Manufacture of Straw Articles in Orkney: Part 4

By Walter Traill Dennison from Orcadian Papers 1905

The Cubbies

To the same class as the kaesie belong the cubbies, the names and uses of which are legion. Cubbies are slightly smaller that the kaesie and vary in size according to use, while they are firmer in texture and of different shapes. There were the window cubbie, from which the corn was gently dropped while being winnowed, the kiln cubbie, the sawin’ cubbie, and the horse cubbie, the last mentioned being used as a muzzle for the horse’s mouth while driving in the corn; and in addition, the hen cubbie, the ass cubbie, and the spoon cubbie. The spoon cubbie was generally hung at the side of the fireplace and held the family horn spoons, the handles being uppermost so as to be easily grasped when required.  And finally the sea cubbie and bait cubbie, the former for carrying fish and the latter for bait, both being of more open texture than the others mentioned.

Cubbies were always carried by the beggars who swarmed in the country before the introduction of the poor law. And to say a man would have to take to the cubbie and the staff was  equivalent to saying he would have to beg his bread.

The Inflexible

The Foot Mat

The first to be noticed in this division is a round foot mat, once much in vogue. It was circular in form, close and firm in texture. On one side the ends of the bent of which the mat was formed were made to rise above the surface, so that the upper side of the mat presented a kind of brush work very effective for the purpose intended. But these mats were not durable and are now little used.

The Luppie

The next in this class is the luppie once in universal use as a domestic basket for holding all sorts of dry goods such as eggs, meal, burstin etc. They are now I believe wholly out of use. Luppies were round barrel shaped vessels close in texture and firm as a board. They varied in size from three feet to ten inches in height. They had a rim which encircled the lower end to protect the bottom and two “lugs” on opposite sides at the top. The smallest of these luppies were used by housewives as work baskets. The work done on these luppies and on the straw stools was considered the finest and most durable. Small coils of straw or as they were called, gongs of straw, were firmly and closely laced one over the other until a large surface was obtained. The lacing cord was made of the strongest bent and was the finest bent cord made having the protruding end of bent carefully clipped off. These cords were called stool bands.

Straw stools

We now come to the straw stools which with the exception of some apologies for stools were of three kinds.

First a sort of low round stool without any back. These were easily lifted to and from the fireside and on an emergency could be converted into luppies by turning them upside down.

The next was what was called the low backed stool having a half circular back reaching to the shoulder of the sitter. These and the former were in most common use.

Peat Fire Corrigall

Peat Fire (F Grahame) with high backed straw chair and smaller stool

The last and largest comes the high-backed or ‘heeded stul’. This stool was at one time the easy chair of the Orkney cottage. Nowadays the lower part or seat of the stool is made of wood in the form of a square box with a foot fastened inside each corner. The top boards of this box project a little over the side and form the seat of the chair. On each side of the seat box and about nine inches from the front a thin slip of strong wood is nailed the upper ends of the slips rising to the point at which the spring of the arched head begins and from each of the front corners another slip of wood rises to a height of nine inches.

From the top of these slips or other slips run back to and are fixed on the side slips and these horizontal slips are intended as elbow rests. From the top and back of this wooden frame rose the straw back of the chair. The head or hood of the stool was then formed by gradually contracting the back and sides of the straw work while the front of the hood rose  in the form of a wide arch. The seat box generally contained a drawer in which the goodman kept the bottle with his supply of snuff along with the cottage library often consisting of “Baxter’s Saints’ Rest”. the book of Proverbs and a few dog-eared and soot stained chap books bought at the Lammas fair. This is now regarded as the orthodox form of the old high backed stool but it wants the elegance of form and fine curvature of lines possessed by its ancient predecessor.

Sometime toward the end of the first half of the eighteenth century a native of North Ronadlshay invented the wooden seat box and as nailing a few boards together took far less time than working the lower part in straw the invention was universally adopted. Hitherto the lower part of the stool was quite round and along with the seat wholly of straw. The side slips and elbow rests were entirely covered with straw and bent cord so that no wood was seen in the stool save its four feet protruding a little below the edge of the straw work. This more ancient form of the stool was more elegant than its successor and presented no sharp angles to the eye. The high backed was generally the goodman’s stool the good wife preferring to sit in the low backed stool from which her view of the whole room was uninterrupted.

Related articles:

Manufacture of Straw Articles Part 3

Manufacture of Straw Articles Part 2

Manufacture of Straw Articles Part 1


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