I have been meaning to spend some more time working with straw for a while and this month I put some time aside to explore its potential for coil basketry.

Straw is readily available here in the Orkney Islands at the right time of year (usually oat or barley), but thinking ahead of harvest time, I contacted Elaine from somethingcorny.co.uk and she helped me to source some wheat straw.

Having seen examples of fine straw plaiting in a local museum, I felt sure that I would be able to split the straw and use it in a similar way to the Phormium Tenax fibre, that I usually use for my work.

 

 I started by preparing the straws and splitting them down into thin strips with a needle. This is something that I have done before with Reed Canary grass, which grows on our land.  It takes some patience to split anything equally this way and although I have seen footage of traditional basket makers working very efficiently with a needle, I haven’t had enough practice to go at more than a snails pace.

I managed to get enough ready to begin a sample of coil work, so I softened the strips by running them between my thumb nail and forefinger, to stop them from cracking, and put them to soak in water.

For my first sample, I used straw for the core fibre as well as for the wrapping. It took a little while to find my confidence as straw has a very definite front and back side, whereas Phormium fibres do not. This meant an adjustment in my working method. Instead of using a needle to feed the wrapping length between the previous rows, I had to make a hole first, with a thick yarn needle and then just push the straw through. .

At the scale in which I usually work, straw is not quite flexible enough for the core. It felt a bit bulky and difficult to shape nicely around tight curves. I don’t think that this would be an issue on a larger basket, but I decided to use Phormium Tenax fibres for the core, next time round.

My instincts were right with the change of core and thanks to Elaine providing me with a straw splitter, everything started to feel more comfortable and I got into a good working flow.

A straw splitter is such a simple tool, but so effective! I used a six strand splitter, which was the perfect width for my tiny basket.

I also found that it was a great task for children. Wren, my six year old found it very satisfying to split the straws.

The final tiny basket has a lovely quality to it, thanks to the soft, golden colour of the straw. It is very strong, despite its small stature and was, I think, a great success.

I will definitely look to incorporate straw into my work again, in the future. I love that it is easily accessible to so many and is easy to prepare with the help of the splitter. The colour and slight gloss of the straw, creates stunning coil work and it would be fun to try to blend some traditional straw plaiting elements into my pieces.