Bridal rake from 1850. Kumlinge, Åland. Photograph: Ilari Järvinen, The Finnish Heritage Agency.

Bridal rake from the Åland Islands

Object of the month - July 2018

Hay harvested from natural meadows was the most important feed for the livestock over winter. Hay was cut and gathered in July either between the Hermanni’s/Herman’s Day (12 July) or Marketta’s/Margareta’s Day (13 July in the Middle Ages, nowadays 20 July) and Olavi’s/Olof’s Day (29 July) and/or Lauri’s/Lars’s Day (10 August). Haymaking was a festive event where everybody wore clean clothes, and all the people in the house came to the meadow. Sometimes haymaking began with a drink of alcohol to “kill the worm”. The custom dates back to a 4th-century legend of Saint Margaret, involving a dragon, or “worm”, and a maiden. In church art, Saint Margaret is often depicted standing over the dragon with a cross-staff or sword in her hand.

The mowing started in the morning with the hay still soft from the morning dew. The hay was cut with a scythe, and this was traditionally men’s work. Behind the scythe men were the women and children who raked the hay into piles that were turned and moved daily to enhance drying.

Technically, the rake is very simple. Usually made of smooth aspen, the approximately two-metre-long straight handle was attached to the hole on the head with a mortise and tenon joint. The most durable heads were made of birch, and the tines attached to the head were made of tough bird cherry or mountain ash. The different parts of the rake could be decorated with paint and elaborate woodcuts. Especially the delicate Åland-made bridal rakes presented as engagement gifts are masterpieces of folk craftsmanship. This time, the artefact of the month comes for Kumlinge, Åland. The decorative bridal rake (D876) from 1850 was made by the farm owner’s son Henrik Gustaf Englund (1826–1906) for his bride Lovisa Persson (1820–1887).  Acquired for the National Museum’s collections in 1908, the length of the artefact is 193 cm. The width of the blade is 64 cm.

Mowing the Hay in Old Finnish Fashion 1936

Risto Hakomäki

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Haymaking from the early 20th century. Photographer: V. Jääskeläinen. Photograph: The Finnish Heritage Agency.
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An Ostrobothnian girl raking hay. Aquarelle, painted by C.P. Elfström (1774–1839) in the early 19th century. Photograph: The Finnish Heritage Agency.