Wheat as well as rye and oat straw is an excellent material for weaving. The naturally shiny surface and soft yellow color enhance the beauty of the material. Straw used as the weft for table place mats, woven on a table- or floor-type loom, or even on a simple cardboard loom, is a new and cost-free material.
PLATE I. A pottery vase on a wheat-straw mat.
The stalks should be gathered just at harvest time. If it is too late in the season, long stems may be selected from the strawstack. Cut with scissors or a knife near the ground. Lay the straw in a dry and shady place for a few days.
Figure 1 shows how to prepare the straw for weaving. First, remove the head of the grain with scissors. Then cut above and below the joints and slip off the grassy leaves.
To make a weaver long enough, join several lengths of straw by slipping one piece into the end of another until the desired length is made. See Figure 2. Unfortunately, each succeeding section of straw does not telescope into the other, so it is necessary to select straws until they fit. For table mats the weavers should be approximately 15 inches long. This length allows for trimming the edges of the mat after it is completed. Prepare a quantity of weavers before starting to weave. If they are to be used immediately, soak them in warm water.
Figure 1. Remove the head of the grain with scissors. Cut above and below the joints and slip off the leaves.
Figure 2. Slip one straw into the end of another.
A simple cardboard loom can be used if a table or floor loom is not available. The cardboard should be strong and flexible. Cardboard from the backs of tablets and suit boxes is suitable for small mats. A heavier weight cardboard should be used for the larger mats. Arch the cardboard one way and then the other to find which is the more flexible. This should be used as the length of the mat so that the cardboard will not break as the straws draw the threads tighter on the loom.
PLATE II. Threading a cardboard loom.
PLATE III. Weaving a straw mat on a cardboard loom.
A card 14 x 22 inches is large enough for a table place mat. The finished mat will be about 14 x 18 inches.
Cotton twine, coarse crochet thread, or carpet warp may be used for the warp. Use a double strand of thread. Tie a knot in the end of the thread and slip the strands into the first notch of the cardboard. Notches cut inch deep and 1/2 inch apart are an average size for weaving.
Bring the string down to the opposite notch, slip the threads into that notch and bring the warp to the front of the loom through the adjoining notch. See Plate II. Continue until the loom is threaded. All of the warp threads are on the front of the cardboard. There must be an uneven number of threads for weaving. Tie the last warp end at the back of the cardboard by bringing it diagonally across to the beginning thread. These threads are untied when the mat is finished and the ends tied in the fringe.
Soak the straw in water overnight to make it flexible.
Weave the first straw across the loom, under and over the warp threads. See Plate III. The next weaver is placed over and under the opposite threads. A simple pattern may be woven by skipping warp threads, by cutting groups of notches closer together, or combining with other native materials such as cattail leaves, strips of corn-husks, or slough grass. Push the straw together each time a new one is added and keep the warp threads parallel.
The cardboard will arch or bend as the thickness of the weft is added. Then the fingers can be placed on every other thread to make a partial shed for the straw. This act saves time and patience.
Plate IV shows how the straws are cut even. The ends should extend about an inch beyond the outside warp threads. The width of a ruler makes a handv device for measuring this.
When the warp is filled and the ends cut, add several rows of cotton thread by weaving under and over each extending straw of the weft to give additional firmness and color. See Plate V. A double strand of thread 6 inches longer than the mat should be used. Do not tie the ends until the mat has been removed from the loom and additional straws have been added to make it firm. Several colors of thread serve for added decoration.
PLATE IV. Cutting the ends of the straws.
PLATE V. Additional thread is woven under and over the extending weft ends.
To remove the mat from the cardboard, Plate VI, slip the warp over the ends of the notches. Fill the loose warp ends with additional straws until the mat is firm. Tie the ends of the beginning and last warp threads to the adjoining threads or tie them in with a fringe if it is being added. The ends of the warp will appear "Y" shaped after the mat is removed from the loom. This may be remedied if the threads are clipped and tied parallel after removing the piece from the cardboard. Tassels or fringe in colors which harmonize with the native material may be added by tying the threads to the beginning and end straws of the mat.
If a table or floor loom is available, set up a simple pattern with colored cotton warp. Allow 22 inches of warp for each mat, to include the border and a tied fringe.
Select a simple border pattern from a weaving instruction book. Weave a 1-inch border, using the cotton thread for the woof or weft. Then insert the straw weavers in the shed. Close the shed and beat. Continue to lay the weavers in the shed and beat. The straws should extend on each side bevond the width of the mat. Weave a 1-inch border at the other end of the mat and remove the mat from the loom. Allow enough warp for tying a fringe. Cut the extending straws an inch beyond the outer warp threads. Tie the end threads for a fringe.
PLATE VI. To remove the mat from the loom, arch the cardboard and slip the warp over the ends of the notctes. Note the position of the hands.
PLATE VII. A table setting with a wheat-straw mat.
For firmness and variety in color and texture, cotton thread may be used alternately with the straws. Stripes and patterns make attractive contrasts to the bright, shining straw.
CLEANING A STRAW MAT The finished mat is neither varnished, shellacked, nor waxed. The straw has a ngtural luster of its own. The mats may be cleaned by dipping them into warm soapsuds and rinsing them in cool water. Soiled spots may be sponged off with a damp cloth. The mats should be dried flat and out of the sunshine.
Straw mats are atractive as table coverings and good as hot-dish pads. The straw color and texture are especially suitable for modern table settings in pottery, wood, and glass. See Plate VII.