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Corn dolly

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Corn Dollies are a form of straw work associated with harvest customs. Primitive communities believed that the corn spirit lived amongst the crop, and the harvest made it effectively homeless. Therefore, they fashioned hollow shapes from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crop. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in their homes until the "corn dolly" was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season. "Dolly" is a corruption of idol.

In Britain, the materials used are mainly wheat, oats, rye and barley. In Ireland, rush was used, and in the south of France, palm leaves. In Burma, the rice plant is used.

With the advent of the Combine harvester[?], the old-fashioned, long-stemmed and hollow-stemmed wheat varieties were replaced with knee-high, pithy varieties. However, a number of English farmers are still growing the traditional varieties, mainly because they are in demand with thatchers.

Some traditional varieties: Maris Widgeon, Squarehead Master, Elite Le Peuple.

Corn Dollies and other similar straw work can be divided into these groups:

Traditional Corn Dollies

  • Countryman's Favours
    • Cat's Paw
    • Lover's Knot
    • Glory Braid

  • Other designs
    • Cornucopia, or Horn of plenty
    • Bride of the Corn (called "Aruseh" in N. Africa)


  • Larnaca Fringe
  • Montenegrin Fringe
  • Lancashire Fringe

Harvest Crosses

Large Straw Figures These are representations of deities, made from an entire sheaf. They are known by a variety of names, depending on location and also the time of harvesting:

  • The Goddess Ceres
  • Maiden or Bride (harvest before All Saints):
  • Cailleach or cailleagh - corn mother or Auld Mother (harvest after All Saints)
  • There is also the Whittlesey[?] Straw Bear, the centre of a ceremony in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, every January. Its origins are obscure.

Tied straw work

  • German Tied Straw Work
  • Scandinavian Tied Work
    • Swedish Straw Crown (Oro)
    • Straw Goat
    • Straw Tomte or Nisse

Straw Marquetry

Rick Finials

  • These are straw sculptures which are placed on the "rick" of the thatched roof. They are sometimes purely for decoration, but can be the "signature" of a particular thatcher. Animal shapes (birds, foxes etc.) are the most common.

More to follow.........

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