Plaiting Tradition Continues in Long Island


In the Bahamas, a popular saying speaks to the naturally occurring richness of the land and sea, which has provided for generations of Bahamians: “Money on the ground.”

In Long Island, the Silver Top palm tree is money on the ground. It grows in abundance within the coppice forest, reaching past 10 meters in height and 15 cm in diameter. The leaves spiral at the top of the trunk. The bark is smooth. Its common name comes from the silvery hairs on the underside of the durable leaf.

Alberta Knowles, a 79 year old resident of Simms, Long Island, knows the wealth contained within its nature. Her life has revolved around the plant, intersecting at important times with master seamstress Ivy Simms.

From the age of 13, Ms. Alberta has been plaiting silver top into mats and hats and bags. During her formative teenage years, she worked with Ms Ivy, a master seamstress and manufacturer of bags.

Ms. Ivy established a straw factory in Long Island, where she taught many women the craft of designing and stitching bags from the native straw and the business side of the trade. She was a “perfectionist”, remembered Ms. Alberta. The factory is no longer operational, but the building still stands as the Simms Burial Society Hall.

“Miss Ivy had five girls working with her and five machines. I’d go there in the evenings; I’d stop and learn the lattice work, a style of plaiting. After she saw me improving, she showed me how to put zippers in the pockets of the bags and she showed me everything because I was the one willing to learn. I was the closest one to her. If she was going away she’d leave the place in my hands. She found me very honest,” said Ms Alberta.

“She ordered her thread from Bedford, England, the real tan one just like the colour of the sand. She wanted everything to match,” she said. Ms. Ivy had no children, so the women of Long Island received the wealth of her knowledge.

On one of her visits to The Bahamas, Queen Elizabeth II received a set of Ms Ivy’s straw bags, hand crafted by Long Islanders.

As published in ‘Bahamas Tourism Today’.

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