What is Hat Plaiting?

The industry that surrounds the trade of creating products through a process of braiding materials into fabrics is known as plaiting. Plaiting is a method that is done all over the world to create things like hats, decorations, etc.

Plaiting dates back to the late 14th century and means “to fold, gather in pleats,” as well as “to braid or weave”. From Old French pleir “to fold”, a variant of ploier, ployer “to fold, bend,” and from Latin plicare “to fold”.

Plaited materials may be used for a variety of things, such as:

  • thatching roofs
  • manufacturing paper
  • decorating tiny surfaces with “straw mosaics”
  • making door mats
  • table mats
  • beds
  • light baskets
  • weaving and plaiting into fake flowers
  • to create hats and bonnets

Hat Plaiting

A complex structure or pattern known as a plait is created by interlacing two or more flexible strands of material, such as textile threads, wire, or hair.

The process of preparing and plaiting certain grasses and cereal crop straw (most often wheat) into a length of sturdy plait that may be turned into a hat.

Local Forms of Hat Plaiting

The following materials were used to make plait:

  • Paper
  • wood chip (chip)
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Grasses
  • Straw
  • Sisal
  • Panama
  • Other imported plant fibers

It is likely that workers utilized barley, rye, and grasses to build the plaits, even though the majority of sources claim that wheat straw was used. A plaiter was probably required to be able to deal with a variety of materials.


The historic area of significance

In the 1800s, it occurred throughout the UK, including the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and North Essex were home to the majority of manufacturers. They labored to supply Dunstable, Luton, and St. Albans’ hat industries until the early 20th century.

History of Hat Plaiting

A substantial, professional vocation that contributed significantly to the financial stability of rural households was straw plaiting for the hat industry.

The UK’s hat manufacturing business was supplied by plaiters. Plaiting required the preparation of straw, plaiting, finishing, and winding into a hank (piece), which was frequently sold to a plait dealer. It was a highly skilled craft. Typically, the lengths were manufactured in 10 or 20-yard increments.

Plaiting is a method that is only used in the hat business. A straw plait used in the hat business includes:

  • Head, the pattern edge
  • Body, which may have a pattern
  • Foot, the edge that includes the joins

Area currently practiced

Plaiting seems to be unique to Breachwood Green in Bedfordshire, where locals create lengths of the plait to adorn the Baptist church for the Harvest Festival. It is presently unknown if this plait is genuine or a corn dolly plait.

Origin in the UK


Although the precise year is uncertain, Bedfordshire saw the establishment of this commerce in the late 1600s. Early allusions to straw hats in literature might mean that the hats were being created in a less organized fashion throughout the nation.

Techniques of Hat Plaiting

The act of manually plaiting straw bits into a single length that is typically 20 yards (18 meters) long. The plait is robust, uniform in breadth, and appropriate for stitching into a hat shape when it is complete. The name “straw” refers to a variety of materials used in the hat business, including wheat and rye straw, grasses, wood chips, palm fibers, man-made fibers, and paper created from rags.

  • Preparation – to prepare for plaiting, the method changes depending on the kind of straw used.
  • Bleaching and/or Dyeing – Certain kinds of straw require bleaching to soften. The original material’s color is likewise lightened by it.
  • Splitting – cutting an entire stem of cereal crop straw into narrow splints with a tiny tool or making a chunk of uniform width using palm or wood chips.
  • Milling – before plaiting, should soften the splints (not the full straws).
  • Damping – The flexibility of the straw for plaiting depends on the type of straw and the amount of dampening.
  • Plaiting – use different straw component counts (ends) to create a certain plait design.
  • Clipping – To separate the connected ends (set-ins and speels).
  • Winding – to wind up into a solid piece or hank.

Issues affecting the viability of the craft


  • There is a mix-up between straw plaiting methods used in the hat business and corn dollies and straw working, which are more well-known.
  • Absence of written information or quality education.
  • Lack of precise instruction.
  • Raw material shortage.
  • Lack of specialized equipment.
  • Although there is a need for the items, a challenge is an affordable price.
  • It is quite challenging to make a livelihood since the task is labor-intensive and the items are excessively pricey when commercially priced.
  • Finding training is challenging, but it is crucial to comprehend and adhere to the proper material preparation procedures to generate a plait that is suitable for its intended use.
  • There are no reliable study paths or modern works of literature.
  • The knowledge of the practitioner determines how accurate the demonstrations are in museums.

Tens of thousands of men, women, and children were hired to plait straw for the hat business throughout the United Kingdom, but for the longest time in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and northwest Essex. From the UK, plaits were shipped all over the world, either as plaits or as hats. Making straw hats was a significant industry. This is the only paid career among straw crafts.  Since the 1980s, some have tried to bring back the techniques used in hat plaiting to carry on the tradition and teach it to others.  


Traditional hat plaiting also known as a braided hat can be made from different materials but commonly made from straw. It was a highly skilled craft that can still be made in modern times.