The Strawplaiters of Orkney

The Strawplaiters of Orkney - coloured pencil drawing of a spinster sitting in an Orkney chair plaiting straw.
The Strawplaiters of Orkney. Coloured pencil, 2023.

The Strawplaiters of Orkney, by Fiona Grahame.

The Stawplaiters of Orkney, the new book from Fiona Grahame, published by Orkney News Ltd., is now available to order from all good bookshops. It is based upon meticulous original research, and provides an historical overview of the straw plaiting industry which thrived in Orkney in the mid 19th Century. The book includes extensive census data on the people employed in this industry, the vast majority of whom were women.

The Strawplaiters of Orkney, by Fiona Grahame. Photo showing book cover with straw texture and illustration by Martin Laird.
The Strawplaiters of Orkney, by Fiona Grahame.

The straw plaiting industry thrived in Orkney until mechanisation and outsourcing (including to China) brought it to an end. Orcadians had long been employing straw in a number of practical ways in farming and daily life, and were easily able to adapt to this industry during its boom years. They had many unique words for the items fashioned from straw, such as flackie (straw mat), bikko (straw dog), cubbie (carrying basket), and wazzie (horse collar). Orkney is still known for the straw-backed Orkney Chair – a practical solution to the limited supply of local timber.

An exhibition is currently on at Northlight gallery in Stromness, where The Strawplaiters of Orkney was launched during Book Week, and introduced by author Fiona Grahame. There you can see related artwork by Martin Laird, straw dollies for sale by Sue Knowles, and historical photos showing places in Orkney where the straw plaiting industry was practiced.

The exhibition takes place in association with the Scottish Book Trust, Book Week Scotland, and St. Andrew’s Fair Saturday. It is raising funds for Orkney Rape and Sexual Assault Service (ORSAS).

The Strawplaiters of Orkney. Exhibition at Northlight gallery, Stromness, on until St Andrews Fair Saturday, November 25th 2023.
The Strawplaiters of Orkney. Exhibition and book launch at Northlight gallery.