The three main supplies you need for wheat weaving are sewing-weight, wheat-colored thread; sharp-pointed scissors; and a spray bottle of water for keeping the wheat wet.
A warning to cat owners: In my experience, cats react to wheat weavings much as they do to catnip and are likely to rip the woven pieces apart. Keep this in mind when choosing a work space and when deciding where and how to display wheat weavings.
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Growing Wheat For Weaving
Five-Straw Flat Braid
In earlier days, this was one of the basic braids of the straw hat industry, and it lends itself to many decorative uses. The bow shown above is made by doubling over and tying together two five-straw flat braids of equal length.
Select five wet straws of approximately equal size and tie them together just under the heads. Lay them with the head ends toward you on a flat surface, and position three straws to the right and two to the left.
Lift the inner straw of the right-hand group and move the outer straw under it, over the center straw, so that the moving straw lies parallel to the left-hand group. Lay down the lifted straw. The straw that moved is now the inner straw of three on the left, and there are only two straws on the right. Now mirror the same process with the left-hand group: lift the inner straw and move the outer straw under it, making it the inner straw of the right-hand group. Repeat the entire process. When the desired length is woven, tie the five strands together tightly with thread.
The bow is made from two five-strand braids of equal length. While the braids are still wet, lay one on top of the other, heads together. Separate the two braids to fan the heads, then bend the other ends down behind the fan. Tie the four ends of the braids together with thread, and trim off the excess straw. After the bow is dry, hot-glue a raffia bow over the thread. Add wheat-straw roses if desired.
In addition to thread, scissors and a spray bottle, you’ll need a pair of tweezers or needle-nose pliers.
Cut the head off a long, wet straw at a sharp angle. With a straight pin, seam ripper, or the sharp point of scissors, slit the straw its entire length except for one inch at the head end. Flatten the slit portion by gently scraping any pulp from the inside of the straw, spritzing the straw with water, then placing it shiny side down on the table and scraping it with a flat side (but not the sharp edge) of the scissors blade. Scrape several times until the straw remains open on its own. A little curve is acceptable; it will flatten as you make the rose.
Hold the straw with the wide end to the left and the dull inner side visible, and fold the last inch of the left end toward you until it forms a right angle with the rest of the straw. Crease the fold; it should be at a 45-degree angle to the rest of the straw. Now fold the long right side toward you in the same way, so it is parallel with the short end you just folded. Leave a space as wide as an unslit straw between the parallel inner edges of the U shape you have formed. Crease that fold as you did the first one.
Rotate the piece a quarter-turn counterclockwise so that the long end is again on the right, and again fold the long end up and toward you. As before, leave a straw’s width of space in the center. That space should now be square and large enough to put a straw through. Rotate the piece another quarter-turn counterclockwise, and repeat the last fold. Rotate and fold again, over and over, so that the layers begin to stack on top of each other and the stack has a square hole in the center.
When about 11/2 inches of flattened straw remain unfolded, stop after a fold that is shiny side down. Thread the unflattened end of the working straw down through the center hole like a needle. Pull it down through the stack until the straw forms a tiny “bud” in the center. With your left hand, pull down the flat end (the one you folded first—it’s on the bottom of the stack) and hold it against the “stem” of the rose. Grasp the bud in the center of the rose with the tweezers, and twist it clockwise to form the rose. When all the “petals” have rotated into position, tie a clove hitch of thread tightly around the two pieces of straw you’ve been holding in your left hand, just below the bottom of the rose.
If the stem is not needed, trim it off below the thread. If a longer stem is needed, insert a piece of 20-gauge wire through the unsplit part of straw and hot-glue the stem to the wire.
The body of this cornucopia—the symbol of plenty—is made with a technique called “honeysuckle plait” woven around a paper form. The handle is reinforced with 20-gauge wire inside the straw and decorated with a spiral weave. The cornucopia may be hung on the wall by its handle or hot-glued to a wooden base, which may be decorated with dried herbs, everlastings, and wheat heads.
• 100 medium-fine wheat straws without heads
• Extra wheat heads
• Dried herbs and everlastings
• Large kraft paper grocery sack
• Paper towels or a washcloth
• 20-gauge coated wire
• 6-inch square of cream-colored tulle
• Small supply of quilting pins or straight pins
• Hot-glue gun
• Wire cutter
Step 1: The paper core
Cut a square of kraft paper with sides at least 1 inch longer than the desired length of the cornucopia cone. With a compass anchored in the center of one edge, draw a semicircle with a radius 1/2 inch larger than the intended length of the cone. Without moving the compass point, draw another semicircle with a 1/4-inch radius. Cut out the resulting rainbow shape and roll it into a cone, making sure the edges at both ends are even. Use tape to hold the sides in place.
Stuff the cone with paper towels or a washcloth to help hold its shape when it’s wet.
Step 2: The handle
Choose three very long wheat straws. Insert a length of 20-gauge coated wire into one straw; this will be the core straw. With thread, tie the three straws together with a clove hitch just below the heads, and tie them again about 1/8 inch below the first tie to secure the wire. Place one of the two unwired straws against your chest. Position the other to the right at a 90-degree angle, and hold the core straw straight up. Now begin twisting the two unwired straws clockwise by moving the one from your chest over the one on the right, which you then place against your chest. Repeat this twisting action, and hold the twisted pair close to the core straw, allowing it to wind around and up the core. When you’ve twisted the straws as far as possible, tie them down to the core straw, then tie two more straws to the core straw at the same point and continue twisting. When the second pair of straws is twisted, tie the three straws together with thread and set the handle aside.
Step 3. The cornucopia
With thread, tie seven straws together with a clove hitch about 3/4 inch from the head ends. With the head ends up, spread the straws like the spokes of a wheel, holding the center with your left hand. Position the seven straws at 12, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10 o’clock; the one at 3 o’clock will be your first working straw. With your right hand, lay the working straw over both the 12- and the 2-o’clock straws, then rotate the “wheel” clockwise until the 12-o’clock straw is at 3 o’clock; this will be the new working straw. Repeat this process, placing the working straw over two adjacent straws and then rotating the work, until every straw has been the working straw twice and all are locked into the weave.
Spread the short, tied head ends and insert the paper core into the center. Pin the wheat to the tip of the core. Give a tug on each straw to be sure the weaving is secure, then continue the spiral to the large end of the core. Pin the wheat to the core every few rows to prevent slipping.
You’ll have to splice repeatedly as the spiral progresses; the joins will be neater and less likely to split if you weave only about two-thirds of each straw before splicing. When the straw to be spliced becomes the working straw, lay it over the 12- and 2-o’clock straws as before, then cut it off at a point just above the far edge of the 12-o’clock straw. Cut the narrow (head) end of a new straw at a sharp angle and insert it as far as possible into the thick end of the old straw. This join will be covered as the spiral grows.
When the spiral reaches the end of the core, tie a clove hitch of thread at each of the six corners of the cornucopia, then cut off all the straw ends. Now unpin and gently remove the core. Tie the head end of the handle to the narrow end of the cornucopia with thread, either by stitching the thread through or by tying it around the narrow end. In either case, let the heads hang down as a decoration, and tie the other end of the handle to a top corner at the wide end of the cornucopia. A small bow or a sprig of dried herbs may be hot-glued over each tie after the wheat dries.
Step 4. The bouquet
Choose a big handful of dried herbs, everlastings, and wheat heads, all with stems 5 to 6 inches long. The wheat-straw roses described above go well in this bouquet. Pieces of material with shorter stems may be tied to florist’s wire, which is then cut to length. Set aside about 1/4 of the dried material, arrange the rest into an attractive bouquet, and tie the stems together with thread. Place the bottom of the bunch of stems in the center of the tulle square, fold the sides of the tulle up around the bunch, and tie it in place. Insert the bouquet into the cornucopia, then add the remaining herbs, flowers, and wheat until the bouquet looks very full. Keep the fullness to the front, bottom and sides, remembering that the handle will usually be on top.