In the photo below Dennis Picard is holding an example of a seven strand straw plait (flat braid), known as Dunstable work, after the town in England where it was said to be first made and made in large quantities. The plait was sewn into hats both for women and men.
Most of the straw hats made in our area were made for domestic use – but not for use in our local area. They were made through a cottage industry and were shipped out of New England mainly for use on plantations in the southern United States (sometimes in the Caribbean).
It was a trade carried out by women in their homes, both wives and daughters. A woman, once skilled, could make as much as - and sometimes many times more than - a man working outside the home or farming.
Foxborough, MA was known as “the straw hat capital of the world.” In 1748 straw plaiting was taught in English almshouses. In the early 1800s a straw splitter was invented making the preparation of the straw simpler.
Contributed by Dennis Picard, Local Historian
Originally published May 28, 2020