April 18, 2009

Straw braid sewing: the machines


Although it is possible to sew straw braid with an ordinary free-arm sewing machine (check out this ebook by Jane Smith if you want to know more) , when sewing narrower straw it is much easier to use a machine that has been designed for the purpose (like my Corsani, above in the picture). Much of what I’ve learnt about these machines has come from reading old patents, there’s a wealth of information there.

This is what makes these straw braid sewing machines different from your household machine:

  1. They are chain stitch machines (just one thread, no bobbin)
  2. They have a special guide system for feeding the braid and holding the work in place
  3. The needle and plate are all the way to the left to make working easier
  4. They are set on a special table with a big cutout on the middle front so there is space for the hat as it grows, and for you to manouver.

Drawing from patent 218413Some of these special machines have additional special features that were designed and patented by their inventors to make the sewing of straw easier.

To start, there is a mechanism that Willcox called in his patent a “vibrator”, and that has been implemented by every manufacturer afterwards. The mechanism is used when sewing the “button” of the hat (where the hat starts with a tight spiral). When sewing this small spiral the operator of the machine is forcing the straw because the curve is very tight, without this invention the straw can get damaged as the presser foot is pushing down on the straw when the operator is pulling. and it is very difficult to keep the work flat. This “vibrator” contraption is a very clever invention that lifts the presser foot as the needle goes down, pressing down again as the feeder goes into action, thus allowing the operator to easily turn the work.

Here is the text from the patent explaining the workings of the invention.

Excerpt from patent 218413Excerpt from patent 218413

Another interesting invention is the lever that allows the tension of the thread to be easily changed to a tighter tension. This is useful because when one starts sewing the button of the hat (the center of the spiral) the stitch length shortens because of the tight angle at which one is sewing, that often causes loose loops on the underside of the work. Before this invention one had to manually change the tension, setting a tighter tension at the beginning and then stopping the work to set a looser tension as the work progresses. With this invention you can switch between a tigher and looser tension with the flick of a lever (without stopping the sewing).  Below are the drawings and explanation for this invention.

Drawing from patent 309514

Drawing from patent 298315

Excerpt from patent 298315Excerpt from patent 298315

I also wanted to mention that there are essentially two types of straw sewing machines, those that do straight stitch, and those who sew in zig-zag. From looking at the patents I know that there were machines that did a hidden stitch, but those don’t seem to have survived the test of time because the ones in use today are the visible stitch ones, machines that are more than one hundred years old and are still (amazingly) working. The zig-zag machine on the other hand (some are still available in the market) allows one to sew edge to edge and avoid wasting material.

Soon I will write some more on the subject… stay tuned.


  1. Great detective work! Now I know what that lever is for.. Thank You Again Cristina you’re a gem!


    Comment by Montez — April 18, 2009 @ 3:20 am

  2. Thank you very much Cristina for another practical lesson! And congratulations for your Corsani, as useful as beautiful 🙂

    Comment by Nila Taranco — April 19, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  3. Thank you for this excellent info, and also your earlier post on the little hats you made on your machine.

    In fact, i was inspired to make one myself of a similar scale/shape!


    Comment by Rachel/La Bricoleuse — April 22, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

  4. How brilliant of you to think of looking up the patents for the machines! Did you use Google patent search?

    Comment by jill — April 22, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  5. Thank you everyone for your comments!

    Rachel, I love your version of the small hat, it looks soooo cute!!! Thank you for directing people to my blog!

    Jill, yes, I use the Google patent search these days. Back in the day I searched through the Patent Office website, but although everything is available there the search of old patents is very cumbersome and has to be done through categories and quite blind (no thumbnails to guide you). Although the Google patent search is not perfect because the search is based on the OCR done on the images and many errors occur because of the quality of the old text, it’s pretty great and quick, and I love it! So much can be learnt from old patents!

    Comment by cristinadeprada — April 23, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  6. Hello,
    Just purchased a straw machine don’t have a clue on how to get
    started. Is there a video or tape on steps, sewing a straw hat.Or
    do have your own tape while you were sewing .

    Comment by jp milan — November 6, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

  7. Hi jp,
    My advice is to find a milliner in your area that sews straw and learn from that person. The only video online that I know of belongs to the online tour of the French brand Cheri Bibi, but there is not much detail on it: http://www.cheribibi.fr/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=62&Itemid=50
    There is also an ebook from how2hats.com about sewing straw on an ordinary sewing machine (reviewed somewhere on my blog), and some of the principles apply with the special machine.
    You can also have your machine serviced by someone used to old machines to make sure everything works.
    Where did you buy your machine? Can you share a picture with us?

    Good luck,

    Comment by cristinadeprada — November 6, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

  8. Hello Cristinadeprada: I apologize for not getting back with you sooner. I was waiting on your response via e-mail… however I came across this blog again and notice the you gave me a such quick response on this blog. Thanks so much for providing the link to the video as it did help me get a visual on where to start on using this machine. Here is a picture of the some of my machines that I have starting with the straw machine and then my high machine, welting machine and also the wire machine…. I am still trying to learn how the work the straw machine, I have not got it going yet. I have search for people in my area, however no one seems to know how to work it. I guess my search will continue. But if you have any other additional information please feel free to e-mail me ( jpmilan at hotmail dot com). Thanks Again JP

    Comment by jp milan — November 26, 2010 @ 5:48 am

  9. Sorry, I forgot to attach the pictures. Here is the link.


    Comment by jp milan — November 26, 2010 @ 6:14 am

  10. Hi, I have two machines that I believe are straw braid sewing machines. I am wondering how do I get motors to operate them? I am coming up blank on that. I believe that they can be made portable but am wondering what type of motor and/or belt I would need. One is a Singer 24-7 and the other is a Kirsch-Korenman with a number on it of 1692

    Comment by Thericegirl — July 12, 2011 @ 12:57 am

  11. Hi!
    Straw sewing machines tend to be old machines (100+ years). They are chain stitch machines (no bobbin thread), but they’re no different to other machines in their motor requirements. Look in your area for someone specialised in servicing old singer machines. That person will be of invaluable help and will enjoy working on your machines. I bought my machine with motor included though to avoid headaches!

    Comment by cristinadeprada — July 12, 2011 @ 8:15 am

  12. Hello, desperate for some advice. Trying to buy a machine for sewing straw braid. I have seen Wilcox and Gibbs machines that are a similar shape however, they have a large metal plate in the sewing area. I was wondering if they are just standard sewing machines rather than straw braid models. The last thing I need is to spend a fortune and end up with just another standard sewing machine!

    Comment by Loret — June 17, 2016 @ 12:46 am

  13. That is not a Straw Braid machine. They have a very disctinctive look to them with a small guide on the plate for lining up the work and a large adjustable guide on the right for feeding the braid at the right width!

    Comment by Cristina de Prada — June 17, 2016 @ 6:06 am

  14. Hello Cristina! I have just now found you and I too have a straw braid machine and want help learning how to use it correctly. I am in the Los Angeles area, do you know of anyone in LA you could recommend? Or any instructions, YouTube or ebooks? Thank you!
    Holly Coffman

    Comment by Holly Coffman — November 5, 2019 @ 6:10 am

  15. Hi everyone!

    I’ve been looking for a Straw braid machine for a while now but can’t seem to find one… I just finished millinery school and can’t wait to start my own business. I hope someone can help me out!

    Hope you have a great day!

    Comment by Isis Verissimo — September 2, 2020 @ 8:56 am

  16. Goede Morgen Isis,
    These are hard to find. You can search on ebay for Anita or Dresdensia, but of course someone will have to refurbish them for you, and often those machines are missing parts. You also have to keep in mind that some models sew straight, some do zig-zag and others both. You can also go to the French city of Montauban, where the family Alies has been selling and refurbishing straw sewing machines since 1927. Just google Alies machine a coudre to find the details. They don’t have a website and are pretty low key, but perhaps you can buy over the phone if you speak french.
    Hope it helps! Groeten uit Barcelona!

    Comment by Cristina de Prada — September 2, 2020 @ 9:19 am

  17. […] nugget was in the little wooden treasure box was a print out of the following blog post by  Mad Hatter, Cristina de Prada from 18 April 2009.  The link to Jane Smith’s straw hat e-book is not longer active, but she has many of the […]

    Pingback by Willcox & Gibbs S200 – Hattin' Around & Leanne Fredrick Millinery — November 16, 2020 @ 3:11 pm

  18. Merci pour le partage de ces précieuses informations.

    Comment by Tessier Sebastien — January 26, 2024 @ 7:58 pm

  19. Un plaisir pouvoir partager ces informations avec vous!

    Comment by Cristina de Prada — January 26, 2024 @ 8:09 pm

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