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Living in Season: Winter Wheat Weaving

Posted: Holidays & Rituals » Seasonal | November 17th, 2006



By Waverly Fitzgerald

A couple of years ago I was in Aberystwyth, Wales on Lammas, one of my favorite seasonal holidays that celebrates the first harvest of grain. In Anglo-Saxon England, people brought bread to the churches to be blessed on August 1, hence the name Lammas (loaf-Mass).

A few weeks earlier, I had gleaned some wheat stalks from a field, so I decided to make a wheat-weaving even though I didn’t have any instructions with me. All I remembered was that I had to soak the wheat, which I did in a bathtub, releasing that wonderful nutty aroma from the stalks. Then I wove it into a simple plait, which I tied in a loop with a strand of orange yarn.

That primitive wheat weaving came back across the ocean to Seattle and for over a year sat above my stove — my very own harvest spirit, blessing the food I prepared and ate while reminding me of my pilgrimage to the British Isles.

An autumn harvest tradition

A wheat weaving is traditionally done at the time of harvest by interlacing wheat stalks in intricate patterns. It represents the spirit of the grain and can be hung on the wall as a blessing on the house or as a protection charm. Sometimes it is plowed into the ground when the first furrow is cut or sowed in early spring.

Wheat weavings are also known as corn dollies, from the word corn (which means simply grain) and dolly (for its shape). Certain patterns are characteristic of certain parts of the world. For instance, the tall spiral comes from Greece, while a certain heart-shaped design is known as Mordiford for the English town of its origin.

Look at these examples

It’s hard to explain how to do a wheat weaving without pictures. This website has a nice review of harvest customs plus instructions for a spiral wheat weaving (corn dolly).

If you don’t have a field nearby, wheat can usually be purchased at your local crafts store. One of the pleasures of working with wheat is that you begin to learn about all the different varieties of wheat.

If you’re looking for a class, there’s a list of teachers at the website of the Worldwide Wheat Weavers.

You can view modern and traditional wheat weavings at several galleries on the web. The Many Hands gallery features the work of Kathy Reid-Ready, who lives in Trinidad, California. I particularly liked the pieces displayed in the Wheat Weaving Gallery 2, including traditional North African “cage” designs and a Welsh fan.

Morgyn Owens-Celli, formerly a wheat weaving business owner, is now the curator of the American Museum of Straw Art, located in Long Beach, California. But you don’t have to travel to visit his museum. Great photos and interesting and informative captions! I came away with a new appreciation of the marvelous capabilities of woven grain and its spiritual dimension. Morgan has also written a book, The Book of Wheat Weaving and Straw Craft: From Simple Plaits to Exquisite Designs, which is available from Amazon.

Take a virtual tour of the Straw Art site for inspiration.

© Waverly Fitzgerald

Waverly Fitzgerald is a freelance writer and teacher living in Seattle. She has studied seasonal holidays for more than 25 years. She shares her knowledge via a column in SageWoman magazine, a free e-mail newsletter, an online class on “Slow Time” and articles posted at her website, School of the Seasons.

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