An Overview of the Art and Craft of Straw Work

Today many people work with straw and have developed the traditional skills into modern work, producing art forms, which exhibit great skill in techniques and development of design ideas. For some workers this provides a small additional income, but it cannot yet provide a regular income. Most workers simply pass on the skills to keep traditional work alive.


Some workers produce corn dollies, although this work is not traditional to Switzerland, they were probably only introduced about 30 years ago. Some of the English designs, which date back to the late 1800s, are made from straw plaits also made in the straw hat industry.


A modern development of corn dolly making is known as Decorative Straw Work where more than one technique is combined to make one decoration. In such pieces, straw marquetry and straw plaits may be mixed with traditional Swiss Agréments.


Corn dollies are normally made from whole straw stems, but for Decorative Straw Work the straw is often more skilfully prepared.


A whole straw can be split into narrow sections known as splints and in Switzerland the splints were made into elaborate straw plaits or worked into Bordures.


Two splints can be twisted together to produce a fine thread and it was this work of making the Schnürli or Drähtli. These threads were then used in many creatively original ways, making Switzerland world famous for its straw hat decorations. There are hundreds of variations of motifs, and many types of netted patterns that can be made.


A whole stem of straw can be split, flattened and then glued to a fabric or paper background to make straw sheets (Stroh platten). In the Swiss industry the sheets were punched out using stamps, which gave them shape and form (such as leaves and bird wings, anchors and flowers), and those shapes were then decorated with Schnürli or plaits or beads. The other important Swiss industry was the making of knotted hats (Röhrlihüte or Spitzhüte) for men, for women and for children. Whole straws are knotted together over a hat block. Straw threads can be worked into the knotting to add surface decoration.


The Swiss techniques of plaiting, working with straw threads, the making of Agréments, and the making of knotted hats can be taught to small groups. Contact the Foundation if you would like details.

Hubert Boschung, november 1997