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Selvedge Magazine | Issue 101

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July / August 2021

Published June 15, 2021

WORDS BY Polly Leonard, Editor & Founder of Selvedge Magazine

"I have lived on the edge of Hampstead Heath for more than 25 years and am ashamed to say paid it scant regard for the majority of that time, enjoying nothing more than a cream tea at Kenwood House on Sunday afternoon and kite flying adventures with my children when they were young. It is only now, after spending the majority of the last year exploring my immediate surroundings, have I come to appreciate its wonders. This discovery initiated the ideas behind this issue where we look again at that which we once considered commonplace.

Straw, the most mundane and abundant waste material we discover is, in fact, extraordinary in the diversity of its practical applications in everything from architecture, clothing, intricate Swedish crowns, delicate embroidery and folklore icons. This material is not always benign, playing a part in riots and rituals world wide. My research was undertaken with the assistance of Ollie Douglas, the curator of the Museum of English Rural Life, (well worth a pilgrimage if you are ever in Berkshire) to whom I am extremely grateful for the knowledge he generously shared. This insight has revealed a new attitude towards materials and reverence for ancient crafts of thatching, basket making and millinary.

I ponder the research and development investment needed to create compostable plastics and fibre made from desolvable pulp. Might on, instead look afresh at the humble willow shopping basket or rush matting used to cover the floor of traditional English interiors. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a walk in the countryside this spring consider the humble straw and wear a straw hat to shield you from the sun."

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