corn dollies

At the Norfolk show I had distant memories of childhood rekindled by watching Margaret making corn dollies. I remember as a child on the neighboring farm where I spent much of my time they still made dollies every year to ensure a good harvest the following year.

Corn dollies are fascinating because they bridge the gap between folk craft and folk tales, most of the old traditional ones have stories that go with them and are specific to a certain region. Some were even specific to a particular farm. As I was watching Margaret make this Dolly two different folk came and chatted about their memories of dollies as children, one an older Scottish chap described how in his area all the men made small dollies in the shape of two intertwined rings and wore them in their button hole.

Apparently these hollow dollies should never have lavender or such put inside as they are made hollow as a resting place for the corn spirit to overwinter. Keeping the dolly safe overwinter ensures a good harvest the following year.

A google search on “corn dolly” gives a wealth of information, sources for patterns and materials and some excellent websites. Probably the best two links I found were the Guild of Straw Craftsmen and Neil Thwaites the corn dolly man 1931-1999, I never met him but wish I had.

I remember visiting Sweden how in Darlana they have a particular regional basket for picking berries and a folk tale associated with the design. Every school child in the region makes one of those baskets whilst at primary school, it gives them a link with their own history, with the raw materials of their region and the wild food that grows there. I would love to see all the children in cereal growing areas shown how to make thier own local corn dolly, it is simple safe work that connects at so many levels.

4 Responses to corn dollies

  1. corncockle July 9, 2009 at 5:37 pm #

    Nice article and good pictures. Thank you for the hon mention (Guild of Straw Craftsmen)

  2. Robin Wood July 9, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

    Hi Corncockle, glad you liked the mention. Is the guild signed up as an associate of the Heritage Crafts Association? It's free and we are campaigning to raise the profile of traditional crafts. It would be good to feature straw work on the website too, could you supply some nice pics?

  3. doug Fitch July 11, 2009 at 12:14 am #

    Really interesting – like the Swedish tale. By coincidence my wife brought home from school a box of art straws this evening to practice with as she wants to make corn dollies with the kids next term, so I'll be showing her this post. Cheers Doug

  4. Bruxist September 28, 2009 at 11:25 pm #

    My seven year old daughter mentioned weaving with drinking straws the other day and memories of making corn dollies flashed into my mind! So here I am!