AMOST adaptable native material is the com plant. The stalk, cob, husks, and grain can all be used to construct practical and artistic articles. The Southern Highlands people are perhaps the most famous for their use of corn. Besides using it as a food, parts of the plant are used for mattress fillers, chair and stool bottoms, door and hot mats, twisted ropes for bed cords, horse and mule collars, and hats for women and girls.
Cornhusks may be gathered green or dried. Remove the coarse outer husks and use the soft-textured ones. If the husks are green, dry them indoors to retain a soft green color. Sun-bleached husks are useful in patterns.
To dye the material, a commercial all-purpose or a rayon dye should be prepared in the usual way. Add the husks, a few at a time, and boil them for five minutes. See Plate X. Remove the husks from the bath with sticks or a long-handled fork. Drain the excess dye onto several thicknesses of newspaper and rinse the husks in cold water. Dry in the shade. The dyed cornhusks should be kept in a dry place. Dampen immediately before using.
PLATE X. Remove the husks from the dye bath with sticks.
For braiding, tear the husks into narrow strips. Dampen them by dipping the strips into a pan of water for a few minutes. Tie three or more strips together and hook them over a nail or pin them to a board to hold them firmly at the knot. Keep the strips flat and fold them over carefully to make a flat braid. For a round braid, the strands are twisted as they are plaited. Wider strips make heavier braids. Whole husks may be braided.
Since the strips are relatively short, it is necessary to overlap the ends to add new pieces for length. Care should be taken to add length to only one strand at a time so that the braid will not become bulky.
PLATE XI. Add a new strip of cornhusk to the right-hand strand.
See Plate XI for adding a new piece of cornhusk.
1. Braid 2 inches.
2. Add a new strip of cornhusk to the right-hand strand by overlapping the ends 2 inches.
3. Continue to braid until the spliced strand is securely fastened in the braid. The extending ends are trimmed after the braid is completed.
PLATE XII. A hat and bag made of braided cornhusks.
To stitch the braids, use a medium-sized needle and cither a contrasting or a blending color of sewing thread. Dampen the braid. Fold the knotted end of the braid under after clipping the extending ends. Form the center of the spiral and stitch securely. Continue to stitch the edges of the braid together, keeping the mat flat. If the edges of the mat are to be shaped for a basket, turn the braid up and stitch into place. Ease the last row over the preceding row to make a level top. Otherwise, the spiral method of construction will make an uneven basket. Contrasting colors of braid may be used for decorative effects in the mats. Cornhusks need not be shellacked to preserve them.
The hat and bag pictured in Plate XII were made of braided cornhusks in their natural color. The damp flat braids were sewed together by hand with a neutral shade of thread. The pin on the bow of the hat is the butt end of a corn cob. A long corsage pin was forced into the pithy section and cemented in place. The handle of the bag is a segment of cornstalk. Double strands of braid hold it in place. A zipper is the top fastening for the bag.