Corn Dollies by Mary Irvine

corn dolly renata creative commons

Corn Dollies

Corn dollies, made from the last sheaf of corn, go back thousands of years.

Dressed in Edwardian attire, complete with straw boater I was attending a Mayday celebration. I watched a man working straw into intricate designs. He smiled, ‘I know just what your hat needs.’

Taking a long piece of straw, heads intact, he wove a ‘love knot’ which he placed in my hat-band. My first encounter with corn dollies. I learned only a woman wears a love knot with ears of corn intact- a symbol of new life. A male wears one made just of the stalk.

I was hooked. Problem was getting the right straw to make them. Modern machinery cuts corn too short. I had to find a farm still harvesting with Shires. I did. Geoffrey Morton, in North Yorkshire had farmed all his life using only animal and human power. 

Every harvest time the same mantra.

‘It’s Mary Irvine. Would you sell me a sheaf of corn if I came up?’


‘I make corn dollies.’


Then he’d hang up. A two hour round trip followed, hoping he wouldn’t change his mind.

Corn dollies, made from the last sheaf of corn, go back thousands of years.  A thank you to the Earth Mother for a good harvest, a hope for harvests to come.Various designs are associated with particular areas. My own specialties the Yorkshire Spiral, Welsh Fan, Favours.

Now many corn dollies are made commercially. I prefer traditional designs that tell a story, keeping our heritage alive.

Mary Irvine – Writer and Philhellene
(Image:By Renata [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)

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This section: Poems and Stories for Autumn, stories and poems

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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