home of the straw-plait industry. The straw of certain varieties of wheat cultivated in that region is, in favorable seasons, possessed of a fine bright color and due to tenacity and strength. The straw is cut as in ordinary harvesting, but is allowed to dry in the sun, before binding. Subsequently straws are selected from the sheaves, and of these the pipes of the two upper joints are taken for plaiting. The pipes are assorted into sizes by passing them through graduated openings in a grilled wire frame, and those of good color are bleached by the fumes of sulfur. Spotted and discoloured straws are dyed either in pipe or in plait. The plaiters work up the material in a damp state, either into whole straw or split straw plaits. Split straws are prepared with the aid of a small instrument having a projecting point which enters the straw pipe, and from which radiate the number of knife-edged cutters into which the straw is to be split.
The plaiting of straw in the counties of Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire formerly gave employment to many thousands of women and young children; but this had largely ended by the beginning of the 20th century: the number of English plaiters, all told, was not more than a few hundreds in 1907, as compared with 30,000 in 1871.
- Corn dolly, figures constructed from plaited straw with an ancient religious significance.
- Gróf, László Children of Straw - The story of a Vanished Craft and Industry in Bucks, Herts, Beds and Essex. Southampton, England: Barracuda Books.