The Strawwork of every chair starts with careful cutting of excellent Orkney grown straw. An old binder or sythe is used to ensure the stalks are as long and unbroken as possible. The colour in the straw becomes a more deeper golden as it gets older so Scapa Crafts don't mix the straw from one season with the straw from the new season that's been newly cut otherwise your chair could have a different layer of colour.
Above from left - Marlene, Leah cleaning straw, centre - cleaned yellow straw, duller, darker uncleaned straw, right - cleaned straw with oat heads, cleaned straw bundled and ready for stitching.
Once cut, the next step is to ensure the straw is properly cleaned, a task which requires Marlene and Leah's concentration, as Marlene comments: "It takes time and has to be done right otherwise the whole stitching process is slowed down and you loose the shine and colour of the straw in the strawback of the chair. I just take the best of the stalk."
It takes 12 hours to clean the 3-4 sheaves required for a strawback chair and 24 hours to clean the 7-8 sheaves required for a chair with a Hood.
Orkney Chairs Stitching in Progress
The strawback of each chair without a Hood requires 3-4 sheaves of straw, 200 stitches, 30 hours of labour…and an ample amount of skill, commitment and passion.
A busy day in the Strawback Workshop in Kirkwall. Jackie and Michael are both working on Oak Orkney Chairs. Note how Michael's chair is raised on a plinth to give him a good height to work at while Jackie is further on with his strawback and has set his chair on the floor.
Stitching a Strawback with a Hood requires great skill, 7-8 sheaves of perfectly cleaned oats and will take Jackie about two weeks.
The finished Hood is an elegant Chair which hugs your back, keeping you very cosy as well as offering therapeutic protection for your back.
Particular care needs to be take with the first and last rows and when turning corners
Every row is also checked to ensure the correct curvature. It's a true handcraft!
At every stage of stitching a Strawback, Jackie, Michael and Bridget will check the work is progressing exactly as it should.
The finished product is a beautiful handmade chair which will last for generations, a true family heirloom.