From Playworker Penny Wilson

For thousands of years human beings have been planting seeds and taking care of them while they grew into food to eat.

They grew as much as they possibly could in the summer so that they had enough to eat all through the year.

Perhaps the most important crops that they grew were grains, things like barley and rye, spelt, wheat and corn. These crops look a little like very tall grasses. The tall stems and leaves and other plants that grow alongside them in the fields are really important too. This is the hay and straw which is used to feed and make bedding for animals.

The grains cluster at the top of the stalks and have to be picked off, have their tough little coats-the husks- taken off, dried and eventually ground down and made into flour and then turned into breads as such.

The autumn time was and still is, the season when many crops and gathered and put safely into storage for the winter.

The lives of people revolved around the success of the crops and they made up stories which they shared at each different landmark of the farming year. These stories were partly to try and understand the wonder and power of nature. They were also to remind people what they need to do to keep on taking care of the plants and their harvest.

In England, and many other places in the world, there was a story about the spirit of the corn, who had lived and thrived in the field. When the time for harvest came, she became worried that she would have no home left and would die over the wintertime. Of course the farm people didn’t want her to die and so they made a promise to the spirit of corn. Every year they would take the very last sheaf (or bundle) of corn and treat it with enormous respect as ritual.

The women would take the sheaf of corn and fold and twist and plot it into wonderful shapes and patterns. These were beautiful objects that were given to different people to look after, and take care of until the spring. Then the ‘Corn Dollies’ would be taken out into the ploughed fields and the grains and stalks of corn that were the very last to be taken from the earlier the previous year, would be the first seeds to be returned to the soil ready for the year to come. The spirit of the corn was returned safe and sound to her cozy home.

When I was a child in the 1960s it was still the custom of the farmers near our home to save the last sheaf of corn and give it to the church as the centre piece of the Harvest Festival service which is a celebration of the wonder and power of our world.

Here are some instructions to show you how to make dolls from straws using some of the basic skills that the women used all those hundreds of centuries ago. Who knows, perhaps you will enjoy it and look on line to find some more intricate designs to try out.



About Mudchute

Mudchute Park & Farm. One of the largest city farms in London with 32 acres of countryside in the middle of the Isle of Dogs.

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