I fell in love with wheat weaving many years ago and began teaching some classes at a local community center. Later on, when my husband and I opened a shop, it became one of the many crafts I made to sell.
Wheat weaving, straw plaiting and corn dollies—these are all names for the art and craft of ornaments made from grain straw. Developed from the harvest symbols of ancient times in Europe, straws were woven or sheaves were decorated at the end of the harvest to represent the spirit of the bounty. People displayed their crafts in the home over the winter and returned to the land for the spring planting, imbibing the spirit of a good crop into the earth for the upcoming growing season. Wheat weavings can be made into wall hangings, dolls, centerpieces, hat ornaments, boutonnieres and corsages, cake toppers, Christmas tree ornaments, and in this case, Valentines!
The Mordiford is a traditional Valentine given to sweethearts as a symbol of love and fertility. It’s named after the village of Mordiford in England. Small hearts can be used for corsages or boutonnieres, and traditionally, the men’s boutonnieres were made with the heads removed and worn at the beltline.
The valentine we’re making below is a five-straw plaited heart.
What You’ll Need:
- 10 straws of wheat, equal length and head size (I used golden wheat, but other options are black beard wheat or oats.)
- button thread
- ruler (Optional if you want to be precise, but generally, you can eyeball it, measuring one piece against the other.)
Tips for Getting Started
- Grow your own wheat or purchase it from a hobby or floral shop. I purchased mine from an online retailer.
- Cut or break the straw right above the first joint. Slip off the sheath that covers the straw so you have a clean smooth straw.
- Sort the wheat so you have even-sized heads and pieces relatively the same length. The length of the straw will determine the size of your heart—you can’t add straws with this design of weaving to lengthen them.
- Soak the wheat in lukewarm water for 30-40 minutes. I use the bathtub, but in the absence of a tub, you can use a plastic wallpaper tray. Weigh down the straws with a bath towel so they’re completely submerged. Wring out the towel and wrap the wheat in it to condition for another 20 minutes before working with it. Do not use hot water, or the wheat will lose its sheen.
- Using cream-colored button and craft thread, tie the stalks together with a clove hitch knot and an overhand knot on top to secure it. I use 10-inch lengths of thread to ease the tying process, trimming to about 1/8-inch once the knot is tied.
Clean and soak the wheat. Tie five straws together right below the heads with a clove hitch knot and an overhand knot on top of the joint. Lay the five-straw bundle on your work surface with the heads at the top.
Separate the straws into two groups, three on the right and two on the left.
Lift the middle straw of the right hand group vertically and hold upright while you take the outside straw on the right hand group and fold it over to position on the inside of the left hand group. Lay the straw you were holding vertical down to become the center straw of the right hand group. You now have three straws on the left hand group and two on the right.
Repeat on the left side: Hold the center straw vertically and take the outside straw on the left and fold over the other to become the center straw on the right hand group. Lay down the vertical straw to become the center straw on the left. Continue in the manner, alternating sides until you have a braid that is about 8-inches or twice as long as the shortest straw you have left. (I started with straws that were about 16-inches long below the heads.)
Tie the straws together with a clove-hitch and overhand knot. Trim the thread.
Make a second braid from the remaining 5 straws.
Tie the two braids together right below the heads over the ties you have already made to create the braids.
Use the plain straw bundle as the center post and position the braids to form a heart of a pleasing proportion. You can make it short and fat or long and thin, depending on how you want the finished heart to look. Tie them all together—the two braids near the heads and the central post of plain straw.
Trim the straws on the back and shape the heart, and lay flat to dry. Tie on a bow, if you like. I used raffia, but a red, satin ribbon may be more your style.
Using Your Mordifords
Once you’ve mastered making a basic Mordiford, here are some ways you can put it to use.
- Tie two together for a wall decoration, flipping them in direction.
- Use a single braid and loop or knot it to make a token for a package ornament.
- Use a 3-straw plait to make smaller pieces.
Using natural materials from your own backyard and a little time spent is the best gift of all, in my opinion. I hope this will get you started on a new craft, and perhaps even inspire you to plant a little patch of wheat this spring.