"I would advise anyone not to be afraid of trying [to sew straw braid]... The reward of seeing what you can do by practicing and patience is paying off."
I would say that Rose's diligence has already paid off. Rose has used her hands and imagination to produce a very ornate straw sculpture. Think about it! I've heard of people taking months or years just to sew a straight round crown and brim! Most of the time people just don't know where to start. It's interesting that most of the manuals associated with "trade secretes" have virtually disappeared.... Thanks for sharing Rose.
Now, here are a few more tips I would like to share with you.
The Machine Tension
Before you go further, take the time to familiarize yourself with the tension mechanism on you straw braid sewing machine. Here is the patent for the Willcox & Gibbs straw braid sewing machine tension mechanism. I can't stress the importance of understanding this. Most of these machines are similar, but this one may be the most popular.
Adjust Your Braid Spacing
I adjust my braid spacing by sewing-in-the-round (practice rows). Here is an image; I've offset the top sewn braid from the bottom single braid for clarity. After you become familiar with the placement of the braid guide in relation to where the needle penetrates the straw, you will be able to judge the braid overlap better. I've noticed that most of these antique machines are missing the numbered measuring guide.
Just follow the images. Click on images for larger view. Note that there is an oblong button; this will give you more of an oval shaped crown. Study other hats to familiarize yourself with this type of button. Remember that the button is first sewn by hand and then transferred to the machine.
If you are sewing a dry natural straw like the one above, you will have to dampen it. Otherwise, the machine feed will literally ear the button! The straw should be damp, not wet
If you are practicing or sewing braid for hours, you will have to oil this machine daily. I use regular sewing machine oil. It's up to you to research if there is another, more appropriate oil to use. Unfortunately there is very little information on the straw machine. I also have a regular Willcox & Gibbs sewing machine, so I use the manual for that machine as a guide for oiling, threading, etc., my braid machines. There are many of these manuals located in the Smithsonian archives, probably because this manual belongs to a home machine. Yes, the machines are slightly different, but use your imagination. Again follow the images. Note that there are moving parts at the back of the braid machine. So, where there is a hole, drop a bead of oil. Never put oil in or on the machine's motor!
Notice the difference between the tension device on the machine to your right and the braid machine above. This does not affect the threading method of the machines. Just follow the directions (numbers) to your right. However, on the braid machine the thread goes between the disks. Also note that the thread crosses over and goes through the loops on the braid machine (actually both machines).
For additional research go to the Smithsonian Institute located here, and go down to the bottom of the page to select Willcox & Gibbs. If you have a different machine, I can almost guarantee you that your straw braid machine will work very similar to the one above. There are zigzag machines, invisible stitch machines, etc., but you can still learn something from these instructions, if you do the research and practice.
A Few More Tips
1. Go to the Smithsonian site and find the parts catalog for the braid machine (yes, that still exists). Notice the feeds in the catalog. There are different feeds for different straws; there are even different foots for different straws--fine milan (right), etc. The milan feed is finer. You can learn a lot from the parts catalog. For example, one of my machines, see first straw post has an attachment that holds the straw firm to the machine (not the hook but another attachment--the outer edge plait guide--see below left image), see the patents, see the catalog. I could go on and on, but it depends on how much research you are willing to do at this point.
2. When the tipper is engaged, slow the sewing speed of the machine.
3. Hold the lower single braid between the second and third fingers. Hold the upper sewn braid between the thumb and the second finger. So, with practice you will be able to guide both the upper (sewn) and lower (single) straws. The left hand guides the crown. Practice, practice.
4. When all fails, read the patents. It will be much easier now that you know more about the braid machine.
5. Practice making different shapes. Read how it's down in the first post. After you have learned to make a full-size hat, practice by making smaller hats with various shapes. By doing this you will save on supply costs. Below, notice that only one side of the form has a brim.
Show us your creations. Good luck!