Straw has been grown in Orkney since the earliest farmers cultivated the fertile land over 5000 years ago.
The mild climate and sea air together produce long, fine golden straw which is perfect for Orkney chairs. The back of each chair requires about 3 sheaves of straw, 200 stitches, 30 hours of labour…and a ample amount of skill, commitment and passion.
The chairs can be treated as features in your home but they are meant to be sat in and are very comfortable. Perhaps our forefathers were ahead of their time with the design of the Orkney chair: it encourages it’s occupant to sit upright, protecting the back and spine. Indeed some customers have bought Orkney chairs purely for this purpose.
Not only did the chairs protect backs, they also kept the sitter warm. Orkney’s houses in previous centuries did not benefit from the luxuries of modern heating systems and the old traditional stone cottages could be both draughty and cold, particularly during the windy Orkney winters. The Orkney chair’s strawback curves round allowing the occupant to remain cosy inside.
Straw was used in times gone by simply as it was a readily available material. Communities were independent and self-sufficient and accustomed to using whatever came to hand to meet their daily needs. The Orkney Chair was piece of furniture within everyone’s means yet as fine a piece of furniture as any found in the manorhouses and castle of the day.
It’s strange to think that the Orkney chair is now anything but the poor man’s chair and can be found today in any manner of building and is even cherished by the royal family. The late Queen Mother was a great fan of the Orkney Chair and had various chairs in her own residence, the Castle of Mey in Caithness, North of Scotland. A Orkney chair was also gifted to Prince Charles on the occasion of his first marriage to Lady Diana Spencer…probably unimaginable to the crofters who originally were simply trying to furnish their humble homes.
Within Orkney it is a popular wedding or wedding anniversary present or retirement gift.
It has become a treasured heirloom, handed down generation to generation.
Beside chairs straw was originally used for baskets, rope, mattresses and even shoes!
Today all except the baskets have been superceeded by more modern material and methods.