All of us here at Selvedge are very excited for our upcoming issue, Issue 101 Grow, which will be published in one month, on 15 June. Read on for an excerpt of one of the articles in the issue, written by Veronica Main, on the subject of straw — the material to which we are dedicating this next issue.
Dior used the intriguing materials of raffia and straw sequins to decorate Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday dress. Raffia is soft and flexible, but to transform a stiff stem of straw into a stunning adornment is more surprising. The use of straw as a textile fibre has confused and fascinated for generations.
Straw was used to embellish ecclesiastical vestments and altar frontals in the late 1600s, and at first glance it is difficult to distinguish the straw from more conventional metal thread work. These extraordinary surviving pieces are attributed to the work of nuns in the village of Nozeroy in south eastern France. The narrow strands of straw are worked to imitate gold work stitches. Within parts of the design, fine grass-like straw stems have been plaited into delicate lengths, then attached to form flowing patterns. Some sections look like sheet gold, an effect achieved by splitting, flattening and softening the straw before gluing it to a lightweight, supple background. This creates a soft, flexible veneer that can be cut to shape before being couched in place. The work was not confined to France, as examples also survive in Switzerland.
Perhaps the most well-known reference appeared in the European Magazine and London Review column written by ‘Cecelia Bonnetbox’ during 1783. ‘Straw! Straw! Straw! Everything is ornamented with straw from the cap to the shoe-buckle, and ... not only the female but the male part of the fashionable world, for the gentlemen’s waistcoat are ribbed with straw.’ Many surviving examples of hats, reticules, letter cases and shoes bear testament to the longevity and beauty of straw. An incredibly rare set of 1700s shoe uppers incorporate 1mm-wide split straws.
Preview from upcoming Issue 101 Grow, written by Veronica Main
Find out how to pre-order the Grow issue on the Selvedge website.