A published folklorist, Pollyanna enjoys writing about the hidden histories and folk customs of the British Isles.
How to Make a Harvest Heart
Corn dollies are a traditional craft of the British Isles, often appearing at harvest festivals up and down the country in the autumn months. There are many different designs, with each town or village often having its own version of a certain pattern.
In times of old, the spirit of the crop was captured in the last bunch of wheat and was brought into the house over winter to keep it safe. This bunch of wheat would usually be decorated or plaited into a dolly, to make it into a decorative piece. Then with ceremony, it was returned to the field in February to help ensure a successful crop the next year.
Over the years, corn dollies have become a wider craft with traditions and stories associated with many of the patterns. This is one I know as a "Harvest Heart", and it is said to be a love token. Easy to make and pleasing on the eye, they make wonderful gifts and will last for years, if kept dry. Now you can learn how to make your own!
What You Will Need
- Six stalks of wheat
- A reel of cotton, preferably light-coloured
- Ribbon of your choice
Make sure that your wheat stalks are of similar length and have no knobbles in the stalk. These would cause the stalk to snap when you are working with them.
When choosing your ribbon, make sure that the pattern shows on both sides, or else it will look strange when you tie it into a bow. Tartans work well and look lovely if you are making this as a gift for Yuletide.
Step 1: Soak and Bunch Your Wheat Stalks
The wheat must be left to soak before you work with it. When damp, the wheat is supple, but if you try to work with it when it is dry, it will snap and break.
- Soak the stalks in a sink, and then leave them in a wet tea towel to keep them damp. Storing them in a bucket of water also works well.
- Take three stalks of wheat and bunch them together.
- Cut off a length of cotton and wrap it around the stalks to hold them together before tying to secure them. You want the cotton to be just beneath the heads, a few millimeters down the stalk.
Step 2: Plait or Braid the Stalks
- Work a plait (or braid) down the stalks.
- To test that the plait is long enough, pick up the bunch and let your plait flop over. If it is long enough to make half of a heart shape, you are done. If not, keep plaiting until it is long enough.
- Wrap cotton around the end of your plait and tie.
- Repeat with the other three stalks, using your first bunch as a length guide for the plait.
Step 3: Tie the Bunches
- Hold the bunches together by the long straight stalks.
- Allow the plaits to fall to either side, and tie the bunches with a section of cotton so they are all secured together.
Ideally, the plaits need to have the narrow edge up, with the wide plait sections facing each other. You will find that the natural tension in the wheat will cause this to happen anyway.
Step 4: Form the Heart Shape
- Fold one of the plaits over the long straight stalks, so that it forms half a heart shape. The heads of wheat need to have crossed over the straight stalks.
- Wrap with cotton and tie to secure in place.
- Repeat with the other plait, so that both now cross over to make a heart shape.
- Trim away any excess cotton to tidy it all up, and tease the stalks with your fingers to position the heads and stalks how you like them. You can fold the stalks at the bottom of the corn dolly to give them a bit of a flourish if you like.
Step 5: Finish With a Ribbon
- Trim the ends of the stalks if you want them to be even.
- Tie your ribbon around the heart to finish it off. You can use as much ribbon as you like, even wrapping it around the corn dolly if you prefer.
Your Harvest Heart is complete!
I'm sure you'll agree that it is a beautiful and novel country craft to enjoy all year round.
© 2015 Pollyanna Jones
Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on August 18, 2020:
Hell Mirr, yes they will last for years if you keep them in a dry place. I have some hung on a wall inside my house. They look very pretty. Just don't let them get damp. You may find sometimes, that they may attract moths. If this happens, just store the corn dolly in your freezer for a couple of days - it will kill any grubs or eggs that are in the ornament. Then place it somewhere dry and it will be fine.
Mirr on August 13, 2020:
I am thankful for making how to make corn dolly page. It is very helpful to make it.
I have a question. Will the corn dollies bury in field in the winter ? Or , Is it alright to hold corn dollies for long years?
sujaya venkatesh on September 29, 2015:
what patterned dollies!
Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on September 24, 2015:
Thank you, I hope she enjoys trying this out!
Ralph Schwartz from Idaho Falls, Idaho on September 24, 2015:
Thanks for sharing, my wife and her friends were making Brigid's crosses a few weeks ago and had a wonderful time doing so, this story caught my eye and I'll be sharing it with her !
Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on September 19, 2015:
Thanks so much Glimmer Twin Fan, and Patricia! x
It's such a fun craft to enjoy, and a lot easier than it looks! Blessings to you both, have a wonderful day. x
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on September 19, 2015:
How lovely...I will show my daughter..she is much better at such endeavors than I am
Shared pinned g+ tweeted ps
Angels are once again on the way ps
Claudia Mitchell on September 19, 2015:
This is so pretty! I would love to try this! Well done hub.