Friday, January 31, 2014

Skep Beehives (Part 3 of 8): Wicker and Straw

This is the third part in a series of short articles on skeps in the Medieval through Renaissance periods.

Boy being stung by bees; Illustration in a Latin bestiary, England late 1100’s.

Wicker skeps were originally woven on a whorl of thin branches of a spruce or fir tree. According to, a whorl is "a circular arrangement of like parts, such as leaves or flowers around a point on an axis." The branches formed the main stakes (Crane 1999, p241). Stakes were bent down during weaving and other stakes were added for support as the diameter increased. Wicker skep size and shape is determined by the size and shape of the whorl used.

Coiled straw skeps were made only where suitable materials were grown. These materials were reeds, grasses, or long-stemmed cereals. Long stems, such as bramble, were split with a tool called a cleave and used to join the coils. The tools used to make a coiled-straw skep are a girth and an awl (Crane 1999, p242).

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