Straw can be sold at different periods. It is sometimes bought "on the ground" - that is, before it is uprooted - in which case a sum is fixed upon for the whole field, and the risks and costs of uprooting, drying, etc, rest with the buyer. It is more generally sold after it has been dried and taken home, and just before it is bleached, and then so much is given for each hundred sheaves, or menate; if sold after the sfilatura, that is, when cleaned and tied in bundles, it is sold by weight. The price varies according to the demand there is for it, and according to the quality of the straw. It has varied from 2 to 8 or 9 francs the 100 sheaves, so that it is impossible to give an idea of what can be gained or lost by straw raising. Machinery has lately been used for working straw, and a very pretty tissue is made of it, and used for making baskets, parasols, and other things; very pretty fanciful braids, fringes and tassels for trimmings are also made. The rich plait used for hats continues, however, to be made entirely by hand. (Jour. Ap. Sci.)
For centuries the manufacture of straw hats has been a special art in Tuscany, and Signa, one of the most industrious of Tuscan towns, was for a long time the centre of the trade, which, however, was of little importance and limited until the seventeenth century, when it commenced to attract considerable attention, and large quantities were manufactured both for home use and for exportation. There are 3 varieties of wheat of the golden plant (pianta delta fila d' oro), as straw is called in Tuscany; the first is called pontederas semone, which produces the best straw for hats; the second, mar-zuolo, which is of a rather common quality; and the santa fioro, which is only used for pedals and braids. The pontederas semone is sown in arid soil, while the other 2 varieties require a more fertile soil. Seed is sown in November and December, according to the season, the object being to have the grain well up before the heavy frosts come, in the proportion of 11 hectolitres to each hectare, that is, about 12 1/2 bush, to the acre. It is sown as thickly as possible, in order that the growth of the plant may be so impoverished as to produce a thin stalk, at the same time having towards the end from the last knot the lightest and longest straw.
Side hills, with a gravelly soil, and high meadow lands that have had a surface ploughing and rough harrowing, are specially adapted to the straw culture, low swampy grounds being generally avoided, as dampness when the stalk is well grown renders the straw discoloured and coarse. The ground is ploughed and dug up in June, and left in this condition until November, when the soil is again turned up, and then it is ready for sowing. If the soil is very poor and thin, a very light surface of manuring is occasionally used, but this is not frequently resorted to, as it is apt to render the stalk thin and brittle. The wheat blooms at the end of May or beginning of June; it is generally pulled out by hand by the roots when the grain is half developed. For uprooting the straw, fine continued sunny weather is selected, as the rain has a very injurious effect upon it, often turning it black. When uprooted, the branches are tied together in sheaves, each sheaf or menata is spread out in the shape of a fan to dry in the sun for 3-5 days, after which it is stowed away in barns.
The harvest being over, and the fields being only in stubble, the straw is again spread out to catch the heavy summer dews, and to bleach in the sun for 4-5 days, but not the whole of the crop at the same time for fear of a sudden rain. Formerly the yellow colour of the straw was preferred, but now the extra white is more sought after. Before being ready to be made up into braids, hats, and ornaments, the straw has to be again bleached, fastened in small bundles, and classified. It is then cut close above the first joint from the top, and again tied up in small bundles containing about 60 stalks in each. These small sheaves are then submerged in clear water for 4 or 5 minutes, and as soon as they become partially dried, are submitted to the action of burnt sulphur (in the proportions of 1 lb. to 100 bundles of straw) for 3 or 4 nights, in rooms adapted for the purpose; during the day the doors of these rooms are left open. The classification of the straw is made according to length and colour, the ear or end of the stalk having been previously cut off; all the straw below the first knot is used simply for forage or bedding, as it is worthless for the purpose of making braids or hats.
A ready sale is found for the plait at the nearest market, though, in many instances, special contracts are made by the fattores (straw brokers) with the workwomen direct, they supplying the straws into which the braids are made up. Many women make 28-34 yd. of braid a day, and some can finish even 60 yd. of common braids, but fine braids require very great care and cleanliness. Owing to the great strain upon the eyes, the finer kinds of braids can only be worked upon for 2-3 hours each day; it takes, therefore, a woman 4 - 5 days to make braid sufficient for the hats usually worn by men, while for the superior Leghorn hats for ladies it requires 5-9 months for each hat. It is a noticeable fact that, in several districts where the finer hats are made, the workwomen suffer greatly from an affection of the eyes, caused by too close application to this kind of labour. Between 1822 and 1826, women employed in making braids realised 6s.-7s. a day, but at the present time the best braid-makers and hat-sewers only make about Is. The most important centres of the straw industry are Brozzi, Signa, Prato, Fiesole, the Casentino, the Bolognese, and the Modenese. The province of Casentino is one of the most industrious in Tuscany, producing 300,000-400,000 hats yearly, all for exportation.
These hats, though hitherto comparatively unknown, are now very much sought after, on account of their strength and cheapness, prices varying from 4d. to 1s. each. In the Bolognese, the straw manufacture is confined chiefly to the mountain districts along the base of the Apennines, where the inhabitants of 17 parishes are engaged in making the cheaper and coarser kinds. Laino and Searicalasino are the centre of this trade. Bolognese hats are brought to Florence to be fashioned, and the price paid is 1s. 6d.-2s. 6d. per dozen; the quantity brought amounts to about 120,000 dozen yearly. For the last 30 years the annual exportation of straw goods from Tuscany averaged 12,000,000 lire, 5,000,000 lire alone being exported to the United States in 1878. By a comparison of the 3 principal products annually exported from Tuscany, straw goods show a value of 12,000,000 lire; silk, 5,000,000 lire, and timber, 4,000,000 lire. (Jour. Soc A ts.)