Traditional straw work – harvest tokens with Veronica Main

Ref: S2D13169

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About this course

This course is an introduction to the traditional British straw designs that were made to celebrate the end of harvest. Using a range of plaiting and tying techniques, you will use wheat straw to make several traditional structures and learn about their part in rural life and social history.

Course Description

You will start by preparing a small sheaf of wheat, before using the stems to make simple traditional 19th century designs made in the British Isles. Some shapes are plaited, others are tied, which provides the opportunity to develop a range of skills and understanding of the material.

Harvest tokens fulfilled the ancient belief of completing the seasonal cycle. They were made to mark the safe gathering of the crop; by the spring, they were returned to the land, before being made again from the next harvest.

Their abstract shapes incorporate many techniques and offer interesting possibilities for conceptual and mixed media artists. During the course, the place of these traditional tokens within rural history will be discussed. These traditional skills learnt could be applied and used in many three-dimensional, or sculptural ways or in various aspects of contemporary arts practice.

This course will involve working with a sheaf of wheat, which can be dusty. If required, you may need to wear a mask and gloves to use during this part of the course. The techniques require some manual dexterity and finger/hand strength.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • Some materials will be provided by the college, including:
  • Half a sheaf of wheat each
  • One sheaf of oats (shared by the group)
  • One small hank/bundle of garden raffia – natural fibre, not viscose (shared by the group)
  • One large apple each

What students need to bring

  • Scissors – about 10-15cm long blades (Not your best needlework pair)
  • Strong natural-colour thread – linen or strong cotton or cotton/polyester
  • Three hand towels (clean but not your best ones)
  • Container to take home finished pieces, approximately 50cm by 30cm by 30cm deep

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio. This includes stout covered footwear (no open-toes or sandals).


Veronica Main

Veronica Main MBE is the most experienced traditional straw hat plaiter in the UK. For more than 40 years she has researched the hat industries of the UK, Europe, and the United States, unlocking information and learning how to recreate plaits using authentic techniques by working as a forensic curator. 


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

Courses of interest

Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.